It is often perplexing that a country founded on the principles of limited government, individual responsibility – and a healthy dose of skepticism of the tendencies of government to grow in power and influence – has accumulated a national debt of nearly $210 trillion, a Code of Federal Regulations that now exceeds 175,000 pages, and a Federal tax code over 10 million words long.
Even “fiscally conservative” state and local governments seemingly face little citizen resistance to the exponential growth of government.
After our nation’s founding, Thomas Jefferson stressed the need for an educated citizenry to preserve our newly won liberty, writing that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was & never will be.” Thus, the massive growth in the size and scope of the U.S. government at all levels is perplexing, given the substantial increase in access to higher education.
With more Americans with college degrees than ever before in our nation’s history, why is liberty eroding in our economic and personal lives?
Certainly, one would hope that our college students are, at the very least, being exposed to sound economics, the principles of limited government, the importance of constitutional checks on power, and the track record – both ancient and modern – of oversized government.
Yet, the trajectory of our nation suggests they aren’t. But, a new report may explain why.
According to data from the Higher Education Research Institute, only 12 percent of college faculty identify as being “Far Right/Conservative,” while around 60 percent of college faculty self-identify as being politically “Far Left/Liberal.”
With faculty so overwhelmingly one-sided, is it any wonder that our relatively young nation has strayed so far from its founding principles? Maybe that is one reason the U.S. has experienced a concerning 15-year decline in economic freedom with no indication of letting up.
It is difficult to see how college students could receive a well-rounded education if they are so infrequently exposed to alternative viewpoints. While this is certainly a concern for those of a free market perspective, it should also be a concern for those of a liberal persuasion.
As John Stuart Mill once observed, for the person who is only familiar with their own opinion, “his reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them, but if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side … he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”
Wrestling with competing viewpoints is a necessary component of the educational process and is the only way for students to learn to formulate independent views, to constantly challenge their own views, and to learn to humbly change their own views when warranted.
Unfortunately, most students today are earning college degrees without that challenge to find deeper theoretical, empirical, and philosophical justifications for their worldviews.
Just as troubling, the freedom of expression for faculty and students on college campuses across the nation is in serious jeopardy. Even in my state of Alabama, not a single university has a speech code that adequately protects the freedom of expression on campus.
The Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University, at which I work, aims to foster the free exchange of ideas in order to provide rigorous educational opportunities for students.
Rather than attempt to suppress or alienate opposing viewpoints, the center actively encourages students to explore alternative methodologies and viewpoints across the curriculum. Students read the works of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and F. A. Hayek alongside Karl Marx, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Courses such as The Economic and Moral Foundations of Capitalism, expose students to modern critiques of capitalism, such as inequality, egalitarianism, and exploitation, as well as responses to these critiques – ideas that are underrepresented on most campuses across the nation.
Unfortunately, the Johnson Center is one of the few exceptions that proves the rule; the overwhelming lack of intellectual diversity in U.S. higher education.
Too often students aren’t being exposed to alternative viewpoints at their universities. It is particularly disturbing when the “alternative viewpoints” they aren’t being exposed to include the very ideas our nation was founded upon –ideas that have brought unprecedented wealth and prosperity around the globe.
Daniel J. Smith is the associate director at the Johnson Center for Political Economy and an associate professor of economics at Troy University. Follow him on Twitter: @smithdanj1