Wait, supply and what? Schuman confused

LOL psych. Literally everyone knows about how supply and demand “works.” I just don’t think that’s an excuse to treat people like shit. My latest on Vitae gets into it a bit. I’ve got one more piece coming out today (on Slate, stay tuned), and then I am ON VACATION from Internet publication for a few weeks. My computer broke and I’m hundreds of miles away from anywhere I can get it fixed or even fix it myself (no real WiFi out here), so I’m taking it as a sign from above that I need to take a breather and spend (even more) time with my kid. 



12 thoughts on “Wait, supply and what? Schuman confused

  1. Probably been said before, but if we are going by the whole supply and demand argument, shouldn’t ALL professors be getting paid crap? Just wondering how you can use the supply and demand thing to show why people aren’t getting hired, but not also why some people are getting paid a lot to do what so many would do (and actually do) at a much cheaper rate.

    At the risk of making this more confusing (I don’t have a point anyway, so why not!) I guess one could say UNIONS, but then if traditional laws of supply and demand are on hold because of Unions, screw the shit argument that you can use S&D economics for hiring, but not compensation.

    Anyway, loved the post. Keep on keeping on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anything that I want to address to an audience already familiar with the conventions of academia, I ride for Vitae. Anything I want to share with a larger audience not necessarily familiar with academia, Slate.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What’s funny about the whole supply and demand argument as applied to the “marketplace of ideas” is how much it doesn’t actually work. Look at the dude who started the whole kerfuffle off: product of U of Arizona’s “Center for the Philosophy of Freedom” (guess how it leans?) with its oodles of Templeton Foundation funding. Tons and tons of money gets poured into academia in hope of generating and supporting reactionary garbaggio. If academics were all motivated by market incentives, there should be many many many many many more tt and tenured weasels of the Georgetown stripe, pumping out survival of the fittest philosophy (and “aggressive marketing is good for children” psychology and “what shrinking glaciers?” geology and “only the REAL racists collect hiring and employment data” sociologists etc.). Of course, quite a few of those kinds of scholars do exist. And why not? The price is right (though if pressed, funnily enough, they’d insist they are true believers in their own work — and often enough, they are; again giving the lie to their own avowed model). But that there are so, so many scholars doing work that is not bought and paid for — often doing excellent work that is hardly paid for at all (cough cough adjuncts) — is both heartening and a testament to how much the whole “here be a market” model bears very little relationship to empirical facts on the ground and is instead a kind of bombastic shouting over them.


    • Hi, Kathleen. I hesitate to quibble with your excellent comment, but I’m not sure that it is accurate to say that supply and demand does not work in academia. No one familiar with behavioral economics would argue that supply-and-demand is all that simple, but the broad outlines might be accurate… The problem seems be that the ‘what’ that is in supply is not homogeneous when it comes to faculty, anymore than “automobile” is a homogeneous category from which we are randomly assigned Fords, Bentleys, or Hummers when we buy a car. And “demand” is equally complex: we can be quite narrowly specific about the qualifications we need when we hire a new TT faculty member, and the supply pool of people who have those qualifications might be small, and in demand elsewhere as well. It’s harder to find really sharp new economics PhDs who want to go into academia, so those starting salaries tend to be high; English Lit PhDs are in greater supply, so their starting salaries tend to be low. When the supply pool is large — think adjuncts — the compensation is criminally low. Where the supply pool is small — say, Nobel prize winning physicists — the compensation is probably large. Again, and the devil being in the details, when you drill down into the specifics, supply-and-demand might be a reasonable place to start to understand academic hiring, advancement, etc. Indeed, I assume that, since the number of TT academic positions increases each year, according to labor statistics, the problem of adjunctification seems to spring from the fact that demand has risen so rapidly: thousands of more students want higher education, and the economically rational — if socially immoral — response is to create adjunct positions to meet that demand from the large supply of PhDs who would otherwise (and when I was in grad school 40 years ago) drop out of academia altogether. Cordially, Barbara


  3. to clarity: it’s not “heartening” of course in the sense of “hooray thanks underpaid workers”. It’s heartening in the sense that it shows people often do what they think is right regardless of consequence, which “the market” preys upon, of course, but is not in itself something to be lamented.


  4. C’mon Kathleen, for every Center for Freedom and Constitutionalism there are roughly 100 race, gender and resentment scholars. You know that.


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