Education

The Krugman-Led Mob Comes for Academic Freedom

People attend a Black Lives Matter rally in Odense, Denmark, June 10, 2020. (Ritzau Scanpix/Tim Kildeborg Jensen/Reuters)
The Left seems increasingly incapable of living by neutral principles.

The long march through the institutions ends in the university economics department. The digital mob, led by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Michigan professor Justin Wolfers, has arrived at the University of Chicago, where it is pressuring the school to remove Professor Harald Uhlig from his position as editor of Journal of Political Economy, after he criticized Black Lives Matter.

The left-wing economists were triggered (or, more likely, are pretending to be triggered) by an Uhlig tweet contending that BLM “just torpedoed itself” by supporting “defund the police.” Uhlig went on to argue that it was time “for sensible adults to enter back into the room and have serious, earnest, respectful conversations about it all.”

The horror!

It is almost surely the case that Krugman and his followers see an opportunity to appropriate and weaponize a cause to undermine those in the University of Chicago economics department who still cling to heterodox positions.

Wolfers, who demands academics talk about racial inequality in the manner he prescribes, says, “I don’t think it’s just or fair that Uhlig, as an editor at the @JPolEcon is an important gatekeeper for economists trying to make their mark. I don’t think the profession’s resolve to look more deeply into racial justice will get a fair hearing under his editorship.”

Listen, I don’t think it’s fair that blinkered illiberal partisans are teaching economics to young minds at University of Michigan. Those are the injustices we accept in a free society. Wolfers certainly doesn’t give Uhlig a fair hearing, and yet I would never think to join a digital mob demanding he be removed from his post, or in any way attempt to inhibit him from speaking his mind.

Krugman also grants that we have been endowed with the right to free expression, yet argues, it “doesn’t mean that your expressed opinions have no bearing on whether you should be editing a flagship journal, especially if they raise doubts about your objectivity.” If objectivity were truly the prevailing standard for empowering gatekeepers and intellectuals, Krugman would be working the return counter at the Pawnee Walmart.

It should also be noted that the mob offers no evidence that Uhlig has shown any lack of academic integrity. Uhlig — who, incidentally, I’ve never met, spoken to, or read before this incident — simply refused to subscribe to groupthink outside of his editorial duties. This is exactly why things such as tenure and academic freedom were once championed by professors. When it was convenient, Krugman called this “academic intimidation.” Now he wants to punish an academic for failing to lockstep with the nation’s op-ed page consensus.

Worst of all, though, the petition’s most serious charge is an utter lie. It accuses Uhlig for “drawing parallels between the BLM movement and the Ku Klux Klan” in a blog post. Uhlig did no such thing, not even close — and any person of good faith who reads the allegedly incriminating blog post knows it. Uhlig asked a theoretical question of those defending BLM flag protests on idealistic grounds. If acts of protest are truly about supporting the ideals of free expression, as so many had argued, would those people also defend the right of the Klan to protest? A bit clumsy, perhaps, but a legitimate query.

The answer, of course, is no. The Left seems increasingly incapable of living by neutral principles, an ideal that genuine liberals who fought to allow Nazis to march through the streets of Skokie, and so on, were once proud to do. These aren’t liberals anymore. Krugman and his minions have no interst in universally applied rights. They have no interst in academic freedom. (Unless it can be used to save a Leftist professor.) They have no interest in genuine debate.

There should be mass outrage among academics over this attack on speech. Only handful of professors though, as far as I can tell, have spoken up for Uhlig. But this isn’t only about Journal of Political Economy. Krugman’s mob wants academics to think twice about dissenting from the line that it has set.

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