It’s been a long running puzzle, why is it that academics are so resistant to the charms of markets as societal organising methods? My own hypothesis has been that bright people simply emotionally aren’t ready for the idea that the undirected interaction of dumb proles actually works. If it did, then why were some made brighter, surely the purpose of the very creation of higher intellect is to tell every idiot bugger out there what to do?
A more dyspeptic version of the thought is that those bright people simply desire to construct schemes in which bright buggers get to tell everyone what to do. This is rather my – dyspeptic and thus not entirely serious – diagnosis of the likes of Ezra Klein. He’s bright, he can see that not all others are, it’s not just his duty to insist what they all do it’s his life’s work to build a system in which the bright people actually do tell everyone what to do.
As it happens it appears that I am wrong. Academics are indeed bright, that’s how they get to be academics. But the reason they don’t like markets as that societal organisation method is because markets don’t reward brightness. Must be a terrible shock to know you’re cleverer but to then find out that the material rewards aren’t allocated on the basis of cleverness. Rather, on the basis of value created that others enjoy, something not directly related to brainpower nor, really, even correlated.
In this article, the authors explore why academics tend to oppose the market. To this intent the article uses normative political theory as an explanatory mechanism, starting with a conjecture originally suggested by Robert Nozick. Academics are over-represented amongst the best students of their cohort. School achievement engenders high expectations about future economic prospects. Yet markets are only contingently sensitive to school achievement. This misalignment between schools and markets is perceived by academics – and arguably by intellectuals in general – as morally unacceptable. To test this explanation, the article uses an online questionnaire with close to 1500 French academic respondents. The data resulting from this investigation lend support to Nozick’s hypothesis.
You wouldn’t like a system which insisted that you were special but failed to reward you in commensurate fashion either. And that appears to be it, why so many academics don’t like the one grand organising system we’ve got that we know actually works. They don’t gain much from it therefore they don’t like the market. Perhaps, they don’t gain the disproportionate amount they think they deserve therefore they don’t like it.