I was just lucky. My teaching career coincided with the most rapid expansion of higher education since the passage of the Land Grant legislation. I was actually a few years early, to be completely accurate, but during the height of my career, graduate students had no trouble at all snagging tenure-track university or college jobs, sometimes literally before they had passed their doctoral qualifying exams and were, as we say in the trade, ABD ["all but dissertation."] Naturally, the aspiring young academics who were the beneficiaries of a seller's market thought of thsemlves as simply supremely well-trained and talented. How could they not?
But for several decades now, things have been very different indeed. Early projections suggested that as the flood of young professors, drawn to the Academy by the threat of the draft as much as by the delights of the mind, began to retire in the '90s, enough new jobs would open up to absorb the greatly expanded ranks of newly minted PhDs. Alas, nothing resembling that scenario played out. Instead, colleges and universities cut back on the Humanities, turned to low-paid non-tenure track part-timers, and so diminished the supply of entry-level tenure-track positions [to use the term of art familiar to all young graduate students] that the products of the elite graduate schools had to settle for positions at institutions they would have turned up their noses at fifteen years earlier, and the graduates of less highly-ranked graduate programs struggled even to get interviews at the annual professional meetings.
In Philosophy, desperate young academics turned to ancillary jobs that called for some formal training in philosophy. Medical schools were persuaded to create positions in medical ethics [although my recent passage at arms with the UNC medical establishment suggests that the benefits of this innovation have not yet percolated thoughout the ranks of practicing physicians]. Business schools introduced courses in Business Ethics [good luck with that!] Nevertheless, the job market has remained godawful for young philosophers.
Now, however, my keen eye has spied a quite new employment possibility for desperate young philosophers, and in a region of American society that no one would have thought fertile ground for philosophical expertise. I refer of course to the Republican Party's sudden embrace of Practical Theology, or what used to be called Casuistics. Almost alone, former Senator Rick Santorum has brought back into the public discourse the ancient and honorable branch of medieval learning that applies abstract principles of Theology to problems of social or individual concern. Casuistry was given a bad name by stiff-backed Protestants who were repelled by the lithe, limber reasoning of Jesuit Fathers. But we are now blessed with a serious candidiate for the Presidency who is prepared to make the logical connection between the fundamental principles of his religious faith and such pressing and hitherto little discussed, indeed often quite unacknowledged, problems as birth control, pre-natal screening, marital sex, and masturbation.
Santorum himself has been thinking about, dare I say, obsessing about, these issues all his life, but his opponents in the Republican Party and his potential opponents in the Democratic Party have been woefully negligent in considering these issues. They are utterly unprepared for a full-scale public debate about the sinfulness of husbands and wives engaging in protected sex.
There is hardly time for Romney, Gingrich, Paul, and the entire Democratic Party to get themselves up to speed on these and related questions. There are logical traps, subtleties of analogy and similitude, potential errors of the excluded middle and the fallacy of composition, that might bring them down in a full-scale debate. Where can they find trained reasoners who are right now capable of leading them through the shoals and rapids of Applied Theology? Where in our society is there a pool of trained Casuists who are currently underemployed?
The question answers itself. I grant that employment by a political campaign as the Resident Casuist does not carry the possibility of tenure, and even the fringe benefits may be scanty. But it beats picking up $3000 a course gigs as a part-time instructor.
Yet one more example of the wonders of the marketplace. An invisible hand indeed.