Monday, October 08, 2007

Academics and capitalism 

Looking at the Ahmadinejad invitation, the disinvitation of Larry Summers to speak at the University of California, the protest over a part-time post at Stanford for Donald Rumsfeld, and the disinvitation and reinvitation of Erwin Chemerinsky to be dean of the new law school at Cal-Irvine, Gary Becker and Richard Posner delve into why academia is so far to the left of the population as a whole. This is a relatively new phenomenon, Justice Posner notes, citing the protests of Adlai Stevenson visiting Yale in 1956. (Anyone reading Robert Bork's Slouching towards Gomorrah would nod his head.) Posner wonders if this is a fading phenomenon since most of the radicals are now approaching retirement age. This may explain for example the finding in this morning's Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscriber link; temp link) that only 9.2% of faculty identified as conservative and barely more than one in five voted for President Bush in 2004. Here's the study, by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. In the Chronicle article

"The data in this paper surprised me in the opposite direction that it surprised the authors," said Mr. Summers, who is now a university professor at Harvard. "It made me think that there is even less ideological diversity in the American university than I had imagined."

In his remarks, Mr. Summers concentrated on a subset of the data concerning elite, Ph.D.-granting universities. In humanities and social-science departments at those institutions, Mr. Summers pointed out, not a single instructor reported voting for President Bush in 2004.

"There is an overwhelming tilt toward the progressive side," Mr. Summers said. "Compared to the underrepresentation of other groups whose underrepresentation is often stressed, the underrepresentation of conservatives appears to be rather substantially more, perhaps."

I think Prof. Summers' speaking fees just took another hit. (UPDATE: See this review of the Gross and Simmons study, with more from Summers, at Inside Higher Ed.)

Prof. Becker looks to Joseph Schumpeter for an answer, but I think better is von Mises' Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. In a capitalist society one succeeds by his or her own devices, and nobody likes to be reminded of this when they fail to measure up. "Everybody knows very well that there are people like himself who succeeded where he himself failed." And unlike most professions where the successful end up traveling in social circles away from the unsuccessful, in academia they are kept together. Looking first at doctors,
Those more eminent than he himself is, those whose methods and innovations he must learn and practice in order to be up-to-date were his classmates in the medical school, they served with him as internes, they attend with him the meetings of medical associations. He meets them at the bedside of patients as well as in social gatherings. Some of them are his personal friends or related to him, and they all behave toward him with the utmost civility and address him as their dear colleague. But they tower far above him in the appre�ciation of the public and often also in height of income. They have outstripped him and now belong to another class of men. When he compares himself with them, he feels humiliated. But he must watch himself carefully lest anybody notice his resent�ment and envy. Even the slightest indication of such feelings would be looked upon as very bad manners and would depreciate him in the eyes of everybody. He must swallow his mor�tification and divert his wrath toward a vicarious target. He in�dicts society�s economic organization, the nefarious system of capitalism.
This is true as well of academics, Mises explains, whose codes of conduct require them to be civil when barely beneath the surface they seethe with resentment. Of such stuff are humorous novels like The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy, Jane Smiley's Moo or Richard Russo's Straight Man. Mises goes on to argue it is worse in America than elsewhere because academics can mix with socialites in Europe but seldom do so here.

Becker concludes:
Neither the unsuccessful performance of the US government first in Vietnam and now in Iraq, which they so strongly condemn, nor even the colossal failures of socialism and communism during the past half century, succeeded in weakening the faith of intellectuals in governmental solutions to problems rather than private market solutions. Since their basic hostility to capitalism is largely unabated, but they are embarrassed to openly advocate socialism and very large governments, given the history of the 20th century, intellectuals have shifted their attacks to criticisms of the way they believe private enterprise systems treat women and minorities, the environment, and various other issues. They also promote political correctness in what one can say about causes of differences in performance among different groups, health care systems, and other issues.
The ability of the academic to hold inconsistent positions consistently truly amazes. This is why you will not find the Left adopting pro-market policies, even if they would help meet progressive goals.

UPDATE (10/9): Michael Barone also notes:
Sometime in the 1960s, [colleges and universities] abandoned their role as advocates of American values -- critical advocates who tried to advance freedom and equality further than Americans had yet succeeded in doing -- and took on the role of adversaries of society.
Commenting on that piece, Paul Mirengoff argues that the voter check provides some restraint on public universities. I really cannot agree with this, pointing to the California examples above as part of my evidence. The radicalization of campuses in the 1960s is much more about Berkeley and Kent State than Harvard or Dartmouth. Paul says structural flaws prevent alumni from doing more on private campuses. Those same structural flaws apply to many public institutions. For example, the absence of any real board for SCSU or other state universities in Minnesota: We are governed by a MnSCU board instead.