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We need to abolish the Harvard M.B.A degree for the good of the people who pursue that path, as well as the world at large. 

I’m saying this based on my reading of Charles Duhigg’s recounting of the 15-year reunion of his Harvard Business School graduating class, published in the New York Times.

What he found was a group of people who are “miserable.”

“I heard about one fellow alum who had run a large hedge fund until being sued by investors (who also happened to be the fund manager’s relatives). Another person had risen to a senior role inside one of the nation’s most prestigious companies before being savagely pushed out by corporate politics. Another had learned in the maternity ward that her firm was being stolen by a conniving partner.”

Duhigg admits that these are extreme examples, but even so, the prevailing sense was one of “professional disappointment,” of lives “unfulfilling, tedious, or just plain bad.” Divorce, disconnections from their children, a sense that no matter how much they made it wasn’t enough, the despair was pervasive.

Duhigg believes the main problem is that these people simply believe their work doesn’t matter. In his book, “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory,” David Graeber shares a survey in which 37% of working adults in Great Britain said their job makes no meaningful contribution to the world. 

Needless to say, these people are unhappy in their work.

We don’t have a comparable survey for the U.S., but the research on how work impacts our overall well-being is clear. Once basic financial and job security is in place, more money does not increase one’s overall happiness. As Duhigg says, “Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense of autonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your unique expertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoy spending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.”

When it comes to happiness, the conditions and atmosphere in which we work are far more important than how much we earn.[1]Duhigg’s former classmates are making seven figure salaries, so it is difficult to feel sorry for them, and yet, to some extent, I do. They are miserable. I am not.

Recently, I wrote about the empty rhetoric of educating students for “the demands of the 21stcentury,” but perhaps there is one thing we can put under this banner that will be useful, a curriculum that helps these folks understand what makes them happy, as opposed to what will merely make them rich.

My sympathy for the unhappy Harvard M.B.A.’s would go further if their kind weren’t neck deep in schemes that are making the world demonstrably worse.

Perhaps you’ve been reading of the Sackler family in the news lately, the folks behind Purdue Pharma whose marketing of painkillers made them rich beyond imagining, while leaving millions of Americans addicted to their drugs destroying families, towns, entire regions. 

STAT and ProPublica acquired a sealed deposition of Dr. Richard Sackler, revealing that Dr. Sackler intentionally understated the potency of OxyContin when communicating with doctors in order not to raise alarms. This was in 1997, only a year after the drug had been launched, at a time when the ultimate epidemic of addiction could have been arrested.

According to a recent lawsuit, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers were allegedly aided in peddling their drugs by McKinsey & Company, a consultancy heavily populated with Harvard M.B.A. graduates. As reported by theNew York Times, McKinsey developed a strategy for increasing sales, “by claiming that opioids reduced stress and made patients less isolated.”

In reality, OxyContin leads to social withdrawal.

McKinsey is also alleged to have strategized on how to keep patients on longer courses of opioids and counseled Purdue Pharma to “fight efforts taken by federal agencies to stop illegal drug sales.”

This is merely the appetizer to McKinsey’s work on behalf of authoritarian governments hostile to the United States. A 2018 New York Timesinvestigation[2]revealed that, “At a time when democracies and their basic values are increasingly under attack, the iconic American company has helped raise the stature of authoritarian and corrupt governments across the globe, sometimes in ways that counter American interests.”

As McKinsey consultants “frolicked” at a desert retreat in China, only a handful of miles away, the Chinese government had interred “thousands of ethnic Uighurs — part of a vast archipelago of indoctrination camps where the Chinese government has locked up as many as one million people.”

Other McKinsey clients include Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Saudi Royal Family, and Paul Manafort’s chief client, Viktor Yanukovych. 

You might be thinking that cracking down on McKinsey and their ilk is the solution to these problems, but I believe we should get at the root of the problem, the place where all this unhappiness and destruction foments: Harvard Business School’s M.B.A. program.

I know, I know, #NotAllMBAs. I know quite a few people with M.B.A. degrees who are not sociopathic in their focus on profit over ethics or morals, or who live happy and fulfilled lives, but given the way Harvard Business School seems to churn out people who are either miserable or help visit misery on the rest of us, we should really consider shutting the place down.



[1]This is true for students and schooling as well, and is why grades will never matter nearly as much as intrinsic motivation and a sense of class community.

[2]When your company comes up so often in the context of the words “New York Times”and “investigation,” it may be time to examine what’s doin'.

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