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Do you think sociology professors are to the left, economics to the right on capitali

  1. Nov 29, 2007 #1
    Do you think sociology professors are to the left, economics to the right on capitalism?

    I do!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2007 #2
  4. Nov 30, 2007 #3
    Sociology comes from a school of thought based on positivism, scientific reasoning, that society can be studied and understood like any other natural science. Hence they tend to think that societies can be controlled and manipulated, that studying societies can make us "progress" in the sense of technological and scientific progress in understanding and "manipulating" societies.

    This is mostly false, societies are made up of mostly quirky, absurd and irrational people that behave in all kinds of odd ball ways. Like economy, any attempt at controlling or understanding society will always fail, given the nature of the particles making it up. Economist have been "studying" economy for years and we are always in the same situations, there is no possible progress in a discipline like economy, it is mostly a gigantic slot machine, a worldwide poker game.

    Societies are made up of people that constantly fight for resources, there is no greater logic behind it.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2007
  5. Nov 30, 2007 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    No. For example, Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman, is considered left with respect to things economic, inlcuding capitalism. In fact I heard him during an interview yesterday in which he mentioned that the current economic disparity in the US is corrosive to democracy.

    And one can certainly find sociology professors on the right of capitalism. I would imagine some could be found at the American Enterprise Institute, for example Robert Nisbert or Edward Shils, both of whom are now deceased.
  6. Dec 3, 2007 #5
    First off, I reject that capitalism can be put on a spectrum of left and right (liberal and conservative). Most republicans are not really that free-market.

    Now, if someone wants to know whether sociology professors are overall liberal, then yes, because something like 99% of sociologist professors are democrats. In economics it's not that clear cut and there is more diversity of political ideology, probably because there's less group think going on in economics (I know this statement will piss some people off, but in my opinion this is true). The average economist is not a republican, in fact, the average economist is a little bit left of center (they've done surveys on this). Furthermore, there are a good number of economists who do not consider themselves a democrat or republican, but rather an independent because they are libertarians.

    Now, in general most sociologists believe in socialism, and most economists believe in capitalism. This is definitely just a difference in opinions. However, I would like to point out that economists are the ones who study economic systems (which is what socialism and capitalism are) and therefore are probably more knowledgeable on these issues (in other words, economists are experts on economic systems). I don't think sociologists are as credible in this area as economists.
  7. Dec 3, 2007 #6
    LOL. Yeah, ok. LOL.
  8. Dec 6, 2007 #7
    What an inconceivably ignorant post (actually, I'm again not surprised). If you think sociologists aren't credible in the area as economists, then you can tell Dubner & Levitt of Freakonomics to stop calling themselves economists when they are continuously posting sociology. Sociology studies inequality and power - and these two elements have pervasive concurrences with economic structure known as capitalism. While the economists may be concerned with utility, seeing man as homo economicus and being individual reductionists, sociologists have accepted much more ambiguity in social behaviour - it is, after all, studying society. While it may be true that most sociologists believe in socialism, it is because most sociologists believe in equality - most of their time is spent examining power and divisions in society among class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. And these are structural problems, not individualistic problems. This ties into economic systems because as a social system, it promotes and allows such inequality to occur. What do economists think of inequality? Well they usually subscribe to strucutural-functionalism and individual reductionism; if an individual is poor, it's because "they haven't worked hard enough", or "they need to be better educated", or "lack motivation".

    So why do they support socialism? It's because sociologists are motivated by equality, and ideas such as why Europe has much higher social mobility than the capitalist systems of the UK and USA.
    This is so obviously bull**** because there is no such thing as "mainstream sociology", in contrast to "mainstream economics". Mainstream economics is essentially neoclassical economics (a touch of Keynes here and there) and virtually every economics department in North American universities subscribes to this. Environmental economics, ecological economics are generally ignored; don't even mention "heterodox" schools of thought such as Austrian economics, because they are the "shunned" economists that never get anything published in the top journals in economics. Economics is most certainly much less diverse than sociology, and obvious Mr. Economist here argues otherwise simply because he is one.

    It may feel better for you to see your field as so "diverse" in opinions (Democrats and Republicans, you say?!) but it simply is not true. Just look at the National Economic Council in the Presidency. It's fueled America's neoliberalism since WWII.
    You're wrong. Capitalism means economic conservatism (neoliberalism). Capitalists do not support government regulations (such as the environment, etc.) and taxes. It is laissez-faire. This can clearly be put on a spectrum.

    Most Republicans are free-market. Bush may talk about American nationalism on television, but he is passing bills that broaden legal immigration. Republicans may talk about how bad illegal immigration is, but they know that these illegal immigrants are filling in the labour shortage for many corporations. It is not in the interests of Republicans to be protectionist, but it is in their interest to be nationalist. This is why they are schizophrenic on the issue.
  9. Dec 6, 2007 #8
    I don't like the idea of taking entire groups of people and declaring them "left" or "right" unless they do so themselves. I will agree with you in that the average sociology professor does seem to be more progressive in politics then the average economics professor but beyond that I'm not confortable with making such blanket assumptions. This line of thinking is where things like racism and sexual discrimination comes from, and I'm not comfortable with that.

    Then again, it seems you are looking for conformation and not debate so I can probably expect flames in responce. *dons a heat suit*
  10. Dec 6, 2007 #9
    One should never "generalize" a group onto an individual, but it is perfectly human to talk about groups of people. The progressiveness of sociologists is clear when the American Sociological Association passes a resolution condemning the Iraq War. As it is clear that economists do not have a "code of ethics" in contrast to nearly every other professional association in the United States. Yes, these are generalizations - not all sociologists are progressive, and not all economists are neoliberals - but they are a general pattern and they are generally true.
  11. Dec 7, 2007 #10
    Economics is as much about "society" as Sociology is. Furthermore, many economists are studying inequality, mobility, etc. My point was that when it comes to the debate between capitalism and socialism, it seems to me the economists are more likely to be the experts considering that they seem to study economic systems in more detail than sociologists. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying sociologists have nothing to add, and I'm not saying that sociologists can't talk about economics, just that in my opinion economists are more qualified on the topic. There are economists who are socialists, but it's difficult to understand economics and also be in favor of socialism. In my opinion, this has to do with knowing the facts about the education, life expectancy, wealth, etc of individuals in capitalist societies vs individuals in socialist societies (even when you compare with poor members of capitalist societies). Furthermore, capitalism is more about decentralised decision making while socialism is more about centralised decision making, and when you study economics you realize that most of the things around us and most of the important discoveries happen through this sort of decentralized process. Furthermore, I know many economists who care about power, which is why they are in favor of capitalism, because they believe it gives individuals more power.

    I'm not convinced that this is true, as I've heard some economists and journalists make a strong case that this is a myth. One example is a book by a German journalist titled "Cowboy Capitalism."

    You're right that there definitely is a mainstream economics, and I imagine there is probably a mainstream sociology as well. However, some of what you've said above is false. Most economic departments have environmental economists on staff, and in fact many graduate students at schools all over the US specialize in this field. Furthermore, many Austrian economists are well respected by mainstream economists. Rothbard, Von Mises, Hayek, Mario Rizzo, and in fact F.A. Hayek even won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Obviously I maybe biased (I challenge anyone to name me a person who isn't), but I honestly do believe Economics is a more diverse field. Using political ideology was only a proxy, as an example to back up my claim. Furthermore, economists seem to be more interested in rigourously modeling and testing their theories and hypotheses (which is why mathematics and statistics is heavily relied on by modern economists).

    Again, we just disagree on this issue. It seems to me most people want to say that republicans are capitalists and about free-markets when in fact they aren't. I wish Republicans where really about free-markets (and just freedom in general) because then I'd have a party to vote for. Many people have pointed out that Republicans are in favor of many subsidies (example, farm subsidies), limiting free-trade (probably not as bad as the Democrats but still), and Republicans spend lots of government money too (which is something no free-marketer would do).
  12. Dec 7, 2007 #11
    I agree that it is human to talk about groups of people. Besides, part of the reason people are generalizing in this discussion is because we don't have time to talk about the details.

    I wanted to ask you some questions. First, do you think that sociologists (among others) should have a standard code of ethics? Isn't it kind of strange that a sociology organization takes a position on the conflict in Iraq? I mean, I can only imagine how other sociologists would react to a sociologist who said, "You know what. I like George Dub, and I agree with the Iraq War."

    Also, you mentioned in the other post that sociologists "care" about equality and mobility. However, I don't understand how these are scientific in nature. What I mean by this, is that these things are value driven, and different people will have different feelings/opinions about them. A social science is supposed to deal in facts, and understand the way in which the world actually operates. In economics, we make a distinction between Normative Science and Positive Science. For example, a positive question/hypothesis is this: "Does the minimum wage increase unemployment? And if so, does it mainly increase unemployment for low skilled workers?" A normative question is this: "Should we have a minimum wage or not?" The difference is that positive questions have an actual answer, the minimum wage either does or doesn't have an effect on employment, but normative questions on the other hand can never be scientific because you're asking what ought to be. Now, I think positive science can help people make normative decisions, but one still must seperate the two. For example, there are economists who agree with minimum wage legislation even though they think it increases unemployment, because they think the gains to the winners offset the losses to the losers. Economists aren't generally expected to share the same values, and in economics we mainly concern ourselves with studying positive questions. This doesn't mean we always know how to study postive questions/hypotheses, but the point is that it's what we are primarily concerned with. I don't know if the same is true of sociology?
  13. Dec 8, 2007 #12


    Staff: Mentor

    By "sociologists believe in equality" do you mean that "sociologists believe people are equal"? If not, please clarify. If so, IMO, that is a mindless feel-good belief typical of the left (lending credence to the OP's point).

    Take any two people and compare them on any scale, strength, intelligence, experience, initiative, you will see that they are clearly not equal. One of the reasons that capitalism works so well, despite all the constant mindless whining about unequality, is that it recognizes that people have unequal economic value and it easily and naturally tends to put greater control of capital in the hands of people that have greater economic value.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2007
  14. Dec 8, 2007 #13
    Agreed - economists are generally more knowledgeable about the market than sociologists are.
    I disagree. Keynesian economics is closer to socialism than the anarcho-capitalism, and many economists support the former. It would not be inconceivable for an economist to believe in socialism - because after all, it is "political economy" that spun off "economics". (institutionalized)
    You can't make grand comparative statements between that - this is economic determinism and you are predicating your argument on the economy determining everything, the same thing Marxists do. Education, life expectancy, and wealth have a lot more to do with other things than just economic systems. If that were not the case, then Latin America would be very well off after their experiments in "modernization" and "free-market capitalism". Of course, we all that was a grand catastrophe. Free-market economists tend to ignore this example of economic failure.
    But individuals and corporations having power aren't always good. Even non-radical economists would say that there are certain things better off handled by the government, such as education, public utilities, health care, environmental regulations, etc.. To believe that "all power to the individuals" will make a better place in the world is an anarchist ideology.
    You're completely wrong. OECD figures (conservative organization, btw) show that this is not the case. Here's a second study. It is clear that in America, the American Dream is a myth. One is much more likely to move up the ladder in the democratic socialist countries in Europe.
    Not really.. see below
    Sociologists use mathematics and statistics all the time, albeit the professional sociologists journals tend to be much more diverse in methodologies. While your points are valid, I don't think non-mainstream economists are very well respected at all. Economics has tended to be extremely mathematical on the premise of models stemming from one particular ideology. If your ideological foundations change, you have to make entire new models. Rational choice theory would have be thrown out. Economists do not want that, and it is not surprising why there is a "mainstream economics". There's really not a "mainstream sociology". There may be "mainstream" journals in the sense that those are the top publications, but nothing to warrant entries on wikipedia and embedded into a discipline like economics.

    Many call economics autistic. And it's warranted. Even Greg Mankiw agrees with it, finding interest in "post-autistic economics". Here's some ramblings from a Harvard economist fellow who really does not like the "mainstream" paradigm.
    If Republicans are no capitalists and support free (Republicans are therefore "liberal"?), then I don't know what you're on. I guess you would vote for Ron Paul.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2007
  15. Dec 8, 2007 #14
    Yes, sociologists should have standard codes of ethics. We do social research that is sensitive, and are put in a position of power. It is recognizing that there is power (whether formal or informal in the sense of contextual relationship or academic research). Many sociologists have criticized the ASA for making the Iraq statement, saying it's not their place as scientific researchers to "have opinions" on the world (i.e. normative judgments). Others disagree. It is something that goes into the sociology of sociology (its philosophical roots and reflexivity).
    Sociologists study society, and part of society are its institutions. And these institutions carry norms that affect people - they tell us how to act, how to think, how to perceive; they tell us what is right, what is wrong, and what is desirable. Sociology is most definitely a science - and it doesn't matter if people will have "different feelings/opinions", because the majority of the time, they don't. Western culture will always be individualistic, it's embedded into institution such as law (like property laws) and government (liberal democracy). It is the job of social scientists to study these institutions and explain why these regularities are occurring. It is the same way economists study markets, and market behaviour. Sociologists study society and social behaviour.
    So too does sociology, political science, anthropology, and practically every social science. All researchers are aware of the normative/positive divide.
    It's misguiding to think that we should always just focus on the "positive" side of science and be "value-free". During the growth of sociology, especially in the Chicago school (same thing with economics), academia was very much an "ivory tower" concerned with studying the problems of society, as a neutral observer of the world. We are just scientists to study the world, right?

    Except that's misleading. Because we are also social beings living in our world. Positivism is poor because it is not reflexive - scientists do not reflect on themselves and their own roles. Sociology was once called "social physics", in the same way economists love to compare economics to natural sciences such as physics. But this is not the case, because human behaviour is complicated and we are not stupid molecules. The positivist regime in sociology began to lose popularity, because it kept getting criticized for being stuck in a tautological paradigm. We study these institutions, but the only reason they exist is because we contribute by continuing to live in them! Race will always continue being an institution if social scientists continue asking people what their race is. It's the same way "irrational" behaviour drives economists nuts.
    Virtually any policy ever made is "normative". It's foolish to think that there's a distinct "positive" and a distinct "normative". What is generally the case, is that people already have a "normative" in mind and their "positive" research is to prove their biases. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's basically how human knowledge is developed - through inquiry. People will inquire about things of interest to them, especially in the social sciences. Even if their inquiry is "dispassionate" and "objective", the way an experiment or study is modeled reflects ontological and epistemological biases. Economists may be generally concerned with "positive" questions, i.e. "what is", but the whole foundation on "what is" is theoretical. What is the marketplace? How do people make decisions?

    So neoclassical economics assumes that there is the self-interested rational homo economicus. Then we build on that with more models and more studies on the premise (or their so-called "axioms"). Behavioural economists would criticize the very root of that - "what is" to them is completely different. They see man as social, not a person that would take all the cookies from the jar at a friend's house if they could get away with it. "Positive" determines the theoretical framework. "Normative" is the prescription. For neoclassical economists, their "normative" is generally, if not always, dealing with market efficiency - and this is achieved through neoliberal economic policies for the free market.

    Just look at women's studies. They study the "positive" - statistically analyzing discrepancies between male and female income for the same amount of work. And they also study the "normative" - the oppression of women to work towards gender equality. The two are not isolated. It would be foolish to think that any social science is "value-free", because human behaviour is too complex and the fact that we also humans living in a social world. It's different with the natural sciences, because molecules can't really think and "how they ought to be" is not really a question.

    Sociologists tend to believe in equality and that people are equal*. The differences between two people are mostly due to their social upbringing and environment. Blacks are not genetically less intelligent than whites; it is because they have been subjugated under the institution of race or other cultural factors. Likewise with poorer people becoming less intelligent. In the same way, rich people are not "inherently better" than poor people, from genes or something.

    It is conservative and individualistic to believe that poor people are poor "because they haven't worked hard enough", or that "they're stupid", or "lazy", etc. Or that men are "inherently" violent and that women are "essentially" gentle (pseudo-evolutionary psychology). It ignores all the social factors that work in the world, and instead blames it on their individual self for things "beyond control".

    *Sociologists don't deny the fact that there is a degree of personal factors involved (like how hard one works, etc.) for differences, but that is not their concern. Their concern is with power inequalities and subjugation of peoples, by studying how people are oppressed. It would be sad to see someone blame themselves for being unemployed if the unemployment rate is 20% ("it's my fault I'm uneducated", "need to work harder", etc.) Western capitalist society wants us to believe that it really is our fault, and that we should strive to work harder. There is nothing wrong with working harder - but there is something wrong with being indoctrinated to ignore the social world outside your bubble filled with ipods and mass media.

    Sociologists are also particularly concerned with social constructions such as class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. They are the salient divisions of society, and "structures" that are studied.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2007
  16. Dec 8, 2007 #15
    You wrote so much that I don't have time to respond right now, hopefully I can do so later.

    I hate when people make those statements. Obviously things are not completely within ones control, nor are things completely out of ones control. So what we're really trying to understand is the degree to which most things are either within ones control or not. Which turns out to be an empirical question. It may generally be the case that people who wind up poor are generally people who haven't worked as hard as the people who became rich. And to say that one is "conservative" for such a view is silly.

    Furthermore, it is not always about whether one is naturally gifted, worked really hard, etc. For example, if I need open heart surgery, I want to go to a good doctor, and personally I could care less about the reason he is a good doctor (genetics, hard work, etc), because the point is I need him, and since he is the one with the skills, and since I believe individuals should own the fruits of their labor, he should be allowed to charge me for his services. And my understanding is that most modern sociologists have embraced the fact that human beings are influenced by both biological aspect and social aspects.

    In my opinion, poor people in the US often have a hard time moving up in the world due to a lack of capitalism. Public education is a great example. It seems that most public school systems are based on a lot of those sociological ideas you mentioned earlier such as equality and mobility. Is it also impossible that redistributional efforts (such as welfare) have acutally hurt poor people more than they've helped? Also, maybe telling unfortunate individuals that most things in life are out of their control actually perpetuates the situation by leading to unhelpful sociological "values"?
  17. Dec 8, 2007 #16
    Individual reductionism is conservative. It is the only way to refute a sociological claim. Do you think it is by random chance that if you circle the poorest neighbourhoods in any urban Western city, that you also have circled the neighbourhoods with the highest crime? It is no random variation (which is what neoliberal individualism presupposes - that we are all "atomistic"). The way conservatives refute this "positive" social fact of crime is by saying that it is not that poverty is correlated with petty crime (which it is, undoubtedly - like cancer with smoking), but by saying that these "criminals" are "deviants" and "psychopaths", reducing a social phenomenon to the non-social individual. Why are sociologists "liberal"? It's because normatively, many of them would support social policy that would attack the root causes of crime, such as poverty, that is clearly established in academic research. Of course, such programs take taxpayer money, which neoliberals do not support, so the only way to "refute" such "liberal" social policies is by labeling the criminals as "deviants", and that the law should be "harder" on criminals, punish them more, etc., to get rid of crime - this is contrary to criminological research.
    I don't see the connection between your example of doctors being paid with anything you just said. Doctors are doctors, sociologists do not deny doctors the ability to set their own salaries. Sociologists are concerned with class conflict, such as "the race to the bottom" with corporations and labour wages, or doctors abusing their professional privileges by taking free corporate lunches (big topic in medical sociology) with the biomedical industries.
    That is exactly the classical neoliberal argument - that it is because there is "too little" capitalism, and that poverty, suffering, etc. is caused by market regulations - and hence we need to get rid of regulations to make it easier for corporations and private businesses to thrive. Guess what? Latin America tried that in the 1970's, and it was a disaster. The result of their experiment with capitalism is that they now have the most unequal society in the world in terms of income. Why do you think dictatorships became so popular in Latin America? Because the economy was a disaster after capitalism and so individuals stepped in like Hitler (or rather, Pinochet) promising to bring a better place. Of course that was a lie, but that is besides the point. Read this article on how agricultural subsidies helped Malawi (which is about Africa, nonetheless) escape famine by ignoring the neoliberal impetus of the World Bank and IMF.

    Public education is a socialist system, yes, but the reason is doing so poorly is because it is competing with private education. A socialist system cannot inherently compete with a capitalist system, because capitalism is more efficient. But this efficiency is at the cost of social health - that is, capitalism privatizes benefits but socializes the costs. Chinese industries may be making record profits, but they are doing so by polluting the waters, airs, exploiting the workers, and bypassing the safety regulations. Who picks up the tab for environment degradation? It is the public sector, not the private sector.

    Sociologists do agree that things are combination of both nature and nurture, but believe nurture is more important. Human history and development is much more influenced by human creations than any genetic determinism. Culture affects the way we think and the way we are moreso than what "blood" we hold. Where we are born affects our IQ much much much much more than what colour our skin is. This is not an attack on "genuises", but there are geniuses of all colours, types, races. But the fact of the matter is that neoliberal economists cannot blame the poor for being poor and uneducated, if the poor cannot afford to get educated because education becomes privatized. Whether your doctor is Chinese, Arabic, or English does not matter if they all learned the same material and are licensed by the same association.

    This is not to say that the inequalities in a person's life are "out of control". This is where sociologists come in, where many combat inequalities in society - such as people not getting jobs because of their skin colour, or being denied things because of their class. If a person couldn't go to university because he couldn't afford it, is it because it was "his fault" and that he should "try harder"?
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2007
  18. Dec 8, 2007 #17


    Staff: Mentor

    In science, when one posits a theory and facts contradicting that theory are presented then the theory must either be modified to fit the facts or rejected outright. Fact: people are unequal. This has nothing whatsoever to do with racism, bigotry, background, etc. Even two identical twins raised together are generally unequal, particularly in terms of key economic attributes such as productivity.

    The Liberal tendency to ignore evidence and logic in economic matters is as disturbing to me as the Conservative tendency to ignore evidence and logic in social matters. I think it is perfectly fine for sociologists to be liberal as long as they stick to social matters and don't muck up the economy. Economists are probably to the right of sociologists, but at least they don't try to mess with social freedoms.
  19. Dec 8, 2007 #18
    I chuckled. If anything the sociologists are trying to play their game and are failing.
  20. Dec 8, 2007 #19
    You're wrong. People are diverse, not unequal. Inequality is a social construction. A society that is full of diverse people does not have to mean that a society is full of inequalities. You're positing that systems of inequality are somehow "natural". Class is not a natural phenomena, there is nothing in our genes saying "the more money you have the more prestige you gain".

    You're also drawing a misguided line by trying to divide sociology from economics and economics from sociology. Interdisciplinarity is a fact that we are living with in postmodern academia, to say that "sociologists are sociologists, studying social things" and "economists are economists, studying economic things" is misguided. Economics can learn from sociology and sociology can learn from economics.

    And "social matters" is relevant to sociology, and part of "social matters" is power and money. It is part of our social being. Unless you want to dismiss the whole fields of socioeconomics, social stratification, social mobility, and the sociology of work, you have no idea what you're talking about.
  21. Dec 8, 2007 #20


    Staff: Mentor

    You have got to be kidding. Can you possibly be this self-deluded? Is Paris Hilton equally productive to Bill Gates? Is George Bush equally intelligent to Stephen Hawking? Is it only "a social construction" that makes Hawking smarter than Bush and Gates more productive than Paris?

    People are unequal, particularly in terms of their contribution to the economy.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2007
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