Going back to the Egyptians in the ancient world, education has always been based on some version of the textbook.
The textbook came into its own in the second half of the 15th century. That was because of Gutenberg. But textbook-based education had always been used, except they were not printed textbooks. They were provided by boring, droning lecturers who had the students write down their boring lectures in copybooks to memorize. There was nothing creative about any of it.
A textbook in the modern world is a book that is written for a committee in a particular academic field. This committee then makes a decision whether or not to publish it based on the committee’s assessment of what university departmental committees will determine. Committee A decides in terms of the expected decision of committee B.
Those of us in direct-response marketing have a rule: never write for a committee. If you write for a committee, your advertising copy will not work as well as if you write for a specific person who represents a specific group of buyers. This person is a mental figment of the copywriter’s imagination, but he needs to write for that figment. To write for a mental figment known as a committee is suicidal in terms of response rates.
There is something else. In marketing, you have to distinguish between product lines. To get people to buy product A, they must see it as different from product B. This is what university departments of economics, and departments of everything else, never do. In economics, departments pretend that all views are co-equal. They dare not say “we’re all Keynesians here” or “we’re all monetarists here.” Undergraduate students don’t know the difference. Grad students do, but no they longer care. They just want a degree to get a job.
In contrast, consider the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The Mises Institute has positioned itself well. People know this position. Its Web traffic is high. Meanwhile, colleges turn out students who really don’t know what kind of economics they believe in. It’s all confusion.
Degree-granting education suffers from this dilemma in every field. The departments paper over significant differences inside the discipline, or else they pretend some rival views don’t exist, as they did with Mises for 70 years. The students are not encouraged to examine these differences. The departments don’t turn out loyal graduates who are committed to a position. Most departments do not generate loyalty. Why should they? They are basically just a bunch of committees. Committees do not inspire loyalty.
University education pretends that fundamental differences do not exist within each department, when they in fact divide the departments methodologically, morally, and ideologically. Certain positions are relegated to the outer darkness, but if you get inside the official circle of truth, it becomes the circle of confusion. There is no unification intellectually speaking. They pretend that there is, but there isn’t. It is intellectual schizophrenia.
Rare is the student who graduates with a bachelor’s degree in anything who has a clear understanding of the divisions within his academic major, let alone the positions that are outside what is regarded as acceptable to discuss seriously.
I was fortunate. I knew from the day I walked onto a campus that American history was divided between the revisionists and the establishment, especially on the issue of Pearl Harbor. I also understood that the economics departments were Keynesian. I also knew about Austrian School economics. I was an Austrian, and I was a revisionist. I kept my sanity only because I did extensive reading outside what was considered acceptable topics of discussion in both history and economics. The master of this was Murray Rothbard. I started reading Mises, Rothbard, and Hayek in 1960. I had an advantage over my peers. For that matter, I had an advantage over my professors.
This is why so many major intellectual advances come from outside the campus environment.
I think this is best summarized by a statement made by the genius inventor at General Motors, Charles Kettering. The Sloan-Kettering Institute is named after him and his employer. In 1927, somebody rushed into his office and announced breathlessly that Lindbergh had just flown across the Atlantic alone. Kettering looked up and said: “Let me know when a committee does it.”
Written by Gary North and published by The Tea Party Economist ~ February 15, 2017.
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