Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The best economists money can buy

Illustration from Paul Krugman's "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?"

According to Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at U Mass-Amherst writing for The New York Times "Economix" blog, her profession is being gamed by right-wing money men who are buying influence within universities to validate their political agenda:
If you don’t like what economics professors like me are saying, go hire your own. Of course, if they’re on your payroll, no one will be surprised if they agree with you, so it’s best to hire them indirectly, through a tied donation to a university.

Frustrated that so few students are reading your favorite book about the virtues of free enterprise? Offer highly respected universities money to make it required reading.
As Catherine Rampell pointed out in Economix last week, conservative foundations founded by Charles Koch and John Allison have actively pursued such strategies.

Deft investigative reporting by James Lardner at Remapping Debate shows how another foundation established by one of the country’s wealthiest men, Peter G. Peterson, hired professors at Columbia University to develop a “fiscal responsibility” curriculum for high schools in the United States that closely reflects his own “deficit hawk” views.

Jennifer Washburn, author of “University Inc.,” has argued for years that public higher education is being increasingly privatized by reliance on corporate and alumni donations.

Concerns about this trend are often framed in terms of academic freedom, putting the onus primarily on universities. After all, if they don’t like the strings attached to donations, they can turn them down.
An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times, which recently broke the story about the Koch Foundation’s support for two professorships at Florida State for which it has the power to screen appointments, musters some admirably old-fashioned outrage.

But, as that editorial points out, the issue reaches well beyond principles of academic freedom.
In the marketplace of ideas, people with a lot of money can buy whatever they want, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, they also have the power to influence other people’s ideas in ways that violate principles of justice, undermine democracy and distort the truth...

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