ThoughtStorms Wiki

Arnold Kling has a discussion on the real world economy pressures which push economists to the right : (Read with LiberalBias, MovingToTheLeftInsideAcademia)

The important points seem to be that :

  • academia grants academics both freedom and security. Being in the market forces you to choose between them. This promotes PersonalResponsibility.
  • working outside academia reveals that corporations are messy, disfunctional attempts to get disparate groups to work together. Academic economists tend to view corporations as single powerful entities to be feared. Especially by smaller companies and workers.
  • working with government teaches you to be cynical and distrustful of government

Compare DanielDavies :

Compare Academics more productive if they go outside, and then return : SuccessivePartialAdaptions


  • What's so good about personal responsibility? Or let's put that another way. A radical leftist could agree with Kling that working in the market promotes a certain way of thinking. (Let's call it MarketMind, as opposed to AcademyMind). But may also believe that the market way of organizing is as "unreal" or as much an artifact of human construction as the academic world. So why is it better to have MarketMind than AcademyMind? Maybe the market is manufacturing UnnecessaryRisk, which is inflicted on the people who work in it.

: All that personal responsibility is, is a certain kind of defensiveness against risk ... normally expressed as prioritising the aquiring and holding of wealth for yourself, and reducing generosity towards others. (1) That is all that Kling's personal responsibility can mean. The market certainly doesn't seem to teach other kinds of responsibility such as wage restraint (at either employee or board level), honest accounting, long term commitment to a company by board or shareholders, long term commitment to community or environment etc.

:Conversely, academics, through their privileged position, are the only people who've experienced freedom from this risk and can see how much nicer it would be for everyone to live without it.

  • Undoubtedly corporations are disorganized. But the relevant evidence is their effectiveness at doing the things that left-economists fear, not anecdotes of internal confusion and failure. Are they able to fix prices, succesfully lobby government for protection, negotiate from a position of unequal power with workers and smaller trading partners etc? If so, it seems that a clumsy dinosaur can be as dangerous as a co-ordinated one.

: Companies also have a legal status which preserves their integrity. Even the most disastrously disorganized corporate still has limited liability and the right to protect itself from creditors through bankruptcy. This government given protection may be holding together a body which would have otherwise disintegrated if left to it's own merits. How does this bias the equation, when big companies can wait for smaller creditors to go bust?

  • It's plausible that government is horrendously inefficient and disorganized. However :

** that's not the same as saying centrally organized funding need be spent in a centralized or inefficient way. Universities and tenured academics have some autonomy (that's one of the points of the article). Schools, hospitals, welfare schemes etc. could also be organized that way. Tenure and autonomy protects workers at the edge of the network from the problems caused by centralized government control. (Most of which is introduced when government doesn't trust it's agents sufficiently and wraps them in red tape.)

democratic government has one huge moral advantage over the market. It has a constitution (or equivalent) which grants access rights** (for things like voting for representatives) equally. If you don't like the way government organizes things, you have some small power to change it, however poor you are. If you don't like the way the market organizes things, and you aren't rich, you have no rights which guarantee you a voice.

Having said this, he is of course right, academics should work in the other sectors to get a greater understanding of them.

(1) Generosity that is expressed either directly, or by voting for communal responsibility and higher taxes. Now a rightist may say that voting for higher taxes which will be payed mainly by other, richer people is not a very impressive notion of generosity. But those taxes will still have a disutility for him. So, regardless of how it impacts the rich, the professor is choosing generosity.

Gift Economy Argument

Or moving to the left inside academia

Perhaps there's a very different process at work. Think about GenevieveVaughan's theories of GiftEconomies. For Vaughan, "gifting" is a parallel economic mode to "exchange" based on attentiveness to others' needs and a desire to try to fulfill them. Some of the important work around this area is based on looking for "gifting" which may be neglected in some parts of life. Now, one thing I notice since starting teaching, is that a lot of the fun of teaching is seeing each student as a separate puzzle. Each student has a history, set of beliefs which are the causes of their confusion (eg. one has only used Fortran and isn't used to local variables and recursion, another doesn't want to write programs and is doing the course under duress etc). And your challange is to figure out what they don't understand, why they don't understand it and how to get from there to knowing the right stuff.

Now, of course, this is precisely having to practice attentiveness to the mental worlds and needs of others and to try to solve this problem. This in turn may very well flex the muscles of a type of mentality more attuned to gifting than exchange. And the counter to Kling is that economists who go into industry are simply leaving a world where gifting is a working part of the total economy, and useful skill to have, and entering a world where a ruthelessly alienated exchange dominates gifting and such sensitivities atrophy.

See also :