Sunday, January 24, 2010

Next on the reading pile: Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas

I loved the Metaphysical Club (especially the stuff on Oliver Wendell Holmes); Menand has a sharp eye and a winning style. But he purports (apparently) to solve a mystery which isn't all that much of a mystery: why is the academy so liberal? To me the answer is obvious--if you are willing to become an English professor, you have revealed that you don't care much about money.

One survey I just found put the average English assistant professor's starting salary at $47K; a full professor makes on average 74K. Given how grueling it is to get a Ph.D., and given how few tenure track jobs are out there in English, this means the expected monetary value of going to graduate school relative to effort is small.

So why do people do it? Because they love Dickens or Austin or Shakespeare or Conrad or Toni Morrison or Zadie Smith, and they want to spend their lives reading and thinking about such. Clearly, money wages do not have a particularly large place in their utility functions. If money is not important to you, then maybe you will be less prone to complain about taxes.

Conversely, people who care a lot about money should look elsewhere. Even within fields this is true: academic physicians tend to earn less than private practice docs, but they get to play with state-of-the art treatments and probably provide better medical care. So once again, money is not top priority.

I do not think I am going out on a limb when I posit that the correlation between how much someone cares about money and their propensity to vote Republican is highly correlated. So I suppose if Republicans want more conservative English Professors, they should advocate paying them better!

1 comment:

blueberry said...

People always think about how to chase money. I will try reading that one.