March 4, 2007

Freakonomics author fails history of econ 101

Steven D. Levitt gets an "F" for understanding the history of his own discipline in his blog entry Let's just get rid of tenure (including mine).  He writes,

The idea that tenure protects scholars who are doing politically unpopular work strikes me as ludicrous. While I can imagine a situation where this issue might rarely arise, I am hard pressed to think of actual cases where it has been relevant.

Apparently Levitt never heard of the 1940s pressure of dairy interests to force the withdrawal of Iowa State College's pamphlet on the economic benefits of margarine in a wartime economy, Ted Schultz's defense of the pamphlet, and Schultz's leaving Iowa State in disgust afterwards. I had assumed that was common lore among economists, given Schultz's status in the field, but maybe I'm wrong.

Update: Kevin Carey disputes the significance of my remarks. I will acknowledge that in the rush of yesterday evening I went for the credibility issue that struck me, suggesting that Levitt was shooting from the hip rather than thinking about his own discipline. (There are still vested interests in economics.) I'll stick with that judgment and let others go for the main issue of whether academic freedom requires tenure. ... for now. It's the week before spring break, and too many things to do to give a full response.

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Posted in Academic freedom on March 4, 2007 6:51 PM |