Why Don't People Speak Up?
By David Henderson
I posted on Facebook a few days ago about the bullying that Justin Wolfers and other economists are doing to try to get an editor of the Journal of Political Economy fired. I start by saying that I don’t know if he should be fired. I don’t know enough about how good an editor he is, which, in my view, is the only thing that should matter. Justin hasn’t made a case that he’s a bad editor. Rather, Justin doesn’t like what the editor, Harald Uhlig, said about Black Lives Matter(ing). (Disclosure: I had a very civil debate with Justin about lockdowns. He seemed to be a nice guy. He is not nice on Twitter.)
At Cornell University Law School, a number of people are trying to bully the Dean into firing law professor William Jacobson over 2 of his criticisms of Black Lives Matter. (Disclosure: I read Professor Jacobson’s posts at least once a week because I find them informative.) The Dean, to his credit, defended Jacobson’s academic freedom, but to his discredit, made a nasty attack on Jacobson’s posts, managing to badly misstate the posts in the process. It’s interesting how easy it is to win an argument when you badly misstate what the person you’re arguing against says. Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver will not soon be winning any ideological Turing test awards.
Professor Jacobson appears to have received little public support from his colleagues. He writes:
None of the 21 signatories [of a public letter denouncing him], some of whom I’d worked closely with for over a decade and who I considered friends, had the common decency to approach me with any concerns. Instead they ran to the Cornell Sun while virtue signaling to students behind the scenes that this was a denunciation of me. Such is the political environment we live in now at CLS.
I’m not surprised. The reason has to do with an “aha” moment I had in the summer of 1979. I was leaving the University of Rochester’s Graduate School of Management even before my tenure clock was up. I had become friends with W. Allen Wallis, the Chancellor of the university, and he invited me to lunch in the nicer section (the part that served booze) of the faculty club, housed in the Frederick Douglass building. Early in the lunch, I realized that this wasn’t just a warm good-bye, although it was that too, but also an exit interview. So I ordered a whisky sour and loosened my tongue.
Allen wanted to know what I thought of the management school. I said that it had a lot going for it. The Dean, William H. Meckling, was great and there were a lot of strong faculty, especially in finance. But, I said, it could be so much better, even with existing faculty if there were a more open discussion and not so much kowtowing to Michael Jensen, the most prominent member of the faculty. Everyone had figured out that Michael was Bill’s buddy and so the majority were hesitant to challenge him in workshops or faculty discussions about policy issues. I said that I was one of the few willing to do this. (I didn’t name Richard Thaler, who was also one of the few, because he had left and it looked as if he wasn’t returning.)
Then I said, “My view is that in a faculty of 40 people, you should have 40 independent minds.”
Allen started laughing and I felt hurt. “Why are you laughing at me?” I asked.
He answered, “My view is that if in a faculty of 40 people you have 2 or 3 independent minds, you’re doing well.”
His insight has served me well.
So my answer to the question that’s the title of this post, “Why Don’t People Speak Up?”, is because they don’t have the courage to do so.
By the way, Wallis was a major figure in the move to abolish the draft. We had become friendly early in my time there and the friendship had strengthened after I called him up in December 1976. Incoming president Jimmy Carter had said he would grant amnesty to draft dodgers. Because Allen was the highest-ranking Republican I knew, I called him to make a pitch to his buddies in the Ford administration to steal a march on Carter by granting amnesty first. Allen didn’t agree with me but we had an interesting discussion.
In case you’re wondering about the pic at the top, it wasn’t so much to advertise co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s book, excellent as it was, as to show a picture of sheep.