America's Nefarious Export
As has recently been discussed among Austrian economists and fellow travelers, Europeans seem to be enamored with American socialists – and vice versa. There is something different about a romanticist, especially one who chooses to ignore the dirty, brutal history of socialism in this past century in his longing for a new, bright, golden age that has never existed.
The former British Labor Party leader Arthur Scargill once declared that "the only society that has ever worked was the USSR from 1917 to 1921." Given that this was as dark a period in Russia’s history as has ever existed, with civil war, starvation and murder being the norm, Scargill’s pronouncements come as a surprise to one who believes that peace and prosperity trump war and famine. But, then again, I am not a romanticist, and I certainly am no socialist.
What, then, is the reason that leftism always seems to be in bloom in the academy, whether in this country or in Europe? Why does it always seem that left-wing academics from the USA are the ones that usually fill the posts of visiting professors in European universities? Are there no free market advocates who are willing to teach overseas?
The answer to the last question is a resounding "no!" Many free market academics, including me, would love to have an opportunity to teach abroad – provided that my family and I could survive economically. In fact, many folks who teach abroad do so only with the help of government funds, and there lies much of the problem.
For example, about 10 years ago Peter Galbraith was the gatekeeper for who would receive Fulbright funds to teach abroad. The son of the socialist John Kenneth Galbraith, Peter was well known for denying funds and blocking appointments for those who were not seen as socialistic enough in their economic and social outlooks. Thus, by limiting funds to those who were leftists, Galbraith was able to make sure that only one viewpoint would be heard from American scholars.
To be honest, however, governments are almost always going to favor those "scholars" who subscribe to statist viewpoints themselves. This is a point that hardly needs explanation. Governments are not in the business of giving up their powers, even when those powers come at the expense of peace and prosperity. Having statist intellectuals back them up on crucial points is nothing more than an attempt for governments to gain credibility in the eyes of the general public, and especially the media. Therefore, free market scholars are going to have a harder time being able to secure overseas teaching posts.
The second roadblock for free market intellectuals is that most "scholars" are going to favor state controls over economic freedom. That is hardly news. Ludwig von Mises in his classic The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality clearly outlined why intellectuals hate free market capitalism and are always quick to endorse socialism. Mises wrote that intellectuals loathe capitalism because it is a system that gives monetary rewards to those who fulfill the needs and wishes of consumers. Intellectuals, on the other hand, often create "products" that do not have much standing in the market among consumers and thus are not rewarded in the way that they believe should be the case.
For example, Mises cites scientists whose work gives "rise to new methods of production." These people "hate the businessmen who are merely interested in the cash value of their research work." Mises also pointed out that large numbers of physicists "sympathize with socialism or communism."
At the same time, however, college professors and other intellectuals often are well compensated beyond any "market value" of their work. While I have employment in a college teaching position, I am under no illusion that I could make the same living as an "economist" in an economically competitive situation.
This point is controversial, I realize. However, I believe that many of us in the academic world live off the contributions of others who have made millions of dollars satisfying consumers in a competitive marketplace, not to mention tax revenues appropriated by Congress and the various state legislatures. Our many systems of economic regulation also direct students into colleges when in a true free market economy the need for higher education might not be that great. (See Lew Rockwell’s articles on higher education scams.)
I am not saying that all college professors are parasites or do illegitimate work. Higher education existed long before governments became directly involved financially and I think that I am engaged in an honorable profession. At the same time, however, I am also pointing out that we in the academic world need to be honest about our "market value" and ourselves.
Third, intellectuals have always romanticized collectivism, going back to Rousseau and others. The heart of European and English anti-capitalist sentiment in the 19th Century came not from the storied proletariat, but rather from the intellectuals, the writers, and the poets. Men like Robert Southey of England, who was supported by the landed aristocracy who despised the upstart factory owners, railed against capitalism. William Blake wondered in a poem "Was Jerusalem builded here among those dark, satanic mills?"
On the other hand, does free market capitalism always work against the interests of intellectuals, writers, and artists? I would say that these groups have flourished precisely because of capitalism. Intellectuals who would be starving in a pre-capitalist setting find that they can make a living in today’s economy. The availability of capital used in private property settings has given all of us, from factory workers to college professors to professional athletes an opportunity to have a standard of living that our forebears could not even dream of owning.
Thus, while it is true that intellectuals are much more likely to proclaim the message of statism, whether in Europe or in the United States, that does not mean that all is lost. Men like Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek, not to mention any number of present day Austrian economists and their fellow travelers, have been well versed in a number of academic disciplines. An intellectual message can be made for capitalism, and these folks have been making it.
This may not mean that Austrian economists are going to be given all of the visiting academic positions abroad, but it does mean that over time they will be able to better compete for those jobs. Why do I believe that? I believe that Austrians have the better arguments and are not afraid to employ them. Even in this statist world, being able to argue one’s position correctly has not been altogether cast from the academic scene.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.