Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Thoughtful Legacies

The pathways that education opens to income and social mobility, which most Americans consider a birthright, cannot be underestimated. Prior to capitalism, any scope for achievement that enabled social mobility or its benefaction to future generations was confined to the ruling classes. With capitalism, and task specialization, education enabled social mobility for toiling working class producers.

Of early American commercial titans, Frederick Lewis presents a list of ten who with singular unanimity sent all their sons to college: eight went to Harvard, four to Yale, one to brown, one to Amherst, one to Columbia. Of the ten business leaders, only two, Morgan and Vanderbilt, inherited their wealth. The other eight, in Lewis wrote, knew what “working one’s way up from the bottom” meant. They were not born to appreciate the advantages of higher education and showered benefactions on the colleges their sons attended.[1]

Long after the passing of early titans, the economist Ravi Batra remains critical of the multi-billion-dollar endowments of Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Contrary to Joseph Schumpeter’s prediction that education would contribute to the demise of capitalism, Professor Batra asserts “The majority of intellectuals, concerned about their careers and comforts, act to justify the status quo and offer theories that promote the self-interest of the ruling class.”[2]

The ruling elite in the United States are identified by Professor Batra as CEOs and wealthy businessmen.[3] There is common ground in Batra’s observation with the author Thomas Piketty, whom in writing Capital in the Twenty-first Century, sought to demonstrate a “spectacular,” “unprecedented,” and “veritable separation” in the incomes of “top managers of large firms of large firms from the rest of the population.”[4]

Not all billionaires, however, share the benefactory will that Lewis’ Gilded Age rich did. By contrast, the founder of the McDonald’s fast food empire, Ray Kroc, wrote in his autobiography of being “wooed by some of the finest universities in the land,” and telling them “they will not get a cent from me unless they put in a trade school.”[5]

Like Henry Ford, who set up a self-funding trade school that was dismantled by his grandson, Henry Ford II, Ray Kroc set up his own Hamburger University. Walt Disney was another. Sam Walton set up the Walton Institute at the University of Arkansas to expose Walmart managers to educational opportunities that they may not have had earlier in their careers.[6] It has evolved, since the founder’s death, into the Sam M. Walton College of Business with a $50 million family gift in 1998 and another $300 million in 2002.[7]


[1] Frederick L. Allen, The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent, ed. Mark C. Miller (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2017), 74-75.

[2] Ravi N. Batra, The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 2015), 103, 104.

[3] Ravi N. Batra, The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 2015), 103.

[4] Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017), 32.

[5] Ray Kroc, and Robert Anderson, Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonalds (Chicago IL: Contemporary Books, 1987), 199.

[6] Sam Walton, and John Huey , Sam Walton Made in America: My Story, (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 217.

[7] Vision and History | About | Walton College | University of Arkansas,” “Mission (website), https://walton.uark.edu/about/mission-vision-history.php#history.