Well, that is what Chris Trotter recently called me in the New Zealand newspaper, The Independent (see Download Comments.pdf for Chris Trotter's comments on my Sir Ronald Trotter lecture).
Mr. Chris Trotter (who has no relation to Sir Ronald Trotter) said some nice things as well. He said I was energetic and implied that I presented the case for the free market with rhetorical polish. But his position can fundamentally be summed up in the following sentence: "The sort of people who pay the salaries of Boettke and his ilk own the politicians, the media and the intellectuals."
I actually met Mr. Trotter at my lecture, he was introduced to me as one of New Zealand's leading leftists and he told me that he disagreed with much of my lecture but that at least it didn't put him to sleep and then he chuckled. He seemed to be a very friendly and funny guy, one who I certainly wouldn't mind having a beer with in a pub. Though now I know I would move the conversation quickly to rugby rather than politics. Not because I am afraid to have disagreements with people over politics, but because if somone views you as bought and paid for then you have little room for discussion.
This charge of "stipendiary ideologue" is often leveled at free market types. And I have been thinking lately about this charge --- well before I read Mr. Trotter's commentary on my lecture. The reason is simple and personal. It relates to whether or not ones intellectual commitments must by necessity change to fit ones station in life. Aren't ideas disembodied from personalities, and don't arguments exist outside of personal circumstances?
My oldest son graduated from HS this year and was preparing to attend college this summer at Virginia Commonwealth University in the heart of Richmond. Like many parents, I am concerned about him --- the crowd he runs with, the choices he makes, the aspirations he may or may not hold. I only want the best for him, and yet I know that choices he makes over the next few years can either help him realize a promising future or lead to a continuing struggle in life. I remember when he was born I was told repeatedly that now as a parent I would have to give up my "wild libertarian" ideas and become more conservative. But I never did. Why? Because I think I always knew that libertarianism was a political/legal system and not necessarily a personal code of conduct. For example, I can be for the complete legalization of all drugs, but counsel my children against the misuse of drugs.
Similarly, the argument for markets never relied in my mind on my relative wealth or that of my family. Instead, the argument for the market was made on the basis of logic and evidence. There is an emotional appeal of the argument for the free society against the planned society of totalitarianism that I must admit to being attracted to. But it is the logic of economics that first captured my imagination. My father was a businessman, who built himself up from being a blue collar guy without a college degree to owning his own mechanical contracting business. And he had his years of great success. But he also had tough times, and unfortunately for my parents their business went bankrupt when my father was in his 60s and he never did bounce back financially.
When I first graduated undergraduate school I had a very good job teaching tennis at a local club, my decision to study economics and become a professor was not a lucrative financial decision --- in nominal terms (let alone real terms) it took me close to 10 years of school and professorships before I made the same money I made hitting tennis balls.
Hayek often remarked that his friends told him he shouldn't be criticizing socialism because he would do so much better financially if he were an economists in a democratic socialist regime.
I don't deny that intellectuals can be bought and paid for. No doubt there are "court intellectuals", but free market types really cannot apply for these jobs. In fact, while Mr. Trotter might have found my lecture entertaining he must have missed the main point which was that the role of the economists in the free society is to be a student of society, a teacher of the principles by which the harmony of interests is produced through the market economy, and a social critic --- who analyzes policy within the strict bounds of means-ends and when confronted with repeated cases of disregard for means-ends coherence can best respond with the use of satire à la Bastiat's pettion by the candlestick makers against unfair competition from the sun. But never once did I advocate the economist taking on the role of savior and guardian of the interests of those of wealth and power.
Reading Mr. Trotter reminds me of those critics of the Washington Consensus like Alice Amsden who claim that the intellectual dominance of Mises and Hayek over our society has given way to a more democratic view of economics. If Mises and Hayek dominated our intellectual culture I surely missed that, and if intellectuals are being bought and paid for by the money elite to defend the free market I must not be doing that effective of a job at collection.
No, ideas can exist on their own independent of the personal circumstances of the author or the lecturer. Reason and evidence still rule the world of ideas despite the claims of post modernism and the hermeneutics of suspicion.