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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Need for Critical Thinking

Today’s document is an October 6, 1960 article from economist Ludwig von Mises. The article, from the Tuller Foundation, discusses the one-sided nature of the social sciences at the university level. At the time Mises wrote this article the zeitgeist favored government intervention and planning. As Mises put it, “[O]nly totalitarian government planning that reduces the citizens to mere pawns in the designs of the bureaucracy is called planning. The plans of the individual citizens are simply ‘no plans.’” What semantics!” And this continued in part due to the university system, which kept out opposing viewpoints.

Sadly, the situation in many universities today is no different. Opposing ideas are often ignored, and professors who expose the flaws of socialism and interventionism are dismissed as biased right-wing crazies. Mises’s solution is the correct one: Allow critical thinking and present both sides of the argument. We should not worry that their ideas are presented so long as our ideas have a chance to be heard as well. After all, theories that are illogical or that cannot stand up to empirical evidence are unlikely to survive.

Despite the similarities to Mises’s days, things are looking up in the academy. Since the 1960s, students have more places where, and more professors from whom, they can learn what Mises called “true” economics. Still we shouldn’t celebrate just yet. There is much to be done. The battle of ideas is far from over. If we are to win we must not only have our voices heard more but also be prepared to critically evaluate the ideas of others.

“Economic Teaching at the Universities,” by Ludwig von Mises

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.