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: