Yesterday I taught market signaling and self-censorship in my undergraduate course on imperfect rationality, using Glenn Loury’s brilliant essay as a text and Larry Summers as a case study.
Bottom line: There are many bad social consequences of the practice of searching someone’s words to try to infer his thoughts, but the practice can’t be called “irrational,” because there is some statistical validity to the inferences so drawn. In a world where no one wants to express the “wrong” opinions, everyone’s expressed opinions will be closer to the “right” ones than his actual opinions, and we should expect those who really hold such unpopular opinions to express them indirectly.
If you want as President of Harvard someone who wakes up in the morning worrying about the underrepresentation of women on the faculty, Summers’s remarks give you good reason to think that he isn’t your guy. On the other hand, acting on that insight helps create a world where no one dares say anything controversial. You pays your money, and you takes your choice.