Many critics rightly point out that diversity statements invite viewpoint discrimination. DEI connotes a set of highly contestable social and political views. Requiring faculty to catalog their commitment to those views necessarily blackballs anybody who dissents from an orthodoxy that has nothing to do with scientific competence.
The Texas Tech documents show how DEI evaluations can easily seek out these contestable social and political views. The search committees espouse a narrow definition of diversity, encouraging a myopic fixation on race and gender—a definition over which reasonable people can disagree. “Some of us were surprised that there was limited mention of BIPOC issues,” one evaluation notes, using a DEI acronym for “black, indigenous and people of color.” For another candidate, “Diversity was only defined as country of origin and notably never mentioned women.” Of course, many scholars actively seek to avoid a fixation on race and gender, preferring to promote diversity of thought and equality.
Throughout these reports, the search committees displayed an eagerness to find breaches of DEI orthodoxy. One cell biology candidate was given a “red flag” for alleged “microaggressions towards women faculty.” The report names two examples: “assuming one junior faculty was a graduate student” and “minimizing the difficulties of women in the US by comparing to worse situations elsewhere.”
The evidence shows that diversity statements function as political litmus tests, but it’s worse than that. Heavily valuing DEI while selecting cell biologists, virologists and immunologists constitutes a massive failure of priority. This is an issue of academic freedom, and it is a degradation of higher education.
The Hulu docuseries of “The 1619 Project” purports to “examine how the legacy of slavery shapes different aspects of contemporary American life.” But the program, which began airing right before the start of Black History Month, isn’t telling the whole story. Viewers won’t hear about Americans’ remarkable resistance to and triumph over slavery, which led to flourishing black communities and unprecedented achievements. Without that context, it’s impossible to understand the real black American story.
Black History Month would have been a great occasion to make that complex but victorious narrative better known. Black history is full of generous spirits, brave leaders and heroes who demonstrated virtue and achieved success in the face of adversity. And—perhaps above all—it is the story of racial and political coalitions that made the U.S. the most peaceful and prosperous multiethnic society in the world.
One of the primary reasons there are a million veto points for people to gum up the works is that government, intentionally, created those veto points to give them the ability to do so.
There is no reason, besides the National Environmental Policy Act of (guess which year) 1970, that environmentalist groups should be able to block new construction with endless litigation.
There is no reason, besides the Occupational Safety and Health Act of (guess which year) 1970, that a federal agency in Washington, D.C., should be setting safety rules for every worksite in the entire country.
There is no reason, besides the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in (guess which year) 1970, that construction projects should be consumed with years of federal paperwork before a single shovelful of dirt is ever moved.
Then, there’s the Clean Air Act Amendments of (guess which year) 1970, which the EPA has used (and abused) to expand its authority over just about every part of American life. The Clean Water Act came two years later, adding new regulatory hurdles for the EPA to enforce. A year after that came the Endangered Species Act, which explicitly puts “economic growth and development” in opposition to environmental protection in its preamble.
Klein considers state-level regulations and concludes that it “doesn’t lend itself to a clean story of red states and blue states, or urban states and rural states.” It never seems to occur to him that might be because federal regulations are causing the problem, specifically the federal regulations that flow from a series of laws affecting construction all passed right around 1970, when the decline in construction productivity begins.
Tyler Cowen has a warning for industrial-policy advocates in his recent Bloomberg column:
Cowen argues that they do so by setting up future globalization. He notes that, “Even the most successful ‘nationalistic’ industrial policies rely on a highly globalized world.” He points to semiconductors and the Covid vaccines as examples, both of which rely on highly globalized industries to produce their alleged industrial-policy successes.
I’d add that they also do so by embracing the same central-planning mindset that animates the people they claim to hate. Technocratic attempts to orchestrate economic output are going to run into similar problems whether they come from the left or the right.
Having a government official educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale spearhead an effort to use “transformational” subsidies to engineer a “better” economic outcome, which is what the CHIPS Act does, is exactly the kind of thing that impresses the people at Davos. That’s who they are. Those are the kind of people they admire. They believe they can do that sort of thing well, if only governments would give them the chance.
Students should come out of an economics course understanding that:
- Profits are not automatic. The market is a profit-and-loss system. Profitable industries tend to expand, and expansion tends to compete away profits. Losses cause firms that make inefficient use of resources to disappear.
- Prices are determined by supply and demand, and they are held down by competition.
- Government-provided benefits require diversion of resources from other uses.
- In a competitive labor market, the costs of employer-provided benefits are borne by workers.(1)
- Markets and government are both imperfect. Markets have a mechanism for fixing problems and getting better. Profits and losses create incentives for improvement. Government lacks those incentives.
- Non-profits are not “nice” just because they do not seek profits. The nature of such organizations is that they focus on satisfying the desires of donors. Leaders of such organizations work to please donors. They can do so without necessarily doing good for the people that the organizations are supposed to help. Profit-seeking firms are accountable to customers. If customers are not happy, then they do not buy from the firm, and it goes out of business.
It is pretty clear that most college students who take an economics course fail to unlearn some or all of what they ought to unlearn. In fact, there are people who go all the way through a Ph.D program in economics without unlearning non-economic thinking.
Reading into the quality of the studies, a pro-masker could make the argument that what we’re really seeing is not the uselessness of masks but the uselessness of mask mandates. That is, there is still enough uncertainty that someone could argue we just needed lots more coercion into better masks and education on how to wear them. But policy-makers should actually heed “real world” application of their policies, rather than notionally perfect compliance and execution.
Of course what’s so galling about these studies is not just that public-health officials oversold this “symbol” of good behavior, but that people’s workplaces, school districts, churches, and friends made this into a sole test of virtue.
I’m thinking particularly of so many co-religionists who portrayed the case for wearing masks as synonymous with “love of neighbor.” As if the only reason to be unmasked were some kind of libertine self-satisfaction.