Why I Plan to Read a Book about Capitalist Fiction

I haven’t read Edward Younkins’s newest book, Exploring Capitalist Fiction: Business Through Literature and Film.  It gets released on October 15.

But I am acquainted with Dr. Younkins.  (More on that later).  He is a professor of Accountancy and Business Administration in the Department of Business and Technology at Wheeling Jesuit University.  He founded WJU’s undergraduate degree program in Political and Economic Philosophy, and is the founding director of WJU’s MBA and Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) programs.

He’s also cool.  How cool is he?  Well, how’s this for cool?  As an educator of future business leaders, he’s written a book that, according to his publisher,  “shows how fiction is a powerful teaching tool to sensitize business students without business experience and to educate and train managers in real businesses.”

That is why I’ll be reading his book.  I’ve always thought that humanities study, that encouraging students to think and write about the profound complexities of the human condition that form the context all businesses thrive and fail in, is a necessary part of the education of future CEOs, venture capitalists, and everyone else whose decisions have the power to shatter the culture into something awful.  Nobody else (that I’m aware of) in higher education business programs or humanities programs is doing this, that is, reading and writing about fictional portrayals of capitalism with the purpose of exposing business majors to the kind of critical thinking normally found in literature classes.

That is a tragedy, and as with all tragedies, the results are predictable.  It’s the nature of the form.

The problem with Wall Street is not that its denizens insist on misreading Atlas Shrugged and making the rest of us suffer for it.  It’s that none of them understand Dickens.

Anyone who reads my blog and books knows that although I like to play with purist, libertarian free market ideals in my fiction (see how Threle works in Enemy Glory), I loathe the way real life has distorted these ideals into the deadening corporate living nightmare culture that’s destroying higher education, the humanities, the middle class, and everything else.  I like the aesthetics of the unfettered free market in the same way I like paintings of shipwrecks and battle scenes.  Excess is exciting when real people aren’t getting hurt.

Here’s a sampling of Amazon reviews:

Although his prior books establish Dr. Younkins as a scholarly and prolific philosopher of liberty, Exploring Capitalist Fiction focuses not on the philosophy of business but on the complex lives of fictional men who implement it. Its twenty-five plot summaries illustrate, unsurprisingly, that businessmen are neither more nor less moral or confused than the rest of us, from the crony-capitalist railroaders in Norris’s The Octopus, Cahan’s wealthy but unhappy David Levinsky, and Lewis’s terrified conformist Babbitt to more heroic, less conflicted figures like Hawley’s Cash McCall, Kesey’s Stamper family, and King Vidor’s Steve Dangos. Dr. Younkins occasionally offers a valuable philosophical or economic insight, but the book is principally a welcome, fascinating, even-handed study of business and capitalism in literature.  — John Egger, Towson University

Lawyer and statesman St. Thomas More argued that the study of literature provides greater moral understanding than does the study of law. Edward Younkins strengthens that argument through his perceptive and insightful examination of both pro- and anti-business fiction and film. — Samuel Bostaph, University of Dallas

Ethical issues are the star. Indeed, the book could easily be used as a text in business ethics courses. — Jerry Kirkpatrick, California State Polytechnic University

These particular reviews reflect my personal experience with the author.  Dr. Younkins is a rarity – an unapologetic capitalist who truly is even-handed in his treatment of capitalism.  Here’s how I know.  A few years ago, I wrote an odd, whimsical essay about my responses to the character of Dagny Taggart and to the behavior of a group of Objectivists I’d once met.  Just describing this group, without embellishment, resulted in a helplessly satirical piece guaranteed to offend any of the true believers Rand’s work attracts, and who capitalist scholars count among their readers.

Dr. Younkins published it anyway, in his fine collection of essays, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion.  Of course, I caught flak from every Randroid from here to New Zealand for that one, and Dr. Younkins risked the wrath of his readers.  That’s why I believe his new book really is going to be the even-handed treatment the Amazon reviewers promise.

But what matters is that Dr. Younkins wrote a book designed to use literature to teach business majors to think critically about the ethical issues of their chosen profession.  We need more of that.

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