Monday, August 14, 2006

Outside of economics, the usual suspects 

Doc, you should get out more.
Those of us who teach in large economics departments are sometimes blissfully unaware of the anti-capitalism, anti-market propaganda taught in so many other disciplines. We tend to fraternize mostly among ourselves and less with those who disagree with us.
Easy enough to do. My own department's suite of offices are in the top corner of a building on the river's edge, far from the center of campus. You have to walk past two other departments and numerous classrooms to find us. (I've been tempted to hang a sign: "Welcome to the right wing.") And for us to find them: Most of my colleagues' contact with the outside world comes from campus email they filter to the delete box without opening, brief forays into the student union building for lunch (always travel in pairs!) and be damn sure to be sick the day the department picks who has to go to Faculty Union Senate.
My recent experience teaching in England brought the separation home to me very clearly. Other professors there (with three notable exceptions) were offering courses teaching that capitalism is a cancer, that there is something evil about the commodification of anything, etc. I never heard anything good about Margaret Thatcher.

These professors were teaching courses in history, politics, literature, geography, drama, astronomy, etc. They uniformly had little, if any, training in economics, and yet they knew that they knew what was wrong with capitalism and market economies. One colleague, over lunch, did little more than shout, "Enron" any time I tried to defend relying on prices to allocate scarce resources.
Those of us who do venture out from the wing are well familar with that. I get lunches where people make serious discussion about the "false consciousness" of students, meaning it in its very literal Marxist sense.

So when someone pointed out to me that there were two faculty members of our college who had signed the petition to reinstate Ward Churchill (hat tip: reader jw), those of us who go on anthropological digs of the campus' blatant leftism were surprised. Only two? But even more remarkably, there are 26 members of economics departments among the 460. Those who think most economists are right-wing apologists for corporate profits might be surprised to find a number that large. But you'd be wrong: Economists are 3-to-1 Democrat according to a survey by Daniel Klein (original article here for subscribers); we only look right wing by comparison to the other social sciences (8-to-1 to 10-to-1).