Summers and self-censorship

What Glenn Loury’s analysis tells us about Larry Summers’s opinions, and the reaction to them.

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.

That said, I’m with Brad DeLong in thinking that Summers has made many of his Harvard enemies in what are, at least in principle, righteous causes.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: