Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Schumpeter's Gideon

Part 3 of the series, On the Money

Joseph SchumpeterJoseph Schumpeter, patron saint of creative destruction
The ongoing MoneyLaw series, On the Money, responds to Daniel Drezner's two-pronged objection to "academic Moneyball." The introduction to this series outlined Drezner two distinct objections, "poaching" and "overspecialization." Part 2, "Open Season," rejected "poaching" as an illusory concern. Indeed, I lauded the rise of something resembling free agency in legal academia.

I now address why I believe that a Moneyball/MoneyLaw approach to faculty hiring will not lead irresistibly down the path that Daniel Drezner dreads: the emergence of "mediocre department[s] stuffed with tenured academics who can't get a job anywhere else and don't know how to identify the up-and-comers in a discipline." Strangely enough, in acknowledging poaching as a reality of a more freewheeling academic market, Drezner identifies the very dynamic that offsets overspecialization.

Greater mobility all but neutralizes Drezner's second (and evidently more fearsome) concern regarding overspecialization. In a market characterized by looser movement of labor, few clusters of specialization are likely to last long. This has both good and bad effects. On the good side, sheer mobility forces law schools, especially those that (quite healthily) perceive themselves as having room to improve, to reinvent themselves with each lateral departure. Creative destruction explains much of the wealth of modern nations, and it applies with comparable force in our little not-for-profit corner of the world. Joseph Schumpeter, patron saint of cretive destruction, deserves his due from business leaders, educational administrators, and politicians.

Of course, creative destruction forces academic administrators and ambitious faculties to work harder. No law school can reliably expect that its "centers of excellence" -- whether backed by endowments, physical facilities, or raw Sextonian energy -- will last. Today's curricular bulwark is tomorrow's flight risk is mañana's lateral departure. Then again, I find nothing terribly objectionable about this. Take your true stars for granted, and one fine day you'll see them teaching, writing, and mentoring . . . for a faraway law school that values them more.

FoxFoxes rule, hedgehogs drool
The truth is that closer attention to quantitative measures of academic performance, especially if it comes at the expense of academic folk wisdom that is often as misguided as it is imprecise and impressionistic, hardly spurs overspecialization. Properly applied, the numbers can provide a safeguard against overspecialization.

Intellectual conflict between generalists and specialists is a standard part of the academic landscape. The use of quantitative measures of performance doesn't necessarily tilt the playing field in either direction. Foxes, in any event, have plenty of work to do simply to keep pace in a contemporary academic culture that favors hedgehogs. In law, at least, so many of the hedgehogs are sufficiently innumerate that a quantitatively inclined, publicly spirited fox can seize the upper hand by careful, thoughtful resort to MoneyLaw thinking.

At an absolute minimum, a law faculty can use MoneyLaw techniques to gauge which subjects are garnering the attention of the law review editors. In this regard, Sara K. Stadler's "Bulls and Bears" technique warrants closer attention. Some subject matters behave like growth stocks; these deserve more class time, and would-be faculty members who work in these areas merit closer attention in the recruiting process.

An even more ambitious approach would begin with Thomas A. Smith's Web of Law. Short of examining the entire body of legal scholarship as an interconnected citation network, it might be enough initially to compare citation networks growing from the body of scholarship by individual members of a single law school faculty. If those networks overlap too extensively, that is a sure-fire sign that a school needs an infusion of intellectual diversity is demanded, and quickly.

MoneyLaw techniques, as I have argued throughout this forum, have much to recommend them. The criticisms lodged by Daniel Dresner provide no basis for avoiding or abandoning those techniques. Neither poaching nor fear of overspecialization should give us pause.

Arise, MoneyLaw adherents. Blow your trumpets, break your pitchers, and storm the academic citadel, for the day of Schumpeter's Gideon is at hand.

Gideon's Trumpet


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