Economists For Sale

Economists widely believe themselves to be social scientists.  And gosh-darn rigorous scientists at that – I mean just look at all that esoteric math!  Why, why it looks just like physics!  (well, 19th century physics at least).   As everybody knows, real scientists observe things. They observe nature, experiments, phenomena.Economists are supposed to observe and explain how things get sold and why prices are they way are.

The enterprising economics department at Florida State University has taken it a step further.  Now the economists aren’t just observers of sales anymore.  They are what’s being sold.  Not only that, but the content of what they teach is for sale.  FSU has determined that the price of being able to tell FSU who is allowed to teach economics is apparently $1.5 million.  That’s the price FSU got for selling the soul and integrity of their economics department.  I’ll let the TampBay.com , a unit of  the St.Petersburg Times report:

A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”

Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.

The Koch Bros, for those who don’t recall or aren’t aware, are the people who funded the Republican effort in Wisconsin to repeal workers’ rights. The Koch Brothers have also basically bankrolled the Tea Party movement. From the same article:

Charles, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan., cofounded the Cato Institute, a policymaking group, in 1977. His brother serves on the board. David, who lives in Manhattan and is Koch Industries’ executive vice president, in 2004 started the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which has worked closely with the tea party movement.

The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, to which he has given as much as $80 million a year, has focused on “advancing social progress and well-being” through grants to about 150 universities. But in the past, most colleges, including Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, received just a few thousand dollars.

The big exception has been George Mason University, a public university in Virginia which has received more than $30 million from Koch over the past 20 years. At George Mason, Koch’s foundation has underwritten the Mercatus Center, whose faculty study “how institutions affect the freedom to prosper.”

When President George W. Bush identified 23 regulations he wanted to eliminate, 14 had been initially suggested by Mercatus scholars. In a New Yorker profile of the Koch brothers in August, Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist, called Mercatus “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.”

As this story has become widespread on the Web the past few days, many people have been commenting to the effect that “all the  Koch brothers are doing is trying to counter the widespread liberal bias in academia”.  There are lots of problems with that point of view.  First, this isn’t just about a point of view. It’s about the corruption of academic freedom and censorship of what people can learn.  It’s censorship by the rich.  Second, regardless of whether there’s a widespread liberal bias in the rest of academia, there clearly isn’t a liberal bias in economics academia.  Instead, academic economists tend to be heavily right-wing and biased towards free markets.  Left-oriented or progressive academic economists have a much harder time getting a job in economic academic departments.

This isn’t really a new phenomenon – the selling of economists.  The documentary Inside Job does a pretty good of describing just how banking money and interests have influenced and corrupted academic economic research and policy advice.  All that FSU has done is raise it to a new level.

I hope you are as appalled at this blatant attempt to impose rich-guy censorship on what research gets done and what students are allowed to hear as I am.  If you are, you might want to keep that in mind when you shop for consumer paper products.  Think twice before buying those Georgia Pacific brands like Dixie Cups, Ultra, Angel Soft and Brawny.  The Kochs own G-P among a lot of other businesses like oil pipelines.