Stian Westlake is puzzled by a tension he detects within the university system. On the one hand, British academics tend to think of 'hands-off, laissez-faire neoliberalism' as a sham and favour government regulation of many aspects of the economy. On the other hand, they are mostly very critical of the public regulation of universities themselves. He says:
There seems to be a discrepancy here. If academics believe that shopkeepers and stockbrokers and factory owners can be helped out by the wise hand of government, why are they so opposed to it in their own line of work? Why should enthusiasts for industrial policy suddenly act like members of the Hayek Appreciation Society when it comes to the business of research?
Westlake sets aside one or two putative explanations for the discrepancy that seem unpersuasive to him: university and research council managers aren't more stupid than those in other domains; and university research isn't harder to manage than other types of activity. So how to understand the whole puzzle? Are these all secret Hayekians?
Let me try a counter-proposal. I might think that children mostly fare better with loving and responsible parenting than they do if they can simply run wild and suit themselves. This wouldn't prevent me from taking a dim view of particular parental 'regimes' that I saw round and about. There's no discrepancy there whatever. And I could imagine academics who think that governement should have a major role in university education - such as, for example, in helping to finance and facilitate it - while at the same time regarding certain particular efforts at directing academic research towards economically useful areas and away from less obviously utilitarian ends as philistine and counter-productive. Logical problems in that exercise - none.