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comment by PTR
PTR  ·  107 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: December 6, 2017

The GMU Economics department is an interesting creature to me. At my undergrad university, we had two ECON professors from GMU. One of them convinced Alex Tabarrok to come to campus for a keynote and short lecture, and I got to have lunch with him. Which was wild to me because I'd spent the past two years reading his (and Cowen's) blog, Marginal Revolution

GMU is also known for its donations from Charles Koch. Without going into specifics, it was common knowledge in the ECON department at my own school that both GMU-alum professors were on accelerated tenure tracks because of the funding they brought with them from their connections to the Koch Foundation. Of course, both professors were excellent teachers in their own right, but there's a strong norm of procedural justice among academe and this violated it so badly that it was an agenda item in the faculty senate for 3 years in a row.

One of the profs wrote a letter of recommendation for my master's program, so I hope it's obvious enough that I hold no feelings either way about what choices they've made in their academic careers. But, like I said, GMU is an interesting creature. I've been speculatively following high-level graduates of the ECON department for the past 5 years now and researching alums (I'm very familiar with Cowen, Hanson, and Caplan - recommended Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids to my wife). If anything's true about that department, it's a tight network of alumni.

blackbootz  ·  107 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I am one with your observations. GMU's economics department is an interesting creature indeed. When my professor, a GMU economics PhD by the name of Howard Baetjer, first seriously suggested I apply to a Charles Koch Institute internship, I was confused. I had never heard a real life person speak with anything but contempt for the Kochs, let alone their nonprofit or advocacy groups. I had listened to an interview with Stephen Dubner and Charles Koch on Freakonomics and knew that some people sincerely conceive of Charles Koch as merely a billionaire uber-libertarian with small government fantasies intent on unleashing the productive capacity of the everyman, that Jane Mayer's criticisms were off-base, etc. That said, whatever the Kochs' do believe is of vast importance. Their political network is mind bogglingly well-funded. After spending $250 million in the 2016 election cycle--though neither for Trump or Hillary--they stated their intention to spend as much as $400 million in 2018. From Politico:

    Koch and his brother David Koch have quietly assembled, piece by piece, a privatized political and policy advocacy operation like no other in American history that today includes hundreds of donors and employs 1,200 full-time, year-round staffers in 107 offices nationwide. That’s about 3½ times as many employees as the Republican National Committee and its congressional campaign arms had on their main payrolls [in November 2015].

The honorarium that my professor would pay Bryan Caplan to come speak at my college? Paid from a donation made by the Koch Foundation.

That said, I have an enormous respect for Cowen, Hanson, and Caplan. I've seen Cowen give one of his "Conversations" in DC. I'm genuinely geeked to see Caplan next semester if he agrees to come. I'm pretty well convinced of some of the broad libertarian arguments--the negative effects of things like operational licensing, the supply and demand distortions in the Affordable Care Act, etc. I am wary of the libertarian movement, though, since their arguments are so easily co-opted by don't-give-a-fuck greedy, crony corporatists. So, like you, I observe from afar not without some interest.

cgod  ·  107 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Maybe you should read Nancy McLean's "Democracy in Chains." My buddy just finished it and read quite a few passages to me. It's a pretty bold condemnation of George Mason's economics department amongst other things. I haven't read it, my friend was impressed by it.

PTR  ·  107 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Have you read "Dark Money"? I liked it - I'll give "Democracy in Chains" a go too.

Koch funding at my alma (as I mentioned) was very contentious. There's an English department faculty member there who hosted a book club for a few months this fall semester, and I think they covered both books along with "Sons of Wichita". From what I understand, it went over about how you'd expect: very academically political, which is arguably the worst kind of political.

blackbootz  ·  107 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Will do.