Arnold Kling  

Politics and Academia

PRINT
Tax Breaks vs. Subsidies... Analogy for Government...

The issue of why academics lean left has received considerable notice. I am not sure of the answer, but one thing I do not buy is the notion that people become professors out of an unusually strong desire for public service. I write,


Overall, I think it is difficult for George Lakoff to make the case that as a tenured professor at Berkeley he is making a public-spirited sacrifice. I might be more open to the argument if he were teaching at a community college or at an inner-city high school. ..

If you find two people of approximately equal intellectual talent, one inside academia and one outside of it, it does not necessarily follow that the non-academic is one who sold out for a higher salary. The academic might have had better luck or more patience for playing the ego game. The non-academic may not have wanted to take part in the fads that were sweeping a field at a particular time...

When I was in graduate school, the great fad sweeping economics was "rational expectations," which I considered to be a decent enough philosophical idea that was turned into an excuse for pointless mathematical masturbation.

For Discussion. In the end, did rational expectations modeling get pursued far past the point of diminishing returns?

Also for discussion. Are academics sacrificing relative to their opportunity cost?



TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/168
The author at A Dusty Life in a related article titled Do Professors Have Larger Egos? writes:
    Arnold King disputes the notion that "people become professors out of an unusually strong desire for public service." He writes at TCS: If you find two people of approximately equal intellectual talent, one inside academia and one outside of it,... [Tracked on December 15, 2004 1:35 AM]
COMMENTS (6 to date)
steve writes:

How many academics would be employable in the real world? :)

Outside of empirical science (to which economics does not belong), there is too much research being done on marginal topics. In the financial economics field, with which I have some familiarity, how many papers does one come across that is a 30 page writeup detailing a minor permutation to some mathematical model? If the tenure system incented professors to teach rather than write papers for one another to read the system could add more value.

Bob writes:

First, any "hot" topic in academia gets beaten to death. This applies to both theoretical and empirical work (think event studies in Finance). This is inevitable when, as Arnold points out, the game is impressing your peers. In particular, junior faculty have a HUGE incentive to pursue safe paths to tenure and, sadly, by the time they receive tenure this mindset is usually cemented.

Second, Lakoff's claim to personal sacrifice is as absurd as the notion that he is contributing to the public good by indoctrinating impressionable students. There are dozens of newly-minted Ph.D.s that would gladly accept the mantle of his “sacrifice.” A real sacrifice would be to give up his tenured position. I’m sure his training and talent would more than qualify him for a job as a Walmart greeter.

Mike writes:

I am an academic and I find Lakoff's statements to be absurd. Success in the business world typically requires an ability to understand the "Big Picture." Success in academia more frequently requires an ability to dissect the small incremental issues. Very different skills.

I think that Lakoff's article is best viewed as an example of someone trying to reduce cognitive dissonance.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Yes. It found it's limitation with Lucas, while Chamley borders on the idiotic. Rational expectations operate only within the environment of Peoples' expectation of the time span under which they will realize their defined goals. People perceiving their Income is increasing slower than their Expenses will decrease their consumption--Tax Cuts or not. This is the expectation is will take longer to reach their personal goals.

Both Tax and Fiscal policy work poorly as economic stimulus. I believe that a semi-permanent Tax rate with a potential spot Surtax for Emergencies works better than shifting Tax rates. I also think a permanent Overnight Interest rate of 4.25% without any adjustments allow all Participants in the Economy to adjust their economic performance to account for financial Service charges. The final note of necessity is to maintain a stable Currency. lgl

spencer writes:

LGL == why 4.25%

Lancelot Finn writes:

Down with the universities! They get all kinds of implicit subsidies from student loans! They adopt their own Robin Hood policies, charging different people different amounts based on their income, trying to give the poor a leg up. The effect is to screw the middle class.

I think the government should drastically cut back on any kind of funding that subsidizes elite schools like Harvard. No subsidies to elites. We should also outlaw price discrimination, i.e. "financial aid." And we should enact academic bills of rights that prevent anti-conservative discrimation in academia. Make the tenured radicals do honest work for a living.

Escracez l'infame.

(Disclaimer: I'm a student-debt slave. I have an axe with Harvard's name on it.)

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top