Robert Day Donates $200 M to Claremont McKenna

Claremont McKenna College, where I am a student, today announced a $200 M gift from Robert Day. The gift, which will create the Robert Day Scholars Program, is the largest recorded gift to a liberal arts college, the largest gift in the field of economics and finance, and among the top 20 gifts ever given to a college or university. The Los Angeles Times writes about the gift on its front page:

His gift is unusual for its huge size in relation to the small college, which enrolls just 1,140 students and specializes in public policy and economics.

The gift, which has sparked some debate on campus, would create Claremont McKenna’s first graduate program, a one-year master’s for 50 students that would entail the hiring of eight professors. In addition, as many as 50 students from all five undergraduate schools at the Claremont Colleges consortium would be eligible for senior year grants requiring them to take courses in finance, accounting and leadership psychology.

Day said both programs, collectively called the Robert Day Scholars, would offer financial training to future leaders of business, government and nonprofits, with an emphasis on ethics. The goal is to create a cadre of young people "who show leadership and who have judgment, which is the hardest thing to find," he said Wednesday.

CMC has long been among the most distinguished undergraduate colleges in the fields of economics, government, and leadership. With this gift, Claremont will maintain its eminence in these fields. It is no mystery that Claremont’s intellectual roots are in the classical economics tradition. Ward Elliot, professor government, wrote about the econ department ten years ago:

Also, the economics department has been profoundly different from, and hence nicely complementary to, our Straussian government department. Its heroes have been the classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo and their great Chicago-school expositors, such as Frank Knight, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. All of these were eloquent defenders of consumer and investor sovereignty in the economic realm. None was bashful in the least about judging the high — government policy — in the light of the low — impact on ordinary people’s economic options. De gustibus non est disputandum was the title of a famous essay by Chicago Nobelist George Stigler, and CMC economist Procter Thomson put it even more tersely: "Greed," he said, echoing Adam Smith, but defying Leo Strauss, "is good."

But, like the government department, the economics department differed from "mainstream" Keynesian economics departments, and it helped its students grasp many things to which most other departments were blind. And it, too, has had massive impacts on public policy (IV below). I owe one of my own principal discoveries, congestion charges and HOT lanes, to our econ department, and I am almost embarrassed at the frequency with which visiting social scientists oblivious to the economic dimensions of public-affairs issues, get mauled by our students in question-and-answer sessions, simply because our students, even non-economists, are much better trained in economic perspectives than most people from other colleges.

Our econ department has been one, again not the least, of a half-dozen or so departments in the country which did not go completely Keynesian in the postwar years — others being Chicago itself, UCLA, University of Virginia, and, more recently, Clemson, Auburn, and George Mason. I don’t know whether any of the others on this list have their own journals. They have had more regard for producers, savers, risk-takers, and market-equilibrium mechanisms than most mainstream departments have had, and less regard for government command-and-control regulations, especially wage and price controls and import restrictions. They have paid more attention than most to monetary policy — printing dollars — and have been more skeptical than most about government subsidies, guarantees, and entitlements, and Keynesian pretensions to "command" or "fine-tune" the economy. They have been more inclined to expand the range of economic choices than to restrict it. They have been more doubtful than most about the power and enforceability of collusion, whether among competing domestic firms or among nations trying to enhance their oil revenues with cartels. They have also been more doubtful than most that the government could spend people’s dollars better than people could spend them themselves.

I will comment more on Claremont, this gift, and higher ed in the near future.

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