The significance of an individual from a disadvantaged group earning a respected occupation and excelling displays the potential of people from that group to overcome prejudice and contribute to the betterment of the world, thus providing distinction for the individual and garnering pride and acclaim for the group. Shoehorning disadvantaged groups into positions as a political statement renders their presence as purely symbolic.
- Diversity as a right-wing ideal Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
- Trumpist populism could easily linger longer than most people readily assume Francis Fukuyama, American Interest
- Brexit and the oral culture of journalism John Quiggin, Crooked Timber
- Europe’s comparative advantage in violence Philip Hoffman, Economic History Review
I entered academia in 2009 when I started my bachelor’s degree and began graduate studies in 2014 when I entered a master’s program. I have been in the ivory tower in some form for almost a decade. Others have spent much more time in the tower than I, but I am hardly a newcomer. I hope then that I can offer thoughts on discrimination and mental health in the ivory tower.
In the past few years I have noted an increased self-aware discussion on the lack of diversity, both in terms of phenotype and ideology, in the ivory tower. The tower is full of center-left white men. I have seen various formal (e.g. #womenalsoknowstuff ) and informal groups groups advocate for greater inclusion in the tower. For the record there are non-leftist groups involved in this as well. CU Boulder has a program to increase conservative intellectuals. The Institute of Humane Studies (IHS) essentially serves to advocate for classical liberals in the tower.
There is nothing wrong with these goals. Women also knows stuff tries do this by advertising the work of female scholars. IHS does it by inviting classical liberals to book discussions – and providing beer. Both approaches sound sensible to me. My concern is that ultimately the pipeline isn’t being fixed. Not really. Both approaches help those who managed to enter, at minimum, graduate school but do little to help solve more structural reasons for why there respective groups are rare in the tower.
Why are there so few women and classical liberals (and especially so few classical liberal women!) in academia? It’s partly cultural and partly institutional.
Minorities get made fun of in academia. Academics like to think of themselves as cosmopolitan, but it’s a big lie. A recent undergrad thesis by a Berkeley student looked at misogynistic discussions on an online forum frequented by economists. I disagree with the research design of the paper, but I believe the general argument that the tower is filled with misogyny. I also believe it’s filled with dislike for conservatives, Christians, atheists, whites, blacks, Arabs, Chinese, etc.
I don’t think the tower is unique in this. Human beings divide themselves by groups and I don’t see why that will ever change. I think the academy is just a bit whiter and a bit more lefty because of sorting effects. You can see this happening even within the tower. Classical liberals sort into economics – how many classical liberal anthropologists do you know? Not counting NoL’s chief editor? Some minorities sort into ethnic studies. How many black game theorists do you know? Native American psychometricians?
What can we do? I’m not sure. We can improve the pipeline so that grad students, and eventually faculty, get more diverse. However I suspect the sorting problem will remain. Superficially we will have more diversity, but is it really diversity if we’re sorted by discipline and subfields? Should we force new classical liberals to enroll in sociology grad programs? I don’t know. Maybe we should give up on diversity all together and focus on abolishing the state. Maybe? Who knows? What do you all think?
By the way if you want to know what true cosmopolitanism is, visit an inner city. True cosmopolitanism is seeing blacks, Mexicans and Koreans eating pupusas made by a Honduran. Everything else is a GAP commercial concoted by HR people.
The author points out that our culture teaches girls to be afraid. Girls are warned to be careful at the playground while boys are expected… to be boys. Over time we’re left with a huge plurality of our population hobbled.
It’s clear that this is a costly feature of our culture. So why do we teach girls to be scared? Is there an alternative? This cultural meme may have made sense long ago, but society wouldn’t collapse if it were to disappear.
Culture is a way of passing knowledge from generation to generation. It’s not as precise as science (another way of passing on knowledge), but it’s indispensable. Over time a cultural repertoire changes and develops in response to the conditions of the people in that group. Routines, including attitudes, that help the group succeed and that are incentive-compatible with those people will persist. When groups are competing for resources, these routines may turn out to be very important.
It’s plausible that in early societies tribes had to worry about neighboring tribes stealing their women. For the tribe to persist, there needs to be enough people, and there needs to be fertile women and men. The narrower window for women’s productivity mean that men are more replaceable in such a setting. So tribes that are protective of women (and particularly young women and girls) would have an cultural-evolutionary advantage. Maybe Brandon can tell us something about the archaeological record to shed some light on this particular hypothesis.
But culture will be slower to get rid of wasteful routines, once they catch on. For this story to work, people can’t be on the razor’s edge of survival; they have to be wealthy enough that they can afford to waste small amounts of resources on the off-chance that it actually helped. Without the ability to run randomized control trials (with many permutations of the variables at hand) we can never be truly sure which routines are productive and which aren’t. The best we can do is to try bundles of them all together and try to figure out which ones are especially good or bad.
So culture, an inherently persistent thing, will pick up all sorts of good and bad habits, but it will gradually plod on, adapting to an ever-changing, ever evolving ecosystem of competing and cooperating cultures.
So should we still teach our girls to be scared? I’d argue no.* Economics tells us that being awesome is great, but in a free society** it’s also great when other people are awesome. Those awesome people cure diseases and make art. They give you life and make life worth living.
Bringing women and minorities into the workplace has been a boon for productivity and therefore wealth (not without problems, but that’s how it goes). Empowering women in particular, will be a boon for the frontiers of economic, scientific, technical, and cultural evolution to the extent women are able to share new view points and different ways of thinking.
And therein lies the rub… treating girls like boys empowers them, but also changes them. So how do we navigate this tension? The only tool the universe has given us to explore a range of possibilities we cannot comprehend in its entirety: trial and error.
We can’t run controlled experiments, so we need to run uncontrolled experiments. And we need to try many things quickly. How quickly depends on a lot of things and few trials will be done “right.” But with a broader context of freedom and a culture of inquiry, our knowledge can grow while our culture is enriched. I think it’s worth making the bet that brave women will make that reality better.
* But also, besides what I think, if I told parents how to act… if I made all of them follow my sensible advice, I’d be denying diversity of thought to future generations. That diversity is an essential ingredient, both because it allows greater differences in comparative advantage, but also because it allows more novel combinations of ideas for greater potential innovation in the future.
** And here’s the real big question: “What does it mean for a society to be free?” In the case of culture it’s pretty easy to say we want free speech, but it runs up against boundaries when you start exploring the issue. And with billions of people and hundreds (hopefully thousands) of years we’re looking at a thousand-monkey’s scenario on steroids… and that pill from Flowers for Algernon.
There’s copyright which makes it harder to stand on the shoulders of giants, but might be justified if it helps make free speech an economically sustainable reality. There’s the issue of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and the question of how far that restriction can be stretched before political dissent is being restricted. We might not know where the line should be drawn, but given enough time we know that someone will cross it.
And the issue goes into due process and business regulation, and any area of governance at all. We can’t be free to harm others, but some harms are weird and counter-intuitive. If businesses can’t harm one another through competition then our economy would have a hard time growing at all. Efficiency would grow only slowly tying up resources and preventing innovation. Just as there’s an inherent tension in the idea of freedom between permissiveness and protection, there’s a similar tension in the interdependence of cooperation and competition for any but the very smallest groups.
I have spent a couple of posts addressing various spurious economic and fiscal arguments against looser immigration restrictions. But, as Brandon pointed out recently, these aren’t really the most powerful arguments for immigration restrictions. Most of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric revolves around strictly alleged cultural costs of immigration. I agree that for all the economic rhetoric used in these debates, it is fear of the culturally unfamiliar that is driving the opposition. However, I still think the tools of economics that are used to address whether immigration negatively impacts wages, welfare, and unemployment can be used to address the question of whether immigrants impact our culture negatively.
One of the greatest fears that conservatives tend to have of immigration is the resulting cultural diversity will cause harmful change in society. The argument goes that the immigrant will bring “their” customs from other countries that might do damage to “our” supposedly superior customs and practices, and the result will be a damage to “our” long-held traditions and institutions that make “our” society “great.” These fears include, for example, lower income immigrants causing higher divorce rates spurring disintegration of the family, possible violence coming from cultural differences, or immigrants voting in ways that are not conducive to what conservatives tend to call “the founding principles of the republic.” Thanks to this insight, it is argued, we should restrict immigration or at least force prospective immigrants to hop through bureaucracy so they may have training on “our” republican principles before becoming citizens.
There are a number of ways one may address this argument. First, one could point out that immigrants face robust incentives to assimilate into American culture without needing to be forced to by restrictive immigration policies. One of the main reasons why immigrants come to the United States is for better economic opportunity. However, when immigrants are extremely socially distant from much of the native population, there a tendency for natives to trust them less in market exchange. As a result, it is in the best interest of the immigrant to adopt some of the customs of his/her new home in order to reduce the social distance to maximize the number of trades. (A more detailed version of this type of argument, in application to social and cultural differences in anarchy, can be found in Pete Leeson’s paper Social Distance and Self-Enforcing Exchange).
The main moral of the story is that peaceable assimilation and social cohesion comes about through non-governmental mechanisms far more easily than is commonly assumed. In other words, “our” cultural values are likely not in as much danger as conservatives would have you think.
Another powerful way of addressing this claim is to ask why should we assume that “our” ways of doing things is any better than the immigrant’s home country’s practices? Why is it that we should be so resistant to the possibility that culture might change thanks to immigration and cultural diversity?
It is tempting for conservatives to respond that the immigrant is coming here and leaving his/her home, thus obviously there is something “better” about “our” cultural practices. However, to do so is to somewhat oversimplify why people immigrate. Though it might be true that, on net, they anticipate life in their new home to be better and that might largely be because “our” institutions and cultural practices are on net better, it is a composition fallacy to claim that it follows from this that all our institutions are better. There still might be some cultural practices that immigrants would want to keep thanks to his/her subjective value preferences from his or her country, and those practices very well might be a more beneficial. This is not to say our cultural practices are inherently worse, or that they are in every instance equal, just that we have no way of evaluating the relative value of cultural practices ex ante.
The lesson here is that we should apply FA Hayek’s insights from the knowledge problem to the evolution of cultural practices in much the way conservatives are willing to apply it to immigration. There is no reason to assume that “our” cultural practices are better than foreign ones; they may or may not be, but it is a pretense of knowledge to attempt to use state coercion to centrally plan culture just as it is a pretense of knowledge to attempt to centrally plan economic production.
Instead of viewing immigration as a necessary drain on culture, it may be viewed as a potential means of improving culture through the free exchange of cultural values and practices. In the market, individuals are permitted to experiment with new inventions and methods of production because this innovation and risk can lead to better ways of doing things. Therefore, entrepreneurship is commonly called a “discovery process;” it is how humanity may ‘discover’ newer, more efficient economic production techniques and products.
Why is cosmopolitan diversity not to be thought of as such a discovery process in the realm of culture? Just as competition between firms without barriers to entry brings economic innovation, competition between cultural practices without the barrier to entry of immigration laws may be a means of bettering culture. When thought of in that light, the fact that our cultural traditions may change is not so daunting. Just as there is “creative destruction” of firms in the marketplace, there is creative destruction of cultural practices.
Conservative critics of immigration may object that such cultural diversity may cause society to evolve in negative ways, or else they may object and claim that I am not valuing traditions highly enough. For the first claim, there is an epistemic problem here on how we may know which cultural practices are “better.” We may have our opinions, based on micro-level experience, on which cultural practices are better, and we have every right to promote those in non-governmental ways and continue to practice them in our lives. Tolerance for such diversity is what allows the cultural discovery process to happen in the first place. However, there is no reason to assume that our sentiments towards our tradition constitute objective knowledge of cultural practices on the macro-level; on the contrary, the key insight of Hayek is it is a fatal conceit to assume such knowledge.
As Hayek said in his famous essay Why I’m Not a Conservative:
As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about. It is, indeed, part of the liberal attitude to assume that, especially in the economic field, the self-regulating forces of the market will somehow bring about the required adjustments to new conditions, although no one can foretell how they will do this in a particular instance.
As for the latter objection that I’m not valuing tradition, what is at the core of disagreement is not the value of traditions. Traditions are highly valuable: they are the cultural culmination of all the tacit knowledge of the extended order of society and have withstood the test of time. The disagreement here is what principles we ought to employ when evaluating how a tradition should evolve. The principle I’m expressing is that when a tradition must be forced on society through state coercion and planning, perhaps it is not worth keeping.
Far from destroying culture, the free mobility of individuals through immigration enables spontaneous order to work in ways which improve culture. Immigration, tolerance, and cultural diversity are vital to a free society because it allows the evolution and discovery of better cultural practices. Individual freedom and communal values are not in opposition to each other, instead the only way to improve communal values is through the free mobility of individuals and voluntary exchange.
Turning Point USA has a new list out of progressive professors. The list has already begun to be attacked as signaling the rise of a new era of McCarthyism where academics will be prosecuted for anti-American discourse.
I agree that the list should be attacked in so far that it tries to define what is acceptable discourse in academia. Academia should be a place where ideas, no matter how absurd or controversial, can be discussed and this list doesn’t help that goal.
There may be a limited place for safe places. Recently I’ve been willing to accept ‘safe places’ in those cases where individuals genuinely cannot handle certain ideas being discussed. There’s no point in, for example, attending the university’s Jewish student club and claiming that the Holocaust didn’t happen. There’s no point in going to a support meeting of transsexuals and claiming they’re going to hell. Etc etc. Emphasize on the limited though. I am willing to hold my tongue in support group settings, but that’s it.
That said the list, and the response to it, are funny in several ways.
Turning Point USA crafted the list to indicate professors who have been documented attacking conservatives. One professor barged into a Republican student and shouted profanity. I can see a point in the list if it listed only those professors who had a reputation for encouraging an environment of hostility – there is a different between being able to discuss radical ideas and yelling fire in a theater. I’m not so clear why Holocaust deniers are listed though. I don’t agree with such individuals, but if they only express the ideas I see no reason to avoid them. If Turning Point USA is serious about promoting a culture where conservative ideas can be freely discussed in academia it must be willing to protect the Holocaust deniers. Does Turning Point USA not realize the absurdity of trying to, on one hand, create a safe place for Judeo-Christian conservatives, and promoting the right of conservative ideas to be discussed in academia
What I find funny about progressives talking about the need for universities to tolerate their own ‘radical’ speech (what’s radical about wanting more government?), they themselves are intolerant to conservatives. Consider this: I’m a double minority – an illegal alien libertarian. Which of these two identities do you think is more cumbersome in academia?
After the election of Trump several members of the academic community assured me that I would be protected if need be. Yesterday the President of the University of California system released an op-ed defending the undocumented student community. Earlier today she announced that the UCs, including its police force, would refuse to cooperate with any deportation efforts.
In comparison as a libertarian I am often advised to keep quiet about my political views. At minimum I should try to avoid researching things that make it clear that I diverge from the rest of academia in political thought. Otherwise I will have a hard time getting my research published or be cut off from the social networks needed in the job market. On occasion I have found myself ostracized socially for voicing dissent on things like the minimum wage or affirmative action. I’m not alone in this.
In an ideal world I should be able to be an illegal alien, a Holocaust denier*, homosexual, and a devout Muslim** without feeling the need to suppress my view points. Academia should be a safe place for ideas no matter how radical.
*I’m not a Holocaust denier.
**I’m not a Muslim either.
This is an observation found in the ‘comments’ threads of economist Mark Perry’s blog, Carpe Diem, on a post he did about the reaction of students at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor to their president’s remarks about Donald Trump.
(I’m not going to summarize it here, because you are all probably familiar with this storyline. You can read Perry’s whole post here.)
I wanted to highlight that this comment basically summed up my political experience on campus. I am by no means a conservative, but there was no way in hell I was going to pipe up in class discussions on alternative understandings of “neoliberalism” or even play the role of contrarian. Doing so would have hurt my GPA. It would have resulted in a loss of social standing. It would have invited accusations that I was racist, or sexist, or – gasp! – conservative.
So instead I started this blog and talked about sports or homework with my peers.
My guess is the guy who left this comment was a libertarian or conservative in college back in the 70s or 80s. Michelangelo recently blogged about his experience on campus, but has anyone else found that this is the norm on campuses in the West?
I understand that conservative and libertarian groups like to get obnoxious sometimes, by carrying out public demonstrations like “affirmative action bake sales” or whatever, but the fact that these don’t work (they do help promote a culture of toleration on campuses, albeit in an indirect manner, so I guess I should be thankful for that, but if this is the case then the drum-beating and chanting done by Leftists on campus does the same thing for me in this regard) in convincing the other side of their wrongness suggests that the quiet whisperers are the better thinkers.
As those of you who have me on Facebook may know, I’ve spent the past few months running around in a Trump costume at various comic conventions. I did so for the simple reason that I found it humorous for a Mexican to be running around as Trump. To my surprise the experience was surprisingly enlightening.
When dressed in Trump I got a range of reactions from people wanting a comedic photo with/of me, being attacked by a pair of Hispanics dressed as ‘cholo’ Mario and Lugio, and Bernie supporters saying they hated my guts until I explained I didn’t support Trump.
Yesterday though, when dressed as Trump for Halloween, I got the strangest reaction when walking around my university campus. A meek boy came up to me and asked me if I identified as a Republican, I responded that I did but that I had actually supported Jeb in the primaries*, and his eyes light up. He began to shake my hand and talk about how great it was to find someone else after looking for so long.
The incident really hit home for me since I recall my own undergraduate years of feeling politically isolated from my peers. I had resigned myself to biting my tongue whenever politics were discussed. This didn’t work though since I was often in social sciences and my leanings quickly showed when we had freedom to elect subjects for our assignments. So I just kept shut and tried to produce as bland as possible papers so that I wouldn’t be singled out.
This didn’t change until I discovered there were a few conservative/libertarian professors sprinkled across the university. I didn’t become a chatter box in their classes, but I felt an immense weight off my shoulders knowing that I could voice an opinion outside the mainstream Democratic party line and not have to defend myself from claims of being a racist one-percenter.
Unfortunately, as Landberg et al.’s recent paper shows, there just aren’t many non-Democratic professors in academia. Does academia have a diversity problem? Yes it has an intellectual diversity problem, but its not clear what can be done about it.
Thoughts? Have others had similar experiences?
*This is of course relative to my disdain for the Democratic Party.
The appearance of certain words that imply pernicious motives (e.g., deny, legitimize, rationalize, justify, defend, trivialize) may be particularly indicative of research tainted by embedded values. Such terms imply, for example, that the view being denied is objectively valid and the view being “justified” is objectively invalid. In some cases, this may be scientifically tenable, as when a researcher is interested in the denial of some objective fact. Rationalization can be empirically demonstrated, but doing so requires more than declaring some beliefs to be rationalizations, as in Napier and Jost (2008), where endorsement of the efficacy of hard work – on one item – was labeled rationalization of inequality.
This is from an article (here is the full pre-print pdf) by a number of social scientists on the lack of intellectual diversity in academia (the excerpt can be found on the bottom of page 13). I would suggest that referring to oneself as a political “centrist” or “pragmatist” is also a giveaway of embedded values bias. Just think about how that affects your perception of other points of view!
Pages 25-27 have great stuff on intelligence (so does NOL!), but the authors missed an opportunity to point out that when liberals use IQ arguments to explain such a heavily Left-wing presence in academia, they are simply invoking the same argument used by conservatives to support all sorts of racist mumbo-jumbo. (Pages 30-34 deal with the hostile climate and outright discrimination that conservatives face in academia, so it might be charitable to view these sections as making my point for me.)
Jacques elaborates on my observations about the lack of diversity in the social sciences and humanities:
One small comment. You said “left wing thought.” It was true when I began my career in the 70s. I have seen the “thought” part perish in my lifetime. They are now simply a bastion of leftism with almost no thought at all but just tedious repetitiousness. Thought does not normally flourish in the midst of consensus. My friend Dr François Nielsen at U of North Carolina wrote some vigorous things on the subject. (He was trained in the same program as Dr Amburgey and myself.)
I asked Jacques for some sources, and he provided a couple (a pdf here and a short video here). The “same program” Jacques is writing of was Stanford’s sociology department back in the late 60s and early 70s, when Organizational Ecology was prominent (I’ll leave it up to Delacroix and Amburgey to elaborate on the details).
Speaking of diversity, Amburgey disagrees with Delacroix’s (and my) assessment. He thinks the lack of diversity has to do with the rise of STEM. The entire ‘comments’ thread is well worth reading through.
I’ve been reading through the ‘comments’ threads this weekend and especially my dialogues with Dr Amburgey (he’s at the University of Toronto’s prestigious business school). Amburgey describes himself as a “pragmatist” or a “centrist” but nevertheless has been a fairly stalwart defender of the Obama administration (except on its egregious violations of our civil liberties) and a blistering critic of the GOP’s right-wing. Reading through our dialogues (something I wish more readers would get involved in), I believe I have found the Left’s glaring weakness in today’s world: It’s de facto intellectual monopoly in Western universities today. Aside from wanting to gratefully thank him for his support and encouragement in our project via the ‘comments’ threads, I thought I would elaborate a bit upon this notion of a lack of diversity within academia.
Intellectual diversity is almost entirely absent in the US academy today. A Georgetown University Law Professor, Nick Rosenkrantz, pointed this out as far as law schools go, but is this dearth of diversity a bad thing? I would argue that ‘no’ it’s not if you’re on the Right, and ‘yes’ it is if you’re on the Left.
Universities have long been a bastion of Leftist thought (I note that this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if diversity is important to you, for reasons I hope to explain below). Universities are also amongst the most conservative organization in societies (think of what it takes to navigate through the labyrinth of requirements in order to become a member of the professoriate). This is not a coincidence. Leftist thought has, since the advent of socialism in the 18th century, been characterized by it’s conservatism (especially its paternalism). It’s rhetoriticians just disguise it as progressive.
At any rate, Rosenkrantz points out that the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) has five conservative judges and four Leftists, which is extremely unreflective of the law school professoriate. The point made by Rosenkrantz is that law students may not be getting an education that accurately reflects how the real world works.
In essence, law students are getting straw man arguments when it comes to conservatives and libertarians instead of actual conservative and libertarian arguments. This is true, and it’s reflective of the social sciences and of business schools as well. Such an arrangement has served the American Right extremely well over the past three decades, too.
Consider this: If your organization is dedicated to teaching students about this or that, and you only give them half the story, who or what is going to explain the other half? What I’ve found is that nonconformist students (conservatives and libertarians) are very good at taking in the lessons that are taught by Leftists (including their straw men) and supplementing them with their own readings on conservative and libertarian thought. Now contrast this with the conforming student. The one who eats up everything the professor teaches and takes it as more or less the Truth.
Outside of academia, where the battlefield of ideas is much less focused, and has much more money at stake, which student do you think is likely to have an edge intellectually-speaking? The student who read all he was supposed to and then some extra to account for different perspectives, or the student who read all he was supposed to and took it as more or less the Truth?
Many universities have been slow to catch up with other organizations that have recognized the benefits of not only cultural diversity but of intellectual diversity as well. If the Left wants to mount any sort of counter-attack in the near- or medium-term future, it would do well to open up to the idea of having more actual, intellectual diversity on its faculties.
Leftists often claim that they are losing the battle of ideas because of money (or lack thereof) but this is absurd on its face, and the longer Leftists try to win by this line of reasoning, the deeper will be the hole out of which they will inevitably have to climb.
There is also the argument that Leftists don’t really have an argument. They simply have reactions to new ideas being created and put forth by libertarians (and to a lesser extent, conservatives here in the US, who are heavily influenced by libertarian ideas).
While there is no diversity in academia there is obviously plenty of it outside. I think this shows a healthy “macro” picture, to be honest.
Universities were once independent (from state influence) organizations and that independence helped contribute to a culture that has given the West what it has today. If universities – with their rules and regulations and traditions – lose their place as bastions of Left-wing ideology, what would take their place? Think about it: The university, because of its extremely conservative traditions, actually tempers the thought of socialists, and if they come under assault then hardcore Leftism will simply find another way to manifest itself. Left-wing literature professors are one thing. Left-wing demagogues are quite another.
This ties in quite well with my other observation, in ‘comments’ threads not found here at NOL, that libertarians tend to be anti-education. Many of them justify this reactionary stance because of the de facto monopoly the Left has, but I think this reactionary stance has more to with the broader libertarian movement’s own intolerance of intellectual diversity.
The recently launched liberty.me community is a good example of this. I think about libertarianism’s recent reactionary nature in this way: Libertarianism got hot after Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential run. It got so hot that a small but very visible movement was sparked. After the initial success, though, the movement inevitably fell back into one of cliques, clichés, and group-think mentality for a great number of people excited by Paul’s message. Most people who became involved in libertarianism read one or two books recommended Paul and his acolytes. This process further entrenched them, but from there on out this large segment of the libertarian quadrant simply stopped exploring ideas and engaging in dialogue with intellectual adversaries. ‘Statist’ became a derisive term.
These new online communities have been created for the libertarian who seeks comfort in the presence of others like him, whereas consortiums like NOL (and those found on our blog roll) are a place for us to continue the pursuit for truth and the battle for hearts and minds in an open and competitive environment. As a libertarian I think these circle-jerks that crop up serve a useful social function, but I have to wonder aloud how much learning actually occurs in those places.
Andrew is skeptical of NAFTA’s achievements:
NAFTA isn’t the only major factor at play, although you’re right that it has provided Mexico with some huge economic benefits. This is especially true in the factory towns along the US border, which are able to absorb a much larger absolute amount of surplus labor from poorer, less developed parts of the country today than they could a generation ago. That said, I’m still ambivalent about NAFTA on account of the severe short-term economic and social dislocation it caused, e.g. to US factory workers who were undercut by Mexican competitors and to small Mexican farmers who were undercut by major US agribusinesses. It strikes me as a hastily and abruptly implemented policy change that caused a lot of needless collateral damage in the short term. Whether this damage was worthwhile in the long term depends a lot on one’s role in the North American economy at the time. On the whole, I’d say NAFTA has been a mixed bag.
This, I think, is in response to the 2003 academic paper (published by three economists) that I cited in defense of NAFTA’s success. It is a paper that only focuses on economic indicators (such as per capita income or total factor productivity). Here is what it found: NAFTA has not had a discernible effect on the US or Mexican economies. The displacement of US factory workers and Mexican farmers that Andrew mentions had been going on long before the implementation of NAFTA. Basically, NAFTA merely reduced the amount of paperwork associated with the changes in both economies. It has not hastened the changes.
Similarly, it appears that the growth of Mexican and American purchasing power parity are simply part of a hemisphere-wide trend that has also been going on for decades. In short, economists have found the economic effects of NAFTA to be negligible. So why do they continue to overwhelmingly support it?
My answer to this question can be found, I think, in Andrew’s keen perception of the changes in Mexican society:
Over the same time that NAFTA has been in place, Mexico has also become much more Protestant and nondenominational in religious affiliation, better educated, and, as I understand it, somewhat better governed and administered. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I have no reason to suspect that the religious shift had anything in particular to do with Mexico’s improving economy or trade liberalization. “Church-planting” missionaries of the sort that have evangelized Latin America don’t look for a particular economic or policy profile in a country before imposing themselves on it, although they do generally appreciate a certain amount of poverty and dysfunction, as long as they’re reasonably reasonably safe in country, since people in economically healthy, well-governed countries are less receptive to their pitches. This is a very cynical analysis, but the cravenness in “mission field” circles can be mindblowing.
What’s happened in much of Latin America in the last decade or so is that these evangelism programs have hit critical mass. They’re now self-sustaining operations being run mainly by Latin American evangelists pestering their own countrymen, or sometimes people in nearby countries. Gringo missionaries are still working in Latin America, but they’re no longer critical to the growth of evangelical churches there. (Besides, there’s much more street cred to be had in evangelizing a recently restive Muslim village in Northern Ghana, or, as my relatives and everybody at their church called it, Africa. I bless the rains….)
Liberalization is about much, much more than economic growth. The decline of Catholicism in Mexico, for example, is an incredibly good trend. This is not because Catholics suck, but because Mexican society is becoming more diverse. Liberalization means opening a state’s political, economic and social institutions to the world.
Undertaking liberalization thus exposes a society to changes. Sometimes societies may have a tough time with changes, especially if there are deeply entrenched political structures in place. Most often, though, these changes tend towards more political liberty (see “1994 Mexican Elections: Manifestation of a Divided Society?” and “Institutionalizing Mexico’s New Democracy,” both by Joseph Klesner, and be sure to read between the lines), more social diversity and, yes, more economic growth.
Of course, with new and overall positive changes come new challenges. The differences between the old challenges and the new, however, are cavernous. Politically, gridlock supplants revolution. Socially, vice replaces desperation. And economically, policy replaces cronyism.
Now, this is a broad view, but I think it is a concrete one nonetheless. There are two major objections to liberalization that I would like to briefly discuss.
The first is my assumption that diversity is, in and of itself, a good thing. Some people simply cannot stand diversity, whether it be of the ethnic and linguistic variety or of the intellectual variety. The former form of intolerance is often to be found among conservatives; the latter in Leftist circles. However, the fact that people I don’t like disapprove of diversity is not a good excuse for being a proponent of diversity.
So what follows is my concise defense of diversity. Diversity opens individuals up to higher degrees of tolerance. It gives individuals more choices. Its very nature makes people smarter by exposing them to more points of view. Added together, these benefits are a recipe for wealth and stability and peace.
There is a tendency, however, for diverse organizations (including societies) to have more conflict. It is this conflict that conservatives and Leftists alike point to as proof that diversity is an undesirable plague. Yet, under the right framework, conflict from diversity produces immeasurable amounts of wealth (see also this paper by economists Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor). This framework revolves largely around well-protected property rights and the protection of a handful of other rights (free speech, free press, etc.).
It is this framework that, conveniently enough, allows me to segue into the next most common objection to liberalization: that it doesn’t work and often makes things worse for a society. The data in this regard is not much clearer than the data on NAFTA’s effects on Mexico. That is to say, there is not enough evidence to prove conclusively that trade liberalization leads to economic growth. However, data over the past 30 years or so does suggest that states which undergo liberalization efforts tend to have economies that grow steadier, polities that oppress less and societies that adapt to cultural change more easily. If you can find evidence that you think may refute my argument (“that the rough overall trend of liberalization is beneficial to mankind”), you know where the ‘comments’ section is.