Friday, February 17, 2006

Selective memory

Retired economics professor Michael A. Stoller wrote in this morning's News & Record,

Personally, having spent the last 40 years of my life around academics, I am inclined to believe that the overwhelming majority of academic social scientists are liberals because decades of reading, researching teaching, debating, and studying their disciplines for 60 hours a week or more on average has led them to the conclusion that liberal arguments make a lot more sense than conservative arguments in explaining real-world politics and economics.
Well, yes -- one would certainly hope that they hold those opinions as a result of serious thought and study rather than on a mere whim, although it's not clear to me why the opinions of scholars who are sheltered within academia's comfortable confines should be more perspicuous than those of business people and politicians who actually run the economy and the state.

But onward. He continues,
In support of my position, I would cite the facts that we have done far better economically (i.e., the '60s and '90s), diplomatically, educationally, and yes, even militarily (unless you consider Iraq a success and Panama, Granada and Desert Storm to be equivalent to World Wars I and II) under liberal administrations.
Coming from an economics professor, this just seems bizarre to me.

What about the huge economic expansion in the '50s under Eisenhower? What about the fact that Kennedy jump-started the economy by cutting marginal tax rates? What about stagflation, malaise, and the "misery index" under the economically liberal presidents Nixon and Carter in the '70s, who pursued the Keynsian economics prescribed by academic economists? What about the fact that the drastically lowered marginal tax rates started under Reagan (top rates were cut from the 70% range to the 30s) have been altered only a little by his Democratic and Republican successors becuase they were obviously so successful? What about the fact that stagflation was tamed by adopting the monetary policies of the conservative Milton Friedman, who was a laughingstock among liberal academic economists -- until the successful implementation of his ideas proved that the liberal academics were wrong?

As to social policy, Professor Stoller seems to forget that LBJ's Great Society did much less to reduce poverty than did Republican welfare reform signed by the Great Triangulator, Bill Clinton.

And military policy? Hmmm. There's a war that Prof. Stoller left out. The Vietnam war, started under Kennedy, prosecuted vigorously by Johnson, ended by Nixon: about 50,000 dead soldiers in the cause of defeat.

7 comments:

Joe Guarino said...

Awesome response, David. You can take the boy out of blogging, but...

David Boyd said...

I had a freshman sociology professor who once told a class of 40 that they'd never have to worry about capital gains taxes unless maybe they sold a house.

After I figured out what capital gains were, I felt I had learned a valuable lesson to beware of insulated professors and their potential myopia regardless (especially!) of how long they'd been at work in the social sciences.

jimcaserta said...

Why was a sociology professor talking about capital gains taxes? Stoller is merely engaging in the selective inclusion of data/evidence. Which is ok if you're writing a persuasive piece or defending a client in court, but not reporting. That is why the only arguments worth reading are when there are 2 opposing viewpoints being shared.

But, DW, what do you think of the "liberal bias" in academia? Any ideas on how to explain a lot of the data saying that there are very few conservative professors at universities?

Sam B said...

"it's not clear to me why the opinions of scholars who are sheltered within academia's comfortable confines should be more perspicuous than those of business people and politicians who actually run the economy and the state."

Maybe because business people and politicians are corrupt and looking out for their own self-interest? Just a thought.

There is a dangerous problem with celebrating ignorance in this country. The terrifying aspect is that Republicans like Bush, DeLay, and Santorum don't get elected despite their ignorance, they get elected because of it.

Conservatives do not like intellectuals because intellectuals move forward, and conservatives are afraid of change, and of new truths. It's the way it's always been. Yet, fortunately for the world, conservatives have lost at every point in history.

The only way conservatives will win is if they destroy the world before they die out. Which is certainly possible as conservative Christians and conservative Muslims are itching for WWIII. I find it very ironic that you all want to kill each other, yet you're exactly the same.

David Wharton said...

"Maybe because business people and politicians are corrupt and looking out for their own self-interest?"

Putting aside your absurd characterization of all business people and politicians as corrupt, maybe you should also consider that academics also look out for their own self-interest. Fiercely. (If you don't believe me, ask an associate professor what she thinks about abolishing the tenure system.)

So it's at least interesting, and maybe revealing, that academic economists tend to favor economic policies that support more taxation and more funding for state-run and state-supported institutions like the ones that they work in. Hmmm.

"There is a dangerous problem with celebrating ignorance in this country."

Who was doing that? I was pointing out the apparent ignorance of Prof. Stoller about the relative performance of the U.S. economy under liberals and conservatives.

"Conservatives do not like intellectuals . . ."

Really? What would you call Milton Friedman? He works at a conservative think-tank that's positively crawling with conservative intellectuals. You also seem to forget that the conservative movement in this country was essentially founded and led by William Buckley, who is for many the very definition of an effete intellectual.

"...conservatives are afraid of change, and of new truths."

Conservative economists like Friedman were the agents of economic change, uprooting a consensus that had been stagnant for half a century. The only remaining proponents of that old status quo now live in academia. So who's afraid of change and new truths?

Conservative business people in general tend to thrive on and cherish change and dynamism in the economy, whereas liberals often try to stave it off. The most hostile elements to change in an economy -- regulation, protectionism, and unionism -- are the most often associated with liberalism.

"...conservative Christians and conservative Muslims are itching for WWIII. I find it very ironic that you all want to kill each other, yet you're exactly the same."

Well, now, your own ignorance is fully on display here, but I won't celebrate it, or even deride it.

Sam, your entire comment was a screed of clich├ęs and broadly insulting generalizations, apparently aimed at me(?). But you didn't try to refute a single fact that I adduced.

What's up with that?

David said...

The whole idea of analyze whether we do better under liberal or conservative administrations is simplistic because it ignores lag times. If you are on the bridge of an ocean liner and you order "full ahead" or "full back", then some time will pass before the effect of your 'policy decision' is seen in the actual behavior of the liner. The same is true of national economies, except with much longer time constants.

This kind of analysis also ignores economic events that occur outside of the political process. Was the telegraph introduced during a Republican or a Democratic administration? The Model-T? Does it matter?

Bubba said...

Good comments and post David, with one minor factual correction.

Professor Friedman passed away last November.

Regardless of that, his work will live for a long time coming.