King Corn – A Pareto Inefficiency

Every semester at Wheaton I have found direct relationships between the content covered in at least two of my classes, regardless of the widely disparate course disciplines. I suppose that’s the beauty of a liberal arts education – to gain multidimensional perspectives on a range of topics.

While watching King Corn in class, I couldn’t help but to become frustrated about the economic issues related to the overproduction of corn in the USA. The “urbanized” agriculture in the mid-west, fueled by GMO’s and made possible through government subsidies, is a perfect example of a Pareto inefficiency – a concept we’ve explored countless times in Public Finance with Prof. John Miller this semester. I spoke with Prof. Miller after watching the film and discussed how exactly it was possible that the government would intervene on a faulty market that has a seemingly destructive impact on both the environment and the net welfare of American citizens. As with any economic issue related to American politics, the reasons were long-winded and tough to understand. But one simple economic concept can explain why the “urbanization” and mass production of the genetically modified corn in King Corn does not make logistical sense: when supply is greater than demand, there is a surplus, and the market should correct itself by seeking the production of alternative goods. Of course, the government subsidizing corn farmers disrupts this natural reaction that would theoretically occur in a free market.

On an anthropological level, this has particularly complicated consequences for the farmers themselves, as they continue to expand their farm by cultivating more land and by absorbing neighboring farms, redesigning the social interaction of their entire communities. Additionally, they work to “urbanize” their land by incorporating GMO seeds and using modern agricultural technology to expedite the process – any opportunity to increase their yield. The implications of this farming culture are detrimental not only to the farming communities and the food itself; it also hurts the livestock who are fed the corn, as well as the people who eat the food. That said, the King Corn economy is so entrenched in so many American industries that a widespread revolution is required in order to subvert it. And when the largest industries and big business tycoons are involved, progress in political areas is hard to achieve.


What’s the Wi-fi Password? Office Culture.

The principle of cultural relativism is fundamental in anthropology, and is something we have considered throughout the entire semester as we surveyed many anthropological disciplines. It allows us to understand specific cultural ideologies without a biased mindset. This concept is perhaps the most important facet of anthropology I’ve learned in this course, and I have already had plenty of opportunities to engage with it outside of the classroom. My post-grad job search is certainly one experience that comes to mind.

A couple weeks ago, I had my first interview with this startup software company in Boston. The woman I spoke with encouraged me to look at their company blog, to get a better understanding of the work they do and the culture they have within the office. While I got a better understanding of their company culture through engaging with their online content, nothing I could’ve read online compared to what I experienced while visiting their office. I walked into the office and noticed a completely open floor plan, with natural light pouring in from the enormous windows on the far wall. I noticed dogs walking around and greeting employees at knee height as they worked at their standing desks. During my interview I was sitting across from the GM who threw his heels up on the table and as he pet a small black dog on his lap, he asked me “So, why are you awesome?”

The next week, I went back to the office to present on a challenge they sent me over email. When I started setting up my computer to set up the powerpoint I created for my interview, I asked them for their WiFi password. “it’s tantric mist, with a capital T.”

What the hell does that mean? From a culturally relative perspective, I have no clue at, but I know I would be thrilled to engage in some participant observation by working with this company. I think the concept of cultural relativism helps me embrace uncertainty – something that will be incredibly helpful after President Hanno hands me my diploma in the dimple next week. Fingers crossed I can land this gig!

“Where Confidence meets Humility”

I have spent a great deal of time and energy this year trying to network in order to find a job post-graduation. I’m lucky to have met some incredible people during the process who have been excited to impart their wisdom on me. It’s hard to keep track of all the advice these professionals have given me, but I have noticed a recurring piece of advice about how I should conduct myself during the interview process:

“Present yourself confidently, but stay humble while doing so.”

“The sweet spot is where confidence meets humility.” I have been told. But those two words are almost oxymoronic; there’s not exactly a fine line between them. An ideal interview would be one in which I adamantly describe how employable I am while also talking about how I don’t know much and have a lot to learn. How does that work? It just seems contradictory, and it challenges my understanding of the way good business is conducted: with honesty, directness, and transparency.

Business is a social game and I have learned a lot about how successful professionals are, first and foremost, excellent communicators. They are confident, so you take what they say seriously, but are humble at the same time, so that you trust them and what they have to say.

When I am given this advice or similar advice about how I should present myself in an interview, I can’t help but think that the whole process is disingenuous. It almost feels as though there is formula that you can use to crack a code in order to get ahead. That’s not how I want to communicate in my first job. I would hope that I work with people who believe in the same values that I believe drive good business: honesty, directness, and transparency. I hope my first employer shares those values with me.

On Privilege

Privilege is a tough subject to talk about. It is frustrating to notice someone else’s privilege when you don’t share the same privilege. At the same time, you almost certainly take your own privilege for granted. It’s engrained in your thinking, your culture, your way of life.

I am an educated white male from New England. I cannot understate how privileged I am just from that sentence right there. I am incredibly lucky. It is probably much easier for me to lead a successful life than most of the people in the world just considering my privilege alone. That being said, I don’t spend enough time and energy thinking about how privileged I am. I live my day-to-day life paying nearly no attention to my unbelievably fortunate circumstance. I take it for granted.

I am so privileged, in fact, that I hardly ever find myself frustrated at other’s privilege. I have enough of it that I don’t even consider the lives of people who are more-privileged than I am — I feel as though it wouldn’t be fair to those who are less fortunate than me. They are who deserve my attention.

Last weekend I had an experience that made me much more sympathetic towards those who are less privileged than me. These feelings came forward after having a vehement argument with someone whom I care deeply about — a person whom I am very close to, and who is significantly more privileged than I am.

Yes, I am an educated white male from New England, but I also grew up in a four-sibling household with a single mother that relied on welfare to survive. She, on the other hand, comes from a family of immeasurable economic means. My family is small (no extended family), disjointed, and usually absent from each other’s lives while her family is enormous, incredibly loyal, and supportive. Her “safety net” is so wide that she may never feel an absence of security while I had to busk on the streets with my guitar in Europe twice a week last spring in order to feed myself while I was studying abroad.

Because of our different familial and financial situations and our senses of security as a result of the two, we value certain aspects of our life differently — especially as we consider our post-graduation lives.

Admittedly, I have been a bit of a ‘stiff’ this year because of my efforts to find a career that hopefully affords me the opportunity to live comfortably well into the future. Moreover, she is focused on her studies in order to prepare for a graduate education and values the quality time spent unwinding with friends at the end of a week chock-full of coursework.

I am stiff while she unwinds.

There is a disparity in our privilege and it is frustrating. To be clear — she is doing absolutely nothing wrong with her life. She works incredibly hard. She is driven, ambitious, and curious about everything under the sun. I admire her unending passion for her interests, and the effort she takes to learn more about them. She is growing as I grow.

But I am stiff while she unwinds.

Aeroplane, Avion, FLUGZEUG!!

I shopped around during my first few weeks at Wheaton my freshman year trying out a few different language courses. Because of Wheaton’s two-semesters of a foreign language prerequisite, I wanted to pick one that interested me. I tried to Intro Arabic – I have never felt so dizzy trying to keep up with my professor writing from right to left on the blackboard. I went to French and remembered (and not so fondly) the many hours I spent in middle school laboring over vocabulary and false cognates. Finally, I tried German and immediately felt at ease amongst a class full of lighthearted, giggly students. But the lessons early on were fun for a peculiar reason: us students who had little-or-no experience with german were laughing about how the language sounded. Our professor would speak with the sharp consonants, the glottal R’s, and the aggressive intonations that are customary throughout much of the german-speaking world. When we attempted repeating an especially german-sounding syllable, we would usually laugh, maybe as a way of decompressing after an uncomfortable situation. Of course, it didn’t take long before we discussed some of the terrible and tragic events that are immediately associated with Germany in conversation (in fact, we may have spoken about Hitler and Nazis on the very first day of class) and I think it was crucial that we talked about the history because while I’m the first to admit that the german language isn’t the most beautiful foreign language out there, I think thoughts about the language are often tied too closely with Germany’s troubled history. I studied abroad in Regensburg, Germany for 6 months last year and I have to say, some germans actually make the language sound super beautiful! Now if only the germans borrowed some of those sultry vowels from the romance languages…