Tag Archives: free market

What Commencement Speakers Might Have Said

Commencement speeches 2012.jpgNow that commencement speakers have finished their work, what messages did they dispense to the class of 2012, graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression? Mostly generic words of anodyne idealism: “Live your dream,” “go change the world”–conventional bromides that graduating classes have heard since college life began. Few speakers gave the new graduates advice that they actually could use in the current dismal job market: don’t hold out for that ideal job–take the best one you can find and get to work; remember, paying work of any kind has much to teach you, about managing your time, getting along with difficult bosses and customers, and learning by observing management how to run a business. But most speakers fell back on clich

Let the Free Market Set College Tuition

When President
Obama talked about unaffordable college tuition, he failed to point out that
federal subsidies are responsible for much of the unaffordability. In his State
of the Union message, he said, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the
funding you get from taxpayers will go down.” However, since tuition is
dependent on federal aid, it cannot remain stable or go down unless federal aid
is reduced.

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More Ed-School “Social Justice” Studies

The Boston Globe brings news of “discord” at the Harvard Education School. The issue, incredibly, involves claims by graduate students and some faculty members that the institution is insufficiently committed to a left-wing educational agenda.

Over the last few years, three “social justice” professors left the Graduate School of Education, including the husband-wife duo of Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco. (She explores such only-in-academia topics as “the role of the ‘social mirror’ in identity formation” and “the gendered experiences of immigrant youth.”) In an example of the operation of free market capitalism that their scholarship would seem to condemn, the Suarez-Orozcos left Harvard for NYU.

This background contributed to the protests that erupted after the school denied tenure to Mark Warren. Warren describes himself as “a sociologist concerned with the revitalization of American democratic and community life,” who studies “efforts to strengthen institutions that anchor inner-city communities–churches, schools, and other community-based organizations–and to build broad-based alliances among these institutions and across race and social class.” His latest book is Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice,which purports to “show white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own.”

The GSE grants tenure to around 20 percent of its junior faculty, a rather high percentage for any Harvard entity. So Warren’s chances were never particularly good. And neither the Globe article nor any other reporting I’ve seen on the case alleges procedural or other forms of impropriety in the tenure decision.

Nonetheless, a group of graduate students penned an open letter implying that Warren deserved tenure simply because of the agenda associated with his scholarship. Meredith Mira, a fifth-year doctoral student, termed the decision “incredibly demoralizing,” and complained, “Without this knowledge, we aren’t adequately prepared to go out and lead education reform.” Warren himself implied that the subject of his scholarship alone should have justified tenure. He told the Globe, “The work I do on community organizing has an essential contribution to make to addressing the problems facing our public education system and I am disappointed to see that it does not have a place at Harvard.”

Dean Kathleen McCartney could have responded to such protests by noting the obvious–“social justice” is an empty term, whose precise meaning depends on the political beliefs of the faculty member. Warren’s definition of “racial justice,” for instance, clearly does not include those who (quite reasonably) define “racial justice” as ensuring that all American citizens are treated equally under the law and by government entities, regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. And the “social justice” championed by graduate students such as Mira clearly would not include figures who define “social justice” as upholding Biblical fundamentalism by denying gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to adopt children.

In short, by embracing the promotion of “social justice” as a legitimate goal of public education, left-wing extremists like those at the Harvard Education School provide a cover for right-wing extremists like the Texas Board of Education to impose their own view of “social justice” on public school students.

But McCartney didn’t communicate that message. Instead, she bent over backwards to appease the protesters. In an open letter, she promised that the school’s curriculum would remain “directly relevant to issues of equity, diversity, and social justice.” McCartney additionally informed the Globe that social justice studies “is an area we need to strengthen.”

The dean’s handling of this affair unintentionally revealed the continued irrelevance of education schools, which remain committed to using jargon to impose the professors’ one-sided political views on the nation’s public educational system.

In Praise of Ideological Openness

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. 

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150 Years of Contempt for Free Markets

Alan S. Kahan has cast new light on an ongoing conflict with origins in classical antiquity if not earlier. Kahan’s Mind vs. Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism is a learned and engaging account of the tension between the amorality of the marketplace and the moralism of would-be priestly authorities. Until the Enlightenment, merchants were forced to bow before the courtly classes of the aristocracy, which staffed the military, and the clergy, which surveilled the public morality of the peasantry. But the Enlightenment, in challenging the authority of the aristocracy and the priesthood, opened up space for unbowed commerce, and hence the merchant middle class, to thrive. There are those, once largely on the right, today largely on the left, who have never forgiven the Enlightenment for this sin against the would-be guardians of morality.
The book’s central themes were laid out in 1834 by the German poet Heinrich Heine. Heine, who had nothing but contempt for American money-making, spoke of the United States as “that big pig-pen of freedom/Inhabited by boors living in equality.” Heine’s romantic ambitions yearned to transcend mere material freedom. He saw the intellectuals as the basis for the new aristocracy of virtue. “It is no longer a matter of destroying the old church,” he explained, “but rather building a new one, and far from wanting to annihilate the clergy, today we want to make ourselves priests.” But while Heine hoped a clerisy would remake the world he also saw an abyss ahead. “A drama will be performed in Germany,” he prophesied, “in contrast with which the French Revolution will seem a mere peaceful idyll.”

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Recapturing the University: The Hybrid Alternative

In the contemporary battle within the social sciences between free market think tanks and liberal- dominated universities, the former labor under a huge disadvantage: they lack students. Think-tank based scholars may daily issue erudite policy analyses, write incisive op-ed columns galore, dominate talk radio, publish in widely admired magazines like City Journal but the half-life of these missives seldom exceeds a few days. By contrast, a professor typically has fifteen weeks, two to three times per week, for usually 50 minutes, to expound his or her views to a captive audience, two to four courses per semester, and over a thirty-five plus year career. Of the utmost importance, professors can compel students to read stuff and insist on minimal familiarity, a power unimaginable to even the most professional think tank PR department. That these students are of an impressionable age—the pedagogical equivalent of droit de seigneur— and are hardly in a position to argue, only adds to this built in indoctrination advantage.
In graduate education the propagating-the-faith advantage multiplies, since most Ph.D. students will become tomorrow’s teachers. Ideological domination can persist for decades, regardless of events. So, to use a depressing example, the Marxist analyses that first filtered into America’s college classrooms in the 1960s are still going strong a half century later and can only continue on as the torch is passed from professor to Ph.D. advisees. Perhaps only centuries from now will Marxism go inert and like spent weapons-grade Plutonium, the last lead-brained but still radioactive Marxist professor will be entombed in a deep Nevada salt mine. And it may require additional centuries for him to be joined by ideologically exhausted feminists, deconstructionists, ethnic studies experts and all the rest.
This monopoly of early access cannot be overcome by think tanks churning out more reports, better public relations, or ensuring that every “important opinion leaders” receives a free copy of their sponsored research (which may not even be read). And keep in mind that professors get to students first (the droit de seigneur), so the glories of free markets, low taxes, and limited government etc. etc. must overcome years of prior exposure. It is no wonder that many free-market think tank scholars must feel like they are trying to push boulder up a mountain. They are—the professors got there first and designed the obstacle course terrain.

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