BB&T Gift Funds Courses on the
Merits of Capitalism
The topic for the day: the distribution of wealth. The students clustered around an oval conference table at the Richards College of Business last fall for a freewheeling discussion of wealth and destitution.
Torin Savage, center student, listens in on the Ethics of Capitalism class.
Their thoughts and comments poured out: Some work. Others won’t. Some have higher education. Others don’t. Some are born into wealth and others into poverty. Some like being bums.
Associate Professor Adrian Austin interjected: “Some people like being rich, too.”
The students shared their own stories: one came from sharecropper roots and another’s family served and thrived in the military. The conversation took students around the world, from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia to the streets of the U.S.
The class, “The Ethical, Moral and Philosophical Foundations of Capitalism,” started last fall with $1 million gift from the BB&T Charitable Foundation. It was the largest gift in RCOB’s history. A graduate-level course started this spring.
Both are under the banner of the Center for Ethics and Free Enterprise. The money will be doled out in $100,000 increments over 10 years to fund the classes and the BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise Series.
The BB&T foundation has provided similar funding to the University of Georgia, North Carolina State, Mercer, Wake Forest, Clemson and Duke universities.
There is a lot of reading in Austin’s class: nearly 2,000 pages of handouts and Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” are part of the curriculum.
But there’s also a lot of time for discussion.
“I’ve learned to better place my arguments for capitalism,” said Armando Ramos, a senior. “And to remove some of the misconceptions about it. ...That the capitalistic system, as it’s intended, is not necessarily something that places inequality in the world. But rather it’s governments’ actions that do.”
Austin let the students, 17 of them enrolled in the first class, lead the discussions and bring in additional materials to the mix.
On this day, student Ben Peas led the discussion. A YouTube video of Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto’s “Capitalism at the Crossroads,” kept the conversation going.
“I enjoy being able to understand our capitalistic system a lot more,” said Torin Savage, a 23-year-old senior from Fayetteville. “It’s really interesting to be able to discuss, based on my own background and based on other people’s backgrounds, how they see capitalism and how I see it.”
In the end, Austin wants his students to walk away with a deep understanding of what they believe.
“At some point in your life, you should really sit down and examine your values,” Austin said.
“This class is part of that: examine what you really believe about how people should interact. A market economy is not the alpha and omega of how people interact. But it’s a very important part of how people interact. And ethics and morals come into how we should treat one another.”
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