Moller Responds on Political Correctness
Dan Moller has accepted my invitation to respond to my analysis of Governing Least. I’m splitting his response into two parts: political correctness today, immigration tomorrow. Here’s Dan:
Thanks to Bryan Caplan for taking the time to read my book and giving me the chance to respond. Although we agree about a great deal, let me say something about two areas where we may disagree, political correctness and immigration.
My view of political correctness is one of those in-between positions that everyone ends up hating: the left is wrong in ignoring PC run amok, the right is wrong in thinking PC is always and everywhere crazy.
PC is a kind of tax on certain forms of discourse, just like other “taxes” coming from other directions. For instance, there’s a mild taboo against certain forms of unpatriotic speech and conduct, like spitting on the flag or saying you hate America. You can say these things, but you may pay a price, if only not being invited to someone’s party. This can take a pathological form as when antiwar criticisms are delegitimized by being branded unpatriotic, but there’s nothing wrong with the tax itself, in my view. Encouraging mild patriotism is okay.
The idea behind PC is to make it harder to say stuff that threatens the status of groups that have often had their public standing imperiled in the past. This can take pathological forms, as when it shuts down important debates over college admissions or the like. (And it’s worth noting that in the book and article [http://www.jpe.ox.ac.uk/papers/dilemmas-of-political-correctness/] I describe and criticize PC run amok at length, with concrete examples–I don’t take the pathological forms lightly.) But the mere existence of mild social sanctions for mocking gay or handicapped people at work, say, doesn’t seem so bad to me.
Here’s a concrete example: in the bad old days, a female colleague might leave the room and be subjected to demeaning sexist commentary by a group of men remaining. Obviously this still happens, but in my particular work-environment and in many others, this would now likely be seen as a norm violation even in the room itself. (There would be that sense of, “Wait, what??”) I disagree that this is merely politeness–it’s a mild form of benign PC, and it makes it easier for talented people to contribute, which is good for all of us. We can accept this and still criticize PC run amok, which is, alas, a serious problem, especially on campus. And again, I’m clear on this in the book; e.g., I describe how PC can threaten airline safety!