Eliot Spitzer’s Advice to Students

The former governor is now a professor of political science at CUNY. What lessons does he teach his students, and how would he advise them to succeed in today’s economy?
  • Transcript


Question: What do you teach your students at CUNY?

Eliot Spitzer: Well, the question that we address is, what is the role of government? And we come at it from several different perspectives. And the syllabus is to a certain extent, what I consider the “greatest hits” over the last couple of years in thoughtful writing, and some goes back a little farther. We read John Rawls, we read Karl Marx, we read Nozick, we read John Stuart Mill, all in the first week asking the fundamental question, how should income be distributed? And whose job is it to distribute it? Is it purely the private sector, Nozick libertarian world view – what I earn is mine, I keep it? Is it Karl Marx’s terms of a communist socialist world view, John Rawls social contract of worrying about the position of the least well off member of society? And I do not try to proselytize at all in this course, but what I want the students to do is think about their answers to tough questions and come up with an answer based upon a theoretical answer to the question, what should government do? How should government intervene in the marketplace? Issues in the stock market of fraud, whose responsibility is it to enforce integrity, externalities in the context of the environment, tax policy, intergenerational justice issues, and then we end up with a few weeks of the role of the United States in the world. We read Tom Friedman’s classic The World is Flat, and Fareed Zakaria’s I think spectacular book, The Post-American World. And we try to discuss, what are the shifts in the tectonic plates of world power?

Question: Your career has spanned several fields. What career would you advise students to go into today?

Eliot Spitzer: I guess first thing I’d say is, stay in school as long as you can. It’s an ugly world out there, and there aren’t a whole lot of jobs, and the academic environment is wonderful. In terms of pursuing a career, look, I’m going to sound like a Hallmark card. Find something you enjoy. It really is the case that if you enjoy being a Prosecutor, be a lawyer and do that. If you enjoy trading stocks on the floor of the Stock Exchange, do that. Ideally, what do we need for our society? People who are innovative, who come up with technical ideas that would drive the economy forward, a new operating system, a new social network and software package, something medical that will cure a disease, all of which then creates capital flows, jobs and improves the lives of many people.

But finding something that is emotionally satisfying is really, as I said, is an obvious answer, but it’s really the best one, I think.

Recorded January 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen