MBAs vs. Puritans: Whose Values Will Lead to Economic Recovery?

Last Updated Apr 26, 2010 12:05 AM EDT

"The real story of the massive meltdown of 2008 starts not in the late 20th century but in the early 17th."

So say Kenneth Hopper and William Hopper in a recent Christian Science Monitor article, "Jobs in America: Puritan Values Must Replace MBA Values." While articles linking the economic crisis to MBAs and their values have been popular the last couple of years, this one seemed unique with its call for harkening back to Puritan pursuits.

Like witch hunts? I thought. Intrigued, I read on.

The authors identify four key Puritan beliefs that they say were essential to U.S. prosperity, but the article deals primarily with one: The Puritans equated "godliness with craftsmanship," which translated to an aptitude for mechanical skills.

Puritans got their hands dirty...
This meant that unlike earlier European cultures, the Puritans had no class stigma against performing menial labor. Those who succeeded in menial tasks were often given more complicated responsibilities, and so Puritan "managers" rose through the ranks by demonstrating ability at lower levels.
...MBAs didn't.
The authors argue that this system of on-the-job learning led to America's great industrial success. The break with this system -- the authors say it happened in the 1970s -- came with the rise of MBA culture. They write:

It was no longer considered necessary for an executive to learn the craft of management or to acquire 'domain knowledge.' The holder of an MBA was deemed capable of exercising control over any kind of organization through the medium of its accounts department.
The idea that managers need to get their hands dirty seems to be making a comeback elsewhere in our culture as well: just look at Undercover Boss for an example.

Yet is an MBA degree incompatible with these so-called Puritan values? I know plenty of MBAs who have gotten their degrees, then started their businesses from the ground up, doing plenty of dirty work. What do you think: Does the U.S. need a return to Puritan values to get back on the road to prosperity?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Sultry, CC 2.0.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.