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10/07/2007

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paco

The main problem w/ many intellectuals as I see it is that they see all trade and exchange as zero or constant sum when in fact most exchange relations (economic, intellectual, personal) are positive sum -- many intellectuals neglect the problem of scarcity, believing that society has infinite resources for solving all problems

BK

Somehow i'm not surprised that two generally conservative intellectuals made an argument off of nothing other than stereotypes. Where is the data to support any of your conclusions? Neither of these posts live up to the standards set by previous posts.

Andrei Vlad

Indeed, the tendency of the intellectuals to praise the left is clear and is also an old habit. Bertrand de Jouvenel argues in an essay published in Hayek's "Capitalism and the Historians" that the intellectuals are angry that in capitalism conditions, the people buy consumer goods that, in their oppinions, should not buy. Instead they argue that the people should buy intellectuals' products, which they do not however, since they do not provide products that are good enough to buy.

kljhlkhj

"This evidence has impressed the man and woman in the street,"

Both of you intimate that the public has become more supportive of free markets in recent years, and I think this is both wrong and answers the question that you are trying to answer.

I really don't think the American public has become more supportive of markets in the last several years. I don't have a ton of hard data, but I can point to the recent WSJ survey, which showed that a majority of Republicans are against free trade. It's true that the American public has become more Republican since about the 1960's, but I think this is a result of social rather than economic conservatism.

Why does the American public not support free markets? Because economic thinking is counter-intuitive. The first response of any person not educated in economics to any social problem is: Have the government spend money on it. Are people not getting health care? Tax and spend! This response is prevalent because it is simple. By contrast, the economic prescription---increase transparency so that the markets can operate more effectively---isn't as simple or as obvious. Thus, fewer American people support it.

The same can be said about intellectuals. We might hope that intellectuals, unlike the general public, would look to the reams of evidence supporting the economic world view. But the truth, I think, is that your average intellectual is no more rational than your average American. Most people don't question their political beliefs, and don't seek to ensure that they're consistent with empirical evidence. Intellectuals really are no different. Why is this? Probably because your average intellectual really isn't that much smarter than your average American. Also, intellectuals probably tend to overestimate the importance of their own discipline to society. I've seen this a lot, for example, with philosophers, who seem way, way too confident in their ability to determine the correct answers to public policy problems from abstract philosophical theories.

Bruce G Charlton

I agree that the phenomenon of academic leftism is not well explained.

My take is that academics are essentially mandarins - who combine technical skill with cultural expertise. I would say that faculty are more 'statist' than 'leftist'.

For example, German academics of the 19th century were (in opposition to modern faculty) nationalist-rightist and pro-hierarchy - but they were (like modern faculty) pro-state (and strongly anti-capitalist). Think Heidegger.

Mandarins are the descendents of the priesthood - who gain their status from their position within the church bureacracy, which gains its status from state support.

Analogously, academics gain their status from their position within the university bureaucracy; and universities have traditionally gained their status from the state - in the past the core role of universities was to provide government officials (clerks, lawyers, administrators - and teachers).

But I think all this has changed by now, and university faculty will change their political stance too. It is just that there is a great deal of inertia in universities (due to the slow pace of academic discourse, amplified by tenure).

Bruce G Charlton

I agree that the phenomenon of academic leftism is not well explained.

My take is that academics are essentially mandarins - who combine technical skill with cultural expertise. I would say that faculty are more 'statist' than 'leftist'.

For example, German academics of the 19th century were (in opposition to modern faculty) nationalist-rightist and pro-hierarchy - but they were (like modern faculty) pro-state (and strongly anti-capitalist). Think Heidegger.

Mandarins are the descendents of the priesthood - who gain their status from their position within the church bureacracy, which gains its status from state support.

Analogously, academics gain their status from their position within the university bureaucracy; and universities have traditionally gained their status from the state - in the past the core role of universities was to provide government officials (clerks, lawyers, administrators - and teachers).

But I think all this has changed by now, and university faculty will change their political stance too. It is just that there is a great deal of inertia in universities (due to the slow pace of academic discourse, amplified by tenure).

Wes

Rumsfield ... has an intellect that is far superior to many professors at top universities.Huh? The man actually claimed that invading Iraq was a good idea. That makes him either very dishonest or very clueless - not exactly what you want in a top college professor.

KB

BK, read the entire post before you attack it: "I wish I had the answer; I don’t, so I will speculate about possible reasons." Nobody was claiming to have a rock-solid empirical solution

BK

KB,

"I wish I had the answer; I don’t, so I will speculate about possible reasons."

That's exactly my point. the speculation consisted of little more than political stereotypes. it added nothing to the debate. and because it is not based on any empirical studies i said it did not rise the the standards set by previous posts.

ctw

I hope this post is a parody. But in case it isn't ...

Can one miss the irony of suggesting that a petition is an abridgement of free speech? The petition in question may be ill-considered for various reasons, but - unlike, for example, shouting down a speaker - it certainly isn't a "sharp limit on free speech". One has a constitutional right to free speech (eg, petitions) but not to an unopposed appointment at Hoover - which of course is free to dispose of the petition as it sees fit.

"the majority of faculty is considerably to the left of the general population. They are at the forefront of the politically correct movement."

If "to the left of the general public" is indicated by their voting D, my understanding is that the first of these statements is known to be true; otherwise, I don't think one can know this. And the second seems meaningless on several counts. What constitutes the "PC movement", what fraction of faculty are part of it (also unknowable, I would bet), and what would it mean for the majority of faculty to be "at the forefront" of it?

"businessmen do better under capitalism, whereas intellectuals believe they would have a more influential position under socialism and communism"

This is closer to substanceless talking points delivered to a rally of mindless partisans than to thoughtful discourse on a prestigious blog. First, the distinction between "businessmen" (no PC here!) and "intellectuals" is rather insulting to both. Plenty of successful "businessmen" are also world class intellectuals (think Qualcomm). And plenty of "intellectuals" have more influence than most successful businessmen (think Profs Becker and Posner) And finally, what does being an intellectual have to do with socialism or communism? To make this association in 2007 should be embarassing.

"the unsuccessful performance of the US government first in Vietnam and now in Iraq ... succeeded in weakening the faith of intellectuals in governmental solutions to problems rather than private market solutions"

And exactly what would a "private market solution" to the "problems" of Vietnam and Iraq have looked like? This is taking an idea (free market economics), to which any sensible person - "intellectual" or otherwise - can easily subscribe, to an extreme that defies reason.

"[Intellectuals] are embarrassed to openly advocate socialism and very large governments ...[and] have shifted ... to criticisms of the way ... private enterprise systems treat women and minorities, the environment, and various other issues [and] promote political correctness in what one can say about causes of differences in performance among different groups, health care systems, and other issues."

"Intellectuals" defined in any meaningful way encompasses a large number of people of diverse characteristics (including, unequivocally, the two blog hosts). Sweeping generalizations like this from one who knows full well that they not only aren't but can't be true goes beyond being wrong, approaching - to be polite - dissembling.

"While intellectual opinions have stood rather still, the general population has moved their thinking against government solutions and toward solutions that use markets and other private transactions and relations"

Coming from a politician, I believe this would be called political demagoguery. Older readers may recall Gov Wallace and his "pointy-headed intellectuals"; younger ones may recall "you know better how to spend your money than the government" (irrelevant since the money in question actually belonged to holders of US debt).

This is just silliness. If the general population is so far ahead of intellectuals in economic concepts, perhaps some revision of the criteria for Nobel prizes should be considered. Ala Time, perhaps the next one should go to "You".

If this post was intended to make faculty intellectuals look bad, IMO it succeeded admirably vis-a-vis at least one.

- Charles

RBL

Let's test the merits of capitalism for a second. Someone says to you that Toyota is a well run company and their growing sales and market share reflect the fact that they are making a better product than Ford and GM, and the market is responding. New car sales regardless of brand, are often sighted as a indicator of how well we are are doing. The capitalist would concur, however I would not.
In the 21st century, the test of a growing nation that can sustain its economy will have to be measured on how many cars we DO NOT NEED and not the number of housing starts, but the number of rehabs vs. abandoned homes. That is what's best for the US, but the market perversions (companies who need us more than we need them and the lobbyists) won't allow it to happen. That's why our interstate and TSA budgets expand, but there aren't any plans for a hi-speed railsystem.

So who is really free.

Jake

It is a tragedy that Donald Rumsfeld cannot obtain a fellowship at the "independent" Hoover Institution without meeting such vocal opposition from Lilliputians.

Separately, in an intriguing post, RBL writes:

"In the 21st century, the test of a growing nation that can sustain its economy will have to be measured on how many cars we DO NOT NEED and not the number of housing starts, but the number of rehabs vs. abandoned homes. That is what's best for the US, but the market perversions (companies who need us more than we need them and the lobbyists) won't allow it to happen. That's why our interstate and TSA budgets expand, but there aren't any plans for a hi-speed railsystem."

RBL then asks: "So who is really free."

How does forcing people onto trains promote freedom? History teaches to the contrary. See Nationalist Socialism, Stalinism, etc.

ctw

"your average intellectual is no more rational than your average American"

"your average intellectual really isn't that much smarter than your average American"

So, in America "intellectuals" are collectively at best average in rationality and only nominally more intelligent than average. So, what characteristics disintinguish them from average Americans? (And "those with expertise in their disciplines" isn't an adequate response - most people with anything reasonably called a "discipline" have that, but we generally don't call accomplished accountants, engineers, etc, "intellectuals".)

- Charles

Prerna Gupta

I graduated with a BA in Economics from Stanford, at the top 5% of my class. I am a strong supporter of capitalism and free markets, and it was my fascination with the purported power of capitalism to spread the greatest amount of wealth / utility that led me to major in Economics at Stanford.

I am an entrepreneur, a former consultant and venture capitalist, and a business woman to the core.

But I am also a leftist intellectual who despises the Bush Administration and is disgusted with Hoover for even entertaining the idea of bringing Rumsfield onboard.

What enrages me most about your post is your shockingly myopic perspective and blatantly hateful tone against intellectuals. It is a disgrace that such respected intellectuals would denigrate their colleagues' intelligence and passions in such manner.

Second, I find it hard to believe that you cannot see the true source of anger towards the Right from intellectuals at present; the Left's hatred for the Bush administration has nothing to do with capitalism.

Your argument that

"Neither the unsuccessful performance of the US government first in Vietnam and now in Iraq ... succeeded in weakening the faith of intellectuals in governmental solutions to problems rather than private market solutions"

is completely nonsensical on multiple levels, which i'm sure you must also realize after the comments from my friends above.

So, why do intellectuals like me despise right-wingers like you, even if we also believe in capitalism?

It's certainly not out of envy for money, as most intellectuals have ample access to wealth and all the other joys of a privileged high-society American life; a life of modesty is generally a choice taken to pursue an intellectual passion.

It's because you are embarrassingly narrow-minded and repulsively selfish, and your comrades in the Bush Administration inhumane.

It is we leftist intellectuals who muse -- How can you be so blindly idiotic, in all your intellectual splendor?

Neuroscientist

This blog post is an embarrassment. It is not political correctness to ban Rumsfeld from an appointment at Stanford. Rumsfeld is the architect of lethal aggression--in violation of international law--against a sovereign foreign state that has led to the unnecessary deaths of a documented minimum 74,804 Iraqis (and perhaps more than 655,000, if the Lancet epidemiological study is correct). In addition, 3817 Americans have also died unnecessarily. Rumsfeld is a mass murderer on a monumental scale. (Recall “shock and awe” bombing of a defenseless civilian population?) He should not be appointed to a post at one of our great universities; he should be imprisoned for crimes against humanity. The nonviolent speech of an Ahmadinejad, a Summers or even a Ward Churchill must be protected on the university campus. However, it is common sense not to permit a facilitator of state violence the privilege of protected speech.

Jack

RL: You make some good points. I too have long thought that something beyond capitalism is trying to be born and that the word "sustainability" would be a part of it. Increases in auto production and GDP seem not to translate into a higher standard of living and more leisure time. Perhaps the best way of "recycling" a car is to build them to last twice as long?

Jake: We can easily do the arithmetic that convinces us that it is not feasible for China and India to even approach our level of reliance on the automobile or our level of energy consumption. Once we realize it's not going to work for the rest of the emerging world, it's a short hop to understanding it's not going to work very long for ourselves either.

But fear not. I not expect any successful transition to come from force; instead I'd expect people would be drawn to "trains" or other means of travel for comfort and convenience, beginning in densely populated areas where driving has already become more burden than benefit. With costs increasing and a median household income of just $50,000 operating a couple of cars at $5,000 each must be an unwelcome burden for many.

I'm tempted to ask for estimates of the price of oil if the mess in Iraq spreads to Iran or destabilizes the entire region, but I don't want ot hear the estimates. Jack

Bertil

“Rumsfield is not worthy of Stanford, despite his having served his country twice as Secretary of Defense, as a Congressman, and at several other important government positions.”

“corrupt and incompetent government officials”

Interesting arguments; I might have lost something in the middle. ;)


More seriously, could you consider similar evolution in the rest of the world? Have the European, Middle-Eastern societies & academic elite evolved in a similar fashion? My assumption would be that academics foresee innovation & society evolutions, and react in advance to a coming shift to the right.

LemmusLemmus

Well said, Neuroscientist!

To compare opposing the appointment of a war criminal (Rumsfeld) to the silencing of Larry Sumners for uttering scientific hypotheses is ludicrous.

MarkT

I suggest two additional factors contribute in small ways to leftism on campuses:

1) students have not worked in the real world and thus are more susceptible to ideological arguments that later get tempered by reality. A universal service requirement would help ameliorate that by exposing them to real life sooner.

2) tenure disincentivizes the faculty's responsiveness to the university's constituencies.

Rafal Smigrodzki

I think that a factor responsible in large part for academic leftism is negative selection: Smart, resourceful, risk-taking alumni who aim to be independent and dominant in their lives tend to go into business. The perhaps equally smart but risk-averse ones tend to stay in school forever. Academia used to give the tenured faculty a feeling of security, an orderly and rather benevolent hierarchy, not much scope for enrichment yet no risk of penury - the ideal environment for persons fixated on equalization of outcomes (hence support for confiscatory taxation, affirmative action, militant sexism) and risk-avoidant (hence supporting Social Security, single payer health care, and other aspects of the nanny state, while opposed to military adventures). Add to it the post-graduate, real-life experience in the business environment that teaches the virtues of market solutions better than most economics handbooks and the differences in initial predilections are amplified enormously. Smart alumni in both business and academia share a feature differentiating them from the average citizen - atheism, but it is mainly those in the academia who can feel free to admit to it, thanks to more homogenous and protected environment they are in. So, in the end we have what makes a leftist nowadays - egalitarian, pacifist, statist, openly atheist, all concentrated in the academia.

The transformation of universities into businesses may provide an opportunity to learn for leftists - helping them become less statist and egalitarian, while hopefully preserving atheism and pacifism. Time will tell.

Raj

Could the leftism among academia be caused by the view among academics that they act as a counter-balance to the more self-interested and "unrefined" institutions in society? This would explain why as the county became more conservative during the Reagan years the academia became more entrenched in its leftist ideas.

corwin

Dr. Becker,
I think there are at least a couple of things that are large factors.One is a form of selecting people into heavily politicized areas whose views mirror the entrenched.They aren't likely to give appointments to their perceived foes.Especially when the number of applicants for these jobs far out number the jobs.
Secondly,these aren't really challenging fields.I tend to think of classwork/jobs as being horizontally based or vertically based.in the latter a body of knowledge in lower level course is needed to understand a higher level course.In some of the humanities,I don't think that's the case.My experience is anecdotal on this.As an UG,I owed a friend a favor and agreed to take his sociology final.Since I never took soc and had only a weekend,I only received a B plus.This was a 400 level course.I doubt I could have taken an Organic chem course and done as well,notwithstanding a very high A in organic two years prior.

ctw

"The main problem w/ many intellectuals ..."
"the tendency of the intellectuals to praise the left ..."
"We might hope that intellectuals ..."
"academics are essentially mandarins"
"I ... despise the Bush Administration and am disgusted with Hoover"
"in the end we have what makes a leftist nowadays ..."
In trying to respond to some of (what I at first thought were) the more thoughtful comments, I kept running into a problem - I felt like I needed to muster a defense but I wasn't sure of what. Comparing these quotes, I think I see the problem. "Which one of these things is not like the others?" I think the answer speaks volumes.
- Charles

ctw

"tenure disincentivizes the faculty's responsiveness to the university's constituencies"
I believe that's the intent.
- Charles

Jack

It would sure help some of these conversations if we knew what constitutes the platform of "the right" today.

If the platform includes: limiting the cost of government to 20% of GDP (unless we shift some or all of the 18% now sent to insurance cos and health providers.)

Paying the majority of our bills as they arrive with some flexibility in the case of long term investments.

And, as once was the case, being very reluctant to engage in military adventurism, nation building, and empire building in foreign lands.

Then I've little disagreement. Are there classical, pre-neocon conservatives here?


Somehow, those who claim to be conservatives like to dash off a straw man of what a "liberal" favors, as does Rafal.

"the ideal environment for persons fixated on equalization of outcomes (hence support for confiscatory taxation, affirmative action, militant sexism) and risk-avoidant (hence supporting Social Security, single payer health care, and other aspects of the nanny state, while opposed to military adventures)."

.............. Hmmm quite a mixture! Lately Dem tax increases have been to cover the deficits and DEBTS of those who claim to be conservatives. Is "confiscatory DEBT service" a new conservative principle?

.. Affirmative action is largely skewed toward the early years of those who, not long ago, sailed against the stiff winds of discrimination for centuries; hardly anything approaching an "equality of outcome". BTW the "affirmative action" of being an alumni of an elite college is a FAR higher card than the few points accorded minorities.

........ Militant sexism?? Now WHAT is that?

......... SS as "risk avoidance?" Is the writer familiar with the differences in societies w/o SS??

.......... Single payer health care??? Well there's nothing akin to a "supply and demand" capitalism going on in our present healthcare mess, but it is true that I doubt such capitalist principles work very well when "shopping" for a "good deal" on a loved one's health care. IF the goal is higher levels of efficiency, top quality care, I'd think the American solution would be a "single payer voucher" with competition from providers on quality and coverage. Is there a competing "conservative model?"

......... Hmmm, opposed to military adventurism? I thought I'd long shared that desire with my fellow, principled conservative. Are there now many who have forgotten Ike's warnings of the military industrial complex? Watching the Blackwater hearings could certain be a reminder!

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