Showing posts with label socioeconomics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label socioeconomics. Show all posts

Friday, September 17, 2021

Can 'inclusive capitalism' pull us back from the brink?

1957 U.S. propaganda poster (NARA)
"Welcome to late-stage capitalism!," DeepKarma tweeted @me earlier this month.

The exclamation was a response to my tweeted complaint that Hertz rental car quoted me a higher price when logged in as a "Gold Plus Rewards Member" than when I compared rates in an anonymous browser.  Dynamic pricing is a known feature of online retailing that rubs people the wrong way yet pours through America's dysfunctional consumer protection sieve.  I did not expect it to be a feature of Hertz's so-called "loyalty program."

Pushing the button of my angst over corporatocracy, DeepKarma's term intrigued me. My subconscience might have remembered Annie Lowrey's "Why the Phrase 'Late Capitalism' Is Suddenly Everywhere" in The Atlantic in 2017, subtitle: "An investigation into a term that seems to perfectly capture the indignities and absurdities of the modern economy."

The term dates to early 20th-century German economist Werner Sombart. Twentieth-century socialists mispredicting the demise of capitalism were fond of the term, which in turn made it unwelcome in polite democratic company.  Now our feverish commitment to deregulation, dismantling of social safety net, and bottom-line-driven abuse of human capital, etc., resulting in, inter alia, an enormous wealth gap and aforementioned charade of consumer protection regulation, have brought the term back into fashion.  I'm an economic conservative, by the way, but there is no free market if people are not free to enter into it and make free choices once they're there.

Coincidentally, I recently mentioned the work (and kind support for my work) of Syracuse law professor Robert Ashford.  It happens that Ashford is a leader of a community of scholars who have for decades been advocating, often screaming into the wind, for economic policy solutions to come from economics itself.

More often than not, the field of economics posits only descriptive research or resorts to classical norms such as laissez-faire regulatory policy without critical introspection.  Ashford is the founder of interdisciplinary "socio-economics," which strives for "inclusive capitalism": in my words, to use economic science to actually make life better for everyone, rather than for some at the expense of others.

A short but steep learning curve is required before one digs into the potential of socio-economics, in the vision of Ashford and colleagues.  Here is an introductory kit:

As these titles indicate, the interdisciplinary nature of socio-economics and inclusive capitalism make the sub-field accessible to scholars, for both understanding and participation, in a range of disciplines, both soft and hard sciences, besides law and economics, and also understandable to anyone.  Professor Ashford is always willing to invest time and energy to help potential believers come up to speed, and he is a captivating speaker for conferences and classes.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

So now you care about academic mobbing

Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY 2.0
Princeton politics professor Keith E. Whittington (on the blog) has a wisely worded op-ed, on The Volokh Conspiracy at Reason, on the too often abdicated responsibility of university administrators to push back against viewpoint-based campus mobbing of faculty.

"It is now a familiar pattern," he writes: attack, petition, social media campaign, demand for termination.  Of the university's duty, he writes:

University presidents have a responsibility in such a situation. It should go without saying, but unfortunately it does not, that they have a responsibility to actually live up to their constitutional and contractual responsibilities and refrain from sanctioning the faculty member for saying something that someone finds controversial. They should insist that harassment and threats directed against members of the faculty will not be tolerated. Professors should at least be confident that when the mobs arrive, pitchforks in hand, that university leaders will not flinch and give in to the demands of the mob.

I hope the piece hits the desk of every university president in the land with a thunderclap of j'accuse.

Yet it is fascinating to me to see described today as cliché what was once fringe.  Canadian sociologist Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, published his Workplace Mobbing in Academe (2004) seventeen years ago, and that book was built on his earlier Eliminating Professors (1998).

By the time I met Ken in 2009, he was already the world's leading expert on academic mobbing.  He still is.  Westhues's website is still the online clearinghouse on mobbing as a sociological phenomenon. But he's almost never cited, at least in the legal lit.  I find eight references to Westhues on Westlaw's JLR database, and none in the last dozen years.

At a program at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 2010, I accepted the invitation of Westhues and Syracuse University law professor Robert Ashford to speak of my experience.  Ashford perceived a worthwhile connection to his inventive work in socio-economics, and Westhues flattered me with my name as a participle

The splash we made at AALS and in legal academics eleven years ago might be described well as mostly indifferent curiosity.  Mostly modifies indifferent, not curiosity.  

I wrote in the Journal of College and University Law in 2009 about the need for broader academic freedom, beyond published research and into the professorial "penumbra."  I presented at AAUP, besides AALS.  The article was cited once in a 2011 bibliography and once in 2013.  (Thanks, Profs. Benson and Jones.)  And that was that.

Not until cancel culture reached the well known coastal scholars of academia's elite institutions did mobbing hit the mainstream.  Now a lot of important people are wringing their hands over academic freedom and waning tenure.

Too bad they don't seem able to find my article.  Or Westhues's work.  Is there really a wheel until it's invented at a "top" school?

It's nice to see serious people having serious thoughts about academic freedom, at last.  But it's too late to give solace to a generation of victim-scholars.  And it's probably too late to resuscitate intellectual liberty on campus, for at least a generation yet.