There is an old saying in politics that “They don’t scream unless you hurt them.” When your adversaries scream, it is a good sign that your measures have been effective. Judged by this standard, the Koch Brothers (David and Charles) have been very effective in recent years in advancing their causes of limited government and classical liberalism, much to the discomfort of liberal foes promoting business regulation, higher taxes, and ObamaCare.
The Koch brothers have been on the receiving end of non-stop attacks from liberal journalists and academics ever since Jane Mayer published a hit piece on them last year in The New Yorker purporting to show that their contributions were behind the rise of the “Tea Party” movement. This wildly exaggerated claim was meant to cast the Koch brothers as great villains, but villains possessed of a satanic combination of power and tactical brilliance. In a predictable course, Mayer’s fairy tale was circulated by the columnists and editorial writers of the New York Times and from there through a network of second-level columnists and political magazines until at length it came to the attention of the credulous foot soldiers of the liberal-left who have kept the pot boiling in recent months with ever more inventive and exaggerated versions of the original lie.
The latest controversy surrounding the Kochs arises from an article published last week in the St. Petersburg Times titled, “Billionaire’s Role in Hiring Decisions at Florida State University Raises Questions.” The author insinuates that the Koch Foundation was trying to “buy off” the Economics Department at Florida State University through a $1.5 million grant (paid over six years) to hire new faculty and to support graduate fellowships under a program in “political economy and free enterprise.” Under the grant, a three-person faculty committee was set up to review candidates for the positions, including one member designated by the Foundation. The paper suggested that by designating a member of the review committee the Foundation was undermining academic freedom by interfering in the faculty’s right to appoint colleagues on the basis of professional competence.
Continue reading A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation
Many people, some conservatives included, say we need to get ideology out of the college classroom. Some professors say proudly, “my students never come to know where I stand.”
I practice an opposite approach. I tell students that I am a free-market economist, a classical liberal or libertarian. And I am not suggesting that it is wrong to be ideologically reserved. Different styles suit different professors.
And of course some professors go much too far in pressing their ideological judgments and requiring conformity, even forms of activism. But we should not fall into simplistic ideals of neutrality and objectivity. There is an ethical high-ground in temperance, but that does not necessarily mean reserve and circumspection. One can open up about ideology without falling into intemperance. Here I meditate on some merits of being open about your own ideology, even somewhat outspoken, when teaching a college course.
When listening to testimony on financial regulation, we like to know whether the testifying expert has a vested interest. And we like to know if he has other sorts of commitments that might affect his interpretation and judgment.
An individual’s ideological commitments are like his religious commitments, in that they run deep and change little. They suffuse his professional and personal relationships; they suffuse his sense of self. They are like vested interests, only deeper and more permanent.
Continue reading In Praise of Ideological Openness