1. In search of non-toxic manhood Ross Douthat, New York Times
  2. How a cartoon depiction of Mohammad provoked Muslim outrage – in 1925 Brian Micklethwait, Samizdata
  3. Carbon taxes and the Marginalists’ difficult idea Stephen Gordon, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative
  4. On scientific mystery and religious mystery Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex

Asking questions about women in the academy

Doing the economist’s job well, Nobel Laureate Paul Romer once quipped, “means disagreeing openly when someone makes an assertion that seems wrong.”

Following this inspiration guideline of mine in the constrained, hostile, and fairly anti-intellectual environment that is Twitter sometimes goes astray. That the modern intellectual left is vicious we all know, even if it’s only through observing them from afar. Accidentally engaging with them over the last twenty-four hours provided some hands-on experience for which I’m not sure I’m grateful. Admittedly, most interactions on twitter loses all nuance and (un)intentionally inflammatory tweets spin off even more anger from the opposite tribe. However, this episode was still pretty interesting.

It started with Noah Smith’s shout-out for economic history. Instead of taking the win for our often neglected and ignored field, some twitterstorians objected to the small number of women scholars highlighted in Noah’s piece. Fair enough, Noah did neglect a number of top economic historians (many of them women) which any brief and uncomprehensive overview of a field would do.

His omission raised a question I’ve been hooked on for a while: why are the authors of the most important publications in my subfields (financial history, banking history, central banking) almost exclusively male?

Maybe, I offered tongue-in-cheek in the exaggerated language of Twitter, because the contribution of women aren’t good enough…?

Being the twenty-first century – and Twitter – this obviously meant “women are inferior – he’s a heretic! GET HIM!”. And so it began: diversity is important in its own right; there are scholarly entry gates guarded by men; your judgment of what’s important is subjective, duped, and oppressive; what I care about “is socially conditioned” and so cannot be trusted; indeed, there is no objectivity and all scholarly contribution are equally valuable.

Now, most of this is just standard postmodern relativism stuff that I couldn’t care less about (though, I am curious as to how it is that the acolytes of this religion came to their supreme knowledge of the world, given that all information and judgments are socially conditioned – the attentive reader recognises the revival of Historical Materialism here). But the “unequal” outcome is worthy of attention, and principally the issue of where to place the blame and to suggest remedies that might prove effective.

On a first-pass analysis we would ask about the sample. Is it really a reflection of gender oppression and sexist bias when the (top) outcome in a field does not conform to 50:50 gender ratios? Of course not. There are countless, perfectly reasonable explanations, from hangover from decades past (when that indeed was the case), the Greater Male Variability hypothesis, or that women – for whatever reason – have been disproportionately interested in some fields rather than others, leaving those others to be annoyingly male.

  • If we believe that revolutionising and top academic contributions have a long production line – meaning that today’s composition of academics is determined by the composition of bright students, say, 30-40 years ago – we should not be surprised that the top-5% (or 10% or whatever) of current academic output is predominantly male. Indeed, there have been many more of them, for longer periods of time: chances are they would have managed to produce the best work.
  • If we believe the Greater Male Variability hypothesis we can model even a perfectly unbiased and equal opportunity setting between men and women and still end up with the top contribution belonging to men. If higher-value research requires smarter people working harder, and both of those characteristics are distributed unequally between sexes (as the Greater Male Variability hypothesis suggests), then it follows naturally that most top contributions would be men.
  • In an extension of the insight above, it may be the case that women – for entirely non-malevolent reasons – have interests that diverge from men’s (establishing precise reasons would be a task for psychology and evolutionary biology, for which I’m highly unqualified to assess). Indeed, this is the entire foundation on which the value of diversity is argued: women (or other identity groups) have different enriching experiences, approach problems differently and can thus uncover research nobody thought to look at. If this is true, then why would we expect that superpower to be applied equally across all fields simultaneously? No, indeed, we’d expect to see some fields or some regions or some parts of society dominated by women before others, leaving other fields to be overwhelmingly male. Indeed, any society that values individual choice will unavoidably see differences in participation rates, academic outcomes and performance for precisely such individual-choice reasons.

Note that none of this excludes the possibility of spiteful sexist oppression, but it means judging academic participation on the basis of surveys responses or that only 2 out of 11 economic historians cited in an op-ed were women, may be premature judgments indeed.


  1. Egypt banned the sale of yellow vests. Are the French protests spreading? Adrián Lucardi, Monkey Cage
  2. Castro’s Revolution on Its 60th Anniversary Vincent Geloso, AIER
  3. Americans Are Losing Faith in Free Speech. Can Two Forgotten Philosophers Help Them Regain It? Bill Rein, FEE
  4. Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen? Tyler Cowen, MarginalRevolution

The childishness of the left

Jair Bolsonaro took office as president of Brazil this last January 1. The government has barely begun, but I think we can already observe a little of what the next four years will look like. During the campaign, Bolsonaro made it clear that his government would be “liberal in the economy and conservative in customs.” Here an explanation is necessary for English speakers: in Brazil “liberal” almost always means “classic liberal,” that is, defender of the free market economy. Conservative, at least in the context of Bolsonaro’s speech, is not so different from the sense of the English language: conservatism as an appreciation of the customs and traditions of Judeo-Christian society.

The speeches of the Bolsonaro himself and his ministers already in office follow exactly this tone. Paulo Guedes, chosen to be the “super-minister” of the economy, made it clear in a speech of almost an hour that Brazil’s problem is excess of state. During the last 40 years or more Brazil has treated symptoms, not the causes of its economic backwardness. The speech of Paulo Guedes was a class of economic history of Brazil.

However, what dominated the Brazilian media in recent days was not a speech, but rather a remark by a minister. Damares Alves, the human rights minister, the one who was harshly criticized for saying she saw Jesus when she was in a guava tree, said at an informal moment that “boys wear blue and girls wear pink.” The speech fell on the media and provoked the reaction of Brazilian celebrities. Many “artists” appeared changing colors, men wearing pink and women, blue. What draws attention in this case, besides the difficulty of understanding figures of speech, is the infantilization of the left activists. Damares said that “boys wear blue and girls wear pink,” not that men wear blue and women wear pink.

The minister’s speech fits into a moment Brazil is living. The cultural wing of the left wants to teach that gender is only a social construction, with no connection to biology, and therefore children should be treated as neutral, awaiting their decision as to what gender they want to adopt. Damare’s remark, therefore, refers to the education of children in public schools, not adult men and women. Brazil is a country free enough for adult men and women to wear the colors they want. The identification of many celebrities with the minister’s speech shows that leftist activists have the mental age of kindergarten children.


  1. What it’s like to deliver packages for Amazon Austin Murphy, the Atlantic
  2. On being a female classicist Madeline Miller, LitHub
  3. Sing, Goddess Patricia Storace, NYRB
  4. Is nationalism really the future of conservatism? Rachel Lu, the Week


  1. Conservatives, sex, and the aspirations of women Rachel Lu, Law & Liberty
  2. Hello Mars, farewell Mars Caleb Scharf, Life, Unbounded
  3. Terrorism justified: a response to Vicente Medina (Machiavelli) Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  4. The third gender of southern Mexico Ola Synowiec, BBC

New Books: Philosophy of the Novel, French conquests

Just wanted to call your attention to Barry‘s newest book, Philosophy of the Novel. Here’s a description:

This book explores the aesthetics of the novel from the perspective of Continental European philosophy, presenting a theory on the philosophical definition and importance of the novel as a literary genre. It analyses a variety of individuals whose work is reflected in both theoretical literary criticism and Continental European aesthetics, including Mikhail Bakhtin, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin. Moving through material from eighteenth century and ancient Greek philosophy and aesthetics, the book provides comprehensive coverage of the major positions on the philosophy of the novel. Distinctive features include the importance of Vico’s view of the epic to understanding the novel, the importance of Kierkegaard’s view of the novel and irony along with his other aesthetic views, the different possibilities associated with seeing the novel as ‘mimetic’ and the importance of Proust in understanding the genre in all its philosophical aspects, relating the issue of the philosophical aesthetics of the novel with the issue of philosophy written as a novel and the interaction between these two alternative positions.

Barry has more on liberty and the novel here and here.

Jacques has a new book out, too, titled Indecent Stories by Decent Women. It’s under a pen name, John René Adolph, for obvious reasons. Here is a 2014 essay by Jacques titled “Why Young Women Are Stupid (If They Are): A Scientific Inquiry.”