The economist Bryan Caplan is no provocateur, but he does not shy away from controversy. Nor is he afraid of criticism: he has pointed out that a few friends and well-wishers have privately expressed concerns that he might be setting himself up for a lot of criticismor possibly committing career suicideby titling the third volume of his series of EconLog blog post collections Dont Be A Feminist: Essays on Genuine Justice. Caplan appreciates the concern, but he plunges ahead with a collection of essays that question the unquestionable.
Dont Be A Feminist is divided into four sections, just like the other books in the series. The first section contains sixteen essays on The Social Injustice Movement. The second section is twelve essays on Being Beckerian, where Beckerian refers to the economist Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize in 1992 for his work pushing the economic way of thinking into previously uncharted waters like the analysis of crime and discrimination. Third, he refers to Everyday Evil in thirteen essays that deal with issues like immigration and colonialism. Importantly, he joins the left in offering scathing criticisms of Christopher Columbus. The last section, Clean Hands, assembles sixteen essays repudiating sacred doctrines like collective guilt and asking uncomfortable questions like who really cares about the poor?
While the chapters span Caplans entire blogging career at EconLog, people might find his first few chapters most interesting in light of present controversies on college campuses. The first chapter is the longest in the book; its a 30-page letter to his daughter titled Dont Be A Feminist. At the risk of oversimplifying, Caplan encourages his daughter to cast a skeptical eye on systemic and structural explanations for group differences when there are other, more plausible explanations. A classic example from labor economics that appears a few times in the book concerns the gender wage gap, which is often misleadingly presented as 20% earnings gap for men and women doing the same jobs. But men and women do not do the same jobs, of course, and a lot of the wage gap can be explained by things like the vast overrepresentation of men in extremely risky jobs like logging. A moments reflection shows that a gap per se is not prima facie evidence that something sinister is going on.
Dont Be A Feminist is a book about language as much as it is about justice. George Orwells influence abounds throughout, and two essays in the first section refer to Orwellian Othering and Loyalty Oaths Compared: An Orwellian Exercise. In the second essay, titled The Uniformity and Exclusion Movement, Caplan writes,
Out of all the major political movements on Earth, none is more Orwellian than social justice. No other movement is so dedicated to achieving the opposite of what its slogans proclaimor so aggressive in the warping of language. While every ideology is prone to a little doublethink, social justice is doublethink at its core.
The movement, he writes, strive(s) to achieve uniformity via exclusion. He goes on to criticize the diversity and inclusion statement the University of California requires of job candidates and suggests that the required score for moving forward in the recruitment process predictably causes ideological uniformity of Orwellian dimensions.
The reader of Dont Be A Feminist will find clear and careful explanation of these and other heresies. Maybe Caplan is wrong. Maybe hes overlooking something. At the very least, the essays in Dont Be A Feminist discuss a lot of things he has spent a lot of time thinking about. Theyll make you think, too.