Thursday, October 20, 2005

A silver lining 

It is easy to caterwaul about the liberal bias on American campuses, brought forward by John Tierney. I could provide you with a hundred links on this site to examples of it, and of the condescension that liberal faculty treat the claim of bias (as exemplified by the list of reasons for the lack of conservatives on campus that Tierney distills from email from defensive leftists.) But the last two paragraphs of Tierney make a damn good point.

Conservatives complain about this imbalance in academia, but in some ways they've benefited from being outcasts. They've been toughened by confronting skeptics on campus and working at think tanks in Washington involved in the political fray. They've come up with ideas -- welfare reform, school vouchers, all kinds of privatization schemes -- that have been adopted around the country and the world. But how many big ideas from liberal academics are on anyone's agenda? Democratic politicians are desperately trying to find something newer than the New Deal to run on next year. They're glad to take campaign contributions from professors, but they're leery of ideas from intellectuals who've been talking to themselves for so long.
There are certainly several center-left think tanks out there, but few that seem to get the notice that places like AEI, Heritage or Cato get. And it has been my experience that conservative policy analysts get influence in government, and did so during the Clinton years. Larry Summers may be a Democrat but his views are quite mainstream among economists and would be considered conservative by noneconomists.

But more to the point of the rest of Tierney's op-ed: Conservatives find it necessary to read liberal articles in their scholarship in order to gain publication in mainstream journals. There are options for economists who simply wish to avoid it all -- I think of the strong Austrian types here -- but these are limited and have difficulty gaining traction.

If you want to gain influence in the world, you must form arguments that withstand the liberal academy's reviews for publication. That only makes a conservative's work stronger. Liberal faculty often attend conferences which brook no conservative participation. Within that echo chamber bad ideas perpetuate and indeed multiply.