Some Criticism

I've noticed a couple items in the news that take a critical look at two big funders of my activities: land grant universities and granting agencies.  While I don't necessarily endorse these views, some critical self reflection is often useful.  

First is an article by Michael Martin and Janie Simms Hipp arguing that land grant universities have strayed from what the authors see as the universities' original mission:

closing the educational gap between the haves and the have-nots, which in turn would lead to greater income equality, economic development, and social justice.

In particular, the authors want the larger, more prominent 1862 Land Grants to work more closely with the other land grants: the 1994 Tribal Land Grant Colleges,  the 1890 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.  The offer four suggestions, the last of which is to "unify in seeking renewed public funding for public higher education from Congress and state legislatures."

This last suggestion is related to a separate criticism offered by Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok in a piece for the Journal of Economic Perspectives.  They are skeptical of the typical arguments made to increase and sustain funding for economics research. Their critiques are broad, but they focus much of their attention on the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant funds for economics research.  

A few snippets:

In considering the case for grant-based funding of economics research by the National Science Foundation, we find that a number of pertinent questions are rarely asked, let alone clearly answered. Instead, economists often put forward relatively weak arguments that they would likely dismiss if applied to government subsidies not reserved for economists.


Economics should think much harder about the marginal benefits of National Science Foundation grants for economics, and for other subjects, in the context of the many other ways in which society funds research, along with how such money should be spent and what the relevant alternatives might be. There is a good case for a significant change in NSF priorities towards replication and reproducibility of research, data access, and teaching.

See also this comment by John Cochrane.  I particularly liked this statement:

Without data we would not exist. That strikes me as the single most underfunded public good in the economics sphere.