Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Typecasting academics 

Maybe you've seen this article already, that argues that academics are liberal because of typecasting. It is based on a study by -- surprise! -- academics.

Typecasting, of course, is not the only cause for the liberal tilt. The characteristics that define one�s political orientation are also at the fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.

The mismatch between schooling and salary complements a theory that the Harvard professor Louis Menand raises in his new book �The Marketplace of Ideas.� He argues that the way higher education was structured by progressive reformers in the late 19th century is partly responsible for the political uniformity of today. In the view of the early reformers, the only way to ensure that quality, rather than profit, would be rewarded was to protect the profession from outside competition. The tradeoff for lower salaries was control; professors decide who gets to enter their profession and who doesn�t.

As I've noted before, this comes in no small part from the peculiar position of the American academic versus his European counterpart. Ludwig von Mises described it in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality thus:

Access to European society is open to everybody who has distinguished himself in any field. It may be easier to people of noble ancestry and great wealth than to commoners with modest incomes. But neither riches nor titles can give to a member of this set the rank and prestige that is the reward of great personal distinction. The stars of the Parisian salons are not the million�aires, but the members of the Acad�mie Fran�aise. The intellec�tuals prevail and the others feign at least a lively interest in intel�lectual concerns.

Society in this sense is foreign to the American scene. What is called �society� in the United States almost exclusively con�sists of the richest families. There is little social intercourse between the successful businessmen and the nation�s eminent authors, artists and scientists. ...

American authors or scientists are prone to consider the wealthy businessman as a barbarian, as a man exclusively intent upon making money. The professor despises the alumni who are more interested in the university�s football team than in its scholastic achievements. He feels insulted if he learns that the coach gets a higher salary than an eminent profes�sor of philosophy. The men whose research has given rise to new methods of production hate the businessmen who are merely interested in the cash value of their research work. It is very significant that such a large number of American research physicists sympathize with socialism or communism. As they are ignorant of economics and realize that the university teachers of economics are also opposed to what they disparagingly call the profit system, no other attitude can be expected from them.
Because the university system does not depend on profit most professors disparage it, but that dependency was tossed away at the expense of higher wages which would have let them join the ranks of higher society. We get paid less so we can pick who works with us, but rather than recognize the trade we resent the system that produces enough wealth to give us the ability to turn our universities into exclusive clubs.

If Mises' hypothesis is correct we should find more conservatives in the European universities. Is this true? I haven't seen a study to support or refute the hypothesis.