First They Came for the Sociologists. . . [Updated]

I’m currently working on a long article analyzing why more academics who know better don’t stand up to the braying mobs of the politically-correct Left. There’s a lot to this problem—stay tuned for the full article when it appears—but one part of it reminds me of the famous quote from Martin Neimoller about the Nazis:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This is exactly how the campus fascists are gradually infiltrating department after department in the social sciences and humanities at most of our universities. Sociology went first, way back in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by other departments.  Forget Womens Studies, Ethnic Studies, and other obvious fever swamps; I’ve been doing a casual survey of faculties in the traditional departments at a handful of large universities, and in some English and History departments, about one-third of the faculty are deep-dish post-modern leftists.  (Many of the other faculty members are simply boring.)

The one field in the social sciences where there is the least presence of post-modern oppression-“privilege” types is Economics, which prompts me to propose the theorem that the presence of politically correct nonsense in an academic department is inversely proportional to the emphasis placed on rigorous regression modeling in the discipline (or knowledge of ancient languages).

But the braying campus mob is after Economics, as reported in the Washington Post today. There are protesters at the annual meeting of the American Economics Association:

There were leaflets, a manifesto, and this warning:“On campus after campus, we will chase you old goats out of power. Then, in the months and years that follow, we will begin the work of reprogramming the doomsday machine.”

On Friday, on the eve of the annual meeting of The American Economic Association in Boston, attended by many of the top economists in the United States, the agents of the heterodoxy had come to declare war on the profession. The small group threw their messages onto the side of the Sheraton Boston in glowing, six-foot tall letters: “BEFORE ECONOMICS CAN PROGRESS, IT MUST ABANDON ITS SUICIDAL FORMALISM.”

Translation: you must abandon the rigor and conventions that stand in the way of our political agenda.


Keith Harrington, a community organizer and videographer, once worked as a climate change activist. But after a few years he came to see that the real fight was elsewhere. “The type of activism we were doing around climate was running into systemic challenges,” he said. “We couldn’t get the types of climate change policies we need without system change, without addressing questions in economics like growth and limits to growth.”

Harrington now runs a campaign called Kick it Over, which aims to combat what it describes as “the fantasy world of neoclassical economics — a faith-based religion of perfect markets, enlightened consumers and infinite growth that shapes the fates of billions.” The project is connected with the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, which had gestated the original idea behind the Occupy Wall Street movement. Harrington, who studied alternative economics at The New School, hopes to reform the profession from the inside, starting with the way it’s taught.

“When I was in school, I started realizing how limited was the range of economic ideas that students were exposed to in the classroom,” he said. “Neoclassicism is essentially the standard for 95 percent of the graduate departments in the country.”

“We were just very disillusioned students for the first couple of years that we were taking econ,” said Jess Fuller, a senior at the University of Vermont majoring in economics and history. “We just felt it was very out of touch with reality, and there were some questions that never seemed to be answered or even asked in the first place.”

Fuller, who also works with a feminist group on her campus, says that mainstream economics doesn’t do a good enough job incorporating perspectives on gender and class.

Here’s to hoping some academic economists have a Niemoller moment.

UPDATE at 4:25 pm Pacific time: Harvard’s Greg Mankiw was heckled this afternoon at an AEA panel on income inequality (“How much have the Koch brothers paid you?” How original).  Larry Summers was also heckled.  Mankiw reflects on his blog here.  Stay tuned for further updates.