Not Economics but Justice

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.


24 thoughts on “Not Economics but Justice

  1. I will wait until you are here! I saw that you are teaching a class next semester. First time teaching at GSLIS, or have I been being oblivious again?

  2. Good question, Caleb. I partly responded because I thought some other librarian responses I saw were responding purely to the politics. “This guy’s a bigot! He’s an ultraconservative!” Librarianship tends to be a politically monolithic profession without necessarily reflecting on that. For me, the problem with his views aren’t that they’re conservative. It’s that they’re irrational and poorly developed.

  3. I did not even notice that the “study” he mentions wasn’t linked. I figured it was, since it was in bold. Anyway, being an academic librarian myself, I was curious about whether such a study existed. It does, but he got the name of the organization wrong. It was published by the Corporate Resource Council. Their website states: “The goal of all CRC resources and programs is to equip corporate executives to establish family- and faith-friendly employee policies based on sound legal, financial and other business principles.”
    Not only does he have a problem with citation, but for an academic librarian (in the social sciences, especially!), I am very troubled by his seeming inability to evaluate the bias of the source he is using. The white paper (I would not characterize it as a “study”) is not much more rigorous or logical in its reasoning than the CL’s post, but at least it does have footnotes!

  4. Wayne, all,
    Being a librarian and a social conservative, I am distressed that this person argued as poorly as he did about gay marriage.
    A much more thoughtful, and nuanced, presentation of what is at stake, I believe in this issue, can be found here:
    So yes, this is about justice – I see it as a matter of the rights of the child. Go ahead and call me a bigot. : ) I will say I think that you are someone who simply does not think holistically enough.
    As a op-ed columnist recently put it in the Star Trib here in MN:
    “It’s ironic that in other realms of life, Americans are very aware of the risks of tampering excessively with nature. Many of those urging us to transform humankind’s fundamental social institution are the very people who preach about such risks in the environmental context and warn that the actions of individuals affect the well-being of all. The natural world, they say, can stretch only so far before breaking as we tinker with the realities of its systems.
    We understand little about how marriage has undergirded the order and prosperity we take for granted. We tamper with marriage at our peril.”
    Getting back to our conservative library friend however, interestingly though, this tendency to make bad arguments based on “economics” alone, is not limited to social conservatives.
    See here:
    This article seems to assume that human beings should get into the workplace as soon as possible, and thinking of them primarily as economic agents, seems to take no account of what this trend may mean for humankind’s future. While calling China’s one child policy dreadful, it says that it “has worked” and that said policy “has benefited the rest of the world.”
    And if we needed to be reminded of the absolute tyranny that is China’s “one child only” policy that “works” Kathleen Parker can help a bit here.
    A taste:
    “Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of the Frontiers group, told the commission that China’s one-child policy “causes more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on Earth.” . . .
    A woman pregnant without permission has to surrender her unborn child to government enforcers, no matter what the stage of fetal development. . . .
    The one-child policy has created other problems that threaten women and girls. The traditional preference for boys has meant sex-selected abortions resulting in a gender imbalance. Today, men in China outnumber women by 37 million, a disparity that has become a driving force behind sex slavery in Asia. Exacerbating the imbalance, about 500 women a day commit suicide in China — the highest rate in the world, which Littlejohn attributes in part to coercive family planning.
    Obviously, the United States is in an awkward position with China, our second-largest trading partner and the largest holder of our government debt. But Littlejohn hopes Obama will “truly represent American values, including our strong commitment to human rights.” She is also calling on Planned Parenthood and NARAL to speak up for reproductive choice in China.”
    All very intersting. Thanks again Wayne.

  5. Nathan, Thanks for the links. I would think most academic librarians regardless of political position would be disturbed that one of their peers would argue so poorly in public. It’s not even clear what the argument is supposed to be about. What does “against homosexuality” mean? That homosexual activity should be criminalized? Or “merely” that equal rights be denied? Or should we think homosexuals are equivalent to prison rapists and child molesters?
    You’re interpreting the position as specifically against same-sex marriage (and presumably the healthcare and other benefits that typically come with them), which is at least a focused area of inquiry. If the “marriage index” shows what is at stake, it’s not clear what that has to do with same-sex marriage. If social conservatives (the meaning of which isn’t entirely clear to me) are really concerned about supporting a culture of marriage, then they would have been mounting a massive campaign against no-fault divorce laws instead of against same-sex marriage. There’s ample evidence of the negative effects of divorce on children, but as far as I know there’s no evidence of any negative effects on children growing up with two loving parents of the same sex.
    Evangelical Christians (who do get divorced at greater rates than other religious persons or the non-religious) who attack same-sex marriage don’t seem to me motivated for the most part by a concern for the family. They’re motivated by their hatred for homosexuals. If that hatred is driven by the Bible, then it’s typical of the pick-and-choose interpretations of many so-called fundamentalists. Christ said of marriage, what God has joined together let no man put asunder. Christ never said, two women can’t marry each other. And if we’re talking Old Testament, consider this:
    “If honoring the law means adherence to the Old Testament, then what other laws should we enforce? Should a man who lies with a woman during her menstrual cycle be banished (Lev. 20:18)? Should women who aren’t virgins be stoned to death (Deut. 22:20-21)? Should all adulterers be executed (Deut. 22:22)? Should we stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:20-21)? What’s to be done with those who mar the edges of their beards (Lev. 19:27)? Should women who have just given birth be kept from attending church services for 33 days—66 if they give birth to a girl (Lev. 12:4-5)? And how should we lawfully and biblically deal with those who have bodily discharge (Lev. 15)?

  6. Thanks for your well-reasoned analysis of Chapman’s post.
    Although I found the whole thing kind of mind-boggling, the prison rape paragraph definitely stood out as the cream of the ridiculous. When he states that “90% of prison rapes are male on male” I really had to laugh. Perhaps if we desegregated prisons, we would only have to deal with hetrosexual rape, which is bound to be less costly?
    He talks about the Prison Rape Elimination Commission as if they support his argument, but they find that rape is more likely to be committed by men who identify as heterosexual against men who are perceived as homosexual. Maybe a better way to save money through the elimination of prison rape would be to give prisoners better information resources on how to look straight. I volunteer Bert Chapman to put together a reading list.

  7. Wayne,
    This necessarily needs to be short.
    It’s simple. I am against gay marriage and I am against no fault divorce. Yes, this is the only real consitent position, if a persons is truly concerned about children.
    If you want to see more about what I believe you can go here:
    (my comments start around 20 or so)
    Further, I am arguing according to reason, not according to religious beliefs (although I have these), but if you want to be taken seriously when you argue with the Bible (which I really don’t have any interest in doing really), you should probably better familiarize yourself with the best sources that defend the traditional interpretations (those that would not be quoting Leviticus for example) : )
    I recommend Dr. Robert Gagnon. Here’s a good place to start:

  8. Nathan, I wasn’t accusing you of not arguing reasonably. I was more pointing out some of the poor arguments that many people in our society do in fact put forward for these issues, and that there is definitely a selectivity in Biblically based arguments. I didn’t mean to conflate your position with that one or the one of the librarian under discussion. I’m also not unfamiliar with hermeneutics, and gave that quote as an example of picking and choosing. Though it doesn’t matter, because arguments based on a holy book are absolutely irrelevant to questions of politics and justice in a pluralistic society. I really have no interest in debating same-sex marriage, but I do wonder what actual evidence there is that suggests children raised by two loving, stable homosexual partners are harmed in any way. I’ve not heard of such evidence or studies on the subject, but given your interest in the subject, you might. (Peer-reviewed scholarly studies only, please!)

  9. And Emily, I also found the prison rape paragraph the oddest. What’s funniest to me is that anyone would feel the need to make an economic case against prison rape. I’d think opposition to prison rape would be a pretty uncontroversial position, except perhaps to the prison rapists themselves, but I think it would be fair to eliminate them from the discussion about justice.

  10. Someone sent me this:
    Apparently the “economic case” blog post has sparked a bit of protest at Purdue and has some students clamoring that Chapman be fired and others claiming that his free speech should be protected. Just for the record, I fall into the free speech camp and would definitely not want to see him fired because of a blog post, both on free speech and academic freedom grounds. If anything, blog posts like this are a reason to allow more freedom of speech rather than less. We have much more to fear from suppression of free speech and academic freedom than we do from nonsensical arguments.

  11. The general incompetence in Mr. Chapman’s blog post certainly raises questions about his ability to perform his job.
    That aside, there’s a growing body of evidence delineating the economic cost of anti-gay prejudice. For example,
    “While the research clearly shows that the health and social problems endemic to the GLBT population result from stressors of living in a climate of ignorance and hate, those enablers of homophobia twist that research to suggest that merely being gay is the problem’s cause.
    It is time that we looked at the facts and addressed the issues. A 2001 study that looked at the economic cost of homophobia shows that it could be as high as 8 billion dollars a year.”
    Other studies have linked regional economic growth with acceptance of GLBTQ people – with a striking overlap of strong economic success and legal recognition of civil rights for GLBTQ people. Other studies have concluded that legalizing same-sex marriage is economically advantageous.
    Chapman essentially argued against the existence of millions of people, which is reprehensible, but it is the incompetence and fraud in his post that justifies relieving him of his position.

  12. Nathan
    Maggie Callagher is hardly a credible, much less unbiased source for anything related to homosexuality. She makes her living promoting overt discrimination against and abuse of GLBTQ people, and has presented fraudulent material on a regular basis.
    The irony is that her ‘data’ – marriage indicators – argue against her core position. The decline in those indicators correlate with the rise of the religious right and its pogrom against GLBTQ people, which intrinsically and explicitly devalued all human relationships. The positive increases in those indicators correlate with the movement for same-sex marriage, the increased acceptance of same-sex couples, and the trend away from institutionalized homophobia.
    Additionally, Robert Gagnon is a very poor source regarding the issue of the Bible and homosexuality, and, he does invoke the two allegedly relevant passages from Leviticus. He is another individual who’s income is derived, significantly, from promoting the persecution and abuse of GLBTQ people.
    Additionally, Nathan, any argument against same-sex marriage that invokes ‘the children’ is intrinsically dishonest on multiple levels, since reproduction is not a requirement for marriage, and many same-sex couples are, or wish to be, raising children.
    Heterosexuals who are biologically unable to reproduce are allowed to marry, and they are not required to adopt. Marriages are not dissolved when children become independent or pass away.
    Your position is inconsistent until you demand that the marriages of all childless heterosexual couples be dissolved, and restrict marriage to only those couples who are capable of reproducing, and who subsequently do so in a timely manner.
    Of course, GLBTQ people not only have children, each and everyone one of us was once a child, and Nathan, you are advocating telling children that they are automatically inferior if they happen to have the wrong intrinsic trait. The prejudice you are defending inflicts tremendous injury on children, gay and straight. It looks to me like you are using ‘the children’, rather than thinking of their welfare.
    One other point, Nathan. Studies indicate that GLBTQ people in the U.S. pay a disproportionate amount of taxes relative to the benefits and protections they receive, compared to heterosexuals. Your arguments here, and Mr. Chapman’s, will have some credibility after you work to relieve GLBTQ people of this enormous tax-based injustice.

  13. “it is the incompetence and fraud in his post that justifies relieving him of his position.” If we started firing professors or librarians who make stupid arguments about subjects outside their area of expertise, we wouldn’t have very many left. This post, though very poorly reasoned, is not in Chapman’s area of academic expertise and does not pose as a work of scholarship.

  14. David,
    Let me quickly make some comments.
    I must say, the tone you take with me rather disturbs me so. For example, I have no doubt that Dr. Gagnon mentions the use of the passages in Leviticus, however, that he does so in a way that is nuanced, responsible, and not *basing* his arguments on them.
    “has presented fraudulent material on a regular basis.”
    Cite please.
    “is a very poor source regarding the issue of the Bible and homosexuality”
    David, this is blanket assertion and not argument.
    Further, my position is only inconsistent when viewed through your, I believe, rather anemic “rights framework”. GLBTQ may have children, but not with the help of man-woman love / functioning/ contributions.
    David, I do not feel I am using children, but just seeing the bigger picture. I am posting here a letter I wrote to the editor of the Star Tribune, in response to a person who responded to Katherine Kerstin (see column I linked to above). I hope you will find it challenging:
    “Responding to Katherine Kersten’s gay marriage column, Mary Swanson asserts that the purpose of marriage is not related to “how boys and girls flourish best”. She emphasizes it is a contract “based on property rights and inheritance” between household heads and their progeny.
    The words “contract” and “progeny” invite more, not less, discussion. Nevertheless, let us focus on her contention that marriage is not anchored in biological and social facts (i.e., that it attaches parents to their children).
    Many lawmakers increasingly think of fathers as wholly superfluous to the task of raising a healthy, well-adjusted citizenry (in the U.K., women obtaining donor sperm need not even provide assurance the child will have a “father-figure” in its life). However, thousands of years ago, the law-giver Lipit-Ishtar said: “I made the father support his children. I made the child support his father. I made the father stand by his children.” Sociologist David Blankenhorn insists marriage “shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood”.
    If this is disregarded, the following questions may never be asked, or even considered: “What might it mean that, barring complications, only the act of man-woman love results in the fruit of children?”; “How might the differences between the sexes be valuable, even necessary?”; “Is it reasonable to infer that two loving opposite sex parents are at least preferable to two loving same-sex parents?”
    In my mind, that people would not at least consider many environmentalists’ concerns seems unnatural. Likewise that people would not ask or seriously weigh theses questions.”
    All the best to you David,

  15. “Robert Gagnon is a very poor source regarding the issue of the Bible and homosexuality.”
    I am as pro-equality as anyone, as well as a professing Christian, as well as someone finishing up a subject master’s at a school of theology, and I can’t let this description of Dr. Gagnon’s work stand. The Bible and Homosexual Practice is a superb work of scholarship. Just because I don’t share Dr. Gagnon’s views about applied Christian morality and ethics (because of differing doctrines of the authority of scripture), doesn’t mean I can’t be impressed by his arguments about how the biblical texts were understood in the ancient near east.

  16. I am one of the Purdue students that was thrown off by this article and I’m very appreciative that someone has taken the time to review each step of his flawed logic.
    I respect both stances’ opinions on this subject, but regardless of where you stand, use facts. Especially when your job is to teach students how to find, judge, and use facts.
    Carmen Martin
    Purdue University

  17. I tend to remain neutral on the subject as I don’t think anyone can judge if homosexuality is indeed ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. From a evolutionary stand-point it doesn’t make any sense. You could suggest that there is a rooted issue behind ‘why’ someone turns out this way. Our bodies weren’t design physically to mate with the same-sex and most people would argue that these people have a multitude of behavioral issues.

  18. I’m not discussing the moral issues at all, purely the economic benefits. Children are undeniably better off in an economic sense when they have the resources of two adults to draw from. Whether that means two adults both contributing money or one “working” while the other focuses on the kids. This is also true when the union breaks down if both adults are continuing to contribute to the finances of the child. In many cases homosexual couples do not create their own biological children, but adopt children. Because of how the system works, they are often kept out of adopting the “desirable” children which means they are taking on the responsibility of children that might otherwise be left to society as a whole. That economic benefit must be weighed into any purely economic analysis.

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