Academic Advice Sought

Please share your thoughts in the comments. A reader writes:

I graduated from the University of ____ two years ago with degrees in History and Political Science, after which I began working at a local economic think tank that focused on [my state’s] issues from a very broad free market perspective–oftentimes I felt I was the only one who believed in the free market at all. I had always intended to go back to graduate school, but I had significant difficulty deciding what to study, my first choice was political theory, but after seeing how few political theorists were finding jobs I was dissuaded. I considered economics but my math background is fairly weak, and it seemed to me that the heavily mathematical bend of modern economics programs might be a little too much for me.

So, because I was already doing rudimentary policy analysis, and I was still close to my alma mater, which has a decently ranked Public Policy concentration in their Public Administration program that would allow me to continue working while I went to school, I entered this program with the thought that this would at least give me some help in my policy analysis and more exposure to the quantitative research methods I need to improve upon, as well as leave me in a decent place financially as I continue to work full-time. I should note that I have left the think tank and now work in private industry, but I continue to do contracted research for the think tank writing policy articles.

Since entering this program, however, I cannot help but feel it conflicts with my libertarian principles, although I have been careful not to let that show. The teachers are more pro-government than I anticipated and most of the students seem set on becoming professional bureaucrats (there is a minority contingent there for the non-profit management concentration, but it is fairly small). Despite my misgivings, I have proven to be successful in the program thus far, and one of my professors is already encouraging me to continue in the school’s Ph.D program and concentrate in administrative theory or public policy, the former of which apparently has some significant overlap with political theory. According to her it would also allow for fairly interdisciplinary research and does not emphasize the quantitative approach as much as normal political science and economics programs. The fact that this program has also placed all of their graduates in academic positions since it began and would allow me to be near my friends and family while I studied has also made this course of action extremely tempting.

Of course, staying in this program that focuses on making government efficient and justifying its actions does not coincide with my libertarian principles. Any research I do would probably be far outside the mainstream of this field since I would likely focus on voluntary governance and how allowing individuals to govern themselves and interact voluntarily is far superior to the actions of a coercive state, which seems antithetical to normal Public Administration research. So I suppose my question to you is whether staying in a Public Administration program is ideologically possible for a libertarian, or would my goal of being “an academic who also happens to be a libertarian” like yourself be better served by going into a political science, economics, or even history program? My main concerns remain my weakness in math when going into quant-heavy fields like economics and–to some degree–political science, but also the job market, which has been very hard on academic historians, political scientists, and–I assume although I have not done as much research–economists.

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  • paul

    if this joker really believed in free market, then why didn’t he invent a new product like Steve Jobs.

    why did he become a parasite at a “think tank”?

  • geogavino

    My first piece of advice is to find time to learn a trade or profession that you like to fall back on. You can improve your math experience on your own, if you have to (i.e. Khan Academy). Second piece is, whether you stay or go, make sure your principles are known. Find a way to challenge them. If you don’t, who will.

  • Jim

    I don’t really understand why the writer thinks that he can’t do exactly all of the things he wants to do without the university or the degrees.

    Also, I think part of being successful is knowing when to quit something that isn’t going where you want it to. You sound (to me) like you’re on the wrong track, and you suspect that already. Why not figure out what your exit strategy is, instead of climbing to the top of the ladder you didn’t want to be on in the first place?

  • Tom E. Snyder

    Getting to the top of the ladder is of no benefit if it is leaning against the wrong wall.

  • Tyler

    So the only true believers in the free market are people who invent things? Steve Jobs definitely isn’t a good example of someone believing in the free market either; he is as staunch a believer in IP as anyone. IP is about as anti-free market as it gets.

    But on that note, it would seem as though the individual clearly isn’t going to be happy following the Public Administration route and should find something where they won’t feel like they’re compromising their principles for the sake of their profession.

  • Anonymous

    Is that what you did? Are you the next Steve Jobs?

  • Tom E. Snyder

    Once you finish your masters degree take a break from “formal” education. Attend Mises University in the summer. Sign up for Liberty Classroom ( and devour everything that’s offered. Then come back and ask again, if necessary (it probably won’t be).

  • ron paul

    you fool. IP is private property. thats why you are so dumb.

  • Tyler

    That’s debatable. You clearly haven’t read any of Stephan Kinsella’s work on IP. Ideas aren’t tangible, nor are they scarce. To quote JeffreyTucker, “The only way to possess an idea as exclusive property is to never share it with another person.”

  • Tyler

    or to use the state to enforce an intellectual monopoly

  • JFF

    This is the same white-supremacist, anti-Semitic drivel you trolled EPJ with.

    What’s your game and who is paying you?

  • James Ruhland

    I suppose you think Bob Higgs is a “parasite at a ‘think tank'” – judging by your comment, that is the only conclusion one could reach.

    Note that under the usual definition, not just the Independent Institute but the Mises Institute itself qualify as a “think tank.”

  • James Ruhland

    It is quite possible to learn the tools they teach and use that knowledge to advance libertarian rather than statist arguments. IMO it can help to understand their method and where they are coming from in order to know the flaws.
    I’m fairly similar to the writer; my undergrad degree was in History & Political Science and I’m currently a Grad Student in Political Science. And yes almost universally the Professors are statists who see themselves as brave dissidents; – arguing for more centalized power in the hands of the state. But my understanding of this phenomenon has been advanced by both studying this stuff and studying the libertarian counter-arguments.
    The real question is whether it’s really worth his time and $$$; – this is something that is more of a pragmatic question rather than a question of whether he will invariably violate his libertarian principles by working in this field. He can avoid that; the question will be whether he can be gainfully employed in it (academic discrimination against people who don’t toe the line is real. These people, the self-congradulatory ‘good people,’ can and will ruin lives if you’re the raised nail who doesn’t follow the herd).
    Possibly there are other and ultimately more satisfying routes for him to pursue, but ultimately only he can know that. But regarding his question of whether it is possible for him to be a principled libertarian and a political scientist, yes it is.

  • Jim

    Indeed – that was my point.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, Occidental Quarterly is such a dignified and scholarly journal that its authors have to use pen-names. One of its contributors even defended pedophilia so long as the child’s IQ was above average. Of course, a common thread amongst its contributors is the support of white nationalism.

    Very impressive! (/S)

  • Jim Chappelow

    Come to Mizzou and study Applied Econ; we have one of the premier programs in the world to study New Institutional Economics (e.g. Elinor Ostrom’s work on voluntary solutions to public goods and collective action problems) and an active Austrian circle on campus, including Dr. Klein of the Mises Institute. A number of current PhD candidates are working on dissertation topics with Austrian themes. Or you can study Poli Sci here and take advantage of the NIE/Austrian courses and other resources as electives and interdisciplinary work. I know at least one current student is doing this.

    You will need significant math prep to get through the first year and quailfying exams, but I did it coming from a similar situation as yours (worked in business consulting for several years before coming back to grad school), and it’s worth it. I recommend the Schaum’s guides that you can find as cheap e-books for math prep over the summer prior to beginning the program. .

  • plenarchist

    He writes well. Maybe be a writer? Political theory and history. I like that combination. But how to earn a living with it and *not* be evil. Hmm… There needs to be more libertarian-leaning fiction in this world. The kind that’s entertaining on the outside but chock full of libertarian memes. Not the brick-over-the-head kind like Rand’s (though I did like her books for what they were). More like the Hunger Games. Not a polemic or preachy… accessible, entertaining and subliminally educational. Writing sounds more fun to me than a career in “public administration”… how dreary. Maybe try to win hearts then minds. Most libertarians think they can win minds and hearts will follow. That doesn’t seem to be working though.

  • Rothbardian

    Perhaps you need a real source

  • ron paul

    speaking truth to power is impressive indeed.

    Ron Paul’s newsletters were not that different.

  • ron paul

    when is truth anti-semitic? Anyone who disagrees with you is supremacist? look in the mirror and evil will stare back at you.

  • ronpaul

    before you march on to another degree at a University, you should ask yourself,

    “Why are Professors Liberals?” Here is a detailed answer:

    Print it. Read it tomorrow evening several times. It will help you understand how the world works.

  • J Fournier

    I am grateful to read your blog regardless of how it shows up but I wanted to mention that sometimes when I visit your site, even on pc, it shows up in some sort of index mode similar to if I visited it on my iphone. Not sure why it happens some times and not others. It happens on both Firefox and IE for me.

  • P. Nym

    MIZ !!!!

  • Don Wills

    What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to be paid a salary working in a think tank or University? Or do you want to actually try to change policy and how the system works for the better?

    If the former, keep doing what you’re doing and abandon your libertarian ideals – they will be a giant drag on your career, and on your standard of living for the rest of your life.

    If the latter, finish your master’s degree and become a community organizer. Find a candidate you believe in, then get that person elected. Then become that person’s chief of staff and work to save our country from itself. Attaining and wisely using power is the only way to change things.

  • jtquinn

    Ludwig von Mises pursued a similar career in public administration. Read “The Last Knight of Liberalism.

  • Dr Ron Paul

    I think a PhD in public policy is very respectable. There probably will be more focus on the law, so perhaps it is similar to a J.D. experience. Ultimately it depends on how someone uses their degree.

    My experience is somewhat similar. I got an undergrad degree in international affairs, which included a year abroad at LSE. I did all this while using much of my free time to study libertarian related stuff. Now I am in grad school for engineering. It is important that at least a few of us spend time “behind enemy lines” to learn the other side’s perspective and take advantage of opportunities to influence others. This approach is not and should not be for everyone, but I think it serves as a valuable, if small, contribution toward the goal of freedom.

  • Michael Mills

    Hey wait a minute… didn’t you already get your medical degree… wow RP you never cease to amaze me… in your 70s and still going strong… lol

  • Chuck

    I’m confused if you want to be in academia writing research papers and teaching students, or in a private sector job. I personally taught myself the math (it was very difficult and time consuming, but well worth the effort) and went into the actuarial field. Your libertarian ideals will most likely clash with most of your colleagues ideals in any field you go into. It’s just the nature of the beast. I think it is important to either pick a field where holding your ideals are unlikely to limit your future opportunities and allow you to stick to them. I personally never wanted to attend a “School” again after I got my undergrad degree, and the actuarial field represents the right blend (for me) of understanding the more complicated economic/financial arguments, as well as having my daily work almost never conflict with my anti-state views on a daily basis. Rate fillings are necessary to conduct business. Even though the state must approve them, they would be done in absence of the state. And most of my colleagues see how arbitrary it often is. But that’s me. YMMV.

  • Heath

    For what it worth, I strong recommend that you find a different route to pursue. I attended Syracuse University Maxwell School Public Administration and quickly found out that they hate libertarians. There is no room for liberty-minded individuals in their arena, for they must maintain control over the minds of their pupils at any cost. I immediately withdrew and realized that this type of degree only produced number cruncher to collude with the enemy of all liberty.

    In my opinion, education is the best place you can make a difference, but not just any field will do. This country needs leaders who understand what the founders knew, coupled with Austrian Economics. Thus, I suggest pursuing Classics (Ancient Greek and Latin) where you will be able to see the causes that ultimately led to the downfall of these once great civilizations. Many over look this degree because many are focused on self-aggrandizement. However, this degree provides exceptional analytical skills as well as writing skills. I truly feel that this degree, coupled with an Austrian Economic background, will produce the kind of leaders this country needs.

    If you wish to commence you study of Latin, I would suggest
    these books to get you on you way.

    Lingua Latina per se Illustrata, Pars I: Familia Romana

    Make sure you read the review written by Sanli, for it is most help. Then, once you have obtain a solid grasp of Latin, move on to Ancient Greek. Greek is a bit more formidable, but with time it will come. Best of Luck to you!

  • Anonymous

    I would have to say, at least stick to something.. It will give you the credentials needed to influence people. If Tom survived Harvard and is kicking butt for liberty, there’s no reason why you should let the politics of higher education get in the way of your libertarian or free market beliefs.

    Good luck!

  • Spideynw

    I prefer libertarians in government positions myself. For example, if I was to get into the police force, I would not enforce any victimless crimes. I would be getting paid with stolen money, but at least the slaves would not have to endure anymore violence from myself than that.

  • Jim Chappelow


    We also have an active Young American’s for Liberty (formerly Youth for Ron Paul) chapter on campus.

  • Tom Woods

    Bad manners. There is a debate on IP. Are you unaware of this?

  • P. Nym

    Have some Shakes for me.