Friday, January 15, 2010

Adam Smith on academia

Below are some excerpts. Text in black is my own.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith developed an incisive criticism
of academia (pp. 758-81). He at least touches on all of the following familiar
criticism of academia:

• Academic societies  are  organized “not for the benefit of the
students, but for the  interest,  or more properly speaking, for  the
ease of the masters” (764).   In other words, an industry where customer is not the king but the people working in the industry. So this industry has incentive to produce goods that conform to ideals of the people in the industry rather than the ones paying for it.
• They self-organize as self-validating societies, in which members
indulge each other’s conveniences (761).  By mutual indulgence and appreciation, they stand to gain in stature. Trading thoroughly replenish-able resources they can increase their "value" - which is based only on trade volumes. Read trade can make everyone better off.
• Academics tend toward an esoteric language  that  excludes
outsider participation (765).   The esoteric language is one of the most potent arsenals available to project and protect an image of elitism.
• Democratic decision making by professional units fails to make
individuals accountable for their actions within the process of
collective decision making (779). It wasn't ME !
• The clubs are prone to groupthink and the lock-in of foolishness.
They were sometimes “the sanctuaries in which exploded systems
and obsolete  prejudices found shelter  and protection, after  they
had been  hunted out of every other corner  of the world” (772).  I belong to this special group of people, I know what to believe.
They  have generated sciences  that  are “a mere  useless and
pedantick heap of sophistry and nonsense” (781).  Knowledge and thinking are important goals in themselves. How are ordinary mortals to fathom the importance of figuring out the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead?

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