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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Are Conservatives Stupid?
Not that long ago, Starkman put forth the "argument" that all conservatives are stupid, which I think had the opposite of the intended effect. Certainly for this reader. Now a similar comment has kicked up another little dust storm. This started when the Duke Conservative Union reviewed faculty members' political affiliation and found 142 Democrats and 8 Republicans. In response, one Dr. Brandon of the Philosophy Department pulled a Starkman:

"We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia."

Obviously this argument A) poisons the well by name-calling, B) dismisses rather than refutes conservative philosophy, and C) is unsupported by the facts. However, Kieran Healy offers a defense of Duke, although not Dr. Brandon. He argues that conservatives are not well positioned to cry "discrimination!"

The trouble is that conservatives, by and large, tend to believe that people get what they deserve in life and that labor markets — whether for food service workers, corporate consultants, assistant professors or any other occupation — shake out fairly. When confronted with evidence of systematic racial or gender inequality, for example, they’ll go to considerable effort to argue that it’s differences in natural talent, acquired skills or personal preferences that are driving the outcome.

Kieran's mistake is that he compares this situation to an "open market." Did the Duke Philosophy Department incorporate as a for-profit enterprise while I wasn't looking? When you are a regulated, subsidized bureaucracy it is easy to discriminate because you don't bear the costs. No capitalist is going to argue that a tenured labor system, that relies on goverment subsidies, and produces no income is a place where all outcomes are dictated by the market. Businesses can't cheat like that.

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