Diversity and Transgenderism in School Athletics
Further thinking has tweaked or clarified my opinions about social diversity. It should not be viewed as a fundamental value; it is simply a fact of life in any non-tribal society, and an instrumental value to solve otherwise insuperable problems of social interaction and to promote prosperity and human flourishing. Economics helps see this by providing tools to analyze individual choices and their social consequences.
Consider the current issue of whether sport competitions involving women or girls should welcome biological males who identify as females. The Biden administration is proposing a regulation modifying Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1975. The Department of Education explains (note that “schools” include K-12, colleges, and universities):
Under the proposed regulation, schools would not be permitted to adopt or apply a one-size-fits-all policy that categorically bans transgender students from participating on teams consistent with their gender identity.
Instead, the Department’s approach would allow schools flexibility to develop team eligibility criteria that serve important educational objectives, such as ensuring fairness in competition.
The Wall Street Journal paraphrases the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona as opining that “every student should be able to participate in athletics, free from discrimination” (“Biden Administration Proposes New Rule for Transgender Athletes,” April 6, 2023) This is mumbo-jumbo. It is not possible that any student be free from discrimination whether he is a transgendered biological male wanting to compete against females, or she is a female who does not want not to compete against biological males.
The “fairness” invoked by the government is really nothing else than what it itself decrees is “equal opportunity.” As emphasized by Anthony de Jasay’s theory of the state, the government “takes sides” among citizens (and individuals). In other words, the federal government decides against whom to discriminate and calls it non-discrimination. Note that imposing supposedly flexible rules is no less discriminatory; it merely opens the door to more arbitrary bullying from the top down.
The (classical) liberal or libertarian approach is very different. Don’t ban or mandate, but let individuals and the organizations responsive to them adopt the formulas they want. Different formulas are likely to develop to match different preferences. Within budget constraints—the unavoidable scarcity of resources given individuals’ diversity and near-infinite desires—some biological females would participate in women-only sport competitions and others would make the opposite choice. It is to prevent this diversity, between states or schools, that the new regulation is proposed.
We should not be misled by the government claiming that its regulation, as amended, opposes “one-size-fits-all policies”: it imposes such a uniform policy from the higher top down. It aims at replacing voluntary diversity by imposed diversity. That the state should treat all individuals equally cannot logically mean that that it must allow any of them to impose his preferences on others.
In another post, I argued that a government can be non-discriminatory only by letting individuals make their own choices; see “Only One Way to Be ‘President of All Syldavians’.”
With decentralized choices, delusions are less likely survive or thrive. It is a reality that men are physically stronger and generally perform better in sports. If the freedom of sport organizations and activities is recognized, it is likely that transgendered biological men would have to complete with men or in their own trans leagues, as most women would prefer competing among themselves. We must respect (peaceful) individual choices. Accepting physical reality or the social results of diverse individual choices is, of course, not bigotry.
Individual liberty implies that anybody may identify to whatever he thinks best describes him as long as it does not involve violence or threat of violence, even under color of law. It also implies that anybody else may agree or not to change his own choices and actions because of somebody’s self-identification. The woman who married the Eiffel Tower in 2007 does not harm anybody else as long as she does not obtain a regulation forbidding others to “marry” the same object. (There is apparently some scientific basis for the recognition of “objectum sexuality“!)
That the proposed federal regulation would only apply “to public K-12 schools, as well as colleges, universities, and other institutions that receive federal funding does” not defangs its discriminatory character, given the pervasive subsidization of education with taxpayers’ money. These decisions should be made as close as possible to the ultimate consumer of education. Individual choices should be preferred to collective choices, which are of course made by some government individuals or some majority and imposed to all. That the American left wants laws discriminating against non-transgendered women while the American right wants laws discriminating against transgendered men shows the common authoritarian streak of the two movements.
In general, diversity is good only to the extent that individuals want it and are separately able to achieve it in a non-discriminatory political system. Outside such voluntary diversity, there most likely exists a minimum of ethics without which a society of equally free individuals becomes impossible. For James Buchanan, this ethics is a market-like ethics of reciprocity; for Friedrich Hayek, it lies in the respect of the abstract and impersonal order of a liberal society (see my forthcoming Econlib review of the third part of Hayek’s The Political Order of a Free People).