Jay Schalin of the Martin Center takes aim at UNC President Margaret Spellings.

University of North Carolina system president Margaret Spellings recently outlined her plans for higher education to drive economic prosperity in the News & Observer. Her “Two North Carolinas” class rhetoric was remarkably reminiscent of that of another North Carolina public figure with ties to the University of North Carolina. That is, failed (and disgraced) former presidential candidate John Edwards, whose campaign of class politics was entitled “Two Americas.”

Edwards tried to elevate himself to the White House by showing the nation how much he cared about the poor and working class. He even got the state’s Democratic establishment, then in total control of the state government, to provide him with his own policy think tank—the Poverty Center at the UNC-Chapel Hill law school—from which to mount his crusade. During the Democratic Party 2008 primary, however, his personal failings brought him crashing down.

Unfortunately, Spellings appears to have adopted Edwards’s philosophy of “policy by virtue-signaling.” Despite her grand schemes, it is not the university system’s mission to eliminate “inequality” North Carolina. Trying to do so will inevitably result in failure, wastefulness, and missed opportunity.

The UNC system has long tried to justify its budget requests by claiming a position at the center of North Carolina’s economy, despite an absence of proof that this is the case. This way of thinking also betrays a misunderstanding of how an economy really functions. While higher education undoubtedly plays an important role in some aspects of the economy, more perceptive reasoning recognizes that the major solutions for poverty and economic malaise lay not just beyond the university system, but beyond the boundaries of the state. These cures include sensible trade policies that don’t disadvantage U.S. industries, less onerous environmental and commercial regulations that don’t strangle small businesses, and less burdensome tax policies that don’t choke off investment and saving.