Ted Cruz and the “Consumer as King”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has gotten some attention lately for a 2010 speech in which he claimed that there were more communists than Republicans on the Harvard Law School faculty when he attended the school in the 1990s. The speech became news again thanks to an article by The New Yorker staff writer Jane Meyer (“Is Senator Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy?” Feb. 22, 2011). Cruz had already been accused of McCarthyism for “insinuating, without evidence” that defense-secretary nominee Chuck Hagel had received payments from the North Korean government. Now, Meyer has unearthed the 2010 speech, in which Cruz claimed that Barack Obama would have been an apt leader for Harvard Law School since there were a dozen (unnamed) faculty members who “would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Cruz’s allegations were refuted from various quarters including, in the Meyer article, by Harvard Law School professor (and Reagan solicitor general, and former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice) Charles Fried. Suppose, however, that Cruz’s outlandish claims were true. If there were so many communists on the Harvard Law School faculty, why did Cruz go there? Was he just an uninformed consumer? If so, why did he stay after he realized the truth? Did he decide that Harvard Law School offered him such opportunity for advancement that he didn’t mind a few reds so much?

Conservative economists argue for the genius of capitalism on the grounds of “consumer sovereignty.” Ultimately, they say, it is buyers, not sellers, who decide what is produced. If businesses offer products that consumers do not want, those products go unsold. If those businesses do not change the products that they offer, they will lose market share and, ultimately, go out of business. In short, the consumer is king. It’s not clear what Cruz thinks about this, but certainly many of the self-styled “pro-business” conservatives in his party believe it.

Conservatives seem to like complaining about the academy as overrun by the left. According to the doctrine of consumer sovereignty, however, if the faculty of the Harvard Law School—or of any institution of higher education—is wall-to-wall communists, that must be because consumers want wall-to-wall communists (or at least don’t mind very much).

Leave a Reply