Why Ideology, Not Interest Group Politics, Explains Academic Opposition to the new Milton Friedman Institute:

Last month, I argued that ideological bias against Friedman's libertarian views explains the actions of the 100+ University of Chicago professors who signed a petition opposing the establishment of the new Milton Friedman Institute at their university.

However, political scientists Jacob Levy and Daniel Drezner have put forward alternative explanations based on interest group politics. Drezner argues that the protesting professors are unhappy because their departments aren't getting a big enough slice of the $200 million in research funds that will go to the new Institute. Most of the signatories to the petition are non-economists, he points out, and economists will probably reap the lion's share of the Institute's research grants. Levy, by contrast, suggests that the signatories are motivated not by a desire for more money, but by fear that the Institute will will cause their departments to lose status relative to economics professors:

[I]f you model academic behavior as rational, mutually-distinterested self-interest, you find that everyone should welcome an inflow of $200 million into another part of their university. You predict that there will be no opposition.

If, however, you model academic behavior as a status game, more concerned with relative position than with absolute position, and you find that your university is going to take the fields that are already very high-status in the world and relatively even higher status within your institution, and symbolically endow them with even greater status by making them more central to the institution's name and identity and campus and budget, then things look very different.

I'm a big fan of interest group explanations of political behavior. In this case, however, Drezner and Levy's clever arguments are unpersuasive. The key problem is that both imply that academics will always, or at least usually, oppose the establishment of big new research centers at their universities if the centers are going to fund work in fields other than the academics' own. Thus, economists should protest whenever a new political science center is set up, historians whenever literature profs get a new pot of gold, and so on. This is a necessary implication of both Drezner's theory of competition for funding and Levy's status argument. The only difference is that under Drezner's approach, the protestors will be motivated by a desire to get some of the new money for themselves, while under Levy's, the driving force is fear of loss of relative status. At the very least, both theories predict protest unless the university simultaneously grants additional funding to the departments from which the protesters are drawn.

In reality, of course, such protests almost never happen. In nearly all cases, academics tend to be indifferent or mildly favorable to the establishment of new research centers at their school if the centers fund fields other than their own. And I am nearly certain that such would have been the reaction at Chicago if the new economics research center were called the John Maynard Keynes Institute rather than the Milton Friedman Institute; if it were associated with pro-government views rather than libertarian ones.

In addition, Drezner and Levy's theories imply that Chicago professors outside of economics can be expected to oppose the creation of the Milton Friedman Institute regardless of their own ideologies. If Levy is correct and the new Institute causes, say, political scientists at Chicago to lose status, it will do so regardless of whether they are liberal, conservative, or libertarian. Similarly, under Drezner's theory, conservative and libertarian political scientists will have just as much reason to oppose the Institute as liberal ones. In reality, of course, as far as I can tell not a single conservative or libertarian professor signed the anti-Institute petition. All the protesters seem to be liberals or radicals (see here for the list).

The anti-Institute protesters are engaged in expressive politics, not interest group rent-seeking. They dislike libertarianism and free market ideology, and don't want to be associated with it even indirectly. Drafting and signing the petition is a low-cost way of expressing their views and dispelling any possibility that outsiders might think that they are pro-free market just because they teach at Chicago. In addition, they like - many people of all ideological persuasions - prefer to be surrounded by others who agree with their political views. They aren't happy that the Institute might attract more non-left wing scholars to Chicago, an institution which in the protesters' view already has too many faculty who dissent from academic orthodoxy. When they say that they are opposed to the Institute because of its supposed "neoliberal" (i.e. - free market) ideology, they mean it.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Ideology, Not Interest Group Politics, Explains Academic Opposition to the new Milton Friedman Institute:
  2. Chicago Opposition to MFI - Another View:
  3. Chicago Profs Oppose Milton Friedman Institute:
  4. The Milton Friedman Institute and Ideological Intolerance in Academia:
Good analysis, but why can't it be "all of the above"? That is, the protesters fear loss of relative funding, fear loss of relative status, and don't like having more conservative faculty at Chicago. The third part is simply the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, and explains why the conservative humanities faculty (do they exist?) have not signed on; but doesn't negate the theory that the protesters are also motivated by interest group politics.
7.15.2008 5:17am
Ilya Somin:
Good analysis, but why can't it be "all of the above"? That is, the protesters fear loss of relative funding, fear loss of relative status, and don't like having more conservative faculty at Chicago.

It could be. But that doesn't explain why faculty virtually never oppose other new research institutes for fields other than their own. It also doesn't explain why faculty often engage in ideological prejudice even when there's no money or relative status at stake.Thus, even if all three factors are at work here, ideological bias is probably far more important than the others.
7.15.2008 5:41am
warsong (mail) (www):
I found an interesting phrase or passage of the Quote from Milton Friedman in their 'Letter of Protest':

"...for an approach that insists on the empirical testing of theoretical generalizations and that rejects alike facts without theory and theory without facts."

The quote seems to be focused around this sentence, and, may be the essence of their objection: "...rejects alike facts without theory and theory without facts." Most of the signatories would seem to be from Departments that would be heavy on this type of logic.
7.15.2008 5:49am
I'm curious, why does it matter what is motivating them? More specifically, once we agree that the motivating factor is not legitimate, why does it matter which illegitimate motivating factor is really afoot.?
7.15.2008 6:47am
OT, and I apologize, but I am glad to see that the Hellergasm is over on the VC.
7.15.2008 7:30am
You're right, opposition to the Friedman institute should focus on the utter foolsihness of many of his theories. ;)
7.15.2008 7:51am
p3731 (mail):
You should apply this analysis to yourself and to your motivations for supporting the Institute. It might give you a clue as to how completely unscholarly and ad hominem it really is.
7.15.2008 8:04am
chsw (mail):
I think that jealousy is the prime mover behind this as far as the anthroapologists, sociopathologists, and other social science staff. After all, Friedman and especially Becker (probably a leading choice to be the nominal head of the institute) expanded economics into what used to be their exclusive domains and often explained phenomena better by using economic theories and methodologies. As far as the other staff on the list, the liberals are trying not to lose their faculties.

7.15.2008 8:52am
John (mail):
Here, I think, is the key quote from the letter opposing the Friedman Institute: "But we are all disturbed by the ideological and disciplinary preference implied by the University's massive support for the economic and political doctrines that have extended from Friedman's work." (emphasis added)

I believe these guys are stating their actual reasons--they oppose whatever "ideology" one can assign to Friedman's work, and they oppose the "preference" given to that discipline over others.

As Ilya notes, even the opposition to the "preference" appears based on ideology, since devoting the money to other, more favored disciplines, presumably would not result in their opposition.
7.15.2008 9:37am
runape (mail):
I'm curious to know what descriptive content you think is added by characterizing any of the professors who wrote the letter as "radical." What do you mean by "radical," except that you strongly disagree with them? I take it they would agree that your views are "radical," in that they are strongly opposed to their own, but you appear to be using it as pejorative. I'm not sure I understand why you aren't just calling this what it is: you, an avowed (perhaps extreme) conservative, support funding for conservative-slanted research; they, avowed (perhaps extreme) liberals, oppose it. This isn't rocket science.
7.15.2008 9:38am
McLovin (mail):
Surely no one would support a Milton Friedman Institute for ideological reasons.

7.15.2008 9:41am
Gabriel (www):

that's an interesting idea but Becker's agenda is most aimed at taking over sociology (and to a lesser extent poli sci and cultural anthropology) but it has almost no implications for the humanities. by your model this would imply that sociology would be the core of resistance to the friedman institute but in fact the list has only two sociologists versus thirteen english professors.
7.15.2008 9:52am
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:

As I understand it, Ilya's not an avowed conservative, he's a libertarian. There's a difference. Similarly, without commenting on whether there might be a better word to use than "radical" (there may be, there may not be), he's avoiding lumping the various professors, who likely come a broad spectrum of left-leaning or leftist ideological backgrounds, under one monolithic term. I don't think radical is pejorative, either, except insofar as a given person might disapprove of an ideology focused on fundamentally and drastically changing society.
7.15.2008 10:11am
byomtov (mail):
Aren't you more or less admitting that your support for the institute is ideological, and that you have no particular objection to the fact that it seems to be intended to further libertarian ideas rather than to do objective research in economics?

If so, isn't it fair for others to act for the same reasons?
7.15.2008 10:20am
runape (mail):
"I don't think radical is pejorative, either, except insofar as a given person might disapprove of an ideology focused on fundamentally and drastically changing society."

Well, that would be an essentially accurate characterization of libertarian ideology, would it not?
7.15.2008 10:30am
p. rich (mail) (www):
Pay no attention to the leftist academics behind the curtain.

From the University of Chicago website:

"The goal of the Institute is to build on the University's existing leadership position and make the Milton Friedman Institute a primary intellectual destination for economics by creating a robust forum for engagement of our faculty and students with scholars and policymakers from around the world," said President Robert J. Zimmer.

When a leftist uses a term like "robust forum for engagement", it is code for ""forum to promote our views and suppress everything else". I suspect this and similar assumptions are at least part of the basis for objections.
7.15.2008 10:34am
byomtov (mail):
I don't think radical is pejorative, either, except insofar as a given person might disapprove of an ideology focused on fundamentally and drastically changing society.

I don't see why the proper term for someone so opposed is "radical." I would have thought that described a "conservative."

Libertarians are certainly radicals.
7.15.2008 10:35am
Yo (mail):
Umm...don't these people call THEMSELVES radical? Aren't a lot of these tenured dinosaurs that have been hanging out at UChi since the 1960s avowed "radicals?" I don't think Illya's use of that word was in any way inappropriate.
7.15.2008 11:42am
Yo (mail):
Furthermore, who CARES if Illya's support is ideological. Those sort of "nany-nany-boo-boo; I gotcha!" arguments never get anywhere. The real point is, Illya is right, these clowns are wrong. It's okay if he supports it on ideological grounds, because he is on the side of Truth and Wisdom; they are sophists who espouse false beliefs.
7.15.2008 11:45am
It seems to me that all the purported explanations of the academic opposition of the center can be categorized under the heading of Small Minded and Petty. That's about as much categorization as there is needed.
7.15.2008 12:06pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
This is interesting. But you're eliding a subtle difference in the use of the term "ideology."

If the objections to the Friedman institute are not being made on "ideological" grounds because Friedman did not have an "ideology" that was coherently left or right, liberal or conservative, then the objections may not be merely self-interested politics.

Rather, the objections may be against a post-"ideological" approach to research entirely.
7.15.2008 12:15pm
David M (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 07/15/2008 A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.
7.15.2008 12:48pm
Federal Dog:
Impossible to take seriously. Humanities instructors in high dudgeon banging their spoons on their high chairs is so chronic and pervasive that it means nothing. Are those people ever not outraged?
7.15.2008 1:44pm
I'm sure comentators would have consistant opinion if this was the Carl Marx Economic Institute. Agree or disagree with them both Marx and Friedman were very important economic thinkers, right? There couldn't be a political motive behind naming a new program after either of them!

Personally while I think Friedman was an important figure, it's completely reasonable to not want to name a department after such a politically polarizing figure.
7.15.2008 2:38pm

Agree or disagree with them both Marx and Friedman were very important economic thinkers, right?

No. Marx was a very important social thinker, but his economic theory was quite stupid. I can think of more than one university where a Marx Institute in political science would have clear sailing from the faculty (maybe not so much with the trustees and alumni)
7.15.2008 3:33pm
chsw (mail):
Gabriel (Asst.Prof. Rossman, UCLA)

The last line of my comment covers the participation of humanities professors - the liberals are trying to not lose their faculties.

7.15.2008 5:30pm
JK, I admit that your example made me think twice. I agree that Marx was an important economic thinker. His economic theory has been fairly conclusively discredited, but it was important nonetheless. But I think the analogy is inept, for several reasons:

1. As I hope you would agree, Marx's economic theories are now discredited; Friedman's are not. Thus, your comparison should be to creating a "Karl Marx Institute" at the height of Marx's influence.

2. I would also be somewhat more sympathetic to your analogy if the University that was establishing the Institute were one that Karl Marx taught at for 30 years.

3. I confess that I would be opposed to a Karl Marx Institute. But that is because I think it would produce shoddy scholarship, not because I think it would produce liberal, radical, or communist scholarship. Granted, my conception of what constitutes shoddy scholarship is clouded by my own ideology; but the critics of the Milton Friedman Institute do not contend that Milton Friedman or those who follow his footsteps produce shoddy scholarship (or at least they do not say it too loudly). They contend simply that Friedman produces right-wing scholarship, high quality right-wing scholarship, but right-wing scholarship nonetheless. It is the ideological bent, not the quality, that is the problem in their eyes.
7.16.2008 3:57am
The protesters have a right to whatever motives they wish and I won't characterize them as radical or malicious. However, a university is a place of ideas, all sorts of ideas, and it's odd to me to see so many professors up in arms simply because they don't like the idea of a Friedman institute and the ideas he espoused. His ideas are perfectly respectable even if one does not agree.

In any case such protestations seems to go against the whole idea of a university. There should be room for a Milton Friedman Institute. It's not like our nation is awash in free-market oriented economic departments at major universities.

I do get a chuckle out of the way people throw around the word 'idealogy' or phrases such as 'rightwing' or 'conservative economics.'

Dont most educated people have an idea about how the world works or how it should be ordered? If so, aren't we all idealogues (notice the letters i-d-e-a in the word itself).

Or do we mean by the word idealogue someone who doesn't let the facts get in the way of his worldview? (That's what I would call an idealogue in a pejorative sort of way.)

I think most of us believe we change our views according to the facts and thus we do not consider ourselves idealogues. I am sure Friedman thought the same about himself.

As for rightwing economics, since when did "free" market economics become conservative? Free market economics freed Western citizens from arbitrary state-directed economies as the industrial revolution took hold. And free market economics constantly destroys things that some people want to 'conserve,' such as the local mom and pop business on Main Street.

Are we to believe that state-directed economies are more free than free-market economies? I find that very odd. A European-style social democracy may be more 'fair' or egalitarian, but it also constricts the freedom of many of its citizens.

if anything, the free market views espoused by Friedman are (classically) liberal, not conservative. It's the state-directed economies that are more "conservative" by stifling change and essentially recovering the modes of monarchistic governments that use to rule the day.

The truth is, most people these days who think of themselves as economically liberal are essentially semi-socialist in the manner of Europe's social Democrats.
That's not a value judgment -- Europeans are not all wrong and the U.S. is not all right about economic matters. It's simply a more accurate assessment.

As for conservative economics, talk to Pat Buchanan. Good luck making sense of what he means by it, though.
7.16.2008 4:45pm