Academics for hire

by Henry Farrell on October 29, 2013

The Nation “ran a story about academics for hire”: a few days ago. Its opening paragraphs:

Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.” …

What isn’t contained in Zywicki’s university profile, CV, byline or congressional testimony is the law professor’s other job: he is a director of the Global Economics Group, a consulting business that boasts in a brochure that its experts have been hired by industry to influence the CFPB and other regulatory agencies. Nor does Zywicki advertise Global’s client list, which includes some of the biggest names in the financial industry, among them Visa, Bank of America and Citigroup.

Last summer, Zywicki’s firm was retained for $500 an hour on behalf of Morgan Drexen, a debt-relief company accused by the CFPB of deceiving consumers and charging illegal upfront fees. None of these potential conflicts of interest, however, have been disclosed during the course of Zywicki’s anti-CFPB advocacy in the media or in government. … While sponsored research groups are something of a mainstay of Beltway lobbying campaigns, Dodd-Frank has created unique incentives for companies to hire professors to represent their point of view.

Many CT readers will be familiar with Professor Zywicki’s blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy. Which leads to a question that I would be interested to see Professor Zywicki answer (perhaps in the context of a more general response to the Nation article, which I had expected him to have written already – hence my delay in putting up this post). Has Professor Zywicki ever billed any clients of the Global Economics Group, or anyone else with whom he has a financial relationship, for blogposts on the Volokh Conspiracy or for other and/or more general forms of blogging activity?

While it’s hardly dispositive, if one “searches the VC on relevant terms”:, Zywicki blogs actively and enthusiastically on topics directly connected to the paid advocacy agenda that Fang discusses in his article. Very likely, this is simply because he has strong beliefs about these topics. Yet it would be good to know the one way or the other. As an occasional reader of the Volokh Conspiracy, I’d read his blogging differently if it were being directly underwritten by clients of the expertise-and-advocacy-for-hire group that he works with, and I imagine that other readers would too. If he hasn’t in fact billed anyone in this way, I’ll be happy to publish any statement as an addendum to this post.

As an aside, if one wants to read more on academia-for-hire, Zywicki’s bete-noire, Elizabeth Warren “wrote a very good piece”: before she went into politics.

Update: At this stage, I think it’s reasonable to surmise that Professor Zywicki, for whatever reason, prefers to leave people draw their own conclusions than to clarify whether he has, or has not, blogged for hire without disclosing it. So it goes.