Star Trek Did More For the Cultural Advancement of Women Than Government Policies

The fondest memories of my childhood center on the time I spent with my father watching Star Trek. At the time, I simply enjoyed science fiction. However, as an adult I have often revisited Star Trek (on multiple occasions) and I realized that I had incorporated subconsciously many elements of the show into my own political reasoning.

Not to give too much away about my age, my passion with Star Trek started largely with the Voyager installments. As a result, I ended up seeing Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway. And that’s what she was: the captain. I never saw the relevance that she was a woman. A few years ago, I saw her speak at the Montreal Comic-Con (yes, I am that kind of Trekkie) and she mentioned how crucial she thought her role to be for the advancement of women. By that time, I had already started to consider Star Trek as one of the most libertarian-friendly shows ever to have existed. While its economics were strange, its emphasis on tolerance, non-intervention and equality of rights make it hard to argue that it is not favorable to broadly-defined liberal mindset. However, I had not realized how much so until I heard Mulgrew speak about her vision of the role. After all, I had somehow forgotten that Mulgrew was a woman and how novel her role was.

One person who understands how important was this point is Shannon Mizzi who wrote a piece for Wilson Quarterly which I ended up reading while I was still a PhD student. Her core point was that in Star Trek, women were simply professionals. They were rarely seen doing other things than their work. While she argues that this meant that Star Trek played an underappreciated role in the history of women’s advancement, I am willing to go a step further. That step is to assert that the cause of the cultural advancement of women has been better served by Star Trek than by governments. (Please note that I am only considering cultural advancement)

The pre-1900 economic and social history of women would be sufficient in itself to make this point of mine. After all, women were given a lesser legal status by governments. This is both a necessary and sufficient element to assert that, overall, governments have been noxious to women’s advancement over many centuries. One century of legal emancipation would still leave Star Trek as a net positive force. But that would be a lazy argument on my part and I should simply focus on the present day. In fact, thanks to a wealth of data on wage gaps, gender norms and measures of legal institutions, I can more easily back up the claim.

My friend Rosemarie Fike of Texas Christian University is the first person that comes to mind in that regard. Her own doctoral dissertation, Economic Freedom and the Lives of Womenintroduced me to a wide literature on the role of economic freedom in the advancement of women. To be sure, Rosemarie was not the first to try to measure the role of economic freedom (which we should understand as how small and non-interventionist a government is). There had already been some research showing that higher levels of economic freedom were associated with smaller hourly wage gaps between genders and how liberalizing reforms were associated with wage convergence between genders. However, some economists have been arguing that there are other “soft sides” to economic freedom – like in the promotion of cultural equality and norms that promote certain types of attitudes. This is where Rosemarie’s work is most crucial. In a section of her dissertation, she essentially builds up on the work of (my favorite Nobel laureate) Gary Becker regarding preferences and discrimination. Basically, the idea is that free markets will penalize people who willingly discriminate. After all, if an employer refuses to hire redheads for some strange reason, I can compete by hiring the shunned redheads at a lower wage rate and out-compete him. In order to stay in business, the ginger-hating fool has to change his behavior and hire redheads which will push wages up. Its hard to be a racist or misogynist when it costs you a lot of money.

However, if you prevent this mechanism from operating (by intervening in markets), you are making it easier to be bigoted-chauvinistic-male-pigs. As a result, laws that prevent market operations (like the Jim Crow laws did for blacks) enshrine discriminatory practices. Individuals growing up in such environment may accept this as normal and acceptable behavior and strange beliefs about gender equality may cement themselves in the popular imagination. When markets are allowed to operate, beliefs will morph to reflect the actions taken by individuals (see Jennifer Roback’s great story of tramways in the US South as an example of how strong markets can be in changing behavior and see her article on how racism is basically rent-seeking). As a result, Rosemarie’s point is that societies with high levels of economic freedom will be associated with beliefs favorable to gender equality.

But the mirror of that argument is that government policies, even if their spirits have no relation to gender issues, may protect illiberal beliefs. Case in point, women are more responsive to tax rates than men – much more. In short, if you reduce taxes, women will adjust their labor supply more importantly at the extensive and intensive margin than men will. This little, commonly accepted, fact in labor economics is pregnant with implications. Basically, it means that women will work less in high tax environments and will acquire less experience than men will. Since it is also known that differences in the unmeasured effects of experience weigh heavily in explaining the remaining portion of the gender pay gap, this means that high tax rates contribute indirectly to maintaining the small gender pay gap that remains. Now, imagine what would be the beliefs of employers towards women if they did not believe that women are more likely to work fewer hours or drop out of the workforce for some time? Would you honestly believe that they would be the same? When Claudia Goldin argues that changes in labor market structures could help close the gap, can you honestly say that the uneven effect of high tax rates on the labor supply decisions of the different genders are not having an effect in delaying experimentation with new structures? This only one example meant to show that governments may, even when it is not their intent, delay changes that would be favorable to gender equality. There are mountains of other examples going the larger effects of the minimum wage on female employment to the effects of occupational licencing falling heavily on professions where women are predominant.

With such a viewpoint in mind, it is hard to say how much governments helped the cultural advancement of women (on net) over the 20th and 21st centuries . However, Star Trek clearly had a positive net effect on that cultural advancement.  That is why I am willing to say it here: Star Trek did more for the cultural advancement of women than governments did.

What sort of discipline is women’s studies?

Some of the central tenets of women’s studies — and gender or multicultural studies — of patriarchy, intersectional oppression and social constructionism are, as noticed by Toni Airaksinen, unprovable and unfalsifiable. (We’ve had some discussion of Popperian falsifiability elsewhere; maybe this is another opportunity.) Social constructionism, I would argue, stands as a legitimate scientific theory: it can be either confirmed or refuted by biological evidence (Cf. John Dupré, Ian Hacking, Nancy Cartwright, etc.). The other two tenets, however, don’t work with the dominant model of scientific hypotheses, and don’t fit nicely as philosophical, sociological or political theories either. If they are considered philosophical theories, it has to be recognized that they began with their conclusions as premises; ergo, they are circular, and only confirmed by circularity. Neither conjecture has even the loose falsifiability to belong to a social science like sociology, and their refutation (were it possible) would mean the closing of their scientific branch, so they cannot be (relevant) sociological theories. Finally, very few theories that fall under the branch of “political” are fundamentally political; usually, they begin in another, more atomic field and are only secondarily responsive to the political realm. So, calling them political theories begs the question. It makes the most sense to classify theories like patriarchy as quasi-theological conjectures instead of philosophical, sociological or political ones.

To demonstrate the point: firstly, schools like these posit an original sin: some of us are born with privilege, and only through reparations or race/gender-denunciations can we overcome it. They also, again like Christianity, possess a disdain for the current, real state of things: where Christians posit a celestial heaven for the afterlife, progressive idealists embrace utopian visions materially impossible to accomplish (whether through problems with central planning or otherwise), or at least humanly unrealistic. To fuel the utopianism, historicism or a disregard for enlightened economic, historical or sociological analysis comes with the politics. Another tenet of religion is its typical weak exclusivism (van Inwagen, 2010): religions take themselves to be logically inconsistent with other sects (that is, if two belief systems are logically consistent, one is not a religion), and hold that, for people in the typical epistemic state of its adherents, it is rational to accept that religion. This mild exclusivism is very obvious for movements like third-wave feminism, so far from Steinem; it is also easy to see that stronger exclusivism not only follows from weak, but is applicable to the leftist ideologies as well: proponents of a religion must find opponents that possess the same epistemic certifications to be irrational. Also, the same exceptionalism, and infiltration into politics, is familiar to religions (like Christianity and Islam) as well as feminist theorists that seek to distort the law into beneficial means, beyond its legitimate jurisdiction.

Finally, Ludwig Feuerbach wrote in the 1840’s that theology was truly anthropology: Christianity was an appraisal of man, and the story of mankind. Gender studies sees this reversed: what might euphemistically be termed social science or anthropology, sociology, etc. is discovered to be instead a new sort of theology. Facts are subordinate to belief and orthodoxical obedience, and the probing essence of reason is dismissed for the docile, hospitable nature of faith. It seeks to see God, or masculinist oppression, in everything. This is another instance of its discontent for anything formerly satisfying; until the tenets of women’s studies are part of mandatory classroom cirricula, its students will consider themselves forever oppressed. Creationism’s proponents wrestled fruitlessly as evolution replaced their faith in American middle schools. Feminists will try tirelessly to invade grade school as well, until faith can again triumph over critique.

Could the social sciences benefit from being synthesized?

This past month a paper Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion, and Yann Algan by on the ‘Superiority of Economists‘ has made the rounds around the webs. Our own Brandon has made note of it before. I have given the paper some thought and cannot help but wonder if the social sciences could not benefit from being synthesized into a unified discipline.

Some background: I have been studying economics for a little under half a decade now. By all means I’m a new-born chicken, but I have been around long enough to have grown a distaste for certain elements of the dismal science. In particular I am disturbed by the insular nature of economists; relatively few seem interested in dropping by the History or Political Science departments next door to see what they’re working on. I cannot help but feel this insular nature will be economic’s undoing.

It should be no surprise that I hope to enter CalTech’s Social Science program for my PhD studies. The university is famed for its interdisciplinary nature and its social science program is no different. Its students are steeped in a core composed of microeconomics, statistics, and the other social sciences. For a while the New School in New York City offered a similar program.

I am sure there would be those who would object to synthesizing the social sciences into a unified discipline. Sociology and Economics might be more easily combined (as they were by folks such as Gary Becker) than Economics and Anthropology.

I am eager to hear other’s thoughts on this. Is the gap between the social sciences too large for them to be unified? Is unification even desirable? Should we content ourselves with an annual holiday dinner where we make fun of our common enemy?

How to Date a Woman and Why I Love America


Young men are confused nowadays because even this kind of talk is politically incorrect. I am talking about talks on how to please women and influence their decision to do this or that. I am an experienced man from another era when men knew what they were doing and the women appreciated it. So, here is some guidance based on a recent dating experience I had.

First thing first: Women don’t primarily want love or riches or wondrous sex (though neither one or the others hurt).

They want to be entertained, endlessly.

Women want to be amazed by unfamiliar objects but within a context where they feel safe. so, I took my date to a print shop. She had never been to one. I checked the progress of a new poster for my book (“I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography.”) She thought that was very, very nice. A…

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Update; a Woman

I am mostly absent from this blog because I am fine-tuning the manuscript, “I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography.

It’s very time consuming. It’s like when my mother would inspect the boys room on Thursday AM (no school day) around 11:30:

A small grain of dust would jump into her eyes  and have disproportionate consequences on your subsequent happiness.

Speaking of the women we love, my wife said two memorable things before ten this morning:

“I don’t care about the truth.”

” I wish Somerset Maugham were alive so I could marry him instead of you.” (She is a woman of culture. I am flattered to be cuckolded in her mind by a great writer. It’s better  than some Harlequin bodice-bursting novel author.)

I am also working on a part two to my essay on poverty (“Growing Poverty…“).  It will deal with the favorite liberal myths of inequality.

Jean Bethke Elshtain: 1941-2013

Prominent international relations theorist (and hawk) Jean Bethke Elshtain has died. She is most famous for bringing gender into the field of international relations and for being an ardent hawk in the post-9/11 world.

I came across her work when she had a spat with philosopher David Gordon over at the Mises Review. You can read most of the exchange here, and then pick up the trail from there if you wish.

A Wide Net; Cyprus Lesson; Conversations with my Ghost; Unfeminism; the Blooming Sequoia

I am too busy, because I am completing my memoirs and because I am refinancing ( a real bitch!), to do proper postings. So, here are pellmell thoughts  to stay in your minds and in your hearts during this dry spell. (That goes for my enemies too. I love being in their hearts, festering.)

Yesterday and today, I had hits from India, Mauritania, Ecuador, Yemen, and Estonia among others on this blog. I don’t  know many actually read my stuff. I hope all the hits correspond to actual readers although I cannot be sure, obviously. That is the miracle of the Internet. In spite of all the garbage it carries, like a large river, it’s good for development, the development of knowledge, in this case, and of rationality. There is a special spot in my heart for forthright, brave, tiny Estonia. Read up on it.

Once in a while, I even  have a spirited discussion on the Internet with people I would not meet in the other life, the life many persist in calling “real.” I am glad I cast a wide net on the Internet.

This week  the Cypriots gave the world a lesson. Hardly anyone  noticed because our commentators keep spreading boring cliches instead of looking for that which is both unusual and meaningful. Their government tried to make palatable the prospect of taxing bank deposit by promising to do it only to the rich. Ordinary Cypriots did not take the corrupting bait. They still said “No!”

I am like them: I don’t want to tax more the rich, the very rich, the billionaires,  the crooks, the mafias, the zebras, the giraffes, anyone! I just want the  federal government to shrink radically. I don’t know a single liberal who is aware of this principled position, not one.  Listen to them on this blog’s “comments” section. Their heads are full of silly stereotypes about conservatism as a political philosophy. I think they are not evil but lazy.

A couple of days ago, a high-school buddy recognized me through the excerpts of my memoirs on this blog (“I Used to be French: An Immature Autobiography“). Frankly, I had not thought of him for fifty years. His name  acted like a key that unlocked a door I had not entered in decades. It’s not that the door was double-locked or anything like this. The door was closed and I had no reason to bother to look for a key. I just ignored it. It contained no treasure in fact, just a few objects of interesting memory. But inside, there was also a ghost, the ghost of me when I was a teenager.

I don’t know if the French have high-school reunions. They might because they imitate eventually everything that America does.  If they had reunions and I knew it, I would probably not go. First, I failed there. I would sound stupid saying one hundred times in one evening, “No, I did not get it.”  Or I would have stopped going after ten years, when the  prospect of scoring with the girls you secretly lusted for as a teenager begins to  turn into a nightmare. I have no wish to see my own aging in others’ waistlines. I would think unkindly both of those who looked worse and of those who looked better than I. Does this make sense?

My high-school buddy reminded me of an episode of which I have nearly no memory. He recalled a time when he and two girls and I were waiting for admission to an expensive swimming pool . (That was the same  central Paris swimming pool. “Piscine Molitor,” that figures into the great movie “Life of Pi ” and that gave  its hero his name.) My classmate must have expressed admiration for the light gray flannel pants I was wearing. (That part must be true; I was already a flea market super-champion then, a superman picker.) He says I gave him the pants. I think he means then and there; I am not sure. I love the  story, of course. It depicts me, the young unformed me, as a generous person. Or was it only the love of the grand gesture?

URGENT UPDATE THE NEXT DAY: I did not give him the pants, I sold them to him. It means that I made up in my own mind by myself a story of generosity. That’s awful! Too bad, it was a good story.

I don’t know about you but I really enjoy this kind of adventure that comprises tiny, bearable elements of disorder. The Internet does not replace reading books though. It’s different but equally attractive.

Random pearls of wisdom: I overhear parts of a conversation while treating myself to  a rare greasy breakfast at my local diner:

“You have to kill them with silence.”

I stop the waitress who said this to ask,

“Is that what women do to men when they are angry?’ She never skips a beat, “No – she says – that’s unscientific.; women can’t do this, I mean stay silent.”

Smart women like this are dismantling stone by stone the phony monument put up by feminists over thirty years. It’s good that there are women equal to the task because feminists have been partly successful in  emasculating American men. (Many of the poor saps actually think showing sensitivity will get them laid!) How can I be sure? I am old enough that young women actually confide in me on the topic.

There is a completely incongruous redwood tree in my front yard about which I bitch periodically. It’s breaking up my portion of the sidewalk. It’s already cost me over $10,000 in sewer  repairs. One of these days, in a big wind, it will fall on my house, I fear. It gives us unwanted shade.

I like redwood trees but there are tens of thousands in the forest a mile away. This is not New Jersey or New Mexico; it’s not a rare tree around here. The city of Santa Cruz forbids me from cutting it. (Yes, it’s on my property.) The city has the criminal stupidity to demand a fee before it will even hear my appeal!

Well, several years ago, my wife planted a  bush bearing small yellow roses not far from the redwood. There was not foresight, no planning, no knowledge involved, maybe not even a green thumb. For some reason, the rosebush loves it there. It spread to everything. It’s a good climber. Right now, it has climbed about fifty feet up the redwood tree trunk and branches. The redwood looks like it’s in bloom with many yellow flowers. A deep part of me loves this display of joyous anarchy. I wonder if it violates some city ordinance I have not heard of though.

Abortion, the Conception of Life, and Liberty

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. – Thomas Jefferson, 1816

My blog post on freedom and feminism prompted a number of short but informative dialogues in the comments section, and I thought it would be a good idea to draw some of these arguments out a little more and really delve into the implications of what it means to be free.

My original post was meant to serve as a general outline of the major rift within libertarianism (and, by implication, the American Right) today: the cultural one. I think that the rift between libertarians on cultural issues is actually much less serious than the one between libertarians and conservatives, and the comments section highlighted this important disagreement. Instead of a mutual mistrust based upon suspicion of authoritarian tendencies hiding in plain sight, libertarians actively fight conservatives when it comes to the struggle between liberty and power.

Two key arguments will be exploited on this blog for the sake of showing Ron Paul Republicans and other, newer members of the libertarian movement just how nakedly aggressive and barbaric anti-abortion laws really are. Continue reading

Libertarianism and Feminism

I thought I’d throw in my two cents on the recent brouhaha between the two largest camps within the libertarian movement (the “paleos” and the “bleeding hearts”). Really quickly, the differences between the two camps are few and far between on matters of economics, but on matters of culture there is a wide chasm separating the two. The paleos are cultural conservatives and the bleeding hearts are not.

For the record, I consider myself in the “bleeding heart” camp, even though I spent more than enough time in Santa Cruz doing the co-op thing and hanging out out with lazy, dishonest, stinking hippies.

The bleeding heart camp initiated the brouhaha with the following:

This morning Julie Borowski, who makes videos as “Token Libertarian Girl,” shared her answer to the question “Why aren’t there more female libertarians?” […]

Every single one of these things that she criticizes women for doing should be seen not as causes for shame, but as complex choices that smart, thoughtful women can and do make, without destroying their lives in the process.  In addition, Borowski is making arguments that conservatives hurl at women all the time. If we want to pull young women away from liberalism and toward libertarianism, repeating the very same intellectually patronizing conservative arguments that pushed women to liberalism in the first place doesn’t seem to be the way to go.

And a follow-up post had this tidbit to add: Continue reading

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Is Peronism back in Argentina? Pay attention to the Left’s rhetoric

The Myth of the Failure of Capitalism, 1932 edition

Three Astonishing Women: A Short Short Story

I leave my newspaper on the table outside as I dart inside the coffee shop to get more sugar. When I return, three seconds later, a middle-aged woman is walking briskly across the street, holding my newspaper in her hand.

Hey, I shout fairly amicably, I was not finished with my paper.

She turns around and throws the paper on the table near me.

I don’t want your stupid paper, she says. What would I do with it? I am legally blind.

Fact is that she is wearing unusually thick glasses. Point well taken. What do I know?

I drive into an unevenly paved parking lot behind a woman in a big van. When she makes a right-hand turn, I spot a blue handicapped sticker on her windshield. Just as she is about to place her van in the reserved handicapped space, her engine stops. After several useless attempts to re-start it, she steps out of the vehicle and starts pushing.

I am a real sweetheart and also an old-fashioned nice manly man so, my first reflex is to get out and to give her a hand. I abstain because I soon judge her efforts to be fruitless. She is pushing that heavy van up a significant bump. I think there is no way the two of us can vanquish gravity and place the van in its spot.

Then, the woman braces herself; the back of her dress rises and her big calves become like hard river stones; she harrumphs once and the van ends up perfectly parked in the handicapped spot. I learned another lesson: Don’t judge a book by its cover, or even by its title. Continue reading

Sex: Real Dopes

The arrest of international banker Dominique Strauss Kahn on several charges amounting to sexual assault has occasioned more discussion of sex on the airwaves than I have heard for many years. Some of the statements I hear are absurd or annoying. Others are downright dishonest. I am trying to sort out the most salient points.

Warning: If you are prudish, don’t read what follows. If you are under fifteen, read at the risk of undermining your healthy sexual development.

First things first: A couple of days ago, the Spanish minister of economy and finance, I think, was one of many female commentators committing a deeply immoral amalgam. One the one hand, she said, there is the presumption of innocence, on the other hand, the charges are so serious, so awful. It’s common thinking in academia among bureaucrats in charge of hunting down sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and in the end, sex differences.

Here is a reminder, girls: The seriousness of an alleged crime, whatever great, has no influence on innocence. Those are separate things completely. Get this: Continue reading