LIS News led me to this blog post from Conservative Librarian, written by an academic librarian at Purdue. I’m all for librarians participating in popular political discourse, but I think this post trying to make “An Economic Case Against Homosexuality” has some rhetorical and logical problems.
The author opens by saying that “as a Christian,” he agrees “with the biblical condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle.” He realizes that making such a claim based on his interpretation of his holy book means nothing to any but the choir. It’s as if I said, “as a Christian, I agree with the biblical imperative to love your neighbor as yourself.” Who cares? John Rawls argued that to make political arguments in a pluralist society, we need to use public reason, that is, common reason available to us all, not partial reasons available only to those who share a particular prejudice. It’s also the standard by which academic discourse is generally judged. The author apparently recognizes this problem, and thus tries to make the “economic case” against homosexuality.
Unfortunately, the claim of his provocative title falls apart almost immediately, as he’s forced to consider “other aberrant forms of sexual expression.” Otherwise, the argument, such that it is, makes little sense. For example, one of the “economic cases” against homosexuality is the amount of money the U.S. has spent on AIDS treatment and research in the past few decades. There are no sources cited, and a couple of uses of “probably” rather than hard numbers, but if we consider what the U.S. has spent worldwide on AIDS it is probably a lot. I agree. However, the biggest AIDS epidemic for a long time has been in Africa, and has nothing to do with homosexuality. Hence, the resort to “other aberrant forms of sexual expression,” which in the AIDS argument seems equal to “heterosexual promiscuity in Africa and elsewhere.” All this money being spent on AIDS, even if it has nothing to do with homosexuality, could have been spent on other diseases. I suppose there’s a point there. It’s not a point against homosexuality, though. Note some of the money has been spent on needle exchanges. The needles have nothing to do with sex–homo, hetero, or otherwise.
Then comes this claim: “Our ongoing U.S. political debate over health care reform also needs to factor in the economic costs of homosexual and other sexually deviant behaviors on our health care system in terms of pharmaceutical drugs, tainted blood supplies, and requiring doctors and nurses to treat sexually transmitted diseases which would be less likely to occur if people practiced chastity outside of heterosexual marriage and monogamy within such marriage.” We could wonder what those costs might be, but the motivation to consider them in the way phrased has stepped outside the boundary of public reason. Sex outside of marriage is much more likely a norm of sexual behavior, which would make abstinence the “deviation,” unless one’s assumptions come from a religious base rather than the evidence of what people actually do. STDs are apparently widespread in the U.S. It might be the case they’re from deviant sexual practices, but there’s no reason to assume that doctors not treating them would have been busy treating other things. We could easily reverse this and argue that it’s a good thing we have all these STDs that need treatment; otherwise all those doctors and nurses wouldn’t have as much employment.
The next paragraph is the one that really threw me, though. Here it is in full:
Anyone who studies prison conditions knows that AIDS is a reality in many correctional facilities due to the occurrence of rape. I’m not sure how systematically the Justice Dept’s Bureau of Justice Statistics keeps track of prison rape statistics or other instances of same sex sexual assault, but that also has economic implications not to mention the psychological trauma experienced by all rape victims. I have seen one Bureau of Justice Statistics study indicating that 90% of prison rapes are from male on male sexual activity. This particular problem was serious enough to cause Congress to pass legislation in 2003 creating a Prison Rape Elimination Commission which issued its report earlier this year. The presence of sex offender registries, which require significant law enforcement staff time and expense to update and maintain, is another demonstration of the high economic costs of sexually deviant behavior.
Now we’ve moved well beyond any economic argument against homosexuality. “Sexual deviance” as defined by the author now includes homosexual sex, extramarital sex, prison rape, and the broad range of behaviors known as sexual offenses. Collapsing all these into the same category is conceptually problematic unless one has left public reason behind once more. To say that a stable and long-cohabiting but unmarried heterosexual couple are the equivalent of prison rapists or child molesters doesn’t make much sense morally or philosophically. Regardless of the conceptual problems trying to relate all these disparate behaviors, what “economic implications” are there about prison rape? There’s a claim, but no evidence or argument whatsoever. And even if there was, why would we need to make an economic argument against prison rape or child molestation? Surely most of us could agree that prison rape or child molestation is bad regardless of our stances on economics. This guilt by association is a poor excuse for an argument.
The author then gets slightly back on track by discussing same-sex partner benefits. This at least has some relation to homosexuality and possibly to economics. He claims that providing same-sex partner benefits “drives up insurance costs for these companies” and “requires these companies to pass on the costs of their goods and services beyond normal inflationary trends.” Maybe. I don’t know. There’s no evidence cited. “Additionally, it also probably makes it more difficult for them to expand their businesses and create additional jobs in an economy coping with near double digit unemployment rates.” There’s that probably again. Maybe it would. Wouldn’t all benefits do this, though? Why not eliminate all health care benefits, if economic efficiency is all that matters?
The oddest thing for a blog post from an academic librarian is a questionable citation to an alleged study–“Corporate Resource Center’s study Do Domestic Partner Benefits Make Good Economic Sense? (available at their website)”–only there’s no link and I could find no evidence that such a center or study exists. Why not just link to it? The question is irrelevant, anyway, but having a citation one could actually track down is a minimal academic requirement.
The post ends talking about further problems with the “homosexual lifestyle,” despite the fact that many of the claims about “economic consequences” haven’t been based on homosexuality at all. The only economic issue specifically regarding homosexuality in the entire post is the claim that businesses expanding coverage makes it difficult for them. That’s the case for any benefits at all, though. If companies dropped all their health benefits, they’d be more profitable. Tens of millions of people would suffer horribly, but economic arguments don’t address that.
Besides the red herrings, the real problem with the argument is that, while pretending to rely on public reasoning, it relies on the wrong type of public reasoning. It’s making an economic argument when a political or moral one is appropriate.
One could make an “economic case” against all sorts of rights. For example, one could have argued during the civil rights debates in the fifties and sixties tha
t ending Jim Crow would have economic costs. Ending Jim Crow and spending money to enforce equal rights cost money. So what?
Males under 25 are the most dangerous drivers on the road and cause the most accidents. Should we forbid them to drive? People who eat red meat have a higher chance of getting heart disease, which is a tax on our health system. Should we ban meat? The divorce rate for evangelical Christians is higher than for any other religious group and for agnostics and atheists? Think of the economic costs in terms of divorce lawyers, property loss, increased chances of impoverishment for single mothers with children, not to mention the costs of dealing with the psychological problems divorce can cause in children. Should we ban evangelical Christians from marrying and having children?
Despite the apparent attempt to use public arguments not based on the Bible, the exercise in this blog post is misguided. Using economic arguments in a political debate only makes sense if the persons in the debate share common values, because there’s no value in economics besides efficiency. There’s a persistent belief among many Americans that economic arguments trump political or moral arguments, but that logic isn’t carried through consistently. It’s only applied when the supposed economic argument benefits their political side.
This attempt at public reasoning ultimately fails. Economic arguments are about the most efficient means to an end, but they’re pointless unless we agree on the end. Besides, questions of rights aren’t about economics; they’re about justice, whichever side you’re on.