June 1, 2013

"For many years, the liberal arts were my second religion..."

"Defending the liberal arts in the condition in which they now linger on scarcely seems worth the struggle."

74 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry, I had the wrong embed there for a few minutes.

This is the one that interested me.

It's possibly the fustiest thing ever...

Methadras said...

The old liberal arts are nothing like the new liberal arts. And by new I mean in the last 20 or so years.

Indigo Red said...

What went wrong in the 70s? The 60s.

Bob_R said...

I've seen each of those three talk on other occasions, and that has to be the worst performance for all three. They never get around to defining the topic or nailing down particular problems. Yes, fusty.

Birches said...

I'm listening right now, so I can't comment on their commentary. But I agree with the crappy state of the liberal arts. I have a history degree and yes, it is pretty worthless on its own. Why? There is no real analysis or expectation of independent thought for a liberal arts student today. It's all regurgitation and agitation.

Phil 3:14 said...

Conservatives are anti-intellectual.

edutcher said...

Most Liberal arts degrees were never intended to be the foundation of making a living, but they were what a teacher told my class once, "You don't go to college to learn how to make a living. you go to college to learn how to live".

A lot of people don't understand the idea that a college education is about the finer things. It really isn't intended to be a vocational training school for the snob occupations.

Birches said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim maguire said...

Indeed, Phil. But they are not anti-intellect. They simply have no patience for the "credentialed but not educated," who commonly travel under the shorthand "intellectual" or "intelligencia."

The liberal arts are supposed to, and used to, teach one how to think. But in the post-60's world, they instead teach one what to think.

Birches said...

Ok, yes, I agree with Epstein, the liberal arts have been destroyed from within.

In their haste to make sure we value the multicultural, professors have neglected to lay a proper foundation for thinking and analysis. A history student might be able to tell you all about the Stonewall riots, but not know when the Civil War happened.

Oso Negro said...

I have a second cousin who is finishing a PhD in homosexual studies. I cannot imagine how it might be claimed that his education has taught him how to live. It appears he will write his dissertation on the bath house scene from the '70s. I suppose he will go on to become a noted professor of homosexual studies, or perhaps a curator of sorts in a safely blue city. If I ever see him again, it is my intention to politely inquire as to his thoughts on how to go about mainstreaming a sexual perversion.

Old Dad said...

Long live fusty! If Montaigne and Shakespeare are fusty, then bury me in fustian.

Bob Ellison said...

Is Ferguson's head really that much bigger than Epstein's?

betamax3000 said...

OCD Robot says:

I Study the Social Implications of Race, Sex, and Gender. The Germs see Everyone Equally.

wyo sis said...

Sometimes it's just good to listen to people speak about a topic they know something about. I liked the way they spoke about young liberal arts students. They sound like students I know. Sincere, motivated, ernest, inquiring, thoughtful, seeking after the best thinking and the best writing. They're not influenced by what's popular, but what has value. And they want to know why. We need people who revere the traditional and want to know what brilliant people in the past wrote and believed.
It requires thinking, comparing, making wise judgements and being able to back up your beliefs with well constructed value systems.
If that's fusty we need a lot more of it.

rhhardin said...

Human rights that appear as if a priori are an achievement of Western civilization.

Multiculturalism that starts by disparaging Western civilization therefore produces nonsense followed by politics.

edutcher said...

Oso Negro said...

I have a second cousin who is finishing a PhD in homosexual studies. I cannot imagine how it might be claimed that his education has taught him how to live. It appears he will write his dissertation on the bath house scene from the '70s. I suppose he will go on to become a noted professor of homosexual studies, or perhaps a curator of sorts in a safely blue city. If I ever see him again, it is my intention to politely inquire as to his thoughts on how to go about mainstreaming a sexual perversion.

I think that's the point of the interview. "Gay Studies" is a bogus discipline and the people in the video know it.

They want to get back to the pure (if you will) disciplines.

Rhythm and Balls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

Phil 3:14 said...

"Conservatives are anti-intellectual."

One has to be impossibly stupid to think oneself smart enough to say something so seemingly smart as that...

Rhythm and Balls said...

It's easy to say that the problem in the universities is an ideological one. That makes it a political issue, and politics make for great trials!

But what's less dramatic and more true, is the problem of how curriculum is approached. Critical thinking just isn't encouraged. Rote memorization is.

I'm pretty sure every other complaint derives from this.

Tim said...

"I have a second cousin who is finishing a PhD in homosexual studies."

Hmmm.

Can a straight person get an PhD in "Homosexual Studies?"

And if not, why isn't that unlawful discrimination?

kiruwa said...

One thing that no one in the conversation seems to have addressed: why were the liberal arts so vulnerable to the cultural influences of the 60s. This is as opposed to the cultural challenges of industrialization, the revolutionary seasons in Europe, the Reformation, the transition from Rome to the Muslim middle east and back again. It's not like this is the first time the arts have been under pressure from culture or government. I believe that the humanities had committed intellectual suicide earlier than even the 60s.

The fundamental structure of the liberal arts was already weakened from within by the advance of relativism, even outside of relativism's origin in philosophy. Once it spread outside of philosophy the ramifications of that form of philosophy were not fully apparent to the various disciplines.

It's notable that the schools mentioned in the video that could recover liberal arts are those which specifically reject philosophical relativism.

Tim said...

"But what's less dramatic and more true, is the problem of how curriculum is approached. Critical thinking just isn't encouraged. Rote memorization is."

There is truth here, but in its own way, it's more dramatic, because the rote memorization is part of purposeful indoctrination, much of it ideological, which, so very obviously, stems from an academy purged of any divergent, let alone dissenting, thought.

Intellectual independence and critical thinking is found outside of the academy; sadly, the last place anyone would ever find it is in the academy. To take but one seemingly incongruent example (based upon personal observation over time), the officer corps of the U.S. Military is far more ideologically diverse, intellectually curious, and more broadly read, traveled, experienced, and tolerant of differences, than pretty much any collection of misfits comprising the faculty of any university in the US, major or minor, Ivy League or community college.

Augie Fartro said...

I recall talking to a friend in Los Angeles back in late 2002 or early 2003. She mentioned a friend of hers who was getting their "Master's degree in Homeland Security" at UCLA. I was pretty impressed that they had put together a program so quickly after 9/11 to exploit that. Executive MBA programs are similar. Just a means of separating a lot of money from a lot of students.

cassandra lite said...

I didn't realize that Joel Grey was such a great essayist.

El Pollo Raylan said...

I majored in hard sciences and merely dabbled in the softer pursuits-fleshing out my pleasures and desires.

El Pollo Raylan said...

My college Italian classes were filled with female music majors which was a delightful.

El Pollo Raylan said...

?

Rhythm and Balls said...

Intellectual independence and critical thinking is found outside of the academy; sadly, the last place anyone would ever find it is in the academy. To take but one seemingly incongruent example (based upon personal observation over time), the officer corps of the U.S. Military...

Sadly, the only other significant example would be "think tanks", where ideological conformity is just as rigid (albeit in an opposite direction), but regard for evidence is even less.

I can see a role for memorization in that facts form the basis of evidence, which all arguments and therefore, critical thought, must take into account - (unless it's a "pure" discipline such as philosophy). So the issue really goes back even further than the advent of modern political divisions and into the age-old empiricism versus rationalism debate. Universities have profited handsomely from the explosion of scientific research that they've pursued over the last century at the expense of a previous focus on classical education, but any expectations of argumentative acumen have dwindled.

I think it's likely that the large-scale admission of women and the idea of post-secondary education as an expectation have also contributed to this emphasis on a different learning "style", but that's more controversial and even less likely to change. Unfortunately...

AReasonableMan said...

kiruwa said...
It's not like this is the first time the arts have been under pressure from culture or government. I believe that the humanities had committed intellectual suicide earlier than even the 60s.


Although academic study of the arts is a mess, the fish rots from the head, in this case the actual practitioners of the arts. The transition from European dominance of the traditional arts (novels, painting, classical music, dance etc) to an American dominance, which was largely complete by the 1950's, does not look good in retrospect. I can't imagine many historians looking back on the last six decades as a period of great success in the practice of any of the major artistic disciplines. This is much greater loss than the decline of academic studies, though probably not unrelated.

Michael K said...

I have told this story before, although perhaps not here. When I learned about the new federal student loan (National Defense Student Loan) program in January 1960, I realized I could go back to school full time instead of working days and taking a couple of night classes.

I went into the student loan office at USC and applied. The lady asked my major and I told her pre-med. She apologized but said there were no loans for pre-med majors. Too few got into medical school, she told me. It was a useless major.

I left and walked around the block. I entered again and found a different lady. She asked my major and I said "English Literature." She then gave me the forms and helped me to fill them out.

For the next year, I was an English major and took my pre-med classes as electives. A year later I was accepted to medical school.

I thoroughly enjoyed my English classes and still look back fondly on them. The spring before I started medical school, I got an invitation to apply for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to grad school in English.

I doubt I would enjoy them now.

n.n said...

tim maguire:

intellectual vs intellect

A difference with significance.

phx said...

Thanks for posting this. Ferguson's Barzun quote at the end seems about the best thing from it. I think they are overestimating the damage done by the postmodernists et al. Society was just coming to the point anyway where it didn't much value the humanities, not because of Derrida. People just don't want to read poetry or "great" novels anymore. Art itself is virtually a waste of time for society.
That's why I liked Barzun's quote at the end to the effect sometimes it's a generations' turn to be at the stage where things are crumbling and what is or will be new hasn't yet replaced it. Don't stick your head in the oven.

phx said...

I've seen each of those three talk on other occasions, and that has to be the worst performance for all three. They never get around to defining the topic or nailing down particular problems.

I've never seen any of them before but I agree they didn't get down to the topic or the problems. Too much silliness for one thing. The usual Harold Bloom Closing of the American Mind stuff that people were going over in the eighties. They didn't offer any solutions.

But it's an interesting topic. I'd just like to see a different spin.

Phil 3:14 said...

I apologize, my sarcasm indicator light wasn't blinking.

Astro said...

I was struck by the contrast between the quote from John Sloan Dickey and the recent brayings of that jackass Gordon Gee at Ohio State.

Dr Weevil said...

"The usual Harold Bloom Closing of the American Mind stuff"? If you don't know the difference between Harold Bloom and Allan Bloom, you should probably just tiptoe away right now and hope people will forget you ever existed. It's like thinking that Beethoven's 3rd is the "Erotica" symphony, or the composer of Carmen was "Bidet".

Derek Brown said...

So are you really willing to commit yourself to the position that truly intractable problems should be confronted only with silence, phx.If so maybe save some fire for the left's war on human nature. It took like 12 dialogues before Socrates even got close to proposing solutions so for someone like Bloom policy solutions are secondary to diagnoses.

The left has developed a revealing tick of using the fact that there's no cure for cancer as an excuse to avoid telling the patient that he's sick.

Derek Brown said...

Exactly Dr. Weevil let's just say if Naomi Woolf had accused Allan Bloom of sexual harassment then her allegations would have been even more shall we say dubious.

ganderson said...

Those who say the problem is too much rote memorization are wrong, I think. Our education system requires very little memorization. Our kids can't think, largely because they have nothing to think about.

Gene said...

Can a straight person get an PhD in "Homosexual Studies?"

Not unless he likes brie, Chablis and fudgepack parties.

Gene said...

A history student might be able to tell you all about the Stonewall riots, but not know when the Civil War happened.

True, true and true. My only hope is that someday soon a major corporation like Microsoft or Intel or Apple will announce that job applicants will get no credit for anything other than STEM classes on their resumes. Furthermore, points will be deducted for job applicants having taken any classes in sociology, psychology, government, environmental studies and the big three victimology/agit prop programs--feminist, black and gay studies.

traditionalguy said...

Most conservatives have little education in liberal arts. If they did, then they became so accepting of ideas from many others that they forget to condemn the liberals on cue preferring to listen to them.

But Epstein is right on that the death of a liberal truth seeking education happened when the "scientising" of the disciplines pushed out real appreciation for trurh.

As he points out the Germans pushed "research" as the only tool to knowledge as if Philosophy, Religion, and Political Science was open to data research as chemistry and physics.

The Germans simply end ran the truth in western civilization by ASSUMING it was a myth that had to be replaced.

But All they got was Malthusian Eugenics myths and Global Warming myths dressed up in Lab Coats as sales tool for depraved teachings of Goebbels and Gore.

rcocean said...

Interesting discussion - although Peter is a complete bore.

It brings up the question, Liberal arts for what? Education for what? In ye old days, is was quite simple. Liberal arts instructed future leaders of society in the core values of Western Civilization.

Once they got rid of that, you ended up with professors teaching "The Gay, Feminist Subtext in Catcher in the Rye."

rcocean said...

And Why not? If you hire a bunch of professors uninterested in Western Culture but very interested in Left-wing Politics or just enjoying a soft professor gig, you get what you got.

And Peter - what an idiot. When did the "Market" have anything to do with colleges. They're either Government owned or Government subsidized.

chrisnavin.com said...

Technology + many don't read anyways + 60's idealism/ideology and continental philosophy + the possible end of a period of economic exceptionalism

I support New Criticism, some Arnoldians, some return to a canon as a bulwark against the 'ideology'

David said...

A liberal arts education makes living more interesting. That is all the justification it needs.

Christy said...

Weren't philosophy and natural science the same thing once?

Chip S. said...

It's possibly the fustiest thing ever...

Better fusty w/ Joseph Epstein than fussy w/ Robert Wright.

A version of this video that consisted only of Joseph Epstein's observations would call for a major purchase thru the Altazon Portal in gratitude.

I especially liked the distinction he drew b/w elitism and snobbery, and his explanation for why so many bad people are graduates of Harvard and Yale Law.

And everyone who thinks that colleges are doomed by MOOCs should listen to what he says at around 25 min.

Mitch H. said...

Can a straight person get an PhD in "Homosexual Studies?"

Yes, but it means they're closeted.

And yes, being a conservative means being anti-intellectual - in the Paul Johnson sense, or in the sense that "the intellectuals" are an actual group of people, and not just some abstract "city of the mind" aspiration. To be a philosopher is noble and fine - to be an intellectual is to be a snake-oil salesman for some pernicious ideology.

"I'll show you the life of the mind!" bellows John Goodman as he burns the building down.

I've read *Allan* Bloom's book, and while I found it fascinating and thought-provoking, there's something hollow and mis-directed in his ideas. Taken at his word, he seems to argue that only the utterly inverted, completely sublimated asexual could be a proper philosopher.

sinz52 said...

kuruwa asked: "why were the liberal arts so vulnerable to the cultural influences of the 60s"

Violence.

In the 1960s, militant students started issuing "nonnegotiable demands" for courses in Black Studies and Feminist Studies. When they didn't get their way, they rioted on campus, shutting down the entire campus. They occupied Deans' Offices, sometimes trashing them. Etc.

Terrified Deans, afraid of race riots on their beloved campuses, gave in to the protesters.

The period 1965-1970 was a period of left-wing violence and left-wing terrorism.

Big Mike said...

You might think that as a hiring manager of technical talent the reason I don't hire liberal arts graduates is because they don't have STEM degrees.

You'd be wrong.

The best object-oriented software designer who ever worked for me had a B.A. in English. He was a terrible writer of short stories and technical specifications, but he was a great designer.

However I find that most of today's liberal arts graduates only know how to regurgitate back what a person in authority (me, now that they don't have professors anymore) tells them. I need someone who isn't afraid to say "you know, Big Mike, if we do the interface that way we make it easy for the end user to make a mistake." Now that's a person I can use.

Bob_R said...

One of the defects of this interview (and most of the similar ones from Closing of The American Mind on) is that no one involved seems to know any math and science beyond the middle school level. The idea that you can talk about American Universities without any knowledge of what is going on in the most dynamic and successful segment seems crazy to me. You might even call it a defect in the education of those doing the talking.

Jeff said...

A university needs metrics to base hiring and tenure decisions on. You can say they should be based on teaching ability, or on peer respect, but how do you measure these things?

Of the things that professors do, the easiest one to measure is publications. In my field (Economics) and I suspect in many other fields, this is done by counting publications in peer-reviewed journals. Articles in prestige journals count for more than articles in lesser journals. Co-authored articles get less weight than ones you write yourself.

So what assistant professors in econ do, what they see as their real job, is write papers and try to get them accepted by good journals. Teaching is just a chore the university makes them do along the way, but it's not their real job. The real job is what you get rewarded for, and that's publishing.

So, it does not pay to read economic history, to understand the economy, to learn what previous generations of economists thought about how the economy works. None of that matters unless it helps you get published. What matters most is novelty, saying something new.

It's bad enough when this happens in a discipline like Economics where our understanding is supposed to be getting better over time. But this emphasis on novelty is a disaster when it takes over a field like Literature or Political Philosophy where the objective is supposed to be preserving and understanding the insights of previous generations. On its very face, the idea of research into Plato seems ridiculous.

I don't know how to fix this. The internet has made the classics easily accessible to anyone with a web browser, and you can find forums to discuss all kinds of things. Maybe the whole university system will just fade away as more learning takes place outside classrooms.

Astro said...

@rcocean
According to U S News
Most of the universities with the largest financial endowments are private universities. Just one public school, the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, cracks this top 10 list.

Harvard leads the list with a $32 Billion endowment. No doubt Harvard gets a lot of money from doing government sponsored research and studies, but a huge chunk of their money comes from private corporations and private individuals. I think his point is: when will pro-business, pro-capitalist, pro-traditional-western-ideals donors decide they're sick of giving their money (endowments or funded research) to leftist, multiculturalist, anti-US colleges and universities and take it to friendlier institutions?

phx said...

"The usual Harold Bloom Closing of the American Mind stuff"? If you don't know the difference between Harold Bloom and Allan Bloom

Whoever. I've never been big on remembering names - anyone who reads my posts can probably tell that. Tepid apologies.

Rusty said...

hythm and Balls said...
It's easy to say that the problem in the universities is an ideological one. That makes it a political issue, and politics make for great trials!

But what's less dramatic and more true, is the problem of how curriculum is approached. Critical thinking just isn't encouraged. Rote memorization is.

I'm pretty sure every other complaint derives from this.


Well. Your smarter than you look.

Just to add. I think that the material-students- have suffered as well. I don't think most high schools are preparing their students for college.
Hence the "studies" curricula.

phx said...

So are you really willing to commit yourself to the position that truly intractable problems should be confronted only with silence, phx.

Absolutely not. I agree with almost everything they say. I just don't think they added anything at all.

phx said...

Those who say the problem is too much rote memorization are wrong, I think. Our education system requires very little memorization. Our kids can't think, largely because they have nothing to think about.

That's true. Kids are constantly bombarded by an influx of nonsensical bullshit on the teevee, and music and game players.

In another thread Synova and Freeman Hunt noting they don't allow any background diversions unless they are actively listening. There's a good place to start.

El Pollo Raylan said...

@phx: I resisted piling on last night. Let's just say the that the "bloom is off" your infallibility. Not that you ever claimed it.

phx said...

Let's just say the that the "bloom is off" your infallibility.

I'm glad we got that out of the way. Back to the discussion.

phx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chip S. said...

Jeff said...
A university needs metrics to base hiring and tenure decisions on.

I'm shocked that an economist would use the word "needs" in a serious analysis if decision-making.

A proper tenure review would not be something that can be performed by a secretary w/ a spreadsheet, but by a committee of faculty members who read and evaluate the quality of the candidate's publications. It would also include student evaluations that were done well after the conclusion of the course, so that the effects of easy grading could be discounted properly. Finally, it would include opinions solicited from alumni, who could offer a longer-term perspective on the effectiveness of the candidate's teaching.

This is all much more work than relying on simple "metrics", of course. And it substitutes explicit value judgments for those that are hidden in "objective" metrics. That is, it requires that tenure review directly involve professional judgment, exposing the reviewers to all the possible consequences of that.

But old professors say that that's the way things used to be done.

Jeff said...

Chip S,

You may be shocked, but that's the way it is. If you publish a lot, you'll get tenure. If your current institution doesn't give it to you, they'll lose you to a school that will. Teaching evaluations may matter a bit in marginal cases, but research is far more important. And I've never heard of anyone asking alumni for their opinions. Alumni exist for one purpose and one purpose only: fundraising.

However, we're not as far apart as you think. Every year or two somebody publishes a ranking of the econ departments world wide, and the primary determinant of that rank always boils down to the number of articles published by faculty in that department, weighted by prestige of the journals they appeared in. So if you want a good estimate of what a candidate will contribute to your departments reputation, you really can't do much better than count those articles yourself. There's nothing nefarious about it.

The big prestigious research institutions got that way because they care about prestige-enhancing research. Why is this surprising?

As for faculty reading and reviewing a candidate's work, sure, that happens. But remember that the candidates published work has already been through the peer-review process and deemed worthwhile by the highly-respected editors of prestigious publications and their hand-picked referees. It's hard for a faculty reviewer who does not specialize in the same field to argue with that judgement. So they don't, or at least not very often.

Now you could argue that universities and their faculties should be judged not onr esearch output but on how well they educate their students. But how, precisely, do you propose to measure that?

Jeff said...

Chip S,

The real problem, as I see it, is that the inmates are running the asylum.

The taxpayers fund the system, both directly, at state-supported schools, and indirectly, through grants and guarantees on student loans. But let a state try to impose any kind of accountability on the system and watch what happens. The state's newspapers will be up in arms, there will be faculty and student protests at interference with "academic freedom". And if they still persist, why then the regional accreditation boards will drop hints that maybe the controversy bears some looking into before they renew your schools accreditation.

We've all seen how it's done, numerous times. Eventually the schools hire a few more administrators and call that a solution to whatever the supposed problem was. There's a reason why Glenn Reynolds is hitting nerves with his talk about the education bubble.

Anthony said...

"Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?"

The "intellectual" left still hasn't accepted its faillures as presented by Susan Sontag in 1982, and as such, any intelligent person should reject American intellectuallism.

Chubfuddler said...

The Allan/Harold Bloom confusion is no more dismaying than this, from Mr. Epstein's recent Wall Street Journal review of a new translation of "Dead Souls":

"'Dead Souls,' meanwhile, is among that small number of uncompleted masterpieces that includes Tchaikovsky's Unfinished Symphony, and Robert Musil's 'The Man Without Qualities,' but with the important qualification that Nikolai Gogol's great work is all the better for remaining unfinished."

I thought somebody might have corrected it by this point, but it's still standing a month later:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323646604578402882465727410.html

Mitch H. said...

The Allan/Harold Bloom confusion is no more dismaying than this... "...uncompleted masterpieces that includes Tchaikovsky's Unfinished Symphony"

I assume you mean this to be the error, a misattribution of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony to Tchaikovsky. But Tchaikovsky, like a lot of composers, had an unfinished symphony in his collection, and who knows, maybe Epstein was referring to that one?

I dunno, the only work of art in that group of three that I'm at all familiar with is Dead Souls, and yes, it's definitely unfinished. Famously so, in point of fact.

Chip S. said...

Jeff, I interpreted your statement

It's bad enough when this happens in a discipline like Economics

to indicate that you didn't view the status quo as optimal. So I pointed out that there were some pretty obvious alternatives to the status quo--all of which, I understand, had been used in the past--that could be done if the faculty were willing to put in the effort.

Your subsequent comments suggest that you find this to be the best of all possible worlds, where the limitless time of the best minds who edit the journals tap unpaid reviewers to give their fullest attention to the careful evaluation of every single manuscript that they're sent.

Be that as it may, I find this statement of yours remarkably shortsighted:

Alumni exist for one purpose and one purpose only: fundraising.

I'd be very surprised if alumni who felt that they'd been well educated--and attributed some part of their career success to that--didn't contribute more $$ than alumni who were sent the msg that they didn't matter as undergrads.

Holding football talent constant, of course.

Jeff said...

Chip S,

What makes you think the tenured faculty don't like the system the way it is? It worked for them.

It's not that I like the system now. I don't. I think it stinks. But there are reasons why things are the way they are, and if we want to change how it works, we must first understand how it got this way. Reform efforts that don't understand the problem are bound to fail.

Paco Wové said...

"A liberal arts education makes living more interesting. That is all the justification it needs."

The same could be said for a Lamborghini or a yacht. But not everybody needs, wants, or can afford one.

El Pollo Raylan said...

@Chip: Jeff sounds like he already has a nice deck chair on the Titanic. Don't rock his boat.

Chip S. said...

Jeff,

You keep talking "is" when I'm talking "should", or at least "could be".

I don't doubt that the tenured faculty think the current system is fine. It doesn't require anything much from them, and they're the people who've succeeded by publishing multiple iterations of useless papers.

But I had a couple of professors who approximated the ideal described by Epstein, and think they were more valuable than faculty drones.

We can leave this aside and let me ask you a different question:

If the current system works so well in stimulating important economic research, why is it that when the Great Recession hit nobody seemed to have any bright ideas beyond what people would've said back in the '60s?

Jeff said...

Chip,

I don't think the system works well at all. Macroeconomics has been seriously off track since the 1970's. You can't publish anything without a DSGE (Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium) model behind it.

DSGE models require drastic simplifying assumptions to make them mathematically tractable. So we end up with models in which there is no innovation, sometimes no trade, and almost always no reason for the existence of money. Not surprisingly, these models and the profession in general did not see 2008 coming, and they have had almost no influence on policy responses.

One result is that macroeconomics since 2008 has been most notable for its irrelevancy.