Donor makes large gift to help bring back private enterprise
By Jamie Murphy
DeVoe Moore, an outspoken, strong-willed and hard-working entrepreneur and philanthropist, has given $5 million to Florida State University (matching state money will bring it to $10 million) to spread his philosophy that government bureaucracy is killing private enterprise.
Moore, who began his career as a farrier - a blacksmith - is paying for the College of Social Sciences' entry into the emerging discipline of "public choice."
The gift is controversial; some suggest it might be a "bribe" to push scholarship in the direction Moore favors. But others, including Social Sciences Dean Charles Cnudde, say it's a gift to get the college into a legitimate new field of inquiry.
"The endowment will enable us to apply the 'public choice' field of study to local government," Cnudde said, "making FSU the national leader in this interdisciplinary field."
Moore hopes the field will yield ideas for reducing what he sees as the stifling effect of bureaucracy on business.
Once an entrepreneur (a land developer) himself, Moore believes the FSU research can help bring back the less bureaucratic government of his earlier days, a government "that allowed and encouraged a free enterprise system that worked for all people."
Moore began his career in the lightly regulated 1960s. Working out of the back of his pickup truck, he paid for his FSU education by shoeing horses.
With back-breaking 80-hour work weeks and his own business acumen (including a philosophy of buying to develop rather than buying to sell), Moore built a collection of businesses in Tallahassee.
Until recently, he transformed raw land into businesses. Today's holdings include the Cross Creek Driving Range and Par 3 Golf course, five storage facilities, the Fort Knox Executive Office Center and his crowning jewel, the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum. Many of the cars he restored himself.
The museum, a few miles east of Tallahassee on Highway 90, is one of the southeast's finest private collections of antique vehicles. Close to 60 classic machines in mint condition, ranging from a 1913 Car-Nation Tourer - one of three known to exist - to a 1983 DeLorean, are on display. The museum has Abraham Lincoln's horse-drawn hearse, a '31 Duesenburg worth more than $1 million and a '57 Chevy Bel Air that scored 998 out of 1,000 points in an international car show.
But the exhibit is about more than cars; it is about Moore. The museum's entrance - a display of Moore's farrier tools and a placard labeled "A Tribute to an Era Gone By" - sets the theme. On the placard, a few paragraphs summarize his frustration with today's bureaucracy:
"The political bureaucrat of the 1990s has left us a legacy of a decaying free enterprise system. Under the free enterprise system of the 1960s, students and businesses did not require as much financial help and were even blessed with the opportunity to work, earn and pay their own way."
Moore says he ended his career as a developer because of recurring disputes over zoning and other regulatory issues. He has not filed a permit since 1989. He says his battle today is the system, not zoning.
If he were a student today, Moore said, he doubts that he would be able to duplicate his business successes of the '60s, '70s and '80s. And his gift to FSU, he notes, would never be possible.
Slowly, like shaping a horeshoe, Moore hopes to reverse what he sees as a trend toward more bureaucracy. He wants to "give students a choice between what is going on now and what I grew up with.
"It is my wish that this endowment be used to educate students in the area of government regulation and how these regulations affect private enterprise."
Reducing bureaucracy will take time, he says. "It is for the next generation to fix."
Thus the DeVoe Moore Center for the Study of Critical Issues in Economic Policy and Government.
The center raises hard questions about the independence of the university.
FSU law professor Ken Vinson, among others, wonders whether FSU students should be subjected to Moore's political preferences. The problem for the university, he notes, is the urgency of raising money.
"DeVoe Moore's gift highlights the dilemma academic money-raisers face," said Vinson. FSU's challenge "is to flesh out the budget with extractions from the wealthy, while at the same time preserving school integrity and reputation by rejecting bribes reeking too strongly of raw politics."
But, asks Vinson, once Moore's "public choice" money flows into FSU, "who's to say whether Moore's dislike of government 'red tape' gets translated into classroom notes?" Or, "can we escape letting private money occasionally dictate curriculum, just a little bit?" After all, teaching a course in Western Civilization "that's free of political slant would be like trying to picture the South without kudzu or grits."
Cnudde defends the gift.
"Public choice as an academic school of thought has a good fit with DeVoe Moore's interests for at least two reasons," said Cnudde. "This new discipline cuts across economics and government. Also like many 'hybrids' it has led to unusual creativity. Since Mr. Moore is interested in developing new ways of doing things, it has a good fit in this respect as well."
Cnudde envisions the DeVoe Moore Center benefiting "not only the students and faculty at Florida State, but also the general public as we innovate new solutions to important public problems.
"The work of the center will attack questions of regulation, privatization, reinventing government and the consideration of the costs and benefits of new kinds of market-like innovations."
Every idea should be heard and discussed in a university, Cnudde said. "Out of such free discussion, I believe, will come new solutions to our problems as well as new theories and philosophies."
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