When we descended on the Intercontinental New York Barclay hotel in Midtown Manhattan, it was abuzz with activity. Suited professionals filled the lobby, hotel employees hustled around helping guests, and I struggled to catch an elevator. It set the tone for an energetic 2019 National Meeting hosted by the Adam Smith Society. Over that mid-April weekend, more than a dozen Boothies and I attended to learn and engage with other MBA programs and business leaders.
What is the Adam Smith Society? According to the group’s website, the society “is an expansive, chapter-based network of MBA students, professionals, and business leaders who work to promote debate and discussion about the moral, social, and economic benefits of capitalism.” The society describes its mission as advocating free enterprise and promoting free markets. Backed by the Manhattan Institute, the Adam Smith Society has grown significantly since its founding in 2011. Indeed, there currently exist over 30 student chapters and membership of over 4,000. Booth itself has 129 current full-time students as members.
We began that Friday evening exactly how we wanted to – with an open bar. As we enjoyed our frosty beverages and snacks, we met members from other chapters and were surprised to learn that they came from as far away as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Soon, we were ushered into the keynote speaker event titled “How We Get Our News.” Though I felt the speaker was somewhat partisan and spent a little too much time criticizing politicians, the conversation did cover some interesting topics such as student debt and the evolution of the 24-hour news cycle.
What I found most intellectually potent was a talk the next morning given by Oren Cass, former Director of Domestic Policy under the Mitt Romney campaign. One of his central ideas is that relying on a metric like GDP to understand well-being has consistently led to under-performing labor markets. He contends that consumption, as measured by GDP, is very different from production, which is worker-centric. In a practical example, Oren noted that workers who are put out of work due to heightened international labor competition do not care that they now have access to much cheaper overseas goods. Thus, he disagrees with many contemporary economists regarding the usefulness of GDP, but does still advocate for free-functioning markets.
Other highlights over the weekend included a more in-depth review of Adam Smith’s ideas, a lively debate on the viability of driverless vehicles, and a closing reception on an airy rooftop near the Empire State Building. The other co-chairs in attendance and I also had some time to plan out our next steps and brainstorm upcoming events. We were energized by this conference and hope to bring some of these intellectual ideas to campus!