Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Peculiar Political Economy of David Alan Brat

As probably just about everybody reading this by now knows, the Republican Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, was defeated in a primary by David Alan Brat, Professor of Economics at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.  Brat has served as Department Chair since 2005, directs a BB&T funded  Center on Morality Foundations of Capitalism, and who has served on a Virginia state economic development council.  Brat ran on a platform that emphasized his strongly anti-immigrant position as well as his strict position on balanced budgets, denouncing Cantor for supporting an increase in the federal debt ceiling.  Some reports had him being an admirer of Austrian economics, but it turns out that the political economy of David Alan Brat is far more complicated and not at all clearly Austrian.

What appears to be the deepest key and theme of his views involves religion.  He received a Masters degree in theology from the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1990, where he apparently entertained critical views of Milton Friedman's approach to theoretical econimics, which he considered to be sorely lacking in ethics.  Following up on this he pursued a PhD in economics at American University, a department widely considered to be of a somewhat leftish and heterodox orientation.  His dissertation was entitled "Human Capital, Religion, and Economic Growth," with Walter Park and Jim Weaver as co-chairs, and John Willouhby and John Wisman as committee members.  It was completed in 1996, and he published two papers from it, coauthored with Walter Park.

The first in 1995 was "A Global Kuznets Curve," in Kyklos, which has been cited 44 times.  Arguing for directly global measures of inequality along the lines pursued by Branko Milanovic at the World Bank, where Brat spent some time then, it could have been written by Thomas  Piketty.  In 1996 he published with Park, "Cross-country R&D and Growth: Variations on Theme of Mankiw-Romer-Weil" in the Eastern Economic Journal, cited 8 times. A theme of his work was how R&D affects global income distribution.  The third part of his dissertation was about religion in Britain, France, and Germany a century ago and economic growth, with arguments resembling those of Max Weber.  Papers drawn from it would be published later in the Virginia Economic Journal.

I can attest that members of his department say that he was a quiet and good student in the early 90s who did not exhibit any particular political views.  He has recently declared that he stood against the "power elites" at AU back then, but, needless to say, these largely leftish heterodox profs find this characterization of them highly amusing.

He obtained his job at Randolph Macon in 1996, where he has been ever since, despite some visits to other places.  During the late 90s he moved from his interest in human capital to studying labor markets and education, initially focusing on local governments and education and Tiebout effects.  He has continued to study education issues, but after 2000 he increasingly moved back towards his concerns with religion and economics.  Increasingly this involved a more strongly pro-laissez faire attitude, with the work of Deirdre McCloskey on the morality of capitalism an influence, particularly in an unpublished book he has written.  Nearly all his papers since then have appeared in two outlets: the Virginia Economic Journal, which is the journal of the small Virginia Economic Association, and whose long time editor, Barry Pfitzner, has been a member of his department for 31 years.  The other outlet is something that does not appear to be a refereed journal and which I have never heard of, Proceedings of the Southeast Decision Sciences, and one paper in another journal I know nothing of, Intepretation.

Here are recent publications of his:

"Adam Smith's God and the End of Economics," Virginia Economic Journal, 2005

"Human Capital in Eastern Europe: Revised Determinants of Student Test Scores," Proceedings of the Southeast Decision Sciences, 2010.

"God and Advanced Mammon - Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism," Intepretation, 2011.

He also has a recent unpublished paper entitled, "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand."  I note that BB&T former CEO and current Director of the Cato Institute, where Brat has spoken, is very much a fan of Ayn Rand.  Needless to say, there are some ironies here, given that Rand was both an atheist and an immigrant.

I would conclude by noting that he has no clear links with Austrian economists or economics, with many more Hayekian oriented types upset by his anti-immigrant views, even though these would be consistent with what one finds held by some at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, founded by the late Murray Rothbard.  However, as near as I can tell, Brat has never had anything to do with the LvMI.

So, while he has to overcome a sociology prof from RMC, Jack Trammell, the Democratic nominee, it is likely that Brat will be the next Congressman from the Seventh District of Virginia, one of the most Republican districts in the state.  What he will do or where his views will evolve remains to be seen.  But one should at a minimum expect to hear more from him about religion and economics.

BTW, as near as I can tell he has never written anything professional on the matters that he has ridden as hobby horses to his political win: immigration and balanced budgets.

Barkley Rosser

12 comments:

Cirze said...

Thanks for the info.

You're the first to jump in tonight (or this morning).

Bill H aka run75441 said...

Barkley:

Maybe I am wrong; but, this detail of "Brat" gives me the impression of him as someone who still has not decided what he wants to be when he grows up.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I will note as I did not above, that he apparently maintains the remnant of a populist egalitarian streak as symbolized by his reported remark that people on Wall Street who should have ended up in jail ended up in Cantor's rolodex, although is apparent embrace of a pro-Ayn Rand view would cut the other way. So, indeed, maybe has not figured out what he really wants.

John B. Chilton said...

Barkley,

I look forward to a followup on Brat. It would be the kettle calling the pot black for me to say it does seem he's been a moving target on his economic beliefs.

Perhaps you could provide some insight on his religious beliefs which also feel like a moving target.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/7940/david_brat__theological_conundrum/

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

John,

His religious beliefs seem to be a bit hard to pin down. He attended a Presbyterian theological seminary and he has described himself as a "Calvinist," which certainly fits with his resurrection of the old Weber Protestant Ethic argument about capitlism. However, he has been reported as also being a Catholic, as well as attending Methodist churches. Needless to say, a Calvinist Catholic is a rare bird, to put it mildly.