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A former student of mine e-mailed me regarding this old post. I wrote it while back at Centre College in Kentucky. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Normally I do not pay much attention to the issue of academic freedom. However, the Curriculum Subcommittee of our College’s Diversity Committee has been charged with studying diversity and multiculturalism in the curriculum at the College. Now, the document that was circulated indicates that this is a preliminary inquiry, but I think I know where all of this is heading – just read questions 5 and 6. What follows is my response to the Committe. (update 2-20-06, as one might expect, this letter was received by the Committee as “hostile” and an inappropriate response to an honest inquiry)

Dear Diversity Committee,

I am sure others in the program have echoed it, but I also strongly believe that economics, rooted in moral philosophy and political economy, is perfectly suited to the appreciation of diversity and “multiculturalism.” Adam Smith was famous for understanding that, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” And economics teaches us that the best way to ensure that people from diverse backgrounds are not poor and miserable is to not treat them as children. In economics I teach that the essential agent in the world is the individual and that it is of the utmost importance for people and governments to respect the liberty of individuals. As such, identification of a specific group for differential treatment is a violation of these important liberties. Neither governments, nor academic elites, know what is best for any individual, but this is precisely what happens when multiculturalism is forced into the disciplines of a curriculum.

Who decides what type of diversity is important? Who decides which groups merit additional study or consideration? What of the groups and cultural perspectives we do not address? What is a fair representation of diversity or of the economics discipline from a multicultural perspective? This is enough to have my brain stop functioning from information overload. I don’t have enough time, money or intelligence to consider all of the potentially relevant viewpoints, even if I were committed to doing so. What I realize now is that in all of my studies only prominent or notorious enough factions from the citizenry have their positions even considered, let alone presented. In this day of multiculturalism, for example, I have never seen a prominent representation of the Icelandic viewpoint in economics, or that of Mongolian-Americans. These groups, as thousands of others, simply lack the clout or the favor of interest groups to have their views aired and studied. Who knows all the cultures that exist now-or even what exactly defines a unified culture? (Should we include the Cosa Nostra? How about the Nazis?)

These are extremely important questions and ones that economists are now paying serious attention to. For example, in Economic Development, several of us read pieces of Tyler Cowen’sMarkets and Cultural Voices , where Cowen explores the lives of three Mexican Amate artists and examines the cultural interactions between Mexico and the United States , and shows how globalization affects the lives and work of artists and their families. The point being, that diversity and “multiculturalism” play a very big role in the subject matter of economics. However, I hope the committee understands the difference between multicultural education and multiculturalism. The former is what I am writing about in this paragraph – that economics is very much a study of (other) cultures – and examines the values and practices of each empirically. People should learn about other cultures, particularly in a dynamic economy in a flattening world. However, I reject the ideology of the latter term – which is an ideology that all cultures, values and practices are equal. Particularly since this latter view is hypocritical to the extent that all cultures are celebrated so long as they are the approved cultures (i.e. non-western, non-white, non-male). And, this approach reeks of the Marxist doctrine of victims and oppressors – the adherence to which we know led to the greatest tragedies in human history in the 20th century. Over 170 million people were killed in non-war activities (mass starvation, executions, death in labor camps, etc.) in Communist regimes in the 20th century, far more than all of the deaths of all of the wars from that same century. I am certainly not willing to be tolerant of cultures or worldviews that lead to democide and genocide of this magnitude.

Rather than answering the survey questions directly, what follows are some general thoughts on what I do regarding diversity and on the subject in general.

  • I teach about affirmative action in both labor economics and my freshmen studies class. We read Bill Bowen and Derek Bok’s Book, The Shape of the River and assorted other readings to understand its effects and to discuss the difficult ethical questions that arise as it pertains to economic oppor tu nity and outcomes.
  • I teach about discrimination in labor economics, research methods and microeconomics, how to measure it, its effects and what can be done about it.
  • I teach about the unintended consequences of policies on different groups of people. This is a basic principle of economics – and one that should be understood by those seeking to introduce diversity and multiculturalism explicitly into the curriculum. For example, I introduce my students to the teachings of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and his writings on forced charity.
  • I teach about the morality upon which Adam Smith’s economics are built. Blind critics of free markets today selectively ignore his extensive writings on virtue, care for the fellow man and trust as key ingredients to any successful society. He wrote as much about compassion and public mindedness than any pundit that exists today – and acknowledged that any system falls apart without this ethic.
    • Adam Smith’s views were heavily based on John Locke’s. And Locke’s writings on toleration stressed the inevitable failure of attempts to coerce conscience, something that multiculturalist doctrine attempts to do.
  • I teach my students to look for consistency when it comes to questions of moral relativism and multiculturalism. For example, proponents of diversity rightly point out that the average wages of blacks lag behind the average wages of whites. However, few understand why these differences exist beyond explicit or implicit racism and any attempts economists make to point out other factors are met with hostility. Furthermore, many of these critics assert that the value of a man is not determined by the number on his paycheck, yet are the loudest voices pointing out the differences in the size of people’s paychecks.
  • I teach Development Economics – which is in every way consistent with the notions of teaching and celebrating diversity. Please look at the readings, syllabus, text, etc. for there are too many examples for me to cover here.
  • My students learn that voluntary exchange, the extensive division of labor, the protection of private property rights and respect for the rule of law will do more to promote the prosperity of, and protect the interests of, minorities and different cultures than any group of planners can ensure.
  • I worry that forcing a multicultural perspective into our discipline would further water down what was once (and should be) a rigorous field of study. I am worried that the loss of objective academic standards will result in grade inflation because we want to assign grades that are therapeutic, designed to boost students’ “self-esteem”. I must sadly admit that I have felt this pressure more than once in my career here (I shan’t name names, but two of my advisees are on the verge of failing out, and they have received much more attention than any of my other struggling advisees from the administration). Thanks to the proliferation of elective-based academic ghettos within the college, students can isolate themselves into a host of non-traditional fields. And the message in each is one of malice: hate bourgeois civilization and the ideas and literature that spawned it. Spin that thought out, and you’ll get an “A” most of the time. I am not making this up. (I have testimony from dozens of students that this is going on – and it is testimony that I did NOT solicit. Many of my students feel that they have no where else to turn about these matters, and have come to me seeking advice.) Ironically, when students think that they are being open minded by doing such things, they come into my classes completely closed minded about how the economy works. They are taught that capitalism is just another system of oppressors and the oppressed. That all transactions are exploitive. That governments ought to have their hands on the controls of the economy because some things “are just too important to be left to the market.” They do not believe the myriad data that I present to demonstrate just how remarkable our living standards have increased and what has made this possible. They do not care to listen that governments might actually fail and that laissez-faire does not mean sanctioned anarchy. One might say that this should make my job fun. Normally I’d say yes. But, I am worried that our students are not thinking for themselves as it is, and further contaminating our subject matter with ideological constructs will make them even less able to in the future.

What I reject in this explicit effort to impose diversity on my program is the following,

“Behind the mask of a benign celebration of diversity lies a deeply corrosive rejection of all general norms, rules, or truths. This rejection of general norms, both those dealing with knowledge and those dealing with morals, derives from multiculturalism’s insistence that there are many essentially closed systems of perception, feeling, thought, and evaluation-each associated with some racially, ethnically, or sexually defined group. Thus, multiculturalism quite explicitly and appropriately sees itself as rejecting the Enlightenment belief in standards of reason, evidence, and objectivity, and principles of justice and freedom that apply to all human beings.”

          -Eric Mack, The Freeman v.46 no. 10 1996.

Economics explicitly celebrates the Enlightenment beliefs in standards of reason, evidence and objectivity – and if forced to abandon these principles, the study is no longer economics, but something entirely different.

And Mack goes on to echo why this is the case,

“In contrast to the multiculturalist, the genuine advocate of tolerance believes that, despite the profound differences among individuals, there are some fundamental general norms-including standards of rational discourse and norms that extend freedom and the protection of justice to all persons in virtue of their common humanity. Only such general norms provide a principled basis for rejecting the suppression of disliked opinion, speech, religious conviction, economic decisions, and so on. It is precisely to the extent that we articulate and comply with such rules that each of us, strange as we are to others and strange as many others are to us, are able to live at peace, indeed, in fruitful mutual advantage with one another … Multiculturalism is fundamentally anti-individualistic because it expects each individual to conform in his or her perceptions, thoughts, and assessments to those pronounced to be the authentic perceptions, thoughts, and assessments of that individual’s group. All genuine blacks must share the Black perspective. All genuine women must share the enshrined Female perspective. All homosexuals must share the Homosexual perspective-and so on. Your thoughts are either the collectively constituted thoughts of your racial, ethnic, or sexual group or they are thoughts insidiously imposed upon you by the dominant White Male perspective. Group-think is the mark of authenticity. Multicultural diversity both radically cleaves humanity into disparate biological collectivities and radically homogenizes people within these collectivities. For the multiculturalist, diversity is merely superficial.”

And for the economist, abandoning the individual as the relevant unit of analysis once again changes the discipline to something other than economics, for it is the study of individual choice, spontaneous order and the unintended consequences of these choices and orders that defines the study.

And Mack continues with a discussion of why the “study” of multiculturalism is so damaging to our students,

“The primary purpose of multicul tu ralist educational proposals is to instill in s tu dents and (increasingly) in employees and the population at large the demonology that the apparently benign, tolerant, liberal order is actually the most profoundly oppressive order ever to have existed. People are to be initiated into the delights of victimhood. They are to learn how to perceive themselves as victims (or victimizers)-not of superficial wrongs like murder, mayhem, and robbery-but of ever so subtle, exquisitely cunning, psycholinguistic domination. It is psycholinguistic domination, i.e., the construction of seductively hegemonic themes and discourses, that make the derivative evils of racial or sexual exploitation possible (indeed, inevitable). To recognize oneself as such a victim is to attain multiculturalist enlightenment and, not inconveniently, an all-purpose ticket for the increasingly lucrative multiculturalist gravy train.

Students especially are to be taught that arguments, doctrines, works of art, or policy are never to be evaluated on their own merits. For there is no such thing as the objective merit or demerit of an argument, doctrine, work of art, or policy. Rather, these and all the other products of the human mind are to be revealed as mere valorizations of power. They are to be deconstructed to disclose their inner character as instruments of repression-or, presumably in the case of the privileged construction known as multiculturalism, as an instrument of heroic resistance.”

And to the extent that positive economics relies on the scientific method, such teachings are simply impossible to reconcile with this methodology. When an economist can both reject and fail to reject her theoretical predictions with the same answers, then the science of her study has been compromised. For example, economists would approach a question like, “Why do poor families spank their children more frequently than wealthy families?” by postulating a model and making sure that the answers to the following two questions are different when constructing the theory:

  1. If my theory is correct, then I should see?
  2. If my theory is not correct, then I should see?

You can now see that a multiculturalist explanation for the above statistical regularity would be unable to give a clear distinction between the answers to (1) and (2). This is not to say that the economic answer will be correct – it is to say however that an economic answer to this question is most certainly verifiable by further study, while a multicultural answer would not be. And, I have become accustomed to using Ockham’s Razor, so the multiculturalist perspective simply does not seem plausible in most cases.

Finally, Mack writes of something that Professor Abdi Samatar warned us of when he spoke of the ethnic strife in Africa during a Convocation last fall,

“Throughout the academy and eventually society at large, the multiculturalist demands that the classification of people by race, ethnicity, sex and/or sexual orientation be emphasized at every possible opportunity. Individuals are not to be seen or judged as individuals but as tokens of this or that tribe or caste. Since no one from one tribe (with the exception of white males) can be judged by members of any other tribe, each racial, ethnic, or sexual group must be assigned its own homeland , its own reservation within the university and within the worlds of commerce (cf., set-asides) and government (cf., Lani Guinier).”

And this explicit political identifying and dividing of groups has led to an enormous and intractable set of problems throughout Africa and other parts of the world. Taking an economic perspective that respects the rights and the sanctity of the individual has led to more fortunate outcomes elsewhere in the world. There is ample evidence that insuring individual equal rights, with unrestricted opportunities for redressing individual and group wrongs, is more desirable than insuring group preferential rights, where redress is limited or prioritized by the victim’s group affiliation and percentage of the population. Samatar nicely described the differences between Botswana and other Southern African nations in this regard. Governments and elections by majorities, pluralities, or coalitions, whatever their shortcomings, are still more salutary for most people and less injurious to some than governments of proportionalized minorities. While diversity is pervasive in a free society, when it comes to such differences as religious practices, political regimes, forms of jurisprudence, types of marriages, and so forth, I simply cannot justify being uncritical of multiculturalism. In some countries criminals are punished so severely (including some cases in our own country) that it is simply intolerable for any society that recognizes individual rights and prizes human decency. Women in certain places are so subservient to men that even to suggest some changes meets with violent rebuffs. For example, in studying the emergence of microcredit programs to help poor women in Bangladesh , orthodox Islamic traditions prevent women from benefiting from such wonderful programs. Women cannot go to markets unaccompanied. Women are not permitted to take out a loan and pay interest. Women are not permitted to do business with other men. Women are scorned for learning how to read and write, etc. Such treatment cannot be dismissed as merely a cultural difference-it does violence to anyone’s essential humanity, whether so recognized or not. In many cultures throughout the world children are beaten and tortured in the name of discipline, a practice that would be child abuse in our society. Again, this cultural difference is far from benign and I refuse to lend it credibility by celebrating this “diversity” in my classrooms.

Professor Tibor Machan, a professor of Philosophy at Auburn , from whom I pull some of the language above, has written:

“One reason why in most of our universities we have stressed the tradition of the Great Books, focusing, for example, on the works of Greek, European, and British philosophers, is that these thinkers have grappled hard with just the issues that even multicul tu ralists find irresistible. What is truth? What is justice? What is art? What is knowledge? What is nature? What is God? What is liberty, equality, or order? What is law? What are rights?

Many other cultures, however, have tended to focus their concerns much more narrowly. And the result has been that they remained a tad parochial. In such cultures any suggestion of multiculturalism would meet with ridicule-not even a gesture of consideration would be forthcoming.”

I suspect that I’ll be attacked for being unfair or intolerant of the multiculturalist perspective – but I reject that claim. What is unfair is that those that seek diversity on campus refuse to respect diversity of thought. While I might be rigid myself in my apprehension about multiculturalism on campus, I assure you it is from my careful study of the innumerable negative (unintended) consequences that have arisen from many a policy that was supposed to help people.

(in addition to those referenced above, large portions of the above are respectfully borrowed from Llewellyn Rockwell, Joseph Stromberg, Steven Yates, Philip Perlmutter, Jeanne McDonnell, and from Sacks’ and Thiel’s, “The Diversity Myth

5 Responses to “Economics and Multiculturalism”

  1. jb says:

    WC: The link to “questions 4 and 5” appears in operable.

    Well WC it is certainly clear that your own individuality, indeed bravery, is in tact, bravo.

    But keep in mind you are not alone. I have often thought, for example, that calls for “affirmative action” or any explicit requirement of inclusion based on race, ethnicity or gender are transparently self-defeating. If diversity of thought or opinion is indeed the objective, then a requirement that an enterprise must therefore be populated based on specific allocations to groups A, B, and C is an implicit assumption that all members WITHIN group A must think alike; same for B, C, etc. So in order to achieve peaceful integration and diversity of opinion we apparently we must first learn the proper stereotypes to assign to each group, and proceed from there.

  2. Scott says:

    Great Post. The truth!

  3. Harry says:

    Their finding this response as hostile is a badge of honor.

    My reaction was: Rizzo was that good in 2006! It makes me want to read archives.

    You made many great points in your letter, and I do not want to diminish one over the other, but it is dismaying how multiculturalism has cheated too many people, making them ignorant and poor.

    The big question is whether there are values at all, or whether values are derivitave from power alone.

  4. Speedmaster says:

    Absolutely legendary post.

    • Harry says:

      Speedmaster, I wonder about how many people are inhibited from making comments on TUW, and not because they fear the IRS. If I were a free-thinking student at Rochester, it would enter my mind that association with Professor Freedom and Hayek studies might affect my grades in the gut courses where an A is the same as a C.

      Having been privileged to be to visit professor Rizzo’s office, with the office hours sheet outside, it is a wonder that the steady stream of great kids outside do not show up wearing bacalavas and dark sunglasses. Many of them are brave, just as is their teacher. So are the bloggers who run The Big Questions and The Pretense of Knowledge.

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