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Quod Erat Demonstrandum

The Oklahoman published an op-ed on September 22 by syndicated columnist Walter Williams, a professor at George Mason University.  You can find it here:  http://www.newsok.com/topic/ORGANIZATION/Philadelphia+Scandal+Underscores+Pitiful+State

(Interesting side note: the term “op-ed” was originally coined by the New York Times to describe these items not because they are “opinion editorials” but because they are “opposite the editorial page.”  The term “op-ed” is about geography, not content.  Who knew?)

Professor Williams’ piece briefly describes a tawdry scandal at the public housing authority in Philadelphia and concludes from that example that, “corruption is highly probable in nonprofits.”  Why?  Because, according to Professor Williams, “nonprofits have no bottom line to meet.”  Clearly, the good professor has never served on a nonprofit board, nor worked in one, nor, apparently, given much thought to how nonprofits work.  All the nonprofits with which I’m familiar have a bottom line that gets met every month or they go bankrupt.  Certainly the Board of the Homeless Alliance knows what our financial bottom line is, and recognizes that the only ways to meet it are controlling expenses or raising more funds.

Another example of the good professor’s ignorance of the real world of nonprofits is this stunningly ill-informed passage, “The fundamental difference between nonprofit organizations and their profit-making counterparts is that nonprofits tend to take a greater protion of their compensation from easier working conditions, more time off, favors, and under-the-table payments. Profit making organizations take a greater part of their compensation in cash.”  Well, obviously.  We all know that taking the greater part of your compensation in cash effectively immunizes you against corruption.  Enron, WorldComm, Lehman Brothers, Morgan-Stanley, AIG, Adelphia, Arthur Andersen, Duke Energy, Dynegy, Global Crossing, Halliburton, Qwest and Tyco clearly demonstrate that if you’re pulling down loads of cash, why, a corrupt thought would never cross your pure and noble mind.  And can we talk about those “easier working conditions” at nonprofits?  Ever been to a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen?  How about a charity hospital?  Oh, Professor Williams, please join us in a Salvation Army or Red Cross disaster van and enjoy our cushy working conditions.  Come on in, Professor, and kick back while we counsel this 5-year-old rape victim.  Relax while we convince some young gang-bangers there’s a better way.  Enjoy the soothing work environment while we help this mom with cancer discover a better way to die.

Here’s another line from the good professor:  “In the profit-making world, there is much greater monitoring of the behavior of people who act for the organization.”  Hahahahahahaha!  Ever had an A-133 audit, prof?  Thought not.  Go back over that list of profit-making entities in the previous paragraph and tell me they were monitored more intensively than the lowliest local nonprofit that’s getting reviewed by donors, United Way allocations volunteers, a truly independent board with NO financial stake in the organization, government grantors, private grantors, and a truly independent CPA firm.

I’m guessing that logic is not a subject much taught at the vaunted George Mason University where Professor Williams is undoubtedly tenured (and therefore immune from having to produce insightful or even vaguely useful prose).  If it was, the good professor might have hesitated to draw such broad conclusions based on the lonely example of a local housing authority.  We can, however, have some fun with his brand of logic:

  • Professor Williams cited one example of corruption at a nonprofit.  I cited 13 at for-profits.  Therefore, I conclude that businesses that make a profit are 13 times more venal than nonprofits.
  • Big Six accounting firm Arthur Andersen got the death penalty for its shenanigans with Enron and WorldCom, therefore, all accountants and CPA’s are heinous criminals (with easy working conditions).
  • The Oklahoman published this ridiculously flawed and dim-witted piece of tripe; therefore everything in the Oklahoman is flawed tripe.
  • Walter Williams is a Professor at George Mason University.  Walter Williams wrote an ill-informed, spectacularly stupid, demonstrably wrong bit of analysis; therefore George Mason University Professors are defective.

Or we could just use the “normal” logic and simply conclude that Walter Williams is a fool.  Q.E.D.


-Dan Straughan

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