George H. Smith

Libertarian Intellectuals, Businessmen, and the Market

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While converting more old Wordstar files, I happened across an article that I wrote for Liberty Magazine c. 1986. This article is not available online, and I haven't read or even seen it for nearly twenty years.

This a very sarcastic article, so much so that a few of my academic friends were offended, assuming that I was attacking them personally. But I was surprised how many other libertarian academics told me that they believed that a frank discussion of this issue was long overdo.

I have posted the first part below. I will post the remainder of the article a little later. Even with the conversion, I have to close up a lot spaces, delete some random symbols that pop up, and reconfigure the paragraphs and line spacing. This takes a little while and is very boring. This is why I didn't post the entire article, which is not all that long, now.

There are chunks of this article that I don't care for, but I wanted to convey how strongly I felt about the problems discussed here. Moreover, I wrote this article while I was writing scripts for knowledge Products, living in a very nice high rise on Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, and making a very decent salary. I mention this because some readers speculated that I was motivated by sour grapes, which was not true -- at least not in regard to myself. Rather, I had become disgusted by how some of our brilliant and productive market intellectuals were being left to twist in the wind, while students barely out of diapers were being subsidized to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars every year, so they could pursue their degrees at prestigious.universities.

The idea was to produce libertarian academics, but some of the students were obviously gaming the system. I knew one very promising student who had received over 100 grand over a period of several years. I liked him personally, but I suspected from our many conservations that he wasn't much of a libertarian. And sure enough, not long after receiving his doctorate and a prestigious appointment to Oxford, he reverted to his true colors. He started publishing defenses of conservatism, and added frosting to his cake by publishing some all out attacks on libertarian ideas. .

Libertarian Intellectuals, Businessmen, and the Market

by George H. Smith

Part I

The libertarian community has its own unspeakable truths. Through a tacit agreement not to offend or embarrass, these awkward truths are rarely mentioned in polite company. It is time to speak about the unspeakable.

Has anyone noticed that many libertarian intellectuals are on welfare? Of course, we're not supposed to call it "welfare" -- that would be impolite. But these academics are paid by the state, often receiving handsome salaries for a few hours of work each week, not to mention three months off each year.

Then there is the sabbatical -- a year of paid vacation every six or seven years. Of course, we're not supposed to call this a "vacation" -- that would be impolite.

Intellectuals tend to be smarter than the average welfare recipient, so they have devised "tenure" -- guaranteed welfare. Think of it! A tenured professor will never lose his job, unless (as Michael Caine put it in the movie "Educating Rita") he "buggers the bursar."

Quite a feathered nest this, and libertarian intellectuals flock to its comfortable, warm security. The welfare-libertarian will never be rich, but he will never be poor, either. His government dole furnishes him with an abundance of free time, during which he thinks deep thoughts, sings hymns to the free market, and "double dips" by taking on additional projects in his spare time.

These truths bother some libertarian academics, who feel pangs of conscience from time to time. Such feelings are quickly suppressed, however, with a standard rationale: "The government has a virtual monopoly over higher education; it has so enmeshed itself in education that it is impossible to make it "out there" in the market. Yes, that's it -- that's why I work for the government. Enough said. Now let’s back to the struggle for liberty."

It is time to ask these conscientious libertarians some unspeakable questions:

"Have you ever tried, even once, to escape the welfare system? Indeed, have you ever given the possibility serious thought? When you and your colleagues meet at conferences, do you discuss the vicious effects of the academic cycle of welfare -- how (like all welfare) it saps your incentive, how it demeans you, how the government supports you not because it cares about you, but because it wants to control you?

Granted, you are very busy congratulating each other on your latest scholarly articles. Granted, you are very busy discussing really important issues, like the movement for liberty in Bulgaria or how the market can save the snail darter. Granted, all this and more. But can't you find at least some to time to discuss how to get libertarian intellectuals off welfare?

That "libertarians on welfare" is an unspeakable topic was made clear to me many years ago during a seminar for libertarian philosophers…

[To be continued.....

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Libertarian Intellectuals, Businessmen, and the Market

by George H. Smith

(Part 2 of 3)

That "libertarians on welfare" is an unspeakable topic was made clear to me many years ago during a seminar for libertarian philosophers. During my brief talk, I pointed out that modern philosophy is predominantly a creature of state-supported intellectuals, and that this may partially explain why the vast majority of philosophers are so fervently pro-government. After all, there is natural and understandable tendency not to bite the hand that feeds you. Even libertarian philosophers, I suggested ever-so-delicately, might not be immune to this corrupting tendency, for we, too, are only human.

The response was swift and severe. "Are you suggesting," sneered one philosopher, his eyes filled with that credentialed "Who are you?" look -- "are you suggesting that we sell-out to the government?"

"No," I replied, "it's not that simple. We know the state breeds strong vested interests, and I don't see why this tendency shouldn't apply to state-supported philosophers -- all of them. This doesn't mean a libertarian philosopher sells out overtly. But when deciding which subject to write about or which cause to defend, he might be reluctant to target universities for attack. After all, if philosophers were thrown out on the market, few would survive, because the market demand for philosophers is far less than the artificial demand created by the state.

So why rock the boat? Why select a controversy which, if you eventually win, might render you unable to make a living as a philosopher? There are plenty of other legitimate topics that can keep a philosopher occupied for a lifetime. Plus, your colleagues aren't stupid. If they see you arguing that state universities are bad things, they might ask an embarrassing question: So why are you here?"

My opponent was livid. "I am a philosopher," he intoned. "I am concerned only with truth." I don't think he got the point.

A few more philosophers joined the argument while others whispered and joked among themselves, clearly indicating that they regarded my thesis as too ludicrous for consideration. Not one of these libertarian philosophers came to my defense. Not one conceded that state-funding of philosophy might influence the outcome -- at least not where libertarians are concerned. The problem of vested interests, it seems, affected everyone but themselves.

Such was their response to my unspeakable question, "What are the long-term effects when libertarian intellectuals go on welfare?"

[To be continued….]

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George:

I have argued that position regarding universities and state funding. It was also one of the warnings sounded by Eisenhower in his "military industrial complex" speech in 1960. He warned about the federal government and university research also.

I have always refused to contribute via membership to "tax deductible organizations." The 501 3c's and their progeny for similar reasons. When we founded F.A.M.I.L.Y., Advocates which was a gender neutral intercession organization, my partner had long and lengthy talks about the structure. We decided to shun all of the "perks" from the state which eventually was our salvation because the state could not get into our books and membership lists which they desperately tried to do, in order to shut us down.

I like your approach. I am sure it did not get you a lot of pats on the back because you are taking the lid off the cesspool of funding, both indirect and direct. I would also assert that controlling the funding controls, when push comes to shove, the content and intention.

Adam

Edited by Selene

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> these academics are paid by the state, often receiving handsome salaries for a few hours of work each week, not to mention three months off each year. Then there is the sabbatical -- a year of paid vacation every six or seven years. Of course, we're not supposed to call this a "vacation" ..."libertarians on welfare" is an unspeakable topic [GHS]

Academics are hardly always paid by the state; there are private universities. And in any event it is not always illegitimate to take a job at a public institution - in particular a university.

Note that even a public university is in large part supported by tuition or by fees for doing something specific (scientific or medical research would be among the more productive areas). It's hardly a pure creature of the state or just being 'subsidized' for doing nothing like welfare recipients or farmers paid for not growing things.

Is being a college professor an easy life compared to other professions? Yes, it can be. But that does not make it "welfare" any more than the fact that the state has a role in supporting or regulating. The state has too much of a role in almost every profession these days. Support or unavoidable entanglement is not necessarily a moral disqualification or something to be ashamed of. [see Rand on "The Question of Scholarships".]

If the faculty member uses all that supposed free time to prepare for class, write lectures, grade papers and uses those sabbaticals for what they are supposed to be for - doing research and thinking, writing books, what is wrong with that?

The fact that some people waste that time or don't conscientiously improve their knowledge and teaching doesn't mean that no one should have that much time.

> why rock the boat? Why select a controversy which, if you eventually win, might render you unable to make a living as a philosopher?

Certainly there can be reluctance to bite the hand that sustains you, but that can be true for someone who works for a business or industry as well.

My bet is that if George were offered a tenured chair in Intellectual History at Harvard, he would swallow his resentments and moral outrage very quickly and jump at the chance. I certainly would....Not that it's likely to happen in either of our cases.... :-)

Edited by Philip Coates

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Here is the last part of my article. Sorry for the delay in posting this, but I got sidetracked with other things.

The issues I discuss here were really the point of my article. I never voiced moral objections to libertarians working for state universities, because I think such choices are ultimately a matter of individual consience. My primary concern was with the broader impact of "welfare intellectuals" on the libertarian movement, as I explain here.

I must say that I didn't care for the tone of my article after reading it again for the first time in many years. It is far more polemical than it needed to be.

Libertarian Intellectuals, Businessmen, and the Market

by George H. Smith

(Part 3 of 3)

Libertarian foundations operate on market principles; in dispensing their scarce resources, they want the best product for the least cost. Suppose they are looking for someone to do Project X. A welfare-intellectual will do it for, say, $500, because he receives full-time pay from tax funds for less than full-time work. The $500 is gravy; it supplements his welfare payments.

The unsubsidized market-intellectual, on the other hand, requires $1500 for Project X, because he must pay his bills from that money. Therefore, he cannot compete against the welfare-intellectual.

Then financial incentives set in. Young libertarians learn early that they can never make a living in the market, because even libertarian foundations will not help them. They will be dead in the water if they don't acquire establishment credentials and go on welfare. Thus does the vicious cycle of welfare perpetuate itself, as increasing numbers of libertarians enter state universities.

Who is to blame for this disturbing trend? The administrators of foundations? Usually not, for they must justify their decisions to donors, and these donors want the most bang for their buck. If administrators hire market intellectuals, their higher price tag will mean that fewer projects can be funded. And donors don't like that.

What about the donors -- those businessmen who contribute to foundations? Here the problem gets complicated. Libertarian donors want their contributions to accomplish something worthwhile. And, in a society spellbound by the mystique of credentials and prestigious universities, welfare-intellectuals will be taken seriously and so are more likely to effect change than market- intellectuals.

The real problem here is one of priorities. The funding of welfare-intellectuals to the exclusion of market-intellectuals may achieve results more quickly, but it also creates incentives for libertarians to go on welfare rather than work in the market. In the long run, therefore, this policy threatens to create a libertarian overclass of intellectuals.

Contrary to popular opinion, the welfare-intellectual is by no means inferior to the businessman when it comes to making money. Rather, the welfare-intellectual lets the businessman earn the money; then he collects money wrested from the businessman through taxation; then he persuades the businessman to donate even more money to welfare- intellectuals so they can undertake projects valued by the businessman.

So how is it that the welfare-intellectual has so much spare time on his hands? He receives a full-time salary, so doesn't that suggest that he has a full-time job? No, his job is more like welfare inasmuch as this fortunate intellectual has plenty of time to kill -- leisure made possible by the businessman's taxes. If the welfare-intellectual really wishes to promote the values of the businessman, why doesn't he do so with the businessman's tax money? Why should the businessman pay again?

There is a tragic personal side to all this. The libertarian intellectuals who began in the 60's (when there was little money available to anyone) were fired by enthusiasm and dedication alone. They didn't get credentials, either because they were uninterested entering those bastions of welfare known as universities, or because they couldn't stomach the stifling, repressive atmosphere of graduate schools. Nevertheless, they wrote article after erticle, hammering out the theoretical details which most libertarians now take for granted.

As libertarianism became respectable -- thanks in large measure to the efforts of market-intellectuals -- money became available from private institutions. Market-intellectuals took heart. Now, finally, they could make a decent living from their labor. But this didn't happen. Instead, the money went to welfare-intellectuals moonlighting in their spare time, or to those future welfare recipients known as graduate students. Indeed, a graduate student could receive more money in one year than a market-intellectual had gotten in ten. The market intellectuals -- those who had labored long and hard for something they believed in -- were left to twist in the wind. And twist many of them did, as they struggled to make ends meet, and as they watched a new breed of welfare-intellectuals rake in libertarian money.

To add insult to injury, libertarian money began pouring into the hands of welfare-intellectuals who were not even libertarians, or anything close. I once attended a conference on education sponsored by a free-market foundation. There were only a few libertarians in the bunch; the rest were establishment educators and administrators. On those rare occasions when a libertarian got a word in edgewise, the establishment clique listened condescendingly and then returned to talking among themselves about the pressing need for higher taxes to fund state schools.

The money invested in that useless conference could have supported a market-intellectual for many months. Instead, a dozen anti-libertarians returned home after two days of chatting, fat libertarian checks in hand. They must have laughed all the way to the bank.

No libertarian foundation to help market-intellectuals has been established or seriously considered. Every year thousands of libertarian dollars disappear down the establishment rathole while brilliant and dedicated market-intellectuals go begging. Is this any way to run a movement?

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Phil,

You mean there are such things as private universities? I had no idea. Thanks for the info. Maybe I will write an article about those some day, instead of focusing on public universities, as I did in my article.

What a presumptuous twit you are to presume to know what I would do if I were offered a position in a state university. Do you think that I ended up becoming a market intellectual by accident because I couldn't get the state to hire me? In fact, I decided very early on, during my college years, that I didn't care to become a state employee and that I would rather pursue a career in the free market of ideas. If you relish working for the state, be my guest.

One more thing: Has it occurred to that it is best to critique an article after the entire thing has been posted?

Ghs

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Is being a college professor an easy life compared to other professions? Yes, it can be. But that does not make it "welfare" any more than the fact that the state has a role in supporting or regulating. The state has too much of a role in almost every profession these days. Support or unavoidable entanglement is not necessarily a moral disqualification or something to be ashamed of. [see Rand on "The Question of Scholarships".]

Nowhere is my article do I speak of "a moral disqualification," nor do I say that welfare-intellectuals should be ashamed of anything. You have once again exhibited a spectacular inability to understand what you read.

Certainly there can be reluctance to bite the hand that sustains you, but that can be true for someone who works for a business or industry as well.

Of course, of course. We all know that libertarians should be as concerned with criticizing private businesses as they are with criticizing government institutions and activities. I don't know how I could have missed such an obvious point, so I am once again in your debt.

Ghs

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One more brief comment:

Education is the ultimate foundation of a free society. If libertarians and O'ists think that state educational institutions, on whatever level, can be used to further the long-range cause of freedom, they are fooling themselves. A major concern discussed in my article is that the complacent attitude about libertarians working for state universities has tended to stifle serious criticism of how state universities further the cause of statism.

Earlier libertarians were well aware of this problem. Herbert Spencer, for example, once pointed out that most statist intellectuals are "university men," whereas most advocates of freedom are found outside of universities. It is scarcely coincidental that many of the leading classical liberals of the Victorian era, such as Spencer and J.S. Mill, were the products of home schooling.

Ghs

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One more brief comment:

Education is the ultimate foundation of a free society. If libertarians and O'ists think that state educational institutions, on whatever level, can be used to further the long-range cause of freedom, they are fooling themselves. A major concern discussed in my article is that the complacent attitude about libertarians working for state universities has tended to stifle serious criticism of how state universities further the cause of statism.

Earlier libertarians were well aware of this problem. Herbert Spencer, for example, once pointed out that most statist intellectuals are "university men," whereas most advocates of freedom are found outside of universities. It is scarcely coincidental that many of the leading classical liberals of the Victorian era, such as Spencer and J.S. Mill, were the products of home schooling.

Ghs

George, this is merely anecdotal support for Spencer's comment, but I have good information that one of the libertarian/Austrian-oriented professors at Cal State Hayward utterly caved and supported Bush's bailout program back in the fall of 2008. Not to do something would have been catastrophic, don't you know -- "catastrophic," as in: liquidation of many, many mal-investments.

Sometimes corruption and serious inconsistency take a little digging (or threatened nest-eggs?) to uncover. Methinks someone should have compiled a database of all the (supposed) free-market economists and politicians who have rolled over and voted for or advocated these multi-hundred billion dollar bailouts. It's good to know who your friends ~really~ are. (I'm recalling Albert Nock's chagrin when in 1934 Hoover, the erstwhile fascist, penned "The Challenge to Liberty" in attacking the New Deal.)

REB

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> increasing numbers of libertarians enter state universities. Who is to blame for this disturbing trend? [GHS, #5]

What a bizarre point of view to see this as 'disturbing' in any way.

It's specifically getting libertarian (or Objectivist) into the universities, public or private, that is a major key to getting a hearing for our ideas. The disturbing trend is for them to just stay in/to only find work outside of the educational institutions.

When the universities are where young people go for ideas and syllabuses and to be assigned texts to read and spend four years (or eight) at the age when they are open to ideas if they are ever going to, what is a 'disturbing trend' is to not have voices there to present alternatives to the reigning dogma and brainwashing.

The best idea is *more* Oists and libertarians doing the following:

1. Pursue an academic career.

2. Get tenure.

3. Freely and openly argue for reason, egoism, and freedom within the hearing of the young.

4. Use your credentials and 'leisure' time to get published, get a hearing within your discipline.

(Clearly, that doesn't mean 'independent' or uncredentialed scholars or even people without a college degree can have no role or, if they are good, do not have a massive impact -- consider Rand.)

Edited by Philip Coates

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> My bet is that if George were offered a tenured chair in Intellectual History at Harvard, he would swallow his resentments and moral outrage very quickly and jump at the chance. [PC, #4]

> I decided very early on, during my college years, that I didn't care to become a state employee and that I would rather pursue a career in the free market of ideas. [GHS, #6]

Excuse me, George, but you have to learn to read more carefully: Was I talking about your earlier career choices?

Are you actually saying that now, having learned how hard it is to get a hearing without credentials and without the income and the time of an academic, if you were now offered a tenured chair at Harvard and a chance to have that megaphone and influence at perhaps the most prestigious school in the country, you would turn it down?

> Has it occurred to that it is best to critique an article after the entire thing has been posted?

I wasn't criticizing the entire article. Just a point you'd already made.

> presumptuous twit

George the insult boy.

Edited by Philip Coates

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> My bet is that if George were offered a tenured chair in Intellectual History at Harvard, he would swallow his resentments and

Excuse me, George, but you have to learn to read more carefully: Was I talking about your earlier career choices?

My earlier choices are the only basis on which you can base your "bet" about my future choices.

Are you actually saying that now, having learned how hard it is to get a hearing without credentials and without the income and the time of an academic, if you were now offered a tenured chair at Harvard and a chance to have that megaphone and influence at perhaps the most prestigious school in the country, you would turn it down?

I certainly should turn down such an offer, because acceptance would violate my principles. So, yes, I hope I would have the strength of character to do the right thing. I never thought that the life of a market intellectual would be an easy one. In fact, I have fared much better than most.

Would you also accept a teaching job at the University of Tehran? Or are there limits to what even you would do for prestige and money?

Ghs

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> increasing numbers of libertarians enter state universities. Who is to blame for this disturbing trend? [GHS, #5]

What a bizarre point of view to see this as 'disturbing' in any way...

I suppose you are also an enthusiastic fan of the public schools at the pre-university level. By all means, let's not concern ourselves with expanding private schools. Let's just load up the public schools with libertarian teachers, and all will be well. Then we can become the biggest boosters of the public schools.

Ghs

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I want to move beyond the points where I strongly disagree with George. He raises a host of other interesting points in his thought-provoking three part essay:

> ...Libertarian foundations..want the best product for the least cost.

He then argues that an academic who is already making a salary from his university might be willing to do for $500 an article which an independent scholar might need $1500 for so he can support himself. And therefore the latter can't successfully compete. That makes sense. But I wonder if the difference of a thousand bucks is regularly decisive for the more deep-pocketed foundations [Koch brothers?] if the independent, non-academic scholar can do a clearly better job? I wonder if the deepest reason for often preferring the 'connected' guy is because he is more prestigious for them and eyebrows are raised when someone not associated with an institution is published by them, promoted by them, etc.?

> Young libertarians learn early that they can never make a living in the market, because even libertarian foundations will not help them...No libertarian foundation to help market-intellectuals has been established or seriously considered....Is this any way to run a movement?

No, I agree it's not a way to run a movement that wants to change things radically because such a movement which has an unphill road needs to be conscientiously - and aggressively - meritocratic.

The established institutions and leaders and funders should be a lot better at operating on the principle of meritocracy not prestige. And not "cronyism" or publishing and hiring and promoting those who are comfortable or familiar or your long-time colleagues [not mentioned in George's article, but also important: I don't know about libertarian think-tanks but you often sense this at the two main Objectivist think-tanks.]

> a society spellbound by the mystique of credentials and prestigious universities

I suspect this -- credentialitis -- is the deepest root of the problem.

> The libertarian intellectuals who began in the 60's...wrote article after article, hammering out the theoretical details which most libertarians now take for granted.

I wonder if libertarian foundations and their business supporters would offer more support if they were aware that the non-academics have helped them build their movement and theories and applications -- and therefore can do so again?

If George's claim is so [i'm not denying it, I'm simply not clear about this], citing chapter and verse, thoroughly documenting it (and pointing out specifically where the academics use this earlier material) in a calm and non-accusatory "just the facts ma'am" manner might go a long way toward persuading - at least some - of these people to make more room for independent or free-lance or unaffiliated scholars. (You only need one supporter or patron or publisher at a time to allow you to support yourself for the same reason that you only need one job, one lover.)

In any major undertaking which has a magnitude of time, effort, or complexity involved, you need to find room for the best of the "mavericks", the critics, the whistle-blowers. Even if they have bad table manners, call their opponents twits, ruffle feathers, are personally abrasive, etc. Every once in a while, their independent viewpoints or different backgrounds will see things that the more conventional or more lockstep or more timid or more standardly credentialed don't.

Those who are most loyal, who have checked all the right career boxes, show no gaps in their employment record, never had a teenage flirtation with Marxism, etc. are not always the ones who come up with the big ideas or can write or speak the most eloquently.

George makes a very good point about the unaffiliated thinkers not being beholden to anyone. And that does liberate one's thinking.

Edited by Philip Coates

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I certainly should turn down such an offer, because acceptance would violate my principles. So, yes, I hope I would have the strength of character to do the right thing.

George,

I walked away from a symphonic orchestra career because I couldn't stand the idea of working for a government-funded culture project. That wasn't the only reason, but it was one of the main ones.

And, boy, did it honk in my head.

I remember walking the streets of São Paulo for hours in internal agony, looking at diners and taxis and people walking by and thinking that those folks were paying my wages, but they didn't go to concerts. They didn't consume classical music, either. Hell, most didn't even know enough about classical music to like it or dislike it.

But I was taking money that had been taken from them to be able to play my trombone and conduct.

I finally walked out.

I've had problems in life since then, but I have not had to endure a repeat performance of that particular flavor of mental anguish. It really is unbearable.

(God knows I've tried hard to grow a callous where my conscience is, but that sucker just won't die. :) )

I made the right choice for me. I have no doubt you did, too, by not even getting into that mess in the first place.

Michael

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