Miron's Conundrum: Why Libertarians Should Think the Education Market Has Failed
By Bryan Caplan
When he launched his first blog, Jeff Miron was explicit about his motivation:
In this blog I provide a libertarian perspective on economic and social policy. By libertarian, I mean consequential libertarian, not philosophical libertarian. Thus, my arguments are based on assessments of costs and benefits, not on assertions about rights. My claim is that most government policies do more harm than good, even when the policies have good intentions and even when private arrangements work imperfectly.
From this starting point, it is natural to infer that promoting libertarian policies is socially beneficial, and promoting contrary policies is socially harmful. After all, that’s the only way that Miron’s blog could pass his own cost-benefit test!
Now in a recent post on his current blog, Miron questions whether overwhelming left-wing dominance in academia is a bad thing:
The facts raise an interesting question, however, and one that should trouble right-wing critics of the current situation: why is liberal dominance of academia a problem given that it represents a market outcome? That is, if liberal academics are so bad, why does the market support so many of them? Why is there not a demand for conservative universities? If one believes markets do things right, in what sense is the liberalism in academia excessive?
But strangely, Miron doesn’t consider the answer that flows directly from his blog’s inaugural premise. Namely: Leftist professors promote leftist policies, leftist policies are largely contrary to libertarianism, and are therefore socially harmful.
The problem isn’t that the market has failed for college students or their parents. They’re basically shopping for a higher salary after graduation, and they typically get what they pay for. No, the problem is that – as a side effect of their main function – universities pollute the intellectual culture for everyone, leading to worse policies.
The broader lesson is that libertarian reformers – or at least consequential libertarian reformers like Miron – have to believe that the market for ideas is somehow inefficient. If it isn’t, what are they complaining about?