Several years ago I hosted Deirdre McCloskey's visit at GMU. A condition of her visit was that she speak not only to the economics department, but also that she has the opportunity to meet with various women's groups and also the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Alliance on campus. The experience was enlightening to me as these are not groups that I normally would not interact with during my normal work routine. I embraced the opportunity and wanted to go listen and learn.
But during a session where GMU PhD students in culutral studies were discussing their work with Deirdre about power and sexism as reflected in disciplines such as economics, and the sexism evident in the market in general, I started to question what was being argued. But Deirdre seemed to understand the arguments being offered. I was confused. The Deirdre McCloskey I knew was not only a philosophically aware classical liberal thinker who could write, but a damn good economist. McCloskey's text in price theory is one of the best books anyone could read to learn economics from. As I became more and more uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, I intervened and asked Deirdre "I don't understand, what would need to be changed in Donald McCloskey's Applied Theory of Price now that you are Deirdre?" Basically what I wanted to ask was "don't demand curves slope downward regardless of gender or sexual orientation?"
My question was never really answered and the discomfort I felt with the direction of the conversation, had now shifted to the discomfort that I caused by pushing an argument that perhaps bordered on impolite given the audience. So I kept quiet the remainder of the meeting, and never brought the subject up again with McCloskey privately --- which I regret. As readers of this blog will know, I consider McCloskey one of the most fascinating and original thinkers in economics and political economy (see my various reviews of her books over the years). I should have just asked her what was on my mind, but I guess I got nervous that my inability to understand nuance would be revealed to blantantly.
Now Tyler Cowen has pointed us to a new blog by an undgraduate student of economics at University of Toronto that focuses on the clash of feminism and economics --- Economic Woman. The author is insightful and she writes in an engaging style, but again I ask "don't demand curves slope downward regardless of gender or sexual orientation?" For example, hasn't there been significant studies over the years that have attempted to control for various factors (e.g., occupational choice, job tenure, educational choice, etc.) in the wage gap, and once these are taking into account the gap closes significantly. Clearly the advice Economic Woman gives to undergraduates is reasonable advice for men and women.
My resistence to feminism as a doctine in contrast to economics is not a politically conservative issue. My sister would beat me up if I tried to do that (BTW, congratulations Sue --- she is being inducted into her high school Athletic Hall of Fame for her coaching career tonight!!!). No, I grew up in a household where women were expected to excel in athletics and life, and not accept barriers. But so were men supposed to excel. Thus, in my mind the expectation of excellence turned into an argument for individualism, not a collective demand for action. Women, like men, let alone minorities, should not accept any artificial barriers to pursuing their goals. If people get in your way, don't let them --- either side-step them or run them over. Don't ever let others define you, you define yourself; you are in control of your own destiny. The cream always rises, is what my father always taught us.
When I learned economics at GCC, I came to understand that markets provide options for side-stepping or running over artificial barriers. If the corporate old boys network presents barriers, then start your own business and compete with them in the marketplace. Markets are a great equalizing force in society. They provide the means for the escape from oppression. In fact, Deirdre McCloskey's latest work on Bourgeoise Virtues makes this argument in historical form better than I have seen elsewhere. So irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, nationality, and ethnicity, economic theory teaches that demand curves slope downward, and economic history teachers that market societies are the most open and equalizing.
In other words, economics and feminism do not collide. A women practicing economics is no different than a woman practicing physics. Of course, being a woman I am sure is different from being a man, just as being a young man is different than being middle aged man. But if the claim is different than that --- in essence that there is a different economics for women than for men --- I must confess I just don't get it. Again demand curves slope downward whether we are talking about men or women, whether we are talking about Jews, Christians, Muslims, or Buddhists, whether we are talking about Africans, Americans, and Europeans.