Paul Krugman, Libertarian

by Russ Roberts on April 6, 2005

in Education

Most professors in America’s universities identify themselves as being on the left of the political spectrum.  This creates a lot of opportunity for grandstanding, breast-beating and teeth-gnashing.  The people who worry about this haven’t spent enough time in a college classroom or spent much time trying to convert people to their worldview.  Lecturing your students on the virtues of Marx isn’t likely to create a lot of Marxists. 

A lot of people want to use the tools of the left to damage the left.  They want to use affirmative action programs to create diversity not just of color and creed but of political ideological views.  This is a horrible idea.  Let the choices of students, not the government,  influence what colleges and universities do.  And Paul Krugman agrees in his recent column in the Times (rr, ht to Todd Henderson).

Most of Krugman’s column is an explanation for the ideological imbalance on campuses.  His analysis is that the conservatives and Republicans are tools of the religious right and that these folks hate science and scholarship:

In the 1970’s, even Democrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan conceded
that the Republican Party was the "party of ideas." Today, even
Republicans like Representative Chris Shays concede that it has become
the "party of theocracy."

The way Kruman invokes Shays you’d assume he’s an objective observer.  I don’t know Shays’s ADA rating but I can guess.  I suspect he’s not exactly a disinterested spectator.  Krugman goes on to say:

Think of the message this sends: today’s Republican Party –
increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined
by revelation, not research – doesn’t respect science, or scholarship
in general. It shouldn’t be surprising that scholars have returned the
favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

should be worried by the alienation of the universities; they should at
least wonder if some of the fault lies not in the professors, but in
themselves. Instead, they’re seeking a Lysenkoist solution that would
have politics determine courses’ content.

There’s only one problem with Krugman’s thesis.  He’s arguing that it used to be respectable to be a Republican on campus, when it was the party of ideas.  Now that it’s just an American outpost of self-righteous religious intolerance, no thoughtful person wants to associate with it.  So were campuses in the 60’s and 70’s crawling with Republicans when it was the party of ideas?  I must have missed it.

Krugman continues:

And it wouldn’t just be a matter of demanding that historians play down
the role of slavery in early America, or that economists give the
macroeconomic theories of Friedrich Hayek as much respect as those of
John Maynard Keynes. Soon, biology professors who don’t give
creationism equal time with evolution and geology professors who
dismiss the view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old might face

The implication is that Keynes is to Darwin as Hayek is to creationism.  Never mind that Hayek spent an enormous chunk of his life exploring the evolutionary approach to economies, culture and morality.  The real howler is the implication that every student taking economics should study the macroeconomics of Keynes, the world where government spending is necessary to stimulate the economy, particularly deficit spending.  How is that theory holding up over the last 25 years?  The Keynesian apparatus (IS-LM for you econ majors) is best suited for generating exam questions. It has been less successful in understanding the world around us lately.

Ironically, Hayek has a more compelling explanation for the left’s dominance in intellectual life.  From The Fatal Conceit:

One’s initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialists diminishes when one realises that, of course, intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence, and to suppose that we must owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilisation offers to deliberate design rather than to traditional rules, and likewise to suppose that we can, by exercising our reason, eliminate any remaining undesired features by still more intelligent reflection, and still more appropriate design and ‘rational coordination’ of our undertakings.  This leads one to be favorably disposed to the central economic planning and control that lie at the heart of socialism.


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