Must-Read On the (Possible) Future of the Economy

The lead essay in this week's New York Times Magazine is worth reading (assuming you've got 20 minutes to spare). It's certainly causing me to re-think my stance on Whither The Economy.

The author, David Leonhardt, focuses on the economy, but he inadvertently makes another point worth noting: Scholarship, research, and "higher education" matter. Leonha

rdt refers to and relies on the research of several intellectuals (aka “academics”) and treats their work with respect. That's refreshing. Americans have a long tradition of anti-intellecualism, but in the recent decades, it seems as though that strain as become more pronounced. State legislatures don’t want to fund “higher” education, and deride what seems, to them, to be inane, useless research.

I’m an escapee from academia, and I know that university campuses shelter more than a bit of bullshit. But the "pure" research being carried out in university laboratories and libraries is fundamental to human progress, whether social, political, moral, or economic. Nearly every aspect of life in “modern” society stems from the work of someone thinking hard about an intellectual problem, whether that person is an engineer, a physicist, an economist, or a philosopher. (Or, okay, a historian...)

When you hear an expert yapping away about this, that, and the other, chances are his or her opinions and ideas are based on primary research: Information and analyses developed by collecting raw data, creating and studying equations, watching the stars, or rummaging through old newspapers and diaries.

Paul Krugman, for example, now writes for a "popular" audience, but he won the Nobel for his academic "pure" research. The textbooks your kids read in school are “popular” translations of decades of hard research carried out by thousands of scholars.

So it’s good to see substantive scholarship being treated with respect. We need the scholarship, and the scholarship deserves our respect.