Academics seem to find it a respectable doctrine to aim to keep politics out of the classroom. I do not necessarily think that is a good idea, after all we do have political science departments. The spirit of the argument however is to keep your personal politics out of the classroom.
I like that idea only in the abstract. It is very easy to not appear political, but at the same time pushing a political agenda, and it is easy to do in a wide range of subject areas. If students know where you stand before you present your material, perhaps they would be better positioned to weigh what you are teaching them. I am not sure how strongly I feel about this though – if I was sure, I would announce my politics on day one, and then be done with it. So I remain a mystery to students.
Anyway, I hope my students can do simple arithmetic. I hope my students can construct real aruguments using reason and evidence, and I hope my students can defend their ideas by staying on point and not waving their hands (for example, don’t defend “buy local” provisions on the grounds that they make us richer or safer, but rather defend them on the basis of, “this is costly, but it is a cost I am willing to bear because of the relative costs and benefits of the alternatives) , and I hope my students persuade me to change my ideas too. I certainly do not wish to persuade them to think politically as I do. Why? If I was able to do so, then who is to say the next guy won’t come along and do the same to them. Rather, I want them to be intellectually curious, to read, to ask good questions, and to be appropriately skeptical of the world around them.
But in the course of doing these things, and by teaching them the economic way of thinking, it is increasingly common that students think I am blasting a fire hose on their favorite political superstitions. You see it directly on the faces of students when I talk about certain things, and you certainly see it when they send all manner of e-mails to me in the days following these lectures.
And so it goes. The list goes on forever. Do you understand the nature of the problem? Either the entire discipline of economics is “too political” or …
… perhaps the political process has so massively encroached upon our commercial lives as to leave no economic concept or issue free from political influence. The worst part is, when the PC police come calling, and no doubt they will, they will be correct that every single bullet point above does deal with political issues. And it has been a clever (if unintentional and spontaneous encroachment) by leftists, rightists, statists, corporatists, what-have-you, to do this sort of thing. Will there by any discipline free from the long arm of the government? Or put another way, how could I teach any economics whatsoever if I were forced to not be political.I could give the entire course in one sentence: unicorns do not exist. Would that be too political too? I’d hate to offend the Union of Concerned Unicorn Preservationists.
If you don’t like the things economics has to say about all of those topics above, the problem is not with economics folks. What is most depressing to me is that I have lots of students that are themselves political, on both sides of the aisle, and adhere to their favored economic superstitions no matter how many courses they take. And they all get to walk away with an Economics degree from a very good department. If I ran the world, I would have a 5 question exit examination before letting anyone out of here with such an imprimatur. And they must get a perfect score.