links for 2007-10-12
Steven Pearlstein Has Definitely Eaten His Wheaties Today

Andrew Samwick on Conservatives in Academe

Two and a half years ago, Andrew Samwick wrote about the lack of conservatives in academe:

Vox Baby: A Kibbutz Hooked up to an ATM: I should have my head examined for getting into this discussion.... I am a self-proclaimed conservative.... I agree with the general terms that Krugman uses to frame his explanation:

The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

But I do not buy into the remainder of his argument, which can be loosely paraphrased as not enough conservatives believe in the virtue of scholarship.... Rather, I think the explanation... is that [liberals] actively like the way the academy is organized. An elite university is like a kibbutz hooked up to an ATM. It is the closest thing we may ever find to a socialist enterprise that endures... faculty governance.... The notion that this is a sensible way to organize one's professional life is bound to resonate more with people who have a soft spot for socialist, utopian ideals.... Under normal circumstances, we would expect such an enterprise to implode, because some members of the collective are more productive than others, and they eventually get tired of subsidizing.... So what keeps the elite university alive?

It's the ATM--alumni generosity. With outside money, even those who cross-subsidize the rest can feel like they are being adequately rewarded.... Take away that ATM, and I wager that a lot of the perks that make the quasi-socialist utopian enterprise so interesting to those who are left-of-center would disappear. Universities would have to conduct their daily operations more overtly like a business, and we would find a more balanced mix of people trying to get jobs there.... Krugman makes thinly veiled accusations from the left that conservatives have no respect for scholarship, and the David Horowitz crowd makes equally absurd accusations from the right of a left-wing conspiracy.... I have just offered a much more benign explanation...

Today he says that he thinks Krugman is much closer to being correct--right now:

Vox Baby: Conservatives in Academia: [A]t present, we are in a low point for conservatives or Republicans self-identifying as such among academics.... Krugman's argument regarding the virtue of scholarship--while it is not true for most of the conservative- or Republican-leaning people whom I know--seems to be a pretty good characterization of the top Republican in the White House. (And this is coming from someone who spent a year working at the CEA for this Administration and, despite the ample misgivings I have aired on this blog, would do so again.)... When there is a new person in the White House, particularly if it is a Democrat who now has to take on the responsibilities and potential failures of governing rather than merely criticizing the job that others are doing, we will see a bit less self-identification as Democrats or liberals and a bit more as Republicans or conservatives...

First, I do want to thank Andrew Samwick for being willing to work for the Bush administration as a reality-based Republican.

Second, I want to say that I fear that the conservative- and Republican-leaning people whom Andrew Samwick knows are not representative. It is not just because of George W. Bush that natural scientists are embarrassed to be Republicans--it is the whole range of creationist and other yahoos. It is not just because of George W. Bush that economists are embarrassed to be Republicans--it is the entire party full of supply-side kooks. As one of my ex-Republican friends put it yesterday: the left-wing Democrats are the party of Jefferson and Roosevelt, the right-wing Democrats are the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, and today's Republicans are the party of Bozo.