Producer and Consumer Mentalities

This was published in a college newspaper

When I go to college basketball games and see a bunch of devoted 20-something-year-olds cheering on the team like they were born to do so, I see opportunity being flushed down the drain. As students at a reputable institution, we have all the opportunities we need to blossom as individuals who can go out and create value in the world. How do we do that?

Our society works in a very specific way. Capitalism ensures those who have producer mentalities — namely, entrepreneurs, or those who build things and create value by selling those things — are better off than those who do not — namely, consumers who buy the things entrepreneurs sell.

While this is a highly simplified version of the complexity of our society, it is fair to say this captures the essence of how things work.

Some disclaimers are essential before going any further: First, I don’t mean to pick on the athletic department at this university. Second, I acknowledge sports are a big part of this school — part of the experience of being a Terp is about going to Byrd Stadium, Comcast Center or any other sports venue on the campus and having fun. Third, I understand not everyone is an entrepreneur, or even inclined to be an entrepreneur. Finally, I admit entrepreneurship is not the only path to success or achievement in our capitalist society.

To put into perspective what I’m talking about: I went to a Harvard-Yale football game in New Haven, Conn., a year and a half ago. Now, even though that rivalry is historic — even more so than the rivalry between us and Duke — most people weren’t religiously supporting one team or the other.

Sure, they were there to be entertained, but the most important reason that seemed to draw everyone to New Haven was the networking opportunity the game presented. Alumni from everywhere had flocked into the Connecticut town because it was a once-a-year opportunity for them to connect with other like-minded people, not because they were particularly attached to the sporting outcome.

In fact, this mindset was observable even at the student level. Through the residential college system, students from Harvard were matched with their counterparts at Yale, who hosted them in their dorm suites. My friend at Davenport College, a part of Yale, couldn’t have been bothered about his team’s 45-7 thrashing at the hands of Harvard; apart from the light jokes exchanged, the highlight of his evening was the relationships he built with the Harvard students who were his guests.

And, indeed, what makes these students go out and create such formidable, real-world value is partly that they are always on the lookout for opportunity.

In other colleges, things seem to be a little different — and there is no reason why this cannot be changed. I have overheard many, many students claiming how loyally they support the teams as if this were an achievement to be proud of. One tool in my economics class was proud to have been one of the first to buy the latest athletics merchandise, and said he had attended every single basketball game this season. Because he has focused all of his energy on this one thing, he is not considering any other productive use of his time.

Seriously, if you are in such a position and have any inclination to change your lifestyle, consider this: We can all have an entrepreneurial mindset in whatever work we do, regardless of whether we actually own a business. The entrepreneurial or producer mindset is typically about seeking out opportunity, learning and creating value.

Consumer mentality, on the other hand, is about, “What more can I consume to make me happy?”

I would encourage you to explore the facilities provided at this school. Make use of your professors by connecting with them, network with other students, expand your reading lists and go into Washington to attend the events that actually shape policy in the U.S. and the world. And hey, have fun as well.


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