Town Vs. Gown
By Arnold Kling
Two recent articles discuss economic and sociological divides in politics. Joel Kotkin writes,
Kerry’s challenge, Sperling and his three co-authors declare, is to convince voters in swing states such as Arizona, Colorado and the industrial Midwest that they should get hip by becoming more “metro” and less “retro.”
Memo to Kerry: If only it were that easy.
There are lots of reasons why this analysis is wrongheaded. It’s based on a significant misreading of many key economic indicators. And it doesn’t recognize where Americans who aspire to upward mobility make their homes.
There are two sorts of people in the information-age elite, spreadsheet people and paragraph people. Spreadsheet people work with numbers, wear loafers and support Republicans. Paragraph people work with prose, don’t shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats.
Brooks fails to footnote C.P. Snow, the author of the 1950’s classic on The Two Cultures. Snow saw a similar divide between the humanities and science/engineering.
Both Kotkin and Brooks point to data on the political proclivities of academics. Kotkin writes,
Harvard faculty are the second-largest source of direct campaign funds from employees — behind the massive University of California faculty — to the Kerry campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
Brooks cites the same data, and adds
Academics have had such an impact on the Democratic donor base because there is less intellectual diversity in academia than in any other profession. All but 1 percent of the campaign donations made by employees of William & Mary College went to Democrats. In the Harvard crowd, Democrats got 96 percent of the dollars. At M.I.T., it was 94 percent. Yale is a beacon of freethinking by comparison; 8 percent of its employee donations went to Republicans.
Can the gowns win the towns? Kotkin is skeptical.
Ultimately, the answer to the Democratic Party’s democratic deficit won’t be found among the dons in Cambridge, the patricians on Beacon Hill or the celebrities in Malibu. It will be found in identifying and understanding the strivings of middle-class people living in unfashionable tract suburbs, working-class city neighborhoods and small towns across the country. Until the Democrats find a way to connect with these people, they will find their own fortunes receding in the face of an enormous field of opportunity.
Some of my thoughts about academic isolation can be found in Real World 101.
One of the issues with which I struggle in teaching my GMU course is integrating my business experience with my academic learning. For example, take the topic of “profit maximization.” In academic economics, it means solving a mathematical optimization problem. In business, you don’t have the equation to work with. You’re guessing about what will sell, to whom you can sell it, and how much it might sell for. You’re guessing about how you can get technology to fit together, and how new developments could affect you. I never used calculus in my business career. And yet, I am not sure that it is right to ignore textbook economics altogether in teaching the subject.
For Discussion. Will the town/gown split be as severe in ten years?