Column on Krugman, Academic Freedom & Phony Whining

Krugman, Academic Freedom & Phony Whining

Tibor R. Machan

In his column of March 28, 2011, Paul Krugman whines a good deal about how Republicans in Wisconsin are targeting scholars who may not like their opposition to public service union profligacy. No doubt, in these battles all sides can go overboard but let’s just face it, the Left has been dominant in higher education for decades on end, which is why, perhaps, I am not a professor at Princeton University while Dr. Krugman is, and why my columns and blogs are mostly marginalized and his appear on the pages of The New York Times. (But enough of sour grapes!)

First, opposing public service unions does not amount to opposing organized labor, certainly not of the kind that would take place in a free market where competition affords the opportunity to seek out firms not hit by union action. Public union members work for monopolies and there is no option but to do business with them all. That’s a major difference and cause of most of the problems faced in Wisconsin and elsewhere vis-a-vis public employees.

Another point to keep in mind is that Wisconsin’s and other states’ universities are tax funded and citizens who have to foot their cost cannot walk away and go elsewhere to buy their higher education from an alternative institution, not unless they are willing to be charged twice. Furthermore, college professors, like college students, enjoy academic freedom, not the full protection of the rights secured via the Fist Amendment to the US Constitution. University policy, in part dictated by public officials at the state level, trumps academic freedom (which is mainly a tradition or custom, not a legal guarantee). Politicians, who take themselves to be in charge of–or, euphemistically put, “responsible for”–higher education policy, have the legal authority to butt in anytime they can convince themselves that it is a matter of the public interest to do so. And that task is a very easy one for politicians and bureaucrats, don’t kind yourself. So when Wisconsin’s politicians scrutinize public university employees, including professors, in the public interest, there is no legal argument that can be made against this. They are ultimately in charge, something they would not be if they dealt with private educational institutions (which, more like churches, largely enjoy constitutional protection from such meddlers).

None of this should come as a surprise to Paul Krugman, an old hand in the education industry. (His professed shock with Wisconsin’s politicians is just about as authentic as was the shock of the police captain at the end of the movie Casablanca with the illegal gambling that had been going at Ricks!) Once you are near the centers of power, such as state and federal capitols, you will use whatever legal or near legal means you can deploy to hang on to your clout and to gain more and more of it. Your opponents will, of course, always holler “foul” as you make your moves but this is certainly just a ruse. No one should be fooled that Republicans and Democrats or any other mainstream political bunch do not try every trick in the book to undermine those on the other side.

Dr. Krugman himself is simply playing the game–charge your opponents with ill will and corruption even while you are guilty of these as well. Maybe he thinks no one can figure this out, him being such a well positioned public intellectual. Fact is, however, that Krugman is simply trying to keep and gain power for his team. It has nothing to do with overarching principles, not, especially, when you recall, also, that Dr, Krugman is a fierce defender of pragmatism and opposes all ideologies, including the ideology of remaining true to the principles of proper public conduct. Only amateurs would be bother with that!

We live in a dog-eat-dog political arena and very few people have the backbone to remain above the fray. By now anyone who reads his stuff should know that Dr. Krugman isn’t one of them.

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