10 Mar 2012

A Sponge for Contraception Discussions

Economics, Steve Landsburg 5 Comments

Oh man, some foolish reporter decided to cross swords with Steve Landsburg, not realizing that this is the email equivalent of invading Stalingrad. In light of my recent post, and the comments in Steve’s latest, let me clarify my own “contribution” to this saga:

(1) Originally, I thought Steve’s post was hilarious. Rush Limbaugh had said some clearly inflammatory things and was causing a firestorm, and Steve chimed in on the issue by lamenting that he (Steve) hadn’t come up with perhaps the most controversial of Rush’s sentences (namely that if others are forced to subsidize Fluke’s birth control, then she should have to post video online). When I say I thought it was hilarious, I just mean, “Oh man Steve, you’re something else.” After noting that bit of funny, I then went on to quibble with Steve’s economic analysis. At that point, I thought we were all done with the issue.

(2) My point in this hasn’t been to wag my finger at Steve (or Rush Limbaugh). I have nothing to add in this category. They were both trying to be entertaining in their critique of Fluke’s testimony. You can say it wasn’t funny, it was insensitive, or that it was awesome. I have nothing to add on that decision.

(3) The reason I decided to jump in again, is that once the president of the University of Rochester publicly chastised Steve, a bunch of Steve’s fans went ballistic and acted as if Steve were being persecuted merely for his failure to properly express his own disapproval of what Rush Limbaugh said. So THAT I thought was completely bogus.

(4) In the comments of Steve’s latest post, I would like to think I’ve come up with the clearest illustration yet of why Steve’s strongest defenders have no leg to stand on. (To repeat: If you want to say, “Lighten up everybody, Rush and Steve were just making a joke, chill out,” OK that’s coherent. But you can’t say, “Steve was as appalled by Rush’s misogynist comments as the University president. Steve decided to focus on the economics though, and for that he is being vilified.”) So here’s my comment [with typos fixed]:

Just when I thought I was out, Neil at 12:48am dragged me back in with:

There is an iron law in political debate. If your opponents can misinterpret your words to their political advantage, they will maliciously do so (with glee). And this is a bipartisan law.

That is what we are seeing being done to Landsburg. Anyone who thinks that they can win this argument with logic, forget it. When Steve made the mistake of coupling his logical argument with a correction of Limbaugh’s use of the English language (a prostitute, not a slut, is the correct word for someone who engages in sex for money), rather than condemning it, he gave the jackals all the ammunition they needed.

OK Neil I told Steve Landsburg in person once that his Armchair Economist was one of the biggest influences on me as an economist and writer (in this vein). All right, so I’m not a “jackal” out to get Steve. Please take a minute to consider what I am saying here, because if I’m right then you will be relieved to learn that the world isn’t as awful as you currently think.

Rush Limbaugh *on the air and in real-time* corrected his use of the term “slut.” (Or maybe Bo Snerdley, his off-air producer, did; I don’t remember.) Rush realized Fluke’s position didn’t make her a slut, so he updated it to “prostitute.”

Now suppose that Rush had had just one more eureka moment. Suppose he added the following sentences to the progression: “What’s that, Snerdly? You say this Fluke gal probably would have sex either way, since she goes to Georgetown after all and probably spends $10 a day on lattes at Starbucks? You’re right, Snerdly. She’s not a prostitute. She’s an…extortionist, I guess. I know! She’s a contraceptive sponge! Ha ha, brilliant, thanks HR.”

So Neil, Ken B., et al., do you want to tell me if Rush had added the above commentary, then there would have been no furor?

Of course there would have been furor; the “contraceptive sponge” would have made things worse, not better, for Rush.

One last thing: There seems to be outrage among Landsburg’s partisans on the issue of using the term in a derogatory fashion, versus choosing correct terminology tailored to Fluke’s testimony. But that is exactly what Limbaugh was doing. Limbaugh wasn’t calling Fluke that word as a generic insult, the way Dan Akroyd in that famous sketch said, “Jane you ignorant slut.” No, Rush was saying that the logic of Fluke’s position implied that she was a slut. Then, Rush corrected himself and realized the term didn’t fit, and switched it to prostitute.

Again–Rush did exactly what Landsburg said was the appropriate thing to do. The only “mistake” Rush made was in settling on “prostitute” as the right way to label Fluke, given her testimony and the worldview it implied, rather than amending it once again to “contraceptive sponge.”

5 Responses to “A Sponge for Contraception Discussions”

  1. Sealander says:

    I…actually think there would have been less of an uproar if Rush had settled on extortionist.

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      Of course there would be an uproar.

      The people that are mad are people who know a smart, articulate woman like Sandra Fluke that they could imagine saying exactly what Sandra Fluke said. It doesn’t matter if he “settled” on “extortionist” (as if that’s a great thing to call her!) The fact that he even reached for “slut” or “prostitute” bothers people because they are figuring – quite logically – that he would have no reservations about reaching for those terms to describe the women we care about. And that, for obvious reasons, doesn’t sit well with people.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        “Smart, articulate” women (and men) don’t deserve respect when their advocacies are unintelligent, depraved, and based on coercion.

  2. Daniel Kuehn says:

    “No, Rush was saying that the logic of Fluke’s position implied that she was a slut. Then, Rush corrected himself and realized the term didn’t fit, and switched it to prostitute.”

    Hmmmm… seems to me there are derogatory ways to refer to people who enjoy sex and non-derogatory ways to refer to people who have sex.

    Same with prostitute (although I guess that’s more neutral). Sex workers are usually referred to by neutral parties as… well “sex workers”. Other words like whore may have the same logical underpinnings, but that doesn’t mean “whore” and “sex worker” are interchangeable.

    I have a post on Landsburg I just wrote that you might be interested in here: http://www.factsandotherstubbornthings.blogspot.com/2012/03/landsburg-on-fluke-thinking-like.html

    I actually think you’ll like the distinction I draw – I think you’re exactly right that Landsburg was making a logical, analytical statement (I’m not entirely convinced the same could be said for Rush). What you may or may not agree with, is that I don’t think that necessarily think that makes Landsburg right.

  3. Tel says:

    I think there’s another bipartisan law that people won’t bother to read past your first or second point on any issue so you better start with something impressive.

    Whatever you may think about the fine technicalities of what makes someone a prostitute, this sort of thing isn’t exactly going to get some progressive thinking about the deeper issues, nor is it going to advance the cause of freedom. It’s a better strategy to just hammer the basic points.

    * Insurance should NOT be used as a vehicle for attempting to force wealth transfer, even if potentially that wealth transfer might have some elements of a “good cause” about it. It is fundamentally dishonest (and ultimately destructive) to create a subsidy and disguise it as insurance.

    * Typical costs that are hurting the poor are dominated by: rent, fuel, electricity, heating, food, transport, tertiary education fees (if they want their kids to do better than they have). If you want to help those people then those are the costs to put the effort into.

    * It is deliberately divisive (and in the long run dangerous and stupid) to start forcing religious people to work against their own convictions. We don’t force Jews to supply pork to the underprivileged, we don’t force Muslims to brew beer for the poor, etc. Religious people can be very charitable under the right circumstances, but if you systematically piss people off, it isn’t helpful to those genuinely struggling at the bottom of the heap, it is only helpful to the people manipulating opinions in the hope of gaining power.

    * Sandra Fluke picked some figures at the high-end of the market for her testimony, she wasn’t just some randomly chosen student, she was an activist and this is her pet hobby horse, and she admits that she was well aware of the policy when she enrolled at a Jesuit school. For that matter, law students don’t really represent a cross-section of the “hard done by” people in our society.

    At this stage, better to ignore Rush, he is just a distraction, stirs people up but not in a helpful way.

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