• The Hoppe Affair

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    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.

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