Assistant Prof. Noah Smith's Life on the Welfare Rolls. Will He Get Tenure?

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Recently, Noah Smith wrote an article comparing Austrian School economics to brain worms.

This is not the sort of rhetoric that a man inside academia uses against his intellectual peers. I do, of course, but I am not inside academia. It is surely not the kind of rhetoric that a man with an established reputation uses. But Dr. Smith has no established reputation. Thus, he felt no constraints on his rhetoric.

So, who is Noah Smith? He is a young man on welfare. Rather than using food stamps — sorry: a free food debit card — he works for a tax-funded state university. He owes his income to people with badges and guns who go to taxpayers and announce: “You will pay this guy’s salary, or you will go to jail.” They pay. He prospers. For now. Maybe not for long. He does not have tenure, or as it is known to those of us not on the dole, “lifetime welfare checks in exchange for 9 hours a week of lectures, 8 months a year.”

As a dutiful employee of the state of New York, he is a proponent of additional government enterprises, most notably those of the crony capitalist variety. He thinks the Export-Import Bank is just great. The Ex-Im Bank is perhaps the most representative American institutional testimony to mercantilism. It provides federal loan guarantees to large American corporations that try to export stuff that they may not be able to sell.

In 1776, Adam Smith’s book, The Wealth of Nations, was a warning shot across the bow of the H.M.S. Bounties. It showed why the wealth of nations is based on low taxes and free trade, not state-funded crony capitalism. Noah Smith would do well to read Adam Smith. But I digress.

Dr. Smith is a bright young man fresh out of graduate school (2012). He is not tenured. To attain tenure, he needs to get some articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals in economics. On his web page at Stony Brook University, he has posted his CV. It is from 2011. It lists not one published article or book. Here is his woefully sparse CV, as of today. These achievements constitute his visibly marginal bona fides. If he does not get his CV up to speed, with at least half a dozen articles in some version of The Journal of Desperate Assistant Professors, he will not get tenure. His articles as an unpaid blogger on Bloomberg do not count for tenure. Neither do his articles on his personal blog, which has the clever name of Noahpinion. (It would be more accurate to call it MarginalGains.)

[Just for the record, I got my first peer-reviewed article in The Journal of Political Economy when I was in grad school. Since I went into business rather than academia, I didn't need any more journal articles. You don't get paid to write journal articles . . . at least not by the journals.]

As a young man with no peer-reviewed materials listed on his CV, he strides confidently into the the academic equivalent of dinner theater with a rhetorically confrontational salvo against the Austrian School. Like the kid in the Gregory Peck classic movie, The Gunfighter, who calls out the veteran of a dozen gunfights, Dr. Smith is calling out the Austrians. Perhaps more accurately, he is like Goliath calling out the Israelites, except in this case, he isn’t Goliath. He is Wallace Shawn’s T-Rex.

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