Thomas Sowell on Marxism

Sep 302004

This morning, I finished reading Thomas Sowell’s Marxism: Philosophy and Economics. In some ways, the book was quite frustrating. The discussion of Marxist philosophy was too basic, while the elucidation of the economics came across as little more than a series of floating abstractions. Although Sowell did offer some interesting arguments about the proper interpretation of Marx and Engles, the first eight chapters weren’t all that enlightening by themselves. The ninth chapter on the lives of Marx and Engles was revealing in a disturbing kind of way, but it was the tenth chapter which was most philosophically illuminating.

In that final chapter, Sowell focuses on the great errors in the economic theories advanced by Marx and Engles. He argues that the central concept of “exploitation” depends upon the notion of “surplus value” — and that this “crucial concept in the Marxian theoretical framework was insinuated rather than explicitly established, either logically or empirically” (190). Sowell writes:

As introduced in the fist volume of Capital, surplus value was defined simple as an “increment or excess over the original value” invested in production. From this definition, Marx glided quickly to the conclusion that labor was the factor responsible for this increment in value or of output… It was an assumption deeply embedded in classical economics… [an assumption] devastated by the new conceptions and analyses introduced by neo-classical economics while Capital was in its decades-long process of being prepared for publication.

As a theoretical system, Marxian economics begins the story of production in the middle–with firms, capital, and management already in existence somehow, and needing only the addition of labor to get production started. From that point on, output is a function of labor input, given all the other factors somehow already assembled, coordinated, and directed toward a particular economic purpose… [But] where there are multiple inputs, the division of output by one particular input is wholly arbitrary (190).

(I love the emphasis Sowell places on the somehow in this passage, as it reminds me of Ayn Rand’s own characterization of the economics espoused by the looters in Atlas Shrugged.)

A few pages later, Sowell summarizes thusly: “Once output is seen as a function of numerous inputs, and the inputs are supplied by more than one class of people, the notion that surplus value arises from [the] labor [of the proletariat] becomes plainly arbitrary and unsupported (192).”

In addition to stressing the importance of the “managerial ability and entrepreneurial innovation” ignored by Marx, Sowell also notes the importance of “worker’s skills and experience” as a form of capital (194). Thus Marx engages in the “fundamental fallacy” of “narrowly conceiving capital to mean physical equipment rather than the human capital which may be vastly more valuable and far more widely dispersed” (195).

Sowell notes that Marx’s method of starting in the middle allowed him to “repeatedly ignore the importance of knowledge and risk in explaining the phenomena of a capitalist economy” (198). How so? Because his analysis began with “surviving capitalist firms,” i.e. “firms that had correctly estimated consumer demand” and were now “waiting to hire workers,” Marx “ignored the key implication of failing firms (a majority of all firms in the long run)–that risk is inherent in anticipating consumer demand, and that profit derives from successfully assuming that risk, rather than from merely hiring people to perform the mechanical aspects of producing goods (198).” After all, “failing firms also hire workers–but their very failure shows that that is no guarantee of receiving surplus value” (198).

Sowell is careful not to blithely attribute the evils of 20th century communism to the communism advocated by Marx and Engles. But he does draw out a number of significant connections which render them both substantially responsible for the horrors of communism in practice. For example, he notes that “the fact that Marx and Engles refused to draw up details of such a [communist] society in advance constituted virtually a blank check for their successors” (206). In addition, “whatever Marx intended, the actual effect of the doctrine of historical justification was to provide wide latitude for the most sweeping violations of every moral principles and every sense of decency and humanity” (207).

Perhaps the most telling example of Marx’s ideas in practice is the results of Lenin’s early acceptance of the somehow approach to all but labor, as indicated by this quote from State and Revolution cited by Sowell:

Capitalist culture has created large-scale production, factories, railways, the postal service, telephones, etc., and on this basis the great majority of the functions of the old “state power” have become so simplified and can be reduced to such exceedingly simple operations of registration, filing, and checking that they can be easily performed by every literate person, can quite easily be performed for ordinary “workmen’s wages”, and that these functions can (and must) be stripped of every shadow of privilege, of every semblance of “official grandeur.”

In fact, Sowell observes that:

The early history of the Soviet Union provided the most dramatic empirical refutation of the Marxian assumption that management of economic enterprises is something to be taken for granted as occurring somehow. When economic incentives were drastically reduce or abolished in the heady egalitarian period following the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviet economy ground to a halt. Widespread hunger and a halt to vital services forced Lenin to resort to his “New Economic Policy” that restored the hated capitalist practices. The later nationalizing of all industry under Stalin and his successors did not restore egalitarianism. Quite the contrary. There were highly unequal rewards to management, including today whole systems of special privilege stores to which ordinary Soviet workers have no access. Moreover, the managers of Soviet industry have been disproportionately the descendants of the managerial class of earlier Soviet and czarist times (193).

Then comes the noteworthy conclusion:

Many observers have seen these developments as mere betrayals of Marxist ideals, missing the more fundamental point that a crucial false assumption must be corrected in practice if people are to survive. Its continuing sacredness in theory can only produce hypocrisy. The betrayal may be real, but in Marxian terminology, “no accident.” A similar process is occurring in China, to which many Western Marxists transferred their hopes after disillusionment with the Soviet Union. This too is seen as simply a betrayal of Mao by Deng, rather than a nation’s painful learning from experience that a key assumption of Marxian economics is false (193-4).

The gross falsehoods of Marx’s communism is why the lament commonly heard from so many communist sympathizers — that “true” communism was never put into practice — ought to be rejected. In fact, the ideals of communism — collectivism, dialectical materialism, the evils of capitalism, the idea of labor as the source of all surplus value, the goal of reshaping of man’s nature, the principle of “from each according to his ability to each according to his need,” and so on — were substantially put into practice by the communist regimes of the 20th century. The fact that the result was widespread starvation, forced labor camps, unbearable misery, totalitarian police states, and mass death is hardly a reason to think that the more consistent application of these ideas would result in blissful paradise.

Sadly, in spite of the overwhelming evidence provided by the Soviet Union, Red China, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and other countries devastated by communism, far too many Western intellectuals remain in thrall to Marxist ideals. As for the possibility of the honest Marxist professor, if the millions of dead under communist regimes do not constitute reason enough for a harsh look at the ideals of communism, then no facts and no arguments could possibly persuade them to abandon their precious ideology. Facts and reasons themselves have ceased to matter to such a person, however civilized, amiable, or open they may appear.

And this leads me to a final criticism from Thomas Sowell about the ways in which Marxism promotes the rationalizations which help sustain it:

Philosophic materialism, in its social environmental version, also provides ways of dismissing ideas according to their supposed origins–”bourgeois,” for example–instead of confronting them in either factual or logical terms. Grandly dismissing opposing views as “outmoded” or consigning them to “the dustbin of history” eliminates the need to think about them or to meet their challenge to one’s existing presuppositions. Such practices have spread well beyond Marxists. Much of the intellectual legacy of Marx is an anti-intellectual legacy. It has been said that you cannot refute a sneer. Marxism has taught many–inside and outside its ranks–to sneer at capitalism, at inconvenient facts or contrary interpretations, and thus ultimately to sneer at the intellectual process itself. This has been one of its enduring strengths as a political doctrine, as a means of acquiring and using political power in unbridled ways (208-9).

In other words, the ideology of Marxism is explicitly hostile to intellectual honesty. So it’s no wonder that committed Marxists persist — at least within the protected walls of academia — to this day.

Dan Rather’s Mottos

Sep 292004

Given their recent treatment of an e-mail hoax about the draft as fact, CBS News seems to be operating on the principle of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Given that the ink is not yet dry on the forged military documents Dan Rather staunchly defended as genuine, one might think that “Once bitten, twice shy” might be more appropriate.

Not to worry though, as “Every cloud has a silver lining.” In this case, at least CBS News’ viewership has dropped precipitously of late — and that means that many fewer people heard about this latest absurdity.

The Most Delicious Sandwich Ever Made

Sep 292004

I just ate the most delicious sandwich ever made:

  • Stellar white bread from the Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Finely shaved turkey breast
  • Dry Italian salami
  • Roma tomato
  • Baby spinach and arugala
  • Mayo and honey mustard
  • Sun Chips on the side

After two nights of inadequate sleep due to the hurried writing of a paper on Kant’s theory of time, I’m happy to report that life is good again.

Divine Intervention in Sports

Sep 292004

As I was searching through my NoodleFood folder yesterday, I came across this tidbit from an old Salon article on the public prayers of athletes.

Athletes often have what might be considered a kindergartner’s mentality about religion, treating God as a good-luck charm. “I think that very often athletes seem to have a very simplistic and self-serving view of what God is and does,” sportscaster Bob Costas said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It makes no sense that a God who, for all human understanding, can appear indifferent to major pain and suffering on a large scale or the illness of a child, would intercede to help get a first down.”

That quote from Bob Costas is just priceless.

Jungian Objectivism?!?

Sep 262004

Oh, lovely:

Ayn Rand was a fervent advocate of liberty and individual rights; her celebration of free trade and mutual interaction stems from her first hand experience, and escape from, the very nightmares of which she wrote. She was a woman who dared to challenge the male dominated tradition of philosophy, and refused to back down from her ideals and fought for values. Her celebration of the ego, contrary to her critic’s complaints of its adolescent appeal, is actually a necessary part of the individuation process. But her version of the hero myth does not include the individual’s re-integration into the community that is a hallmark of the classical monomyth; instead, the hero maintains his separateness. And it is possible that Rand absorbed a hidden element of fascism from the literature of her adopted country, hidden even from the storytellers themselves. And although Rand’s commitment to freedom can be demonstrated, there is a very strong risk that her work can be used against her. If Objectivists want to counter the claims of fascism, the paradoxes of Rand’s ideas will have to be confronted.

Here are a few bits of the detailed claim:

(It is telling that Rand, the dialectic thinker, creates a dichotomy between the hero and the community.) Although Rand’s heroes don’t necessarily “ride off into the sunset,” neither do they reintegrate themselves into the community. Kira is left lying dead in the snow in a failed attempt to escape, Roark rises above the city in a ‘heavenly’ ascent, and although Galt retreats to his Gulch, he plans to return to a world created in his image. There is enough similarity to make a connection, as many already have, (most notoriously the attack by Whittaker Chambers in the National Review’s take on Atlas Shrugged) that Objectivism does display a hint of fascism. It may be, if the “medium is the message,” and Jewett and Lawrence then are right, then, by choosing this subtle form of fascism, Rand may have inadvertently undercut her message of freedom and individuality.

Though Objectivists deny the many accusations that their philosophy is a form of Fascism since she did not believe in initiating force, and opposed the politics behind Fascist political regimes, there still may be a connection. The authors do not explicitly define fascism in their book, assuming that the reader is familiar with the term. But the definition of fascism goes deeper than its political connotations. Fascism is defined as bundling, or centralized power. Rand did not believe in a central government with absolute control over the state. And yet she is said to have exhibited authoritarian behavior in the Objectivist movement, where she had absolute control over her ideas, leaving her followers as mere “students of Objectivism.” Rand insisted that Objectivism was not a cult, and encouraged people to think for themselves. Still she is painted as a fascist. How can this be? Usually Rand is defended from criticism because of her assertions that her philosophy is based on reason. How could Objectivism be a cult? It is a philosophy of individualism. How can Objectivism be a religion? It is a philosophy of atheism. How can Ayn Rand be unrational? She based her philosophy on reason. How can a thinker who rebelled against coercion and tyranny project such a shadow? Jung believed that

“…[t]he Human being has a great capacity for self-deception and denial of shadow aspects. Even persons who are otherwise giants from a moral point of view can have gaping lacunae of character in certain areas. Religious and political leaders who become famous for their far-reaching moral vision and ethical sensitivity are often known to fall in the hole of acting out. Instinctual (for example, sexual) strivings and desires without much apparent awareness of the moral issues involved. Their acting-out may be conveniently compartmentalized and hidden away from their otherwise scrupulous moral awareness.” (18)

Perhaps in order to comprehend the accusations of fascism, it is necessary to look past the political dimension of her ideas and concentrate on what she considered absolute. Although other aspects of her philosophy have been analyzed, it is usually assumed and unquestioned that she was a defender of rationality. But did she truly understand rationality?

The author later speaks of “Rand’s fascist-like emphasis of reason as an absolute” — and attributes it to “her over-identification with the masculine at the expense of the so-called feminine qualities.”

The article as a whole is quite an amazing synthesis of the methods and claims of those false friends of Objectivism who undermine the philosophy while pretending to defend and advance it. Those wondering about the proper alternative ought to pick up a copy of Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. It’s Objectivist scholarship as it might and ought to be — and as it is amongst many ARI scholars.

Update: Wowowow, now I wish that I’d presented some substantive argument, rather than merely mocking this article! Still, The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics effectively persuaded yet another honest man. Check out the update posted on the index page of the web site:

9/25/05 I have decided to remove the contents of this site in light of the arguments regarding the biographies of Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in James Valliant’s book THE PASSION OF AYN RAND’S CRITICS. Though much of my content was based on the overlap of Jung’s ideas in Rand’s fiction, my attempts to reconcile Rand’s alleged negative aspects (authoritarianism, dogmatism,etc.) with her stated beliefs through Jungian concepts of shadow projections and such were based on the claims of the Brandens. Even though I prefaced my thoughts with such qualifiers as “IF the Branden’s or Rand’s critics are correct,” the truth is that I accepted their accusations on the basis of their relationship with Rand. After reading Valliant’s book, I feel that without having firsthand knowledge of Ayn Rand’s character, it was irresponsible for me to speculate as I did. Without blindly taking Valliant’s side as gospel, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that without objective knowledge, that any criticisms of Rand based solely on the Brandens’s account should be reconsidered.

The author of the article — and this update — is Joe Maurone. Good work, Joe.


Sep 232004

Don Watkins has opened up an interesting discussion of torture on his blog. I’m not sure what to make of Arthur Silber’s recollections of Ayn Rand’s comments on torture, particularly in light of the conflict with the John Galt’s action in the torture scene in Atlas Shrugged. In general, I’m doubtful that compliance with torture would eliminate it’s use as a method of interrogation. More importantly, it necessitates placing the avoidance of pain at the top of a person’s hierarchy of values, such that a person would have to be willing to risk the lives of everyone he loves in order to prevent a beating. Frankly, the key to eliminating torture seems to be to eliminate the torturers.

More broadly, the discussion seems to be in need of a definition of torture, at least so that people aren’t talking past each other. Short-term sleep deprivation might be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t compare to weeks of the same, let alone the deliberate infliction of horrible pain through beatings and the like. (Sometimes, I think that leftists regard any activity on the part of interrogators that tends to lead to confession as torture. That’s obviously absurd. Merely inducing physical or psychological stress is not torture.) The essential feature of torture seems to be the deliberate infliction of substantial physical pain upon a victim. The purpose of torture may vary; it could be the twisted pleasure of the torturer or some compliance from the victim or the favor of the gods or whatnot. Although I’m not settled on the matter, I doubt that significant emotional suffering ought to count as torture. So if a man is forced to watch his wife being brutally raped, she is being tortured, while he is not — even if he suffers more than she does as a result. I could be convinced otherwise, although I’d want to make sure that the concept would not lapse into subjectivism.

The State of ARI

Sep 222004

Some of you might be wondering whether Yaron Brook’s “State of ARI” talk — to be given this Friday in Denver — is worth attending. So let me say that the answer is YES, YES, YES. I first heard the presentation at OCON in 2003. Of all that I saw at that conference, it left the deepest and most lasting impression upon me. Let me explain why.

As some of you may recall, I attended OCON in 2003 immediately after the TOC Summer Seminar. At the time, I was deeply unhappy with TOC, but also very skeptical of ARI. Yet the contrast I saw that summer between the state of TOC and the state of ARI was mind-boggling — and intriguing.

As for TOC, it was clear to me that the organization was floundering. Despite the absence of any serious commitment to or understanding of Objectivism among TOC students, students at every level were largely left to their own devices. In my ten years at IOS/TOC, no seminars, classes, or other formal programs teaching the principles and methods of Objectivism were offered. No suggested curriculum of sources and methods was disseminated for those undertaking the difficult task of learning the philosophy on their own. Thoroughly understanding Objectivism was never stressed or encouraged as necessary for good scholarship. Commentary on and criticism of papers from a hard-hitting Objectivist perspective was rare, even at the Advanced Seminar.

Given the almost total lack of guidance offered to students by TOC, the fact that most adopted a casual approach toward the study of Objectivism is hardly surprising. In my own case, sliding into unseriousness was astonishingly easy at TOC, even once I began lecturing at the Summer Seminar. During that time, I largely coasted upon my background knowledge of the philosophy. Around the start of my graduate studies in late 2002, I realized that I was coasting — and that my knowledge of the philosophy lacked the depth and breadth necessary for scholarly work. So I began an intensive solo study of the Objectivist corpus, a project in which I am still actively engaged. At the time, the fact that no one at TOC ever recommended such study to me, nor could offer any guidance or help in the process, was astonishing, frustrating, and mystifying.

In addition, TOC had accomplished nothing of note since the great fanfare of their 1999 change of name and mission. They had published no new books, rarely appeared in the media, and circulated few op-eds. The much-touted Atlas Society flopped, surely at considerable expense. The years-past John Stossel “Greed” special was one of the few concrete accomplishments cited in fundraising letters. The much-hailed chief operating officer brought in to help TOC onto the right path left after only six months. As of the summer of 2003, the only substantial activities of the Center were the Advanced Seminar, the Summer Seminar, and Navigator.

Unsurprisingly, no general presentation about TOC was offered at the 2003 Summer Seminar. They could not have withstood the open airing of harsh questions and frustrated grievances from donors. At the Sponsor’s dinner, David Kelley did speak of TOC’s financial crunch, their great need for money from the sponsors, and the tangible output of many years past. He answered no questions. Nor could the sponsors even speak amongst themselves about the issues raised, as we were immediately packed onto the bus for the ride back to our rooms.

Notably, raising my concerns with David Kelley only increased my frustrations and fears. In December of 2002, he completely ruled out the possibility of ever working with graduate students in any kind of mentoring relationship, as is standard in graduate school with analytic professors. He seemed baffled by my suggestion that students might need assistance and encouragement in learning the philosophy. At that 2003 Summer Seminar, he bristled at my comment that even if mentoring was impossible, his writing on scholarly issues in Objectivism once again would be enormously helpful to developing scholars. He was quite upset by the “disloyalty” of my small public criticism of TOC, claiming that my speaking at the Summer Seminar was conditional upon exhibiting proper “institutional loyalty.” He showed no concern whatsoever when I told him that I was considering leaving TOC, even though I had been one of the most involved and productive students in recent years. His primary concern seemed to be that I keep quiet about my unhappiness with TOC, even amongst my friends at the seminar. Clearly, I had reached a dead end — and was tired of banging my head against the wall.

So as of the summer of 2003, I knew that TOC was failing miserably. I didn’t yet know whether the problem was David Kelley’s abysmal management, the underlying philosophy of the organization, or both. With that background in mind, I headed to ARI’s summer conference, OCON.

Perhaps more than anything else at the conference, Yaron Brook’s “The State of ARI” presentation made me rethink my generally negative view of ARI. It was clear to me that ARI had done more in a single year than TOC did in ten. Multiple books were in the process of being written by ARI scholars, in substantial part due to the grants from the Anthem Foundation. Students were offered systematic training in the principles and methods of Objectivism in the Academic Center. Op-eds were frequently published and media appearances were common. Their plan to get Ayn Rand’s fiction more widely read by high school students was brilliant on so many levels. In my years at TOC, I simply accepted the idea that academic programs must compete with cultural activism programs for time and resources. In sharp contrast, Yaron Brook presented a single vision for changing the culture which integrated their high school book programs and essay contests, undergraduate and graduate education, book grants and fellowships for professors, op-ed programs, media appearances, and business training. With such a single, integrated vision, priority of programs could be determined objectively on the basis of the necessary order for success in the basic goal, rather than haphazardly or on the basis of the demands of big donors. It was quite a lesson in what is possible to an Objectivist organization when it knows what it’s doing and does it well.

At the time, my basic thought was that the moral is the practical — and thus I began to search for the deeper roots of ARI’s success and TOC’s failure. That led me to re-read the primary documents of the split and ultimately to disassociate myself from TOC. For that and so much more, I owe Yaron Brook a deep debt of gratitude.

Although it might sound melodramatic, Yaron Brook’s presentation on “The State of ARI” changed my life. And that’s why I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Yaron Brook in Denver

Sep 222004

From Lin Zinser of Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks (FROST):

On Thursday, September 23, 2004, Yaron Brook, President and Executive Director of Ayn Rand Institute will present a talk on “The Morality of War”, at the Boulder Campus of the University of Colorado. At 7:30 P.M. This talk will exxplain why Washington is fighting the war in the manner it is, and why that effort is doomed to fail. Moreover, you will also learn how the war should be fought, how it can be won, and see a solution that is both practical and reasonable. This event is co-sponsored by the Boulder Campus Objectivist Club.

Event: “The Morality of War”

When: 7:30 pm, Thursday, September 23

Where: University of Colorado at Boulder, UMC 235 (University Memorial Center)

Admission: Free

The very next evening, Friday, September 24, 2004, we will have a FROST dinner talk with Yaron Brook discussing the exciting and challenging accomplishments of the Ayn Rand Institute. This will be a special event allowing us to gain insight into all of the activities that ARI is doing, and to meet and discuss any questions that you have about ARI. Come socialize with us, have some good conversation and good food, and learn about the Ayn Rand Institute.

Event: “State of ARI”

When: Friday, September 24: Cocktails ­ 6:00 pm, Dinner – 7:00 pm, Talk ­ 8:00 pm

Where: West Woods Golf Club, 6655 Quaker Street, Arvada, CO 80005

Admission: $35 per person, $25 for students, includes both dinner and talk

Reservations: Contact Lin Zinser (303) 431-2525, 8700 Dover Court, Arvada, CO 80005

Colorado Weather

Sep 212004

When I arrived home from Boulder yesterday afternoon, my plants were wilting and parched due to excessive sun and wind. But when I fed the horses this morning, my mare was shivering cold from the chilly rain. Tonight, we might even get snow.

Ah, the delights of Colorado weather!

Academic Plagiarism or Academic Bureaucracy?

Sep 212004

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Juan Non-Volokh posted some comments on a rather strange case of plagiarism by a Harvard law professor. A passage from a book by Yale law professor Jack Balkin was printed in a book by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree as if it were his own. Juan quotes a bit of the Harvard Crimson article which explains how that happened:

Ogletree told The Crimson that he had not read the passage of Balkin’s book that appears in his own work. An assistant inserted the material into a manuscript and intended for another assistant to summarize the passage, according to Ogletree’s statement. The first assistant inadvertently dropped the end quote, and the second assistant accidentally deleted the attribution to Balkin before sending a draft to the publisher.

When the draft returned, Ogletree did not realize that it was not his material, he said in the statement.

As Juan notes, that means “Professor Ogletree did plan to publish the work of others — in this case, his student research assistants — under his own name.” Juan opines:

Of course it is common for prominent figures to use ghostwriters in preparing manuscripts, and many authors include material prepared by — and perhaps even drafted by — research assistants and others. In this Professor Ogletree would hardly be alone. But is this the appropriate standard of scholarship for a tenured law professor? At Harvard? Perhaps I have an old fashioned perspective on these sorts of things, but I am disturbed by the idea of tenured professors at prestigious institutions using research assistants to draft portions of their scholarly work. It this a reasonable view? Or do I have an outmoted view of legal scholarship? After all, attorneys regularly sign documents draftd by others, so why shouldn’t law professors do the same?

I think that Juan is quite right to be disturbed. And the semi-justification offered by one of his readers, Fabio Rojas, quoted in this post, offers no comfort:

During grad school, I discovered there were two modes of “legitimate” academic work: craftsman and bureaucrat. The craftsman worked alone, or with one or two colleagues, to carefully write papers and books. This is the “classic” scholar approach. When you think of a philosopher mulling over every turn of phrase or a historian carefully citing ancience documents, you are thinking “craftsman.”

Much to my surprise, I also learned that a lot of scholars are “Bureaucrats”: they have grants, research assistants and a large network of co-authors. This kind of scholar is more like an architect – he designs the overall project, but an army of helpers puts together the final project.

At first I was horrified, but I came to realize that some research has to be conducted in this fashion. You simply can’t conduct national surveys all by yourself. At the Chicago Soc dept (where I got my Ph.D.) you had a lot of both. Sociology (and political science as well) produces research that requires huge team efforts as well finely crafted individual work. Lot of mass surveys/experiments as well as carefully argued social/political theory.

I also realized that big name scholars get their reputation by being brilliant craftsmen or by being extremely competent academic entrepreneurs. I grew up worshipping the craftsmen – Ron Coase is a great example – infrequent, but outstanding publications. But now I realize a lot of famous names only produce their quantity because they rely to heavily on assistants.

I was shocked to find out that a legal scholar whose work I respect writes a fairly small amount of his later work. He often hires brilliant grad/law students to do most of the leg work and then he assembles the products into his larger manuscripts. It’s simply impossible to write a book every other year, fly around the world, teach classes, be a consultant and satisfy your university service requirements without a lot of help.

Given that’s a path to success, I’m not surprised that the work becomes sloppy very quickly. Scholars barley have time to closely monitor every product they produce. Not every highly productive scholar is that way, but more of them operate that way than we’d admit.

All of that is well and good: Some academic projects require the help of a small army of research assistants and assistant writers, while others are best done solo. Some professors excel as bureaucrats, while others are better suited for the role of the craftsman.

Yet the question remains: Should professors present the work of their students as their own? Surely not. Students who write portions of a text richly deserve the credit of co-authorship. Students who substantially contribute to the research behind a text deserve at least a footnote or two of credit. Part of the job of a professor is to help along the careers of his students. To take credit for their work subverts that purpose, as the open recognition of work done through co-authorship adds substantial weight to a CV. Such attribution is also directly in the interest of the professor. Students will likely be more careful with a text (such as in proper attribution of sources) if their own name is on the line. And the blame for mistakes can be more easily spread to the culpable party if co-authors are openly acknowledged.

In academic medicine, co-authorship of articles is standard when attending physicians and residents collaborate — which is why articles in medical journals often have three, four, or five authors. Less substantial contributions are also appropriately noted in footnotes. As far as I understand, such acknowledgement of the contributions of graduate students is also fairly standard in collaborative works in sociology, psychology, economics, and the like. If academic lawyers are going to be bureaucrats rather than craftsmen, then they need to honestly acknowledge that by giving due credit to those under their management.

The fact that court decisions are often substantially written by law clerks and that books by politicians are often ghostwritten by professional writers not relevant. That is work-for-hire, which is a whole different animal. Without a work-for-hire agreement, no professor should (either in a legal or moral sense) take credit for the work of his students. More importantly, no reputable academic institution ought to allow professor to make use of work-for-hire. What is forbidden to students as plagiarism — buying work to pass off as one’s own — ought to be forbidden to professors. In the context of academia, I can’t think of enough unpleasant words for such a practice, although dishonest, unprofessional, hypocritical, and abusive come to mind.

Professors can be bureaucrats without being plagiarists — and their colleagues ought to insist upon it.

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