Thursday, September 22, 2016

Political Correctness and the Post-Growth Economy

Daniel Henninger writes that progressives “have chopped American society into so many offendable identities that only a Yale freshman can name them all.”

Regulation is a burden.  Let us be charitable and assume that there is no regulation out there that does not provide some benefit to somebody, and be more charitable and assume that that benefit is somehow related to the intended or ostensible purpose of that regulation.   Still, all regulations impose costs, and keeping people from engaging in what would otherwise be lawful activities mean that we get less of these activities and fewer people engaging with them.  As the governments of developed countries promulgate more and more regulations, say, to regulate a factory to reduce the degree to which it pollutes the environment or to regulate the factory floor to ensure that there are no pinups that make it a “hostile environment,” otherwise profitable economic activities are regulated out of existence.  Government grows, the economy slows.  Often in ways that cannot be spotted by the most eagle-eyed deficit hawk because the salaries of the regulators are only a tiny portion of the burden of regulation that falls on producers and consumers.

Political correctness is regulation, not always government regulation, of speech and writing aiming at regulation of thought and action.  In particular, regulation, as Henninger hints, favors the articulate over the inarticulate, the talkers over the makers.  Or rather, it forces the makers to lawyer up with Yale graduates or eliminates from the ranks of the makers those, like Brendan Eich, who themselves are not so articulate or who articulate wrongthought.  The result is less production, less wealth, fewer jobs, and greater inequality, because opportunities are available only to those who add to inspiration and perspiration well-tuned instincts for what can and cannot be thought or said.

Corporations are increasingly asked to police their employees.  One Harvard Law professor has demanded that a company fire or discipline anyone who expresses an allegedly sexist criticism of Hillary Clinton, and that companies that fail to do so are liable for creating a “hostile environment” that promotes harassment and discrimination against their female employees.  I am sure that for most Harvard Law professors and students virtually any criticism of Hillary Clinton is sexist.   Forget that for the moment, and put aside the danger such attitudes, whether enshrined in law or acted on by regulators in the absence of any colorable legal authority, pose to fundamental constitutional rights or basic aspects of republican government such as the accountability of government officials, even female or minority ones.  Such regulations burdens the economy.

Now some of that regulation, sensible people would agree, is worth the cost.  Nobody would want to legalize the casting couch, or let employers treat their female coworkers as perks of the job.   Mad Men is self-congratulatory progressive ideological porn, but Bill Wilder made this same point in The Apartment, in 1960 America, when JFK’s sexual adventures, like Hillary Clinton’s health today, were regarded by the respectable media as not fit to print.
But in 2016 America, and not only in America, people are starting to ask if all of this policing is justified or desirable.  Do we need the FDA to ensure that people cannot enjoy raw-milk cheeses?  Do we need the EEOC and the Justice Department to ensure that companies do not use standardized tests to screen potential employees for intelligence and relevant knowledge?  

We certainly need a President who knows that to ask these questions is not to answer them.

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