Monday, September 13, 2004

A Bit of Sense and a Lot of Nonsense from Austin

Here's economist James K. Galbraith -- who professes at The University of Texas at Austin -- writing in today's Austin American-Statesman about his profession:
...Economics suffers today from high formalism, rigid orthodoxy and tribal exclusiveness in professional journals; real-world scholarship is not prized and not easily published. But fortunately, with the Internet the costs of publication are falling. New journals are springing up that can peer-review effectively at low cost, and this will one day cause the breakdown of our ossified system.

In a world of virtual journals and electronic working papers, scholarly engagement has a better chance. Let's hope that quality will still be distinguishable from junk...
Oops -- can't trust the uninitiated to sort it out for themselves, can we? Well economists can't agree about much, so why does it matter what the uninitiated make of what economists write? Back to Galbraith:
Finally, for the engaged scholar, there is always the tricky issue of the role of values and politics. Some scholarship is intrinsically apolitical, but social scholarship can't be. The policies I support grow from my ethical and political beliefs, to which my expertise (such as it is) merely adds an element of engineering.
In other words, he doesn't know how to separate scholarship from values. Hmmm...
And yet, of course, a professor is not a missionary. A profound obligation is to respect the ideas and views of students who come in with different values.

My approach to that is to declare my own politics frankly — I'm a liberal Keynesian Democrat, in case you didn't know.
Why is it necessary to declare one's politics frankly, in the classroom, and how is doing it consistent with what he says next?
But I try to preserve my classroom as a space for respectful discourse with all points of view.

And, sometimes, you pull it off.

Some years ago, a student wrote these words on my confidential end-of-semester evaluation: "It pains me to say this, but you are the best professor I've had here — even though you are a communist."...
Yeah, sometimes his non-liberal, non-Keynesian, non-Democrat students aren't cowed by his frankly declared politics. How often? Once? At least that student saw him for what he is. (No, I'm not calling Galbraith names. He's a liberal, so he mustn't mind being called a communist; he's open-minded.)

Now for Galbraith's op-ed page companion, the re-doubtable Molly Ivins -- an Austin-based, syndicated columnist (as the American-Statesman likes to remind us) -- whose "good old gal" shtick has become more of a shrill whine. Molly is inveighing against the "old boy" network of rich Texans that undoubtedly arranged for GWB to do his Vietnam time in the Texas Air National Guard. Here's the (unintentionally) funny part:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear: There was then no nasty partisan politics in Texas except inside the Democratic Party. The Republicans were upper-class establishment types, and the tradition of Texas Republicans and Texas Democrats working and playing well together continued, actually, until the Republicans took over, when it ended with a bang.
What Ivins is trying to imply is that a bunch of rich Republicans invaded Texas, took it over, and started playing nasty. What happened, of course, was that a lot of Texas Democrats got sick and tired of the national party's positions on issues (abortion, defense, welfare, government in general) and became Republicans. And so it went -- in Texas as across most of the South. Then, new voters followed mostly in their parents' footsteps and allied with the Republican Party. Their numbers have been reinforced by a steady in-migration of disenfranchised Republicans and Reagan Democrats who have fled the "liberal" North for the warmth and more companionable politics of the South. An invasion? No, just a good, old-fashioned combination of political conversion and American mobility. The upshot of which has been to make Texas a solidly Republican State.

Ivins, of course, is sick -- just sick -- because all those converts and new Texas voters have lined up with the "upper-class establishment types" instead of flocking to her Willie Nelson worldview. And when the Republican majority insists on acting like a majority, that's "playing nasty" in Ivins's view. Talk about sore losers.