Joe Salerno publically called me out to explain my position on how a scientific/scholarly discipline advances and the role that private funding plays. He also asks me to contemplate a counter-factual of my own career if there was no private funding available.
In reply, I will stay away from emphasizing the "strategic value" to young aspiring economist to acting 'as if' there is no discriminatory barriers to entry even if there are, and the personal importance of never assuming the status of victim, but always taking full ownership for your failures and always attributing your success to the helping hand of others. I will leave the elaboration of those bits of coaching to the graduate students I work with. But in the interest of trying to respond to Joe's very pointed question I will stick to the institutional level of analysis.
My vision of science/scholarship is shaped by my reading of Michael Polanyi, especially his essay "The Republic of Science" as well as his books, Personal Knowledge, Science, Faith and Society, and The Study of Man. I was introduced to Polanyi as a college freshman (2nd time around) by Reed Davis, who taught my freshman seminar in Religion and Philosophy at Grove City College. I was completely taken by the idea of "presuppositionalism" and how we both find ways to discipline and utilize this 'fact' of systematic thought. To my great surprise, Don Lavoie was deeply influenced by Michael Polanyi as well, so my early interests in philosophy of science were cultivated throughout graduate school by my PhD thesis advisor. Polanyi was, of course, also well known to Hayek and also to Knight and Buchanan. So the discussions in graduate school took on a new and deeper significance.
Science is not about the scientific method per se, but instead the discipline a community of learners puts on themselves in the quest for objective truth. Science consists of a contestation of ideas, and contributions are judged by (1) plausibility, (2) intrinsic interest to the community of scholars/scientists, and (3) originality. If you look at these, then immediately you will see that science/scholarship has both conservative and revolutionary forces playing against each other in the process of its gropping after truth. We have creativity within discipline -- the essential tension that constitutes the scientific/scholarly process.
Polanyi's move into philosophy of science was born in his opposition to authoritarian take over of science by totalitarian governments in the first half of the 20th century. A gifted scientist, he saw too many of his fellow scientists in East and Central Europe and the Soviet Union be squashed by these repressive regimes. But Polanyi was also equally concerned with skeptics who questioned the quest for truth. Both authoritarianism and extreme skepticism were enemies of science/scholarship and as such enemies of truth.
So the scientific/scholarly endeavor is about the quest for truth, disciplined by the established institutions of science/scholarship. This is the community of learners we strive to belong to. But the process of truth seeking even under ideal conditions takes a zig/zag path, rather than a linear upward and onward march from darkness to truth -- see my paper with Pete Leeson and Chris Coyne coming out in the Cambridge Journal of Economics on a contra-whig perspective on the history of political economy. This is due to the essential tension between conservative and revolutionary forces, but also as Bill Butos and I have argued the non-market nature of much of science/scholarship.
We do not operate in an ideal scientific/scholarly setting since WWII in the field of economics. Joe is right to point out the influence that governments have exerted over the shape and purpose of the discipline of economics since that time. If we go back in history, you can always find similar examples of distortions, but the prevalance I think one could safely say was not there. My colleague Larry White has written a very strong paper on the influence of the Federal Reserve System on monetary research in economics. I wrote a similar paper with Susan Anderson addressing the topic of development economics. Some of the best work along these lines, I would suggest, is by Robert Leonard and his examination of how the military shaped the development of post WWII theoretical economics.
The state is, as Roger Koppl would say, a "big player" in science/scholarship and of course can distort and often derail the quest for truth among the community of learners. In my book, Living Economics, I make a distinction between "mainline" and "mainstream" economics, and there should be little doubt that I am a champion of what I call "mainline" economics. I argue that "mainstream" is a term that really only has a sociological descriptive content and not doctrinal content. There are times when "mainline" economics has been "mainstream", and there are (as has been the case during the period since WWII) when "mainline" economics is out of the "mainstream". It is precisely at those moments, when bold and creative acts of scientific entrepreneurship are required to get the quest for truth back on track.
So scientific contributions are to be judged against plausibility, intrisic interest, and originality, but scientific careers require Positions, Funding and Ideas. So if one is committed to working within the intellectual framework of "mainline" economics during a time when it is out of sync with the "mainstream", the task of getting the ideas a hearing depends critically on securing positions within the scientific/scholarly communitiy of learners and obtaining funding to engage in research that challenges the existing status quo. A great recent research project on the difficulties faced by bold and original scholars of the "mainline" of economics in the 1950s and 1960s is the work of David Levy and Sandra Peart on controversy surrounding the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy at the University of Virginia and the Ford Foundation. The material they have uncovered in the archives is so revealing and illuminating that it is must reading for any student of modern political economy.
Battles over positions and funding will have signficant impact on the ability of ideas to make headway in the competitive game of science/scholarship. But saying that is just to recognize a reality of the business we are in, and has no status to greater insight than saying that Major League pitchers are a lot harder to face than those you batted against in Little League, HS or College; or that the speed of the game is a bit different in the NBA or NFL than it was back in college. The elite programs in science/scholarship, just like the elite programs in MLB or NCAA have more resources. The Oakland A's don't have the budget of the NY Yankees, but they have to find a way to compete. Those of us not teaching at Harvard, MIT, Chicago, Princeton and Stanford, do not have the same level of resources yet we must find a way to compete and get our ideas across --- especially since we believe the "mainstream" has gone in the wrong direction compared to the "mainline".
Trying to do an end run around the scientific/scholarly establishment would be like setting up an alternative baseball league to MLB. And even in that instances as the mergers that formed the NFL and the NBA show that if we were successful in the end run, our innovation would be rewarded by being incorporated into the main institutional environment of science/scholarship. Instead, it is my view that our goal should be to first demand that we get a constant hearing in the "mainstream" for our "mainline" views, and to nudge in as many ways as we can for the "mainstream" to come back to "mainline" teachings. To do that, we must accept that reality that we have to compete in the accepted institutions of science/scholarship, and we need to meet those tests and measurements of success/failure -- the journal pecking order; the book publisher pecking order; citation pattern; scientific awards; placement pecking order; tenure&promotion issues; and scientific/scholarly prestige accorded to those who pass the tests established.
We have no viable alternative but to embrace our profession, even as we disagree with much of the arguments and modes of expression that are utilized at the moment. Those of us persuaded by the "mainline" of economics from Adam Smith to F. A. Hayek believe much of contemporary economics is wrongheaded in terms of style and substance. But we should follow the example of such Nobel Prize winners as Hayek, Buchanan, Coase, North, V. Smith and E. Ostrom -- who expressed similar reservations to the development of economics since WWII and set out to correct for those errors by making contributions that balanced the criteria of plausibility, intrinsic interest, and originality. They fought hard in the competitive struggle for positions and funding in order to advance their ideas. They all had zig/zag careers, but they persisted. This is also true for Ludwig von Mises. As I replied to Joe, I think we should be celebrating Mises's career as a scientist/scholar --- as a young man he achieved international fame for his work in monetary theory and with his critique of socialism, on the back end of his career he worked for the NBER, he published his books with Yale University Press, he was recognized within the economics profession as not only one of the outstanding European researchers in economics, but also one of the most important teachers from the Continent, and he would win the highest medal of scientific achievement from his home country of Austria, and would be named the Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association. And even Paul Samuelson had to admit that Mises would have won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science had it been established when the other prizes were originally established. Mises played in MLB and he had a Hall of Fame career. It is silly, in my humble opinion, for our community of learners to act as if this isn't true even though we believe that his Hall of Fame career places him in the elite of the elite and that his career path exhibited more struggles than others less worthy experienced.
One final thing, I should address -- Joe asked me to do a counter-factual about where my career would be without private funding support. I have indeed benefited greatly from the financial support of multitudes of foundations throughout my education and subsequent career. Heck, I just received roughly $2 million from the John Templeton Foundation to help me in my efforts to nudge the "mainstream" more in the direction of "mainline" economics through various research and graduate educational programs. It is hard for me to imagine the counter-factual because I attended Grove City College, where I learned about economics, and then George Mason University -- both of which received tremendous private foundation support in their economic educational missions. So in many ways I probably wouldn't have become an economist and I would either be teaching tennis, coaching HS basketball or working in the construction industry in NJ. But assuming that I had stumbled upon these ideas and persuaded of their truth value as I was by Hans Sennholz, then I imagine I would be an economics professor somewhere. Private donors had nothing directly to do with positions I have held at Oakland University, NYU, Manhattan College or even GMU. I was hired in each of these places to teach economics and fill a department "need" in certain areas of economic instruction, and I did --- and I've done pretty well if I say so myself winning teaching awards at Oakland, NYU and GMU (and at Manhattan I was just named to teach in their Honors Program when I decided to leave for GMU). I have had close calls for positions or offers at several other PhD programs through the years and also at several high quality liberal arts colleges. I have won awards for papers from ODE, EEA, as well as APEE and SDAE, and I have held offices in scholarly organizations such as HES as well as APEE and SDAE, and I am currently VP of the SEA. I referee papers for JPE and other top journals in our profession, and I have been contracted by Chicago, Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton and MIT Press to referee books. My position now at GMU is funded in part by a private donor --- I am the BB&T Professor, but I am also a University Professor of Economics & Philosophy, which is separate from any private donor influence but a designation awarded by my colleagues and administration.
Joe is certainly correct to point out that what I have been able to do, and in fact, who I am as an economist, has been deeply enabled by various donors outside of the standard state-supported organs of modern economic science. I would be the first to acknowledge that and to do so gratefully. But I see those donors working within the scientific/scholarly establishment -- just as "mainstream" economist rely on funding from Ford, MacArthur as well as NSF and NEH, those of us in the "mainline" have benefited over the years from Olin, Scaife, Earhart, Koch and Templeton (as well as several others) to pursue truth as we see it in our scientific/scholarly endeavors. Positions, Funding, Ideas --- but those ideas in science/scholarship must meet the strenuous tests of plausibility, intrinsic interest, and originality. If you aren't willing to do that, then you are playing a different game. Nothing wrong with playing a different game, but just like softball isn't MLB, playing that different game (whatever we might call it) isn't science/scholarship. It is something different --- perhaps even an endeavor that is more valuable to the advancement of a free society I will grant.
My point, in the end, is really simple --- either you compete in "The Republic of Science" or you aren't doing "science". It may be that the science is currently wrongheaded --- you might even believe it is confused and corrupted --- but if you want to advance a scientific agenda in a discipline the only way to do that is to join that discipline, embrace its professional standards of success/failure, and fight from within to correct what you see as error. You cannot do an end run around the scientific establishment, but you might be able -- if you are strong enough and talented enough -- to run right up the middle. The best in 20th century "mainline" economics did precisely that: Mises, Hayek, Alchian, Boulding, Coase, Demsetz, Kirzner, North, Olson, Ostrom, V. Smith, Tullock, Williamson, etc. Hold on to the ball, keep your eyes on the prize, and who knows you may very well end up like John Riggins breaking through the line in that Super Bowl run of his from the 1980s -- all the way for the touchdown. That never would have happened if you had decided instead that NFL was confused about the nature of the game of football so you -- even though you are strong and talented -- decided you would play instead in an alternative football league that was more pure and devoid of corrupting influences. To me that is a tragedy, not a sign of a principled stance. And ultimately, I believe if the individual scientists/scholars was in actual fact (not just in their head) strong enough and talented enough, the tragedy isn't just at the level of the individual, but spills over to the science/scholarship community of learners as the discipline of economics will remain on the wrong path when it could have been nudged in the right direction by this individuals (or group of individuals) efforts. If you believe science/scholarship are important endeavors, then such acts of disregard for the establishment are every bit as disruptive of the quest for truth as what was supposedly the reason for avoiding the scientific/scholarly establishment in the first place.