Re: Liberal professors smarter than others

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Professor Brandon seems unaware of the more likely explantion, what empirical researchers call “sample selection bias.” As Hayek explains in “The Intellectuals and Socialism” (1949), intelligent people hold a variety of views. Some are lovers of liberty, defenders of property, and supporters of the “natural order”; i.e., defenders of the market. Others are reformers, wanting to remake the world according to their own visions of the ideal society. Hayek argues that exceptionally intelligent people who favor the market tend to find opportunities for professional and financial success outside the Academy. Those who are highly intelligent but ill-disposed toward the market are more likely to choose an academic career. Thus, the universities come to be filled with those intellectuals who were hostile to capitalism from the beginning.

A corollary phenomenon is that academics don’t know much about how markets work, since they have so little experience with them. Schumpeter puts this beautifully in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942 ed., p. 147): It is “the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs” that distinguishes the academic intellectual from others “who wield the power of the spoken and the written word.” This absence of direct responsibility leads to a corresponding absence of first-hand knowledge of practical affairs. The critical attitude of the intellectual arises, says Schumpeter, “no less from the intellectual’s situation as an onlooker — in most cases also as an outsider — than from the fact that his main chance of asserting himself lies in his actual or potential nuisance value.”

The public-choice angle — that academic activity is almost entirely government funded, even at so-called “private” universities — is too obvious to need explanation.

2:49 pm on February 11, 2004
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