Voice

Some realkeeping on academia and stress

So yesterday there was a fun little Internet rebellion against this Susan Adams write-up in Forbes about the least stressful occupation for 2013

University professors have a lot less stress than most of us. Unless they teach summer school, they are off between May and September and they enjoy long breaks during the school year, including a month over Christmas and New Year’s and another chunk of time in the spring. Even when school is in session they don’t spend too many hours in the classroom. For tenure-track professors, there is some pressure to publish books and articles, but deadlines are few. Working conditions tend to be cozy and civilized and there are minimal travel demands, except perhaps a non-mandatory conference or two. As for compensation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for professors is $62,000, not a huge amount of money but enough to live on, especially in a university town.

Another boon for professors: Universities are expected to add 305,700 adjunct and tenure-track professors by 2020, according to the BLS. All of those attributes land university professor in the number one slot on Careercast.com’s list of the least stressful jobs of 2013....

The other thing most of the least stressful jobs have in common: At the end of the day, people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five.

Let's take a brief pause here so the academics in the crowd can recover from either A) throwing things at their computer screen; or B) melting to the floor in puddles of uncontrollable semi-hysterical laughter. 

Now let's immediately concede that Adams -- as she later admitted as much in an update to the post -- knows next to nothing about the life of an academic.  Almost every specific claim in the quoted paragraphs above about the life of a professor is either wildly inaccurate or radically incomplete.  For some pointed rejoinders, see here and here and here.  Also check out the #RealForbesProfessors hashtag on Twitter.  Indeed, this whole kerfuffle mirrors this old Marketplace exchange that I had with my Fancy-Pants Brother Who Used to be an Investment Banker/Hedge Fund Manager.  What's annoying about the Forbes column is the clear lack of understanding that outworlders civilians people who are not academics possess about our profession. 

Now, that said, and despite Adams having very little clue about the nature of my job, could it be that Careercast is onto something?  Even if it's wrong about every little thing, is it wrong about the big thing?  Dan Nexon points out the following

Most tenured and tenure-track professors enjoy:

  • Some modicum of administrative self-governance;
  • Their own office, complete with a door that shuts and locks;
  • Generally flexible deadlines;
  • Tremendous flexibility in how they allocate their time;
  • Spending most of their time engaged in ideas and activities that they enjoy; and
  • The ability to spend significant time in situations in which power asymmetries favor them.
  •  These factors more than counterbalance the negatives.

    These are not small positives, and I, for one, revel in them every day of my professional career.  Furthermore, whenever this kind of debate comes up, I always recall my brother's look of bemusement at a Thanksgiving dinner when a colleague was bitching and moaning about staying up late to finish a paper.  This was something he had to do on a semi-regular basis when he was working on Wall Street. 

    So, let's do some realkeeping here and conclude with the following true statements: 

    1)  Adjunct professors who earn their primary means of income through teaching win the stress game easily, and are excluded from the points I make below. 

    2)  Compared to most professions that pay a comparable or greater salary, tenured and tenure-track academics possess far greater levels of autonomy and flexibility of hours.  Not less overall work, mind you, but more ability to determine when in the day that work has to be done;

    3)  There's a lot of useful sorting that takes place among jobs.  Activities that academics often find stressful -- like, you know, talking to other people -- are often viewed as less stressful by those people who do it more often.  On the other hand, things we like to do -- like, you know, writing down stuff that we think about -- others can find to be incredibly stressful.

    4)  The shifting nature of the academic job market means that there are HUGE amount of stress at key moments in an academic career. If those moments go badly, well, there can be a fair amount of stress

    5)  There's something vaguely comic about everyone trying to brag about how stressful their job is.  Personally, I blame television.  Shows like ER, The West Wing, and Scandal have glamorized the notion that killer jobs are friggin' awesome and super-sexy.  You know what's really awesome?  Doing your job so well that you can relax on a regular basis. 

    Am I missing anything?  Seriously, I probably am missing something, so feel free to mention it in the comments. 

    Daniel W. Drezner

    A word about the alleged economic benefits of the American military

    This week, there's been a rash of articles on the state of GOP foreign policy thinking, as well as some interesting and constructive responses to my Foreign Affairs essay on the same subject.  I will try to respond to some of these over the weekend -- but first I think it would be useful to talk more precisely about the claimed benefits of military power. 

    One of the points I made in my essay was that Republicans need to take economic statecraft more seriously, but to be fair, this holds for the foreign policy community more generally.  The relationship between military power and economic influence is often talked about in general terms, with a lot of casual assertions getting tossed around.  But I think a lot of these assertions are wrong. 

    For example, prominent American foreign policy commentators often trump the benefits of America's overseas military presence.  Danielle Pletka gets at this in her Foreign Policy essay when she says, "Americans have benefited tremendously from their involvement abroad," though she stays in generalities.  To talk specifically, how exactly does the U.S. gain economically from its outsized military footprint? 

    Fortunately, we do have an attempt at an answer.  In the latest Foreign Affairs, Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth argue strongly in favor of "deep engagement."  They proffer a number of reasons why the U.S. benefits from current grand strategy -- but one of the more intriguing ones is that the U.S. receives direct economic benefits from its security arrangements: 

    A global role also lets the United States structure the world economy in ways that serve its particular economic interests. During the Cold War, Washington used its overseas security commitments to get allies to embrace the economic policies it preferred -- convincing West Germany in the 1960s, for example, to take costly steps to support the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. U.S. defense agreements work the same way today. For example, when negotiating the 2011 free-trade agreement with South Korea [KORUS], U.S. officials took advantage of Seoul's desire to use the agreement as a means of tightening its security relations with Washington. As one diplomat explained to us privately, "We asked for changes in labor and environment clauses, in auto clauses, and the Koreans took it all." Why? Because they feared a failed agreement would be "a setback to the political and security relationship."

    Now, this gets specific!!  According to this paragraph, reliance on U.S. security means that Washington can obtain better economic terms.  Sounds great!! 

    Except that I don't think it's true. 

    With respect to West Germany, it's certainly true that Washington was able to get Berlin to accommodate to U.S. preferences -- but only for a few years.  The Bretton Woods system ended in 1971 because the Germans finally said "Nein!!" to U.S. inflation.  So the economic benefit wasn't that great. 

    The South Korea case is more intriguing, because it's present-day and there's a real, live policymaker quote there.  If a U.S. administration official asserts that the security relationship mattered, then it mattered, right? 

    Well.... no.  We need to compare KORUS with something equivalent to provide a frame of reference.  If security really mattered that much, then the Korea-United States free trade agreement should contain terms that are appreciably more favorable to the United States than those contained in, say, the Korea-European Union free trade agreement, which was negotiated at the same time.  This is a great test.  After all, the U.S. is the most important security partner for South Korea, whereas the only thing the European Union could offer to Seoul was its large market.  So if Brooks, Ikenberry and Wohlforth are correct, the U.S. should have bargained for much better terms than the E.U.  Right?

    A Korean analysis of the two agreements, however, do not reveal that result: 

    [T]he United States has more favorable treatment in meat and vegetable products and transportation, while the EU has better treatment in processed foods, chemicals, and machinery. The large difference in outcomes in animal and animal products between the KORUS FTA and the Korea-EU FTA can be ascribed to the the reflection of greater sensitivity of the Korean market in this sector in the Korea-EU FTA compared with the KORUS FTA. Therefore the EU received a less favorable tariff reduction schedule than the United States in this area. This is true in the areas of raw hides, skins, leather, and furs, and transportation.

    We have the opposite case, however, in the foodstuff sector: the many differences in Korean tariff liberalization schedules in the U.S. and European FTAs could be a result of the reflection of the EU positions, which preferred earlier tariff eliminations on many items in the Korea-EU FTA. This is also true in the manufacturing sectors such as hemicals and allied industries, plastics and rubber, textiles, and machinery and electrical products.

    In (slightly) plainer English, the U.S. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more, and the E.U. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more.  Both agreements are comprehensive in scope and contain roughly similar terms across most other sectors.  Indeed, both the Congressional Research Service and U.S. Trade Representative's office acknowledge the basic similaritry between the deals, as well as the areas where the Europeans did better.  So, in other words, America's ongoing security relationship with South Korea did not lead to any asymmetric economic gains. 

    Now, this is not to say that there are no economic benefits to America's forward military presence.  There are other arguments out there, and they should also be evaluated.  My point here is simply to cast a skeptical eye on claims that America's overseas military presence pays for itself in the form of geopolitical favoritism.  Because I don't think that's true.