July has been a good month for reading. We have just finished George Will’s The Conservative Sensibility. We hope to have a formal review for you later but we recognize we are in debt to the reader already. Instead we want to discuss the rise of our own conservative sensibility. We are less philosophically inclined than George and perhaps because of that our sensibility arrived later.
We went to Saint Anselm College (SAC) as an undergraduate but when we went there it had an apostrophe in the name. We weren’t as aware of such things as we are now but we suspect it was more conservative than the average college then. Grade inflation certainly hadn’t arrived. We ended up with averages of 89.7 and 89.9 for two semesters in Chemistry and were told that you needed a 90. That is why we tell faculty to use xx.0 if that is what they mean. When we took introductory economics there were two sections and two semesters in which no student got an A.
SAC was into assessment before we knew what assessment was. To escape German we had a one-on-one conversation in the language with the good Father whose name escapes us. To graduate in economics there was a multiple choice test, we think it was the Undergraduate Record Exam, We don’t know if our memory is faulty, the Internet is, or if it doesn’t exist any more as we could only find the GRE. In addition, there was an oral exam where each student was individually questioned by a group of economics faculty members. We did not have a stellar, to be kind, undergraduate academic record. So when we went to discuss the results we were surprised to hear something like, if we didn’t pass you we couldn’t pass anyone.
George’s book reminded us of that and instructed us in why. The economics department included some pretty progressive members. One of the questions in the oral was why didn’t Nixon add profits to his wage and price controls. Our answer was simple arithmetic. If you controlled the prices of the inputs then you controlled the sums and differences. We remember the interviewers stirring around on that answer. George’s book points out why this is, in part, a conservative answer, and why it troubling to the progressives. Of course, George is not the only one to point this out but he takes 600 pages to hammer it home.
It is a conservative answer because it avoids the passion and envy of we must control profits. It troubles the progressives because they believe that they can do all the math to make government work to bend the economy to their will. So telling them that it should be easy is a troubling answer for them. Either it is easy or it is hard. If it is hard then the whole progressive project falls to ruin.