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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #94, May 2000. It retains its copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.


Studying arrogance

by V.

V., obviously, is a pen name.

The year began with what we later called the Nuremberg Rally. Five hundred of us sat in an auditorium at Columbia University and watched in horror as a student official led us in a cheer. "What is the best business school in the world?" "C-B-S" came the reply. "Where do we most want to be?" "C-B-S" the audience chanted back weakly.

It was the start of orientation at Columbia Business School, one of the top ranking B-schools in the country. Some 400 incoming students were gearing up for the chance to become very, very rich. Not me, though. In my real life, I'm a business journalist, and I was there because I'd been awarded a Fellowship by the University's school of journalism. The idea was for 10 of us financial scribblers to study business formally so that we would be better trained to go back to do our jobs. For one year I was to live among the business students, take classes with them - and, if I were smart enough, learn how to discount a cash flow.

Learned behavior

In my years overseas as a correspondent, I often wondered why American businessmen were so much more smug then everyone else. I met an entrepreneur who'd only just arrived in Prague but was already telling the locals they should not let the elderly live in rent-controlled apartments because they needed to apply free market principles to the housing sector. In Asia I'd seen Japanese and Korean businessmen quietly make money while Americans constantly berated the government for not opening up markets to foreigners and for not devaluing their currency further so as to cut costs for foreign employers (a devaluation that would have the effect of raising import prices for the easily overlooked locals). In Europe, there was a noticeable difference between the relatively low-key local execs and their swaggering American counterparts, who took every opportunity to lecture the world on how gr