Trying to explain the American academic jobs market


Something's clearly not right about the academic jobs market in the US. The actual process of applying for a job seems to take forever and as one of the more recent Nobel Prizes pointed out such search frictions and inefficiencies do prevent markets from clearing. This is, you know, a bad thing. Further, we've got the fact that American academia is pumping out huge numbers of Ph.Ds who then can't find jobs as tenured professors: but also can't find them elsewhere in the economy as the only thing they've really been trained to do is to try and become tenured professors. They thus end up trying to survive on less than minimum wage as adjunct professors.

So this isn't what we might want to hold up as an example of a successful part of the jobs market. But the question then becomes, well, why is it like this? What's gone wrong?

One possible answer being that this is what happens when you let the left wingers try to run a market. It's not actually much of a surprise to anyone, or at least it shouldn't be, that the US professoriate runs largely leftish. 90% to 10 D to R is the usual number bandied about. It also wouldn't be a surprise to find out that those who do the academic administration tend further left than that: there does have to be an explanation for the various diversity policies around the place.

The end result being extraordinarily strong union protections (that tenure means that, roughly, absent raping the Dean in his office no professor can get fired), vast overtraining of would be market entrants and the majority not actually being able, they being excluded from those union protections, to gain a living. Oh, and the end product becoming ever more expensive as the providers layer themselves with ever more orgies of bureaucracy.

Sounds just wonderful really: or perhaps we might want to use it as a warning. This probably isn't the way that we want the entire jobs market to work so let's not attempt to add more of those job protections, unionisation and so on.