The Great Antidote

John Bitzan on the Culture at Universities

October 27, 2023 Juliette Sellgren
The Great Antidote
John Bitzan on the Culture at Universities
Show Notes Transcript

John Bitzan is the Menard Family Director of the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth at North Dakota State University.

Today we are talking about the findings of their annual survey on American College Student Freedom, Progress and Flourishing, which has some shocking and non-shocking results. Tune in for more as we look at the statistics, try to find causes, and look for solutions. 

Never miss another AdamSmithWorks update.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Juliette Sellgren (00:04):

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren, and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith

Welcome back. Today on October 4th, 2023. I'm excited to invite John Bitzan to the podcast. He is the Menard Family Director of the Sheila and Robert Chaley Institute for Global Innovation and Growth at North Dakota State University. Today we're going to be talking about a recently published survey from the institute that demonstrates somewhat and somewhat, not shockingly, that my generation is, I was thinking down to clown and cancel, but that's kind of a silly way of saying they like to cancel their professors slash are afraid of being canceled themselves. But we're also all okay with canceling each other, and there's more to it than that, I think. And so maybe that part doesn't come as a surprise, but I think the fuller picture will and maybe the implications and it's worthy of a discussion. So welcome to the podcast.

John Bitzan (01:26):

Thanks, Juliet. I appreciate it. I'm excited to be on.

Juliette Sellgren (01:29):

So first, what is the most important thing that people in my age or my generation should know that we don't?

John Bitzan (01:38):

I think that's a good question. And so one thing I think is that people that are young should understand and maybe they don't, is that they should really take advantage of the cocurricular and extracurricular activities that are available to them right now. So they have opportunities to travel internationally through study abroad programs or to join student clubs or to listen to speakers. And later on it's going to be difficult to get those same opportunities, and I think they'll regret it if they don't take those opportunities now. So just as an example, at our institute this last year, we had a Nobel Prize winner speak. We had Sam Peltzman, who's a pioneer in regulatory economics. Oh wow,

Juliette Sellgren (02:23):

That's cool.

John Bitzan (02:24):

Yeah, Glen Lowry, a leading expert in race and inequality. Mark Mills energy and technology expert. So these are opportunities for students not only to hear these speakers thought leaders, but also to engage in one-on-one conversations with them, and when they get older, if they don't take advantage of them now, those opportunities, they'll say, man, why didn't I do that? And so I think that's something I realized now that there are opportunities that I didn't take advantage of when I was younger. And I guess advice to my younger self would be to take advantage of them. So that would be my same advice to young people.

Juliette Sellgren (02:59):

Yeah, that's good advice. And I'm going to use this advice as opportunity to ask you for some more advice, especially as an economist, I've been thinking a lot and talking to a few of my friends about the issue with time and stress, right? Opportunity cost. We want to do it all, but we have so little time. And especially in college when there are so many opportunities, it's kind of hard to, I don't know, keep the world in perspective and to kind of realize that I can take the time to go to this random lecture that is not a part of a class, not homework, not something I necessarily would put on my resume. And so I guess as an economist and also as someone who is giving this piece of advice to capitalize on these opportunities, do you have advice about how to execute that plan or how to keep it all in perspective?

John Bitzan (03:50):

I think that's an excellent point you're making. I mean, obviously there are opportunity costs, but I mean, I just think that some of the things you could think about are from an economic standpoint, think about building your human capital. And so if I could, maybe I'm giving up the opportunity to relax or take some time for myself instead of while I attend one of these speakers, for example. But I'm learning a lot by going to this speaker, and it's something that even though it's not going to show up on my resume, it's an experience that I think that I'm always going to treasure. It's an experience that I will learn from, which is going to build my skills and help me be a more well-rounded person. Think of different perspectives. I think maybe some of, I mean, I know that the opportunity cost is really in front of you right now, very obvious, but maybe some of the benefits are not as obvious.


And so if you're to take a strict benefit cost calculation, should I go or not? It might not look like you should now, but then some of the benefits you'll realize later on that you realize that you did get from it that maybe you don't realize right away. Maybe I danced around your question, but that's the best advice I would have, is just, again, you can't do everything, but if you have a Nobel Prize winner coming to campus, I mean, that's something when I, I got to see a Nobel Prize winner for the first time in my forties, and I was at a conference when I was in a room with 500 people, and I didn't get within 50 feet of the person, and I was super excited. It was Gary Becker, but I mean, these are opportunities that students can shake Vernon Smith's hand and ask him about what was it like to win the Nobel Prize. It's something that it'll be a story you can tell your kids and grandkids later on as well.

Juliette Sellgren (05:57):

Yeah, no, I think, and trying to put this in economic terms, which I don't think is the most helpful necessarily, but it's trying to embed the other periods of the game that is your life, if we want to call it that in the current time period. I don't know if that's even economics for me, just trying to

John Bitzan (06:18):

Well, yeah, so that you're getting at the concept of an extensive form game and backward induction. And so again, so you're looking but mean, I think most people don't think that way that you're thinking, but I think that's a good way to think about it, is that you're thinking about some of the future benefits as well. And I think that's important to consider.

Juliette Sellgren (06:45):

And I think in a way maybe we'll get to this, especially as we get into the problem and then potential solutions, that this is either the way of thinking, like this mode of thinking in terms of what are the potential non-res human capital, and not in the terms of, oh, well, it'll better my human capital just in terms of me getting a job, but my human capital in terms of who I can be for myself and those around me. I think that that part becomes relevant in talking about not just free speech, but the point of the university and the state of conversations at the university, I think is maybe the way I want to say that. So let's jump in.

John Bitzan (07:28):

Yeah, it's great. Great point. I was just going to say, you're human capital. That's a good way to think about it. It's not just your jobs, but you want to be a more well-rounded person and a better citizen. So I think that's a great point.

Juliette Sellgren (07:42):

Thanks. I've been working on it. I tried to, so I'm TAing for Intro Micro and I'm trying to explain to my students that utility is not just happiness and that human capital is not just labor. So I've been working on it. Awesome. Okay, so writers, intellectuals, thinkers mostly, but not always on the right have been saying for a while since before Covid, even before 2015, The Coddling of the American Mind. Things like professors are walking on eggshells around their students or college dissidents are afraid of cancellation by their peers or censorship is running rampant on college campuses. And we have a country, especially in the intellectual parts, in Substack and the podcasts. We've been talking about the alarming state of free speech, but can you lay out what your research, particularly this survey has added to our understanding of the situation on college campuses and why it's so important?

Speaker 3 (08:53):

Is there something you've been wanting to try but haven't quite been able to give yourself the push to jump outside of your comfort zone? You keep telling yourself, I'll do it tomorrow and before you know it, it's been a year or maybe five. Well, you're not alone. Join me, Danny Elliott. As I talk with guests from all walks of life about their first time doing something on first time for everything we talk about first time writing a book to becoming a parent, being on Broadway, starting a business, and so much more head over to first time for everything, wherever you get your podcast and hit that subscribe button so you never miss out in an episode that just might inspire you to try that thing. And who knows, maybe even change your life.

John Bitzan (09:37):

Yes. So I think our survey, and we did survey with College Pulse, we did this survey in collaboration with them, and we surveyed 2,250 undergraduate students at four year institutions across the US and 131 different universities. None of the students were at North Dakota State University where I am. But I think that this survey increases our knowledge of what is the atmosphere for free speech on campus. And I know there's a lot of surveys that are out there looking at this. I mean, fire and Heterodox Academy and others have surveyed students, but we have some different things in here. And I think some of the things that come out, and it's not just free speech, I should also mention that we also have our survey also assesses students' knowledge of human progress and also assesses what do students think about socialism and capitalism? I know that there are a lot of surveys that identify students souring on capitalism and being attracted to socialism, but usually those surveys don't ask how students define capitalism and socialism, and that in turn affects how they view them.


And I think that's a unique aspect of our survey. But in terms of the free speech part of it, I think that some of the things that come out in our survey is that I think this is, it's very obvious. We had done this survey three years in a row. This is the third year of our survey, and one of the survey questions that comes out that really just shocks people when they see it is that students are very willing to want to report professors for saying something that they think is offensive. And consistently over the last three years when we've done the survey in excess of 70% of students say that if a professor says something that they deemed to be offensive, the professor should be reported to the university. And in previous years, in our survey, we've mentioned that fact, and people say, well, what if the students are thinking that maybe professors are going to say something racist or they're going to harass people or personally attack or threaten people?


And that's a good point. And so this year we've actually changed or added an additional item in the survey where we ask a series of opinions or facts related to affirmative action, police shootings, guns, vaccines, and gender or sex. And we ask questions on both the right and the left for each of these. So for example, we ask for vaccines. We have one that says something like if people refuse to get vaccinated, they're being irresponsible. And then on the other side, we ask something like saying that requiring vaccination is an assault on personal liberty. And then we asked students for all of these 10 different opinions or facts, which of these should professors be reported for? And we find that 65% of students say that professors should be reported for saying one of these opinions are facts. And so in fact, it's showing, I think better than other surveys that students really don't want to, I mean, many students anyway do not want to be exposed to opinions that they disagree with.


And I think this is very alarming. I think it's something that is one thing to point out the problem which we're doing in this study, but I do think that hopefully it causes action at universities for this is an alarm bell that we don't want students who are not tolerant of different opinions because those students are not going to be critical thinkers. Those students are not also going to help to advance scientific knowledge. We need students to consider different opinions that disagree with themselves. It might help them sharpen their own opinions. It also might cause them to reconsider their opinions. But I think it's a really dangerous thing when students are saying there's one set of opinions that's acceptable, and everything else we just want to shut down. Similarly, we ask students if another student says something that you to be offensive, should that student be reported to the university? And about 60% of students say yes, they should be. So those are two of the questions that are really alarming. But there are a lot of other things related to speech and knowledge and human progress and views on capitalism and socialism that I'm happy to talk about. I don't want to talk on too long, but if you want, we can go into more depth in some of those things as well.

Juliette Sellgren (14:50):

Yeah. Something that you said that I'm kind of interested in. How does this survey specifically get at capitalism and socialism? Maybe what it tells us is that capitalism and socialism is words or buzzwords that don't really carry much definitional weight among people. But how do you get at those concepts without using those words, what sort of definitions do you use?

John Bitzan (15:16):

So actually we do use the words, but what we ask students is we ask them to define capitalism. I mean, we give them definitions and ask them to choose. So one definition of capitalism that we ask is we give a free market definition of capitalism. So one choice is it's an economic system in which property is privately owned, exchange is voluntary, and production and pricing of goods and services are determined by market forces. Then we ask a crony definition of capitalism, and we say, or is capitalism an economic system in which corporations utilize grants, special tax breaks, political connections and special rules that favor them over competitors to earn profits? And then we give a third choice of, I'm not sure. And so we find that students, I mean over half define it correctly as free market capitalism. So over half pick the free market definition about 56%, but there's 30% of students that define capitalism as cronyism and then another 14% that don't know what capitalism is.


And we find that students that, I mean, most students don't like capitalism, which is consistent with other surveys, but we find that students who define capitalism as cronyism are way more skeptical of capitalism than those that define it correctly as free market capitalism. Similarly with socialism, we give definitions where we say socialism is best defined as, and so we give the central planning notion of socialism. So an economic system which the types quantities produced and prices of goods and services are planned by the government, and property is owned by society. So the classic definition of socialism. And then we give a kind of a hyper redistribution definition of socialism where we say it's an economic system in which individuals and companies make decisions on the types quantities produced and prices charge for most goods and services, but the government plays a very active role for assuring that prices are fair and ensuring an equitable distribution of resources between the rich and the poor.


And then the third definition is, I don't know. And we find that 44% define socialism as hyper redistribution. Only 35% define it as common ownership of property and central planning. And then another 21% don't know. And so socialism especially, I think people don't understand what it is, including Bernie, well, Bernie Sanders, the way he probably does understand it, but in his public speaking, he doesn't articulate it correctly. And I think it's kind of interesting because I just read, and I would recommend this book, I was reading the book, socialism Sucks. I don't know if you've heard of that book, but No,

Juliette Sellgren (18:33):

I haven't.

John Bitzan (18:34):

It's a book by Bob Lawson and Ben Powell, and they travel throughout the world to different countries that have aspects of socialism in them, and then they talk about their experiences. And the last place they go to is they go to a socialist convention in the United States. It's the American Socialist Convention, and they interview a whole bunch of people at the convention. And most people at the convention don't know what socialism is either. Most of them actually define it as really just hyper redistribution, not as we know that true socialism really means that property is owned by government. It's not. There's no private property. And most of the people, I think the people in charge of that conference understand what it really means, but most of the young people going to that conference don't really know what socialism is. So I think our survey is consistent with that. But again, the way people define socialism influences whether they have a positive view of it or a more negative view of it as well.

Juliette Sellgren (19:49):

Well, so I guess a question would be to what extent does it matter if everyone has the definition wrong? Doesn't that not necessarily change the definition of the word per se, but kind of transforms it? Does it influence actions away from just redistribution and towards the actual definition of socialism if people accept the redistribution aspect or definition of socialism instead of the actual one? Are we still trending towards the actual definition and not the thought definition? I feel like I've jumbled all of it, but does that make sense?

John Bitzan (20:32):

Yeah, no. Well, so one reason I think it matters is that if we're going to have debates in society about what is socialism a good thing or a bad thing, well, we should have a common definition that we're talking about, and that's where the things are jumbled up. So when people talk about Sweden or the Nordic countries as being socialist countries and they're like, look at how great it is. Well, that's not socialism. Those aren't socialist countries. And furthermore, there are even if look at, if you want to call it socialism, light, the redistribution definition, yeah,

Juliette Sellgren (21:10):

That's maybe a good way to, yeah,

John Bitzan (21:11):

I mean there's still negative consequences to that as well. And Sweden's an example where they were even more prosperous before they started introducing more of a social welfare state. And if you have heard of Johann Norberg, he has some videos talking about the change in Sweden and how it was more economically free and more prosperous until they started introducing more of a social welfare state or socialism light, I guess if you want to call it that, because you still have the negative incentives for profits, and you have the state substituting for private entities in various actions investment that occur even with the socialism light as well.

Juliette Sellgren (22:08):

Okay. Back to, and I guess this still kind of fits in with the whole of what the survey is kind of capturing, but part of the survey also touches on the ideas of progress or optimism. So what is the state of optimism in my generation and does it coincide with free speech finding coincide, not coincide, that's not a word.

John Bitzan (22:35):

Yeah, I would say the state of optimism is not high, let's just say that. So one of the questions we asked in the survey was we asked and we gave very objective measures. We said, in terms of extreme poverty, life expectancy, literacy and hunger, has the world improved over the last 50 years? Has it gotten worse over the last 50 years or has it stayed the same? And 47% of students say the world has gotten better over the last 50 years in terms of those things. And this is at a time when extreme poverty in 1981 about there's over 40% of the world's population lived in extreme poverty today, it's 9% literacy has improved 10 percentage points over the last 50 years. Life expectancy has increased by 12 years over the last 50 years. And so all these things have gotten remarkably better yet most students think that hasn't gotten better, and that leads to 20% of students saying they're optimistic about the future of the world.


Similarly, for the United States, we asked in terms of income per person, education level and life expectancy, has the United States gotten better over the last 50 years and 41% of the students we surveyed said the United States has gotten better. And again, I gave it the 20%, I'm sorry, 20% are optimistic about the future of the United States is about 30% are optimistic about the future of the world, but still students are not optimistic about that. Looking at their own futures, we found that just about 51% and 52% are optimistic about their own futures and their ability to make a difference in the world. And I think there's some implications from this. One is that if students don't understand the progress that's been made historically, they're going to be less optimistic about the future. I mean, I think that that shows in our survey, and although over half are optimistic about their own futures, I mean, these are young people, college students, you would think that this would be the most optimistic time in their lives and especially about their optimism about making a difference in the world. And so although it's over half, I still think it should be much higher than over half. How does this coincide with our free speech findings?


I don't know if the whole not wanting to be exposed to other opinions. I think maybe if you want to, there are people that say things are better than you think they are. I suppose there could be somewhat of a, people maybe would reject that point of view because they think that they could perceive it as you're not acknowledging any of the problems that we're experiencing. So I guess there could be an attempt to shut down people who want to say, Hey, things actually have improved. Because if you want to make people aware of current issues, I guess you want to emphasize that things are really bad right now. So I don't know if that's a way to relate the free speech findings to the findings on optimism and progress. There probably is some relationship there.

Juliette Sellgren (26:24):

Something that I've been thinking a lot about, especially so on the lines of optimism, free speech politics is the way that our most recent presidents have conducted themselves. They've both done things that would've been some sort of political suicide in the past, I think, and the way they talk, I hear much less, and this also might be bias on my part, I hear much less, I'm proud to be an American. Or even when they're saying things that are more optimistic, there seems to be an undertone of I need you to believe this, which I think is kind of interesting. So do you think that in a way, the whole generational intolerance of my generation to hear dissenting opinions dissenting from your own? Because I think it kind of exists regardless if you're on the left or the right, and then also this lack of optimism. Do you think it enables a weird tolerance for the behavior politicians, or could it be a result of that? Or maybe they're both symptoms of something even bigger than that?

John Bitzan (27:46):

Yeah, no, I do think that. I think all of that is true that, yeah, it makes people tolerant of politicians that talk that way. But it also, yeah, I mean, it could be something bigger. I do think, again, that people, if you want to point out with the polarization that's occurred, you think about there is increased polarization. And social media I think helps create that polarization to the extent that you continually are reinforced in your beliefs, whatever your beliefs are because of the algorithms, the way that they're set up. And I think that then maybe it makes you more critical of the other side. And if you want to criticize somebody, then it's helpful to maybe point out their deficiencies or things that you think are bad and make them very urgent. And so you don't want to acknowledge anything good maybe that the other side has done, or if there's certain problems that you think are the most important to you, you want to make those problems urgent and emphasize those problems and not acknowledge some of the progress that we've made in addressing those problems.


I mean, I think that all could be, like you say, a symptom of a bigger thing in society that's occurring. I think there's a relationship with polarization. And I also just think, yeah, I do think maybe events with the Covid pandemic and everything has been so urgent that maybe it's caused people to lose perspective on when people are saying 2020 was the worst year ever. Well, if the only thing about history that it wasn't the worst year ever. I mean, we had clean water in 2020 and we didn't have many of the problems that we've had in history. So I'm not answering your question very well, but I think it's an important thing to contemplate. And that's a good question.

Juliette Sellgren (30:18):

So something I've been thinking about, I mean, I think the bigger question that I think everyone is somewhat dancing around because no one quite knows the answer or has enough information to answer it, is what we're seeing on campuses with the optimism and the state of the world and the depression and the anxiety and the free speech stuff. Did that come first and has it broken out and affected the rest of America, or is it an American problem? And we see it best in the university setting, maybe because of what universities are. So kind of thinking along these lines, one of the things I've been thinking about is that maybe the university doesn't serve its purpose anymore. So it's kind of clear now that the university degree doesn't necessarily guarantee the job that people once thought it did. It's not an investment in the way that it maybe used to be, where it's so obviously puts you ahead, you can obviously still get a job.


I've been corrected on this front. You can always still get a job, but maybe not the job you'd expect. And so now that a university degree doesn't necessarily serve its most obvious practical purpose, then it kind of easily loses touch with the rest of its function, like being a haven for the marketplace of ideas, which it should be for academics anyways. But for students when their purpose is to get a degree and that no longer necessarily serves its purpose, maybe somehow that makes the rest of it fall away in terms of importance. What does it matter if I can have these sorts of discussions if I can't even have a job? And I don't know if this is really a true thing or if this is just kind of what I'm seeing and I'm grasping at straws, but do you think that this hypothesis has any merit at all? And if not, why not?

John Bitzan (32:30):

I think it has merit. So first of all, I would say the first thing I think you asked about, is it a university problem or a societal problem? I think it is a societal problem that maybe is easier to see at a university level. So I think again, students, one of the things that I think is interesting is that students are not, it seems to be, anyway, in our survey, one of the things we asked students is, are you comfortable sharing your opinion on sensitive or controversial topics in class? And one of the things we found was that students said that the students who said that they were comfortable, about half of them said they were comfortable because they thought that other people agreed with them. The students that said they were not comfortable sharing their opinions, 72% of them said that they were concerned that their opinions would be unacceptable to other students.


A much smaller percentage. It was still reasonably high, I think in the 40%, 46 or 45% said that they were concerned that their opinions would be unacceptable by professors. And so students are concerned about how their peers view them. And I think that that's very apparent in our survey. And so I think that this is something that students come into college thinking. I don't think that it's necessarily something being taught to them in a university. I think that it's before they get to the university that they develop this intolerance again and then getting to your, but I do think that it's a university's responsibility to do something about it. I think that it's very important that even if it isn't because of the university, that students are less tolerant. I think that the university, as you said, is not just supposed to be teaching skills to get a job, but it's also supposed to be teaching students to be tolerant of other opinions.


I mean, that's where one of the big benefits that has always existed of universities. And so you're saying, well, students that are saying, well, if I go to the university and I don't even get a job, why should I care if I become more tolerant of other people? And I think maybe that's the case. I think more so though maybe it's that there, maybe it's a mindset change about, or has been a mindset change, not super recently, but going on for a while that I think some students maybe have not thought about the wider purpose of going to a university and just thought about it as basically a training ground to get their job. And some of the things you see, I think in trends of how universities have recruited students have changed from when I went to college. So when I went to college, the tradition was you go to college and you figure it out after you're there for a year or two, you figure out what you're going to major in.


You take some classes, see what kinds of things you like, what kinds of things you don't like, and then you decide now every university is saying, tell us what your major is going to be from day one before you get there, and then we'll recruit you as an engineer or an economist or whatever the case may be. And so I think that that develops a mindset in students to think that the primary thing or the only thing maybe that I'm going to get out of university is this a job as an economist or an engineer and they don't think about maybe the well-rounded person that they're going to become from going to or should become from going to university and their tolerance of different points of view. And that gets us back, I think, to the thing we talked about way at the beginning of the podcast when you were talking about developing human capital skills that apply to not only a job but apply to just living in society and why aren't students going to see a Nobel Prize winner? And maybe it's just the mindset that, well, that's not going to help me get a job, but they're not thinking about maybe some of these other aspects of human capital that they're going to gain. And I think all of this is related to each other.

Juliette Sellgren (37:05):

So then I think you mentioned that they come in already intolerant, but it's the university's job to teach them tolerance. So I guess in part this question is how do we create an institution or change the institution of universities, either on the books or in terms of culture to incentivize, I don't like entirely to say incentivize, but to cultivate this air of tolerance. But also if it's more of a societal problem, how do you do that outside of the university too? I think the university is a prime place to do it, but if we can't even do it there, then

John Bitzan (37:45):

Yeah, no, those are two big questions and important questions. I mean, I think that at the university itself, I think that one mean some of the things we could do are just to send a signal. I mean, one thing is students learn by example or people learn by example. So you can tell them free speech is important and be tolerant of other points of view. That's important. But I think that it's important just to have an entire culture where people are demonstrating that they are tolerant of different points of view and speech. So I mean, I think it's a matter of one would just be to try to develop a culture of that. But another thing would be, I think it would be useful at least to experiment, and I know some universities have started to experiment with this, but experiment with having or acquired course maybe for all students entering the university.


They used to have a course at my university, which was like a, here's how to go to college class, here's how to study and things like that. They don't have that course anymore. But instead of having something like that, have a course that shows students, here's the history of free speech, here's how it has helped marginalized groups. Here's why it's important in society. Here's why it's important at a university for critical thinking and advancing scientific knowledge and give students an understanding of why we value rice free speech and why it needs to be an important part of the university and an important part of society. And I think about the University of Chicago president that died, but he would, all the students that would come into the university, he would tell them, you're here to be unsettled. You're going to hear things that make you uncomfortable.


And this is not a place where you come to get away from those things. But it's a way, it's a place where you come to get exposed to those things. And so that's part of not just having it in a class, but if you have the university president telling the students, this is something we value. And then administration actually supporting that, the value of free speech by demonstrating it by standing behind professors or students where there's attempt at cancellations or standing behind speaking events where there's attempted cancellations. I mean, those could go a long way. I think potentially at universities, in terms of society, that's a much bigger issue. I think one of the things we think of all our society as leaders as coming from universities with university training. I mean, I know that's not completely true, but I think if we can make a change in universities, I would go a long ways towards improving things in society because a lot of people in positions of authority have university degrees, and so the things that they learn or things that are reinforced at a university are going to carry on into their professional lives and into society in the future.


And so even though I think these things are not necessarily started at universities, I think in many cases that they're reinforced mean, so we have safe spaces and other things. I think that reinforced this idea that you shouldn't be exposed to other opinions that disagree with you. I mean, again, I don't think when I said that it doesn't come from a university. I think that it starts before a university, but I definitely think that universities play a role in maybe reinforcing the idea that you don't have to be tolerant of other points of view.

Juliette Sellgren (41:45):

Are you optimistic?

John Bitzan (41:48):

Yeah. It doesn't sound like it doesn't what I just said, actually. Actually, I am optimistic because I do think that this is, I mean, I'm right now emphasizing these problems and the negative side of them, but I really, I am optimistic because I know that there are a lot of people that, I mean for first of all, over the world, overall, I'm optimistic about people's ability to innovate. And I do think that people are generally good. I also am optimistic on this particular issue because I think that people are starting to wake up to it. I think that it's been a problem for a while, and I think people are starting to see maybe this showing up more in society. And so I am optimistic that it's not something that we can't handle. And so yeah, I'm very optimistic because I've seen a lot of the good things that people are doing all over the country.


I mean, just at universities, just one example is there was an incident just in the last year where students shouted down a speaker at Stanford Law School. And so that was a point where students were being very intolerant, but then the dean of their law school came out right away and said, we're going to make sure that all students now coming into the Stanford Law School are going to get some training in the importance of free speech. So I mean, I just think there's all kinds of people doing really good things. Fire Heterodox Academy, Glenn Lowry, if Glen Lowry or have heard his podcast, that he's somebody who's just outstanding in terms of listening to other people. And then not only people that maybe disagree with him completely, but he's somebody who's just a great demonstrator of the ability to listen to other people that maybe disagree with you and then respectfully maybe disagree with them or maybe consider some of the things that you didn't consider that they are good points that they're making. And so I can just think of a lot of good people that are working to change this, and I'm optimistic that it's going to improve.

Juliette Sellgren (44:11):

I think there's an element of there being a tension that actually makes optimism work. That is also what makes liberalism work. If we didn't run up against people not being optimistic or people always being good and happy and sharing their ideas and loving dissenting opinions, and everyone is perfectly optimistic in a way we'd have nothing to strive for. And that's not to say that we should hope for a world where we don't have that. It almost is to say that we're progressing to the point where we're dealing with things that we've never had to deal with before, and that it's almost we're feeling the tension of progress. I think maybe that's not the way you should be putting it, but that's how I've been thinking about it recently. So

John Bitzan (45:08):

Yeah. No, I think that's an excellent point. I think that is one way to think about it. I haven't thought about it that way, but it's an interesting point to contemplate.

Juliette Sellgren (45:20):

Okay. I have one last question for you, but thank you first for producing this amazing survey that has shocked and also informed a lot of conversations. And for coming on the podcast and sharing your wisdom. What is one thing you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

John Bitzan (45:44):

Yeah. So before, can I just say one last thing about just optimism, just real quick?

Juliette Sellgren (45:50):

Yeah, of

John Bitzan (45:50):

Course. So I was going to say, so that's another thing I do want to mention is that the reason we're doing this survey is that, or that we have done this survey, is that I am optimistic that we can do something. The point of the survey is to highlight what are the aspects of the problem right now so that we can do something about it. So if I didn't think we could do anything about it, there would be no point in doing the survey from my point of view. But in terms of asking, so what's one thing? So again, the question is, what's one thing that you used to think that I think differently about now? Yes.


And so I think that's a great question, and I think it says a lot about you that you asked this question. I think it shows intellectual humility on your part or appreciation of intellectual humility. And that's one of the things that I've learned as I get older is that there's less and less that I'm certain about. I think that I realize that there are a lot of things that I don't know the older I get. And I think that it's very wise of you to understand that at a young age. And so if I were to think about, I mean, there have been a lot of things that I've changed my mind about over time, but it's fresh in my memory. Just from watching the Republican debate last week, one of the questions asked about dealing with the drug problem and the reaction of a lot of the candidates was, we need to go after the cartels.


And I used to think that that was a good idea that supply side approaches to the drug problem would work. I mean, obviously I understand much more about economics than I used to at the time, and I realized that those approaches don't work. I mean, historically, if you look at the war on drugs has not been successful, but just also a better understanding of economics and understanding that demand for drugs tends to be very inelastic. And that if you reduce supply, it's going to increase price a lot more than it reduces the quantity purchase by people. So it's just going to increase revenues for the cartels, which gives them more resources to get around any kind of enforcement efforts that you have in place. And so one big thing that's changed for me is that I understand that those supply side approaches to dealing with the drug problem are probably not going to work. But again, I think it's great that you're asking a question like that.

Juliette Sellgren (48:37):

Once again, I'd like to thank my guests for their time and insight. I'd also like to thank you for listening to The Great Antidote Podcast means a lot. The great antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at Great Thank you.


Podcasts we love