What the Students Heard Walter Block Say
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Very few college students these days will attend a campus lecture that is not a part of their assigned studies unless they are bribed with "extra credit" points. I offer such opportunities to my students whenever an appropriate speaker appears on campus, such as when Professor Walter Block delivered a lecture at Loyola College in early November on the economics of the "gender gap." In order to get a few extra credit points the students are required to write up a short one- or two-page summary of the main points of the lecture, and to add any critical commentary they wish. I am always adamant about telling them that I could care less if they agree with the speaker; I only want them to follow the economic arguments that are made and to think critically about them.
Seventeen of my undergraduate students did just this, and guess what? Not one of them claims to have been "offended" by any "insensitive" remarks that Professor Block made. They reacted to his remarks like adults, in other words, unlike some of their peers outside of economics, in the College administration, and the majority of the economics faculty. In fact, several of them expressed the opinion that there is a serious problem among their peers in terms of their inability to engage in any kind of critical thinking about anything.
All seventeen students clearly summarized Professor Block's main point that marriage affects men and women very differently in terms of their future earning abilities, and is therefore an important cause of the male/female wage gap. They all wrote of his "marital asymmetry hypothesis." A typical remark in the papers that were turned in to me was this one: "Since married women devote more time to their families on average than men do, their productivity [in the workplace] will inevitably decrease due to the finite amount of time allotted in the day." And so will their wages, consequently. Several chose to include a comment about a poll that Professor Block took of the room full of about 75 students. As one explained: "He then took a poll of the listeners. There were three categories: Those who think that men do more housework; those who think housework is equal between men and women; and those who think women do more housework. Overwhelmingly the listeners thought women did the majority of the housework."
Professor Block's point was "if women do one thing [housework, raising children], then they give up doing another. If we assume that men and women are equal and able (have equal productivity) then the housework is the reason for the wage gap." During the lecture Professor Block used the example of the famous Baltimore Olympian Michael Phelps, commenting that he could never be a very good concert musician, for example, since he spends 8—10 hours a day in a swimming pool and not practicing a musical instrument. The opportunity cost of being an Olympic athlete is all of the other opportunities foregone, just as the opportunity cost of the joys of motherhood are, for most women, workplace wages foregone.
Most of my students found Professor Block's statistics to be very interesting and convincing. As one of them wrote, his argument was "furthered by data that shows there is no wage gap between males and females who are unmarried." They all understood that the main point of the lecture was that "marriage and marital status enhances male income and lowers females'," as one student wrote, along with "women take a big wage cut because of taking time off . . . to have children."
This of course is a direct challenge to the socialistic orthodoxy of academic feminism, which contends that capitalism is inherently sexist and that all of the "wage gap" is explained by the inherent sexism of male-dominated capitalism. The challenging of this Marxist superstition is apparently what generated an explosion of indignation, hate, outrage, cries of sexism, demands for apologies, attacks on academic freedom, calls for censorship, and a carnival of buffoonish behavior on the part of the entire Loyola College administration and all of the economics department with the exceptions of myself and the department chairman, Father Hank Hilton, S.J.
This orgy of Stalinist political correctness seems to have been instigated by a single student who was able to persuade some of the more feebleminded and immature among his peers that Professor Block said things that he unequivocally did not say. (One of my students said a student chat group was asking dumb and childish questions like, "why did that guy said that black people are unproductive?," which of course he never said.) The administration, of course, believed every word of this troublemaker's lies without making any effort whatsoever to ask Professor Block, out of professional courtesy, if they were true. Nor did any of the economists who signed an "apology" letter in the school newspaper (despite the fact that most of them were not in attendance) have the decency and manners to contact Professor Block, or the courage to actually sign their own names to the letter, which was misleadingly signed, "the economics department."
My economics students are among the most intelligent on campus, and probably on most campuses, and many of them expressed disgust or disbelief over the whole asinine episode orchestrated by the College administration. In fact one student, writing in the school newspaper, accused the College administration of constantly trying to fabricate the existence of racism or sexism on campus where none exists. (After a very civil and successful student forum on the presidential candidates attended by over 100 students, the College administration apparently forced a number of students to take a "pledge of unity" that disavows racism, sexism, etc. The student in charge of the forum, who was in one of my classes, said he detected no such behavior.)
"Professor Block's lecture was extremely interesting," one of my students wrote in her extra credit paper. "I found the lecture Professor Block gave very thought provoking" and "overall it was a very interesting lecture that raised some new questions in my mind," said another. This of course is what I hoped the lecture would do.
Another student wrote that "Unlike many lectures offered by other departments, I actually felt as though I had the chance to hear a different point of view." "[T]he ideas Dr. Block articulated . . . are certainly different from those constantly being espoused." (Aha. No wonder there was a near riot on campus.)
"Dr. Block's talk allowed me the opportunity to think about my own positions and reconsider their merits," another student wrote. "Block presents his argument in a simple and direct fashion that seems hard to dispute," wrote a female student, who added that "His presentation style was very straightforward and made his arguments seem almost obvious . . . . Personally, I really enjoyed the lecture, and as a female senior preparing to graduate, I thought the lecture was very enlightening."
"While I enjoyed Block's discussion, I was surprised at how much controversy has stemmed from his presentation," wrote another. Sensing that the campus thought police had committed an ugly attack on academic freedom, this student added that "I am supportive of a university being a place where different academic ideas can be discussed freely." It's a pathetic state of affairs when a young undergraduate student feels the need to make such a declaration.
Yet another student noted that Professor Block's lecture was "unsurprising" to him, and "grounded in economic concepts rather than sexism or racism" as some had falsely charged. The "uproar" over the lecture "especially illuminates the need for a greater emphasis on the study of economic concepts or at the least, critical thinking skills, for all students at Loyola College." Another student added that "Professor Block's lecture was very interesting and sparked huge discussions that would not have been brought up if he had not been here. I enjoyed his lecture and his book Defending the Undefendable" [which was assigned for my law and economics course].
With comments like these, I would normally be motivated to arrange for another seminar/debate on these topics, including several invited speakers, to turn Professor Block's lecture into an extraordinary learning experience for the students. But the campus thought police, led by all of the top administrators and those letter-writing economists, made it very clear to me with their smearing and slandering of Professor Block that such a thing would not be welcomed.
December 18, 2008
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.
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