Academic and Political Free Speech?
from Peter Radford
A few things along the same lines:
Something that really bugs me at the moment here in the US is the absolutely stupid idea that freedom of speech and the possession of lots of money are somehow entangled. Put differently: how come the Supreme Court – Supreme at what I wonder? – allowed the flood gates of money to continue to pour into the American political process and not then wonder how much corruption and distortion that flood would create?
Isn’t it obvious?
I suppose not to someone cloistered for years in the American legal profession and positioning continually for promotion to the top.
It is absurd to think that wealthy people and big businesses spend all that money on elections and then don’t expect something in return. I mean really absurd. You have to go to great and other-worldly lengths to deny basic human instincts in order to convince yourself that a big political donor is giving away gobs of cash because they simply want us all to have great elections. Social conscience is not, I think, a key driver of someone like a David Koch. Nor a Paul Singer who made this totally ridiculous statement [which I saw in Krugman’s blog] about inflation:
“Check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading edge of hyperinflation could look like.”
Yes. That’s right. We have much higher inflation than the government is reporting. All you have to do is check what’s going on in the high-end art and luxury real estate markets. Singer just gave a Republican candidate for president, Marco Rubio, $1 million. Singer is also someone who makes a living buying distressed third world debt and then enforcing payment through the US legal system rather than negotiating default terms. Nice guy. Big political donor.
So if we get enough big money people throwing cash at elections we get administrations and central bankers who obsess about inflation even if there isn’t any. And who does that obsession benefit? Rich people who own assets that might otherwise depreciate in value if there was actually some inflation.
Freedom of speech is very nice if you can afford to have any.
Then there’s the ridiculous nature of our current election. In particular there’s the silly spectacle of our Republican party candidates throwing a collective hissy fit because the moderators in the last so-called debate asked tough questions and weren’t totally even handed in allotting equal time to everyone. Even before the arguments began, the first candidate, Ted Cruz, stopped everything in its tracks by sidetracking everyone with a rant about the liberal media and its anti-GOP bias.
Setting aside that our media goes over and above board to try to maintain a balance, a balance undeserved by the severely right wing tilt in our national political conversation, the danger of this extreme anti-media attack is that it will stifle free speech. Which is, of course, what Ted Cruz wants.
Cruz, as you all know, represents the very far right in American politics. He is well known for his extreme views and for pandering to the most fervent of the far right’s instincts. He is disliked by pretty much anyone who cares about civility in politics, but that simply makes him something of a cult hero out on the far right.
What concerns me most is the reaction of the GOP establishment. They rallied to protect their candidates and have excommunicated one of our major TV networks, NBC, for being too tough on them, until further notice. Thus the Republicans, in bending over to accommodate the wilder fringes of their party, have eroded the public’s ability to hear even vaguely unbiased reporting. This from a party that runs around chattering on endlessly about the primacy of the constitution and the way in which the bureaucrats of the government threaten everything in it. Especially free speech.
Whilst I don’t think the analogy is a worthy one – yet – the slide into a situation where demagogues can convince far right voters that free speech is a danger to, well free speech, reminds me more than little of Weimar Germany. Actually the rise of right wing populism combined with a parallel rise in the dictates for compromise and fact based argument, smacks more than a little of the 1930’s.
Let’s hope I am being hyperbolic.
Then there’s economics.
Hidden behind the undeserved and benign mask of academic freedom there has been a steady stripping away of real freedom in the economics profession. Nowadays the entire enterprise is riddled through with an ideological bias towards so-called free market doctrine, that, setting aside the technicalities, is simply an effort to justify various aspects of modern capitalism and to sanitize that system of any odor attaching to its political and power motivated origins.
I am actually, as you may know, a big fan of capitalism. That is to say I like the idea of people being able to go around and trying to make money. As long as they actually add social value I like it. But I am also unabashed in my belief that capitalism is not socially benign unless forced to be. And that force has to be strident, constant, and able to offset the constant attempts of the wealthy to distort society ever further inter own favor.
But nowhere in the mainstream economics profession is there much evidence that capitalism can ever be anything but wonderful. Economics, thus, is an enabler of an ideological vantage point and not an impartial critic. Any claim it makes to being scientific founders at the first moment on this particular rock.
Or, at least, that is true of the majority of economics.
This would not be a problem to society at large – who cares about economics professors anyway? – were it left at that. Economics could toddle along as a sort of attachment to a political party, popping up every so often to explain to the masses why it is that social programs are unaffordable and that lower taxes are a great deal for us all – even those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes. Economics would then be simply the applied mathematics of transactional efficiency devoid of all moral or social content. Except that it would continue to claim its efficiency as being socially beneficial. But that’s another argument.
What’s this go to do with the freedom of speech?
Because of the persistent inflow of corporate and wealth donor money into our colleges. That’s what. Just as in politics where money distorts freedom and creates an institutional bias towards certain classes within society, so too in academia. Money from big business has added to the pressure to stifle academic freedom and ensure that economics research is ideologically acceptable to the business community. This may be true outside of economics, but I have no knowledge if that’s the case.
In practical terms this means eliminating from the curriculum anything that might appear critical of red-meat capitalism, free markets and their like. The result of all this pressure is that very few opportunities now exist for anyone to learn anything but the ‘straight and narrow’ version of economics we generally refer to as ‘mainstream’. Thinking outside that box is not just frowned upon or discouraged, it is banned. It is banned by eliminating jobs for anyone who dares to be too critical. And it is banned by the elimination of entire departments when necessary.
So much for academic freedom here in the US.
And there you have it.
I woke up this morning and slid straight into a fit of near despair over the apparent slide from actual, real, freedom of speech.
As I said earlier: lets’ hope I am being hyperbolic.