The Hoppe Affair

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

A
reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education asked me
to answer a specific question about the Hans-Hermann Hoppe affair
and to offer whatever views I might have on the question. I repeat
below my email to him.

Where
to begin?

First,
let’s begin by what for lack of a better term I will call the epistemic
question. As a general matter the Provost’s distinction between
“opinion” and “objective fact” is empty and can – and is –
only used for a deceitful and pernicious purpose. If forced to choose
between the two I would say that everyone including professors only
offers opinions and not objective facts. Some opinions are virtually
universally shared and thought to be supported by incontrovertible
evidence but opinions they remain. No one I know, professors included,
as a general matter bothers to distinguish between the two for his
listener in the statements he offers. On the other hand many people
will distinguish between those opinions they hold strongly and those
they hold weakly. As that applies to the Hoppe case I would think
that that is something in his mind and in no other, and I would
think it entirely inappropriate for the Provost to insist that Professor
Hoppe equivocate over the strength of his conviction to suit the
Provost’s view as to the degree of conviction Professor Hoppe should
have on the question. I will guess that the strength of Professor
Hoppe's opinion about the marginal propensity to consume of homosexuals
lies somewhere between his view that Vladimir Putin is the President
of Russia and whatever view he has on the prospect for sustained
liberal government in Iraq. Does any of this really require someone
to state it? I hardly think so. So this is all intellectually silly
and politically ugly.

Second,
this brings me to the response to your specific question. My answer
is, no, the principle of which you speak would not mean that classroom
life would grind to a halt. If I lived under such a regime I would
simply state orally and hand out a written memorialization on the
first day of class each semester a statement to the effect that:

“Every
statement I make in this class for the remainder of the semester
shall be understood to be my opinion and not as ‘objective fact’.
During the course of the remainder of the semester I will not repeat
this disclaimer and distinction, nonetheless it remains in force.
I will however endeavor to distinguish from time to time: (1) the
strength of conviction with which I hold particular opinions; (2)
the degree to which my opinions are shared by others in the profession;
and (3) the empirical evidence or theoretical arguments that support
my opinion.”

That
should cover it. Of course it is extraordinary silliness – a very
dark silliness however. It is similar to the way in which
Soviet geneticists had to begin each paper with a false paean to
Lysenko.

Third,
let me move on to the substance of Professor Hoppe’s claim that
homosexuals tend to “plan,” i.e., save, less than heterosexuals.
This seems to me to be: (1) not merely highly likely as a theoretical
matter but implied by rather straightforward economic theory; (2)
supported by empirical evidence; (3) not in the least invidious;
and (4) a very useful teaching illustration. The point I believe
that Professor Hoppe was trying to make is that our tendency to
save rather than consume is a function of the particular circumstances
of our lives. Specifically, to the extent that we have affective
relationships with others and are concerned with their financial
well being, especially if they are financially dependent on us,
we will be inclined to save more than were these conditions not
to prevail. Thus because homosexuals tend not to bear and
rear children they will tend to feel less of a need to save and
insure their lives. The distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals
is but one of many that I (and I suspect Professor Hoppe) would
pile on to capture the point of the relationship between our economic
lives and our social, cultural, religious, sexual, and other differences.
There are a fascinating variety of ways in which this relationship
presents itself. For example, I am inclined to tell my students
that in those cultures where chastity and marital fidelity are more
present, more saving will occur
because paternity is more certain. The various points being made
by the examples are powerful and important: (1) it shows the relationship
between the ordinary psychological, social, religious, and
cultural aspects of life and their economic consequences; (2)
it shows that the savings rate, something that is normally thought
of as a function of narrow government “economic” policy, e.g., monetary
policy is driven by more fundamental human drives, and that
differences across communities in the savings rate is effected more
by differences in their “non-economic” ways of life than other things.

As
to the point that the broad tendency of the group does not apply
to every member, this is both true and trivial. It is mere silly
political posturing and bullying to insist that it has to be pointed
out. It is as valid about differences in height as between differences
in marginal propensity to consume between hetero- and homosexuals.
Only the most lunatic of political apparatchiks would insists that
the statement that men are taller than women needs to be qualified
by the statement that “not all men are taller than all women.” To
insist on such things, especially selectively, is once more an exercise
in political bullying and nothing more.

Note
as well that there is nothing invidious in Professor Hoppe’s hypothesis
or observation that homosexuals save less. Saving more is not “better.”
It is, as a general matter, merely different. I am not being
coy or flip in saying this. We save because we have a reason to
save. To fail to save when you should may be foolish and immoral
and to save when you should not may likewise be foolish and immoral.

Actually
this tendency to see something invidious here is of intellectual
interest. It shows one of the many pernicious effects of political
rectitude. On issues such as homosexuality all discussion
has been collapsed into the question: “Are you fer 'em or agin'
'em?” And if you have something to say that does not fall on that
base and linear dimension it is not heard, or viewed with suspicion.
Surely there is more to be said about homosexuality than that? For
example, I offer you the proposition that homosexuals tend to congregate
on islands and peninsulas. Consider Manhattan, San Francisco, Fire
Island, Key West, Cape Cod. It is interesting and one might be curious
as to why. And like Professor Hoppe’s observation/hypothesis about
the savings rate it does not constitute anything invidious.

The
evil in all this is quite simple to state. Professor Hoppe is being
persecuted for the crime of teaching economics – and as best
as I can tell for teaching it well. Using captivating social illustrations
is better – not worse – than teaching the subject with
dry equations and diagrams. And he chose, I think, a very
easily understood and yet informative
illustration.

February
14, 2005

Lloyd
Cohen [send him mail] is professor
of law at the George Mason University School of Law.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts