Joel Seligman, the president of the University of Rochester, has, in his words, exercised his right to express his views with a dissent from my recent posts about contraceptive subsidies.

Several news organizations have asked me for a statement. Here is what I sent them. (Below the fold is a copy of my email response to President Seligman.)

President Seligman says that the mission of the university is to promote the free exchange of ideas and lively debate, and I agree. That mission is undermined whenever a member of the academic community elevates raw self-interest over the exchange of ideas.

That’s what Sandra Fluke did. She observed that contraceptives are expensive, and therefore demanded that somebody other than herself and her fellow students pick up the tab. She didn’t even pretend to be interested in debating any of the serious issues raised by the question of when some of us should pick up the tab for others’ expenses.

Sometimes we should, sometimes we shouldn’t, and there’s a lot to be said, discussed, and debated about the particulars. An emotional appeal for one’s preferred outcome, ignoring all the substantive issues, is the
exact antithesis of the free exchange of ideas that President Seligman claims to endorse.

I’ve had three blog posts on this subject, here, here, and here. The commenters have offered many bright and lively arguments and observations, some of which have led me to modify some of my views.
This is a wonderful thing. It’s also the very opposite of Sandra Fluke’s approach, which amounts to a contemptuous dismissal of the very possibility of engaging these issues through intellectual discourse. I’d have expected a distinguished academic to feel the same way.

And now, my letter to President Seligman:

Dear President Seligman:

I do appreciate your right to express your views, but I don’t think you have a right to misrepresent mine.

You wrote: “Landsburg…characterized those who disagreed with his view as `contraceptive sponges’”. This is the exact opposite of the truth. I offered several good and bad arguments for and against subsidized contraception, dissected them with respect, applauded commenters who differed from me intelligently, and in some cases bowed to their insight.

I reserved the phrase `contraceptive sponges’ very clearly and specifically for people who demand subsidies without offering any reasons beyond the fact that they’d prefer to be subsidized. In other words, the targets of this phrase are people who have not actually stated any views on the matter at hand, namely how do we know when a subsidy is justified.

People who express actual views on this matter do not deserve to be mocked or ridiculed, and I never once said or implied that they do; indeed the considerable respect I’ve shown to opposing views throughout the comments section (and in the posts themselves) belies this interpretation.

Again, my objection is to people who think we ought to draw policy conclusions based on nothing more than their own personal preferences—that is, people who think that ideas don’t matter. I’d have hoped that a distinguished academic would share that objection.

Steve Landsburg


192 Responses to “Aftermath”

  1. 1 1 Dmitry Kolyakov

    Professor Landsburg, I am deeply sorry to learn that the president of your university has apparently chosen to depart so dramatically from the ideals of free exchange of ideas he claims his institution promotes.
    The apparent and probably deliberate switch of “professor and their student” vs. “any professor and any student” in his discussion of professorial ethics is also quite regretful. I can only hope that in saying all he said he was really bowing to some outside pressure rather than expressing his honest opinion.
    I personally fully support your commitment to honest and open discussion on all socially relevant matters, no matter how surrounded by emotions, non-scientific beliefs and some people’s vested interests.

  2. 2 2 politic

    Steve, I applaud your willingness to speak your mind, and you are privileged to be in a position where you can do so without serious consequences. But your president is not, so just don’t be *too* quick to assume that he truly believes what he says, or that he would truly believe it if he weren’t in a position of having to espouse that kind of view with a genuine ring in his voice.

    I have been following your writing for a while (since the slate days), and if you have a flaw, it is this: Though we do not live in the first best world where everyone is an honest truthseeker who understands how to reason, you expect individual agents to be devoted to this. Maybe they will not do it perfectly, but if they should ever reveal themselves to care about something else, knives out.

    But it is not at all clear that rational argument is the best way to move society towards truth, for an individual surrounded by non-truthseekers. In fact, it is easy to cook up examples where this is plainly false. If one side uses dirty tactics to try to convince people they are right, the other side does not serve the goal of truthseeking by refusing to play dirty themselves. They just get run over and people believe the side using dirty tactics.

    Your philosophy, I think, is that people have a moral duty to pursue the truth. I know how sacred it is to you, but that is an *assumption*. Possibly you think any reasonable person would agree with it, so that it doesn’t need defending…but I think that’s exactly where you lose the majority of the people in this country.

    In truth I’m totally okay with you being the rationality police. And I’m totally okay with you imposing a cost on people who play dirty, by calling attention to the fact that they’re weaseling. But I hope that at least privately you don’t think these people have just proven themselves idiots.

    Politics is a reality. I hate it as much as you do (well okay maybe a little less), but it is here to stay. Given the world in which we live, it seems likely that your president’s general position on this matter is *best* for the University of Rochester, which is what he is paid to care about. Everyone is on that girl’s side and it’s not good for enrollment if the University is against someone everyone supports.

    Just my take.

  3. 3 3 Super-Fly

    “We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.”

    …If only he believed that. I’m currently writing a long-winded email to President Seligman.

  4. 4 4 Chas Phillips

    Professor Landsburg,

    Most people do not have the stature or power to choose for whom they will work; you do. President Seligman did not misunderstand your writings on the contraception furor but, rather, gave you clear notice that the power structure at Rochester (as weak as it may be) will be changing the nature of your relationship with the University. My unsolicited advice: find a new boss, quickly. Regards, Chas Phillips

  5. 5 5 Josh

    I am quite frankly shocked that the president has gotten involved. Thankfully you have tenure. What’s funny is that I’m almost 100% certain that most economists would support your take on the issue.

  6. 6 6 Harold

    He states that you said Fluke’s position deserved to mocked etc., not Fluke herself. Ms. Fluke did choose to stick her head above the parapet, so might reasonably expect some public comment about her testimony. In this context, Fluke could be viewed as a political commentator who happens to be a student. However, I do think that to use such strong language towards a student probably unwise, although not the most offensive thing a prof. can do.

    As I said before, I disagree with using terms like “slut” in these debates. It is probably best to avoid repeating them, even if to refute them. They tend to be a distraction.

    He seems to have fallen for the old “correlation is not causation” fallacy about prostitution. It is possible to abhore violence against women, whilst still holding that there is nothing wrong with paying for sex in principle. To say that paying for sex was not right would invite criticism from those who believe (myself included) that prostitutes are to some extent victims.

  7. 7 7 wintercow20

    Re: Chas and Josh

    If I understand correctly Professor Landsburg does NOT “enjoy” the benefits of having tenure. Nor for that matter do I, fwiw.

    Re: Harold – I understand that President Seligman had limited space, but his observations about violence and prostitution are not a priori empirically correct. It is certainly plausible that having prostitution be illegal increases the chance that violence will happen. This is wholly aside from the moral question which makes this a hard question for many people to think about.

  8. 8 8 Daniel Hewitt
  9. 9 9 David

    The President’s letter reads like one of appeasement for the “politically correct” crowd. However, in his rush to show political correctness, Seligman ignored male prostitutes deal with the exact same sorts of violence as women prostitutes from both johns and the public at large. That casual dismissal came off to me as sexist, which was ironic given the purpose of his letter.

    As far as the more substantive portions of his letter go, I agree with Harold’s comment above about Ms. Fluke’s role in this debate. Ms. Fluke gave public testimony before elected officials. Her testimony should therefore be open to public responses from anyone, professors and other educators included. What Ms. Fluke advocates has direct and indirect impacts on the lives of everyone living in the United States. To give her testimony immunity from critique would be a disservice to all of us.

  10. 10 10 Martin

    No, you applauded a commenter who – and not for the first time – tried to make a political statment via slut-shaming. Your first post was every bit as nauseating and intellecutally fraudulent as the original Limbaugh comments. And now that everybody pointed it out, you pretend to have been talking about something else. Here is Noah Smith, btw:

  11. 11 11 RPLong

    I’m stunned by the language the president used. Strong-arm tactics are also the antithesis of open discourse. Had the president bothered to actually read your blog, I think he would find it difficult to have used that kind of language. It’s obvious that he didn’t.

    I echo Chas’ comments.

  12. 12 12 Anonymous

    I was extremely embarassed when I read the Presidents response (and when I heard about the ‘protest’). I am confused as to what prompted him to write a response in the first place. How is this in his domain? What about flagrant articles and editorials from other professors? Has he ever made an announcement about other faculty members blogs?? All of this controversy is linked words used and not to any of the ideas. Words are important but ideas are more important. If anyone actually attempted to digest Landsburgs argument, there really is nothing to debate. President Seligman did not acknowledge any of the subtleties behind the ideas and I am ashamed that my president would write a knee jerk response without having fully thought about what is being asserted here. I am also embarassed at the actions of my peers who clearly have not taken the time to understand what is being argued either. This issue is so much more complex than wanting women to have access to birth control. There are reasons for wanting health insurance to cover birth control but using the logic “I just want it and I deserve it” holds absolutely no weight. You can’t argue this position without looking like a sexist pig. I was shocked to hear about responses from the president and a small subset of U of R students. Having Landsburg as a professor was one of the best experiences that I had as an undergrad. I can’t thank professors like Landsburg and Rizzo enough for overcoming the extreme adversity on this campus and remaining committed to analyzing problems thoughtfully, rigorously and (mostly) calmly.

  13. 13 13 Adg

    Prof. Landsburg,

    As I’m trying to wrap my head around both sides of the issue, could you make explicit specifically which of your views have changed, by how much, and which argument was especially persuasive?

  14. 14 14 Interested

    Excuse the ignorance of the economics here: if Fluke is asking to keep to ensure that private insurance covers contraception (because some already do), how is this a subsidy from the taxpayers?

  15. 15 15 Martin

    Are you actually filtering out negative comments?

  16. 16 16 Josh

    I’d be interested to know what specifically Delong objects to in landsburgs arguments. Delong and Krugman … I often find them interesting and thought-provoking, but I find economists like landsburg and mankiw more honest. Yes, landsburg can be a little harsh at times, and of course nobody is always right, but you always get the sense that he’s attempting to be honest and not playing on any given “team” other than the honesty and search-for-truth team.

  17. 17 17 Laura

    President Seligman is out of touch with what is happening with his Professors, well, at least one of them that I’m aware of, and there are no doubt others. When I was a U of R employee, I was treated disrespectfully by a professor there and apparently because I was not a paying student, that was okay. I wish President Segiman would demand the same respect from his Professors toward employees that he says he does toward the students at the U of R. It’s all about saying one thing and doing quite another and protecting his arse.

    Thank you Dr. Landsman for speaking your mind and not being concerned with what others may think, especially the President of the U of R.

  18. 18 18 Josh

    Also, while Landsburg may be a little harsh at times, Delong and Krugman in my experience can be just as harsh, but also attempt much more often in my opinion to spin things to twist their ideology.

  19. 19 19 Ken B

    Dmitry Kolyakov noted the same trick that leapt out at me: ‘The apparent and probably deliberate switch of “professor and their student” vs. “any professor and any student” in his discussion of professorial ethics’. This is an intellectually dishonest move as it implies Landsburg stood in a position of trust or authourity in regard to Fluke. It also implies no professor anywhere should mock any students anywhere, including those who wear KKK outfits. I think such people need all the mockery they can get, and I am struck that Seligman disagrees (to pull a Seligman-like ploy of my own).

  20. 20 20 GregS

    This is really stunning. You’ve spent the past week articulating the contraception mandate proponents’ arguments for them, after they have mostly failed to do so.

    I’m glad to see you are (apparently) unmoved by Seligman’s statements. Economists are way ahead of the curve, in terms of analyzing moral issues and coming to proper conclusions. Just remember the origin of the term “dismal science.” Keep up what you’re doing.

  21. 21 21 Tom Brown


    As I mentioned to you in private communication, here is a copy of my note to President Seligman, along with some interesting correspondence for context.

    Others, including Rush Limbaugh have brought up the comparison to Bill Maher’s record of insulting commentary. That Maher was feted at the University (Fall 2009) without so much as a public comment from the administration unfortunately reinforces a general impression of Universities as centers of left-liberal political speech.

    Tom Brown

    Dear President Seligman,

    I find it curious that you would publicly denounce a member of our faculty for expressing his opinions in the public square of the internet. For comparison, I include below an exchange between my brother (a Pastor and Professor of Islamic Studies at the time) and your office following the honor bestowed to Bill Maher in a headliner invitation to Meliora weekend several years ago. In addition to the things cited in my brother’s letter, Maher is well known for numerous misogynist comments about conservative and religious female public figures. Yet your office categorically refused to publicly distance itself from Maher, claiming “the University does not endorse or disavow points of view”. But you seem all too eager to publicly repudiate the points of view expressed by Professor Landsburg. Put another way, if Rush Limbaugh had made his statements on a UR stage instead of the radio, would your office have refrained from public criticism? After all, he is just an irreverent comedian.

    In retrospect, I think you might owe my brother an apology and a more complete explanation to Prof. Landsburg of what clearly seems to be a double standard. While I admire your leadership of our University, I cannot help but be disappointed in what seems to me to represent a politically biased effort to stifle the sort of debate that ought to be the signature of institutions such as the University of Rochester.

    I am cc-ing this note to Prof. Landsburg, in hopes that he might find the correspondence below useful context in formulating his response to your office.


    Tom Brown

    Thomas G. Brown
    Professor of Optics
    The Institute of Optics
    University of Rochester

    From: Daniel Brown
    To: Seligman, Joel
    Sent: Tue Oct 13 18:08:45 2009
    Subject: Bill Maher
    Dear President Seligman,

    I am a parent of a senior at the University and I write to express my
    concern at Bill Maher’s presence at the recent Meliora weekend. As member of
    the faculty at Smith College, I am well aware that freedom of speech is of
    critical importance in a university environment. I am concerned, however,
    that Maher’s presence indicates continuing support on the part of your
    administration for an already hostile environment toward students and
    faculty of faith. Maher’s Religulous was appalling in its intolerance, and
    I see no reason why the legitimacy of the University should be conferred on
    a man who profits from such bigotry. It turns out that Maher’s intolerance
    is not limited to religion; he has turned out to be something of a
    anti-science fundamentalist as well as his quack opposition to flu

    indicates. Perhaps this might hit closer to home. At minimum I would hope
    that you might publicly disavow Maher for both his repudiation of science
    and his intolerance of religious faith, and I would suggest that the next
    Rochester magazine would be the appropriate forum for such a disavowal.

    Daniel Brown

    *** Reply from the UR Administration ***

    Dear Mr. Brown,

    Thanks for your note. President Seligman asked me to reply.

    As you said, universities promote the free exchange of ideas, even ideas
    that some members of the university community will abhor. But the
    University of Rochester does not promote particular points of view.

    Comedians are particularly irreverent. Bill Maher has repudiated his
    religious upbringing. Last year’s performer, Stephen Colbert, also pretty
    irreverent, readily acknowledges that he has not.

    On November 3, the Interfaith Chapel will play host to former NBA star
    Manute Bol, who will describe his efforts to build a school in the Sudan
    open to both Christian and Muslim students.

    When Rochester Review ran a cover story on faith on campus (July-August
    2008), some readers complained that we were promoting religion.

    The University does not endorse or disavow points of view. What we try to
    do is to promote civil discussion and debate that, however vigorous, is
    respectful of other opinions.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write.

    Bill Murphy

    Bill Murphy
    Vice President for Communications
    (University of Rochester)

  22. 22 22 Harold

    Wintercow:: “It is certainly plausible that having prostitution be illegal increases the chance that violence will happen” Not only plausible, but quite likely, I’d have thought.

    I don’t know why Seligman chose to raise this particular issue, when the waters were muddy enough as it was. The comment about prostitution was obviously not central to the post, and would require much more explanation than a single line to be able to make any comment about SL’s opinions about this complicated matter.

    All in all, the furore seems a little mis-placed if it supposed to promote the free exchange of ideas and lively debate. The initial post was mainly about how emotional appeals are used to back up a position, when there are often some valid arguments behind these emotions. SL tries to get at these arguments, and in the process improve understanding. The blog generally is a shining example of both free exchange of ideas and lively debate.

    The tone of Steve’s comments is usually respectful and helpful, and he takes time to point out errors where there is genuine effort to understand. He also accepts when he has made an error.

  23. 23 23 Ken B

    Steve is too polite to mention other bits of intimidation being deployed.

    From Inside Higher Ed

    “On Wednesday, about 30 students protested Landsburg’s comments by coming to one of his courses and standing between him and the class while he continued to lecture…. They left after 15 minutes but then came back at the end of the class. ”

    Seligman seems to endorse this frankly brownshirt stuff. Because he’s all for the free expression of ideas.

  24. 24 24 Matthew

    Seligman is the only person I’ve ever seen in my life whose neck and forehead are both 3 feet long. He always looks like he’s standing in a fun house mirror.

  25. 25 25 Ken B

    Mockery from some prominent law prof bloggers such as Althouse
    and Instapundit. They better hope Seligman isn’t enrolled in some language class or something — that would make him a student immune from having his ideas ridiculed.

    Where though are econlog, marginalrevolution, cafehayek?

  26. 26 26 James Miller

    While I’m sure that Seligman’s comments won’t intimidate you, they likely will deter other non-politically correct professors from expressing their views. And I bet there are Republican/conservative/libertarian undergrads who will take Seligman’s comments as a clear signal that they shouldn’t become professors.

    James Miller
    Associate professor (tenured) of economics
    Smith College

  27. 27 27 Ken B

    Harold is puzzled by Seligman’s cooment on sex for hire. “I don’t know why Seligman chose to raise this particular issue, when the waters were muddy enough as it was.”

    He raised the issue because it IS central to his purpose, which is proving his PC credentials. Seligman’s essay is brief, tightly written, deftly employs rhetorical trickery, and has no added fat. In Strunk’s phrase, every word tells. Anything included was included for a reason, not due to lack of a copy editor.

  28. 28 28 Pat

    Seligman seems to think that Fluke testifying in front of Congress and advocating for the government to force everyone to accept her argument should be treated with kid gloves simply because she is a graduate student (at a different institution).

    He doesn’t offer any argument for why you are wrong to refer to her testimony as extortion. He thinks that ridiculing her position is character assassination.

    Seligman should be embarrassed. Even if Flake were a UR student not trying to get the government to use force to make people comply with her poorly thought out views, bad arguments can and do get derided quite a bit at UR. I know because lots of those arguments were mine! (Simon 2005) I paid quite a bit for that privilege and I don’t regret.

  29. 29 29 dave smith

    Perhaps among the worst below the belt comments of your president was that you were belittling a student. I fully agree with Ken B’s 906 comment, and would like to add that Fluke’s was someone who was testifying before Congress, not a dissertation committee.

  30. 30 30 Ben

    You only seem to acknowledge arguments that play into your strictly economic game. The movement for affordable access to reproductive health care is grounded in the firm belief that that the ability to look after one’s reproductive health is an inalienable right, much in the same way that public education is a right. This is the argument that Sandra Fluke has made and it has million of ardent followers around the world. It was not her intention or obligation to present an empirical based study or argument as to why contraception should be covered by insurance. Instead, Fluke’s testimony was meant to humanize and present a female perspective on an issue which has been dominated in the media and in the political discourse by angry white men. While you may disagree that a moral appeal, such as Fluke’s, is unsubstantiated, please respect her testimony as a legitimate and vital aspect of the exchange of free ideas. Just because she didn’t present an empirical based argument does not render her contribution to the discourse valueless, nor does it make her perspective worthy of being mocked, jeered, and ridiculed.

  31. 31 31 Scott F

    I had some lively debate about your posts as well. Many of the arguments I read against your stance relating to birth control I had little problem refuting, whether or not people accepted my refutations. I have taken every course you offer, read every book you’ve published (other than your macro textbook), and read this blog pseudoreligously. This has certainly given me a mental toolbox deep enough to follow your argument, and with varying success allowed me to persuade others, at the least, that your position is not crazy.
    On the other hand, there was an argument made to me that I was unable to defend your position on, which is quite germane to both your and president Seligman’s responses. The argument that the use of loaded words like slut, prostitute, and whore belittle the process of free exchange of ideas. When those words are used in supposed intellectual and public forums they create a place where women’s (and as some commenters have noted, some men’s) opinions are belittled, not because of the quality of there opinion but simply because of the loaded histories of the words being tossed around.
    Thus, I have to wonder, why you couldn’t refute Fluke’s feeble argument without condoning RL’s language?
    I believe that would’ve been much more in keeping with the free exchange of ideas.

  32. 32 32 Pat

    Ben, you don’t not have an inalienable right to my money.

  33. 33 33 Ken B

    Ben: Your screed is inconsistent.

    “It was not her intention or obligation to present an …argument as to why contraception should be covered by insurance.”

    “the firm belief that that the ability to look after one’s reproductive health is an inalienable right … is the argument that Sandra Fluke has made”

    So let’s try to reconcile these. Fluke was not making an argument, just making a demand. I believe that is what Landsburg contended.

    Plus of course the statement of a firm belief is not an argument, regardless how many “ardent followers” it has. If Rush Limbaugh appeared before congress to demand death for homosexuals — a policy with “million of ardent followers around the world” — I doubt you’d be defending him.

  34. 34 34 Ben

    Fine, make that argument against insurance covering contraception. Just don’t dismiss that there is any legitimacy or substance to the argument that access to affordable reproductive is a right.

  35. 35 35 Bob Murphy

    Well, I think your longtime readers know “what you meant” Steve, but jeez when RL calls a law student a “slut” and a “prostitute,” you probably should be a little clearer when rushing to his defense. (Again, you didn’t defend *those words*, but my sentence is perfectly accurate as to what happened.)

    Also, it looks like when you and the president are on speaking terms again, you need to educate him about unintended consequences. From his note:

    I totally disagree with Landsburg that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex. Having been a Dean of two law schools with clinics that addressed violence against women, I am all too aware of the terrible correlation between prostitution and the physical and emotional demeaning of women.

  36. 36 36 Pat

    Ben, the idea that people have inalienable rights to things that they might not be able to afford is the same thing as an inalienable right to use someone else’s money.

  37. 37 37 Ken B

    Scott F: “Thus, I have to wonder, why you couldn’t refute Fluke’s feeble argument without condoning RL’s language?”

    This is a good and fair question. I don’t think SL did condone it. I think he did fail to ostentatiously condemn RL. I think SL treated RL’s boorish language as irrelevant to the real issue at hand. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Demands for purity tests are inimical to reasoned debate. Would it be fair for me to demand that any of SL’s critics expressly disavow any anti-semitic slur or crude and stupid joke from say the dailyKos directed at SL? I do not think it would. I think in fact it would poison the debate.

  38. 38 38 Scott F

    @Bob Murphy
    That is a perfect addendum to the point I was trying to make earlier. Thank you!

  39. 39 39 RPLong

    Ken B knows what’s up.

  40. 40 40 Ken B

    Further to my last remarks to Scott F. We saw in the last few days demands that SL — and others — explicitly disavow any word we did not use that suggests ‘prostitute’ could be used as a term of opprobrium.

    But look at this from Seligman:

    “I totally disagree with Landsburg that there is nothing wrong with being paid for sex.”

    Note well, not paying, being paid. This is an EXPLICIT statement that a person who gets paid for having sex, a prostitute, is doing something wrong. That makes prostitute a term of opprobrium. Where is the outrage?

  41. 41 41 Mark Draughn

    KenB, I think you nailed it. We all know that ignoring 95% of a news story to focus on the economics and logic is part of Landsburg’s shtick. But to some people, any discussion of Limbaugh’s statements that doesn’t include a denouncement of his degrading tirade against Fluke is tantamount to being completely on his side.

  42. 42 42 Pat

    Mark Draughn, I think it’s illuminating that you think focusing on logic is a shtick.

  43. 43 43 Dan

    BTW, in his statement, President Seligman calls for “an atmosphere of civil discourse in which the dignity of every individual is respected.” In October 2009, Bill Maher came to U of Rochester to entertain at the school’s “Meliora Weekend.” Maher’s attacks on Republican women, of course, are well known. E.g., during the 2008 campaign he called Sarah Palin, among many other thigns, “a category five moron” and “MILF” (which stands for “mother I’d like to f..k”.) Not much dignity or respect shown there.

  44. 44 44 FangedFaerie

    You narrowly defined the argument in previous blog posts, saying that BCP should be covered when used for medical purposes, but arguing that it shouldn’t be covered as contraception.

    No one mentioned that it is dangerous for some women to become pregnant and/or to give birth. No one discussed the repercussions of pregnancy and birth, which can include incontinence and prolapsed uterus. No one mentioned that about a third of births in this country are performed via major abdominal surgery, and the risks associated with that procedure. What about the economic impacts of those?

    You suggested taxing childbirth. Aside from incentivizing induced abortion (let’s not even get into coat hangers), who would be taxed? The hospitals? The parents? If the former, you would disincentivize providing comprehensive care to women in labor, which would conflict with current laws. If the latter, it would be an unfair economic imposition on the poorest members of society, if they were able to scrape the money together. If they couldn’t pay, then the charge would likely default to the taxpayer base. In the long run, I would think this would be a more costly policy than making contraceptives more affordable.

    Fluke was arguing for contraceptives to be covered in part BECAUSE her friend was denied them for therapeutic use. As said in previous comment threads, insurance companies do not always discriminate.

    As for the reprehensible Rush Limbaugh, condemning the language that he used for three days running, including the demand for sex video posted online and comments like, She’s having so much sex she can barely walk! would have only taken Landsberg a sentence or two. Instead, Landsberg chose to say that Limbaugh used a “spot-on analogy” and “First, the word “slut” connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex… She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid.”

    First of all, Limbaugh DID call her a prostitute. Second of all, Fluke never said ANYTHING about whether or not she has sex with men or women, and she never demanded to be paid, period. She was requesting that her insurance cover birth control, which is a much more subtle manner. In fact, she never specifically said that she even USES birth control, so it’s possible that she wouldn’t directly benefit at all.

  45. 45 45 Syed

    As a graduate of Rochester’s economics department (albeit, from decades ago and never a student of Professor Landsburg), I’m more than a little disheartened by Joel Seligman’s buckling under PC pressure. Part of the long history of the Rochester economics departments has been unfettered intellectual curiosity and application of economic principles with rigor, no matter where that may lead. Steve brings much of that to his blog readers. Even those of his regular readers who disagree with him, I believe, appreciate that in his blog. His readers are always challenged to think about the reasoning, not just the answer. For those that seek the blessing of an economist for their priors, there are other economist blogs that amply fill that need. As we all know, there are many economist blogs where you know the bottom line answer long before you read it. Steve’s blog is diametrically the opposite.

    Steve, my and many other alumni voices in support of your right to free speech and the university’s obligation to support honest intellectual debate will be heard by president Seligman.

  46. 46 46 Jason

    President Seligman’s memo concerning Steve Landsburg’s comments on Rush Limbaugh is somewhat peculiar. In his attempt to defend civil discourse, Seligman has successfully mangled Professor Landsburg’s argument while once again, pushing his liberal, feel-good agenda on the University. The basic philosophy of the University of Rochester administration is that civil discourse is good as long as you are promoting the current progressive pet-project.

    Sandra Fluke travelled to Washington D.C. to get insurance policy holders to subsidize her birth control. She put herself in the public eye and with all of America watching, she attempted to use our government to procure free goods for herself at a cost to others. This is not civil discourse. This is a violent attempt to force American citizens to pay for their neighbor’s health care. As soon as Sandra Fluke started to impose her point of view on the American public, the rest of us had the right to defend ourselves. The best defense in this case was to bring to light the violence and ridiculousness inherent in Fluke’s argument. Professor Landsburg did this in his own provocative and eloquent style, and he should be applauded for his denunciation of Fluke’s violent opinions.

    Of course, Landsburg’s argument is mostly an economic analysis of the implications of mandatory birth control coverage, but judging by Seligman’s remarks, I doubt that our president actually took the time to read and understand Landburg’s reasoning. The progressives are too offended by his language to actually address the argument. Instead of actually disagreeing with Landsburg’s ideas, Seligman dismisses the whole argument on the basis that it is “offensive”. Is this the great civil discourse that he wants to see more of at universities?

    As a student at the University of Rochester, I am deeply offended by President Seligman’s decision to pursue his own agenda rather than encourage honest discourse. He goes on in his memo to disagree with Landsburg’s belief that there is nothing wrong with prostitution. He skirts the whole issue by pointing to violence against women as a reason to keep prostitution illegal. He completely avoids addressing the actual reason why violence against prostitutes is so pervasive. We have forced the profession underground to the black market where the women are not properly protected. If Seligman is really so concerned with women’s health, then he should look at the outcomes of the policies that he supports.

    Seligman’s statement makes it clear that civil discourse is not approved of at this university. Any attempt to question the status quo will be met with a memo from the president denouncing your point of view to the whole community without any attempt to actually address the argument.

    Thank you Professor Landsburg for continuing to stand up for sound reasoning. You should be praised for your civil service in defending the rights of individuals at a cost to yourself. Your writing creates more external benefits than any birth control pill, so maybe we should be subsidizing you instead.

  47. 47 47 Ken B

    Mark Draughn: Thanks. I agree with this: ” But to some people, any discussion of Limbaugh’s statements that doesn’t include a denouncement of his degrading tirade against Fluke is tantamount to being completely on his side.” I will add only that they are wrong, that this sort of inference is poisonous to debate. It is the McCarthyite tactic of a loyalty oath.

    (I don’t object to the word schtick btw. I’d say it fits his denunciation of chastity in More Sex too. I’d say SL tries to provoke thought with rhetorical flair. I for one like it.)

  48. 48 48 Pat

    I don’t know why Steve needs to denounce Rush from the mountaintops. We know GTown covers pills for non-contraceptive purposes so that’s not an issue. Fluke cited a cost of up to $3000 over the 3 years of law school. The least you can do when spending other people’s money on birth control is to buy the cheapest form of it. Condoms cost $0.50. Next let’s assume the men bear half the cost.

    $3000 divided by (365 days multiplied by 3 years) divided by $.50 per condom multiplied by 1/2 the cost of the condom roughly equals 11 condoms used per day every day.

  49. 49 49 Ben

    @Ken B Your use of ellipsis misquoted me. What I said was “present an empirical based argument.” She was making an argument based on her personal experience and the experience of her fellow classmates.

  50. 50 50 Roger Schlafly

    Joel Seligman: To openly ridicule, mock, or jeer a student in this way is about the most offensive thing a professor can do. We are here to educate, to nurture, to inspire, not to engage in character assassination.

    Wow, this is the most amazing part. I had no idea that a professor had an obligation to respect the views of a 30yo student of another university 1000 miles away. Steve has succeed in doing “about the most offensive thing a professor can do”, according to his boss. This makes me wonder what would be grounds for dismissal, if Steve has already done the worst.

  51. 51 51 Syed

    I wrote that Joel Seligman buckled under pc pressure. Of course, that may actually be his view. I’m not sure which is worse: that he buckled or that he didn’t bother to really understand pedagogical style of this blog.

  52. 52 52 Neil

    “Professor Landsburg has the right to express his views under our University’s deep commitment to academic freedom.”

    Excuse me. Since this forum is not part of the University of Rochester, Landsburg has the right to express his views under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

  53. 53 53 Robert P

    It seems to me that this whole episode is a lesson in propaganda, in which the president of the University of Rochester has inserted himself into.
    1. The way her testimony was presented to Congress
    2. The reaction to a provactur’s comments
    3. The clouding of the real issues
    4. The reaction of people in power. His letter sounds like he didn’t read anything you wrote, but instead is reacting to something that someone said you that they didn’t like, maybe that you didn’t simply denounce Rush.

    Fluke’s testimony made me think of beer. College students go broke buying beer. More college students purchase beer than contraceptives. Beer has health benefits in some cases, especially for one’s hair. Free beer for all!!!!!

  54. 54 54 iceman

    A rare occasion when I whole-heartedly agreed with Alan Dershowitz was when he argued passionately that universities were becoming boring and their presidents should encourage “provocative” debate. (This of course occurred when Larry Summers was being run out on a rail, also for deviating from accepted terms of gender-related discussion…but in that case without the pretense of his having used any of the ‘sensitive’ terms in question here, which seems revealing.)

    Seligman’s characterization of SL as “praising Rush Limbaugh for a “spot-on analogy” with respect to his offensive remarks” is lame; anyone who read the post could see the analogy was the — wait for it — *idea* that sharing the cost should imply sharing in the benefits as well (i.e. the online video joke). The discussion of the offending terms was in an entirely separate paragraph. And there my own take was that SL was mainly having a little fun with language and logic. Perhaps his mistake was assuming readers could retain any semblance of humor once a photo of RL has been posted.

  55. 55 55 Matthew


    I too am a graduate of Rochester’s economics department and agree 100% with what you wrote above. Landsburg has been one of the most influential person in my life. His 108 class got me interested in learning more economics and math, and my studies in economics and math lead to my current career. Thanks to his books and his blog, he continues to be hands down the best teacher I’ve ever had.

    Joel Seligman is a spinelss goof who misrepresents fellow facility members and throws them under the bus to make himself look good. Joel Seligman – the man with the 3 foot neck and no back bone.


  56. 56 56 Steve Landsburg


    Are you actually filtering out negative comments?

    I have filtered out a very small number of comments that appeared to me to be totally off topic. (Maybe half a dozen or so out of the several hundred posted to the four “Rush” threads). Of those, roughly half were negative.

  57. 57 57 Christopher Berg


    As alumni of the University (and a student of yours) I am shocked that President Seligman would be so quick to criticize and attempt to censor proper academic discourse. Furthermore, I am more deeply outraged that both the President and the media incorrectly comprehended your comment; “But while Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatseover. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered.” This comment although harsh is not an attack on Ms. Fluke personally; instead it is an attack on her position, an unfounded argument. Actually, on second thought, I would expect this type of behavior from the media; however the President’s failure to comprehend the statement is deeply troubling and begs me to question the direction of the University under his leadership.

    In my humble opinion, too many policies, procedures, and laws are created based on similar arguments. Too often these decisions have undesired outcomes (namely in our wallets) and directly influence our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

    In closing, I would like to personally thank you for the years of academic knowledge that you have provided (Intermediate Micro, Topics in Micro, & Student Teaching) and truly hope that you remain at the University in the years to come. You have an inert ability to connect with students and it is this ability that the Economics Department/University really needs to attract the best students.

    As I reflect on my time at the University one thing remains constant our philosophy “Meliora”, this philosophy pushed me academically and drives me to become a stronger person outside of the University. I fully believe that President Seligman should reflect on our philosophy and maybe he will realize that he too can be “better”. And for Ms. Fluke, she should transfer to the University and sit through a few of your lectures.

  58. 58 58 Mary

    I cannot tell you how much I admire you for speaking up with honesty and integrity despite the comments from President Seligman. I couldn’t agree with your comments more regarding Sandra Fluke and your response to President Seligman. Your comments and this issue are particularly sensitive to me professionally as I work in a higher education environment where I have been made to feel and still do feel that it is not an environment where I am allowed to freely express my ideas. I enjoy my job and for the most part I am happy to be in a place where I am encouraging students to expand their minds and viewpoints. It is just sad that the institution for which I work does not make everyone, staff/faculty alike feel as if they can express ideas freely. Keep doing what you are doing and I am encouraged by your continued efforts to speak the truth.

  59. 59 59 Syed

    @ Ben

    Your use of the terms “firm belief” and “inalienable right” as a primary basis of Fluke’s testimony is revealing. Would you then say that all those that have a firm belief of the inalienable right of an embryo to be taken to term is all that’s needed for policy to be enacted? What about those that have firm belief of inalienable right to enact laws not to in any way impede a sperm impregnating a ovum? I suspect not so much.

    Fluke has every right to give testimony, she has no right not to be mocked for her public pronouncement.

  60. 60 60 Ken B

    Ben: An argument based on jello is still an argument. However an argument based on experience, whether personal or vicarious, is in fact an empirically based argument. It is often a poor one though.

  61. 61 61 Mark Draughn

    Pat, you don’t like “shtick”? What would be better? Conceit? Concept? Style? In his posts about current controversies in the news, Landsburg almost seems to go out of his way to avoid discussing the sound and fury, preferring to address only the core logical essentials. Consider, for example, his description of the Terry Schiavo controversy: “This is essentially a fight about what to do with her body: He wants to dispose of it; they want to feed it.”

    That may be logical and sensible, but compared to the public discussions that were going on at the time — involving the sanctity of life and the right to die — it’s an astonishing summation. I’m pretty sure that Landsburg enjoys trying to astonish us this way, and that he does so intentionally.

  62. 62 62 Ken B

    So i checked, and it’s Ben who is misquoting. Here is the section I elided
    “It was not her intention or obligation to present an empirical based study or argument”

    he now says what he wrote is What I said was “present an empirical based argument.”

    One can plainly see that is not so.

    Ben: I grant you might have meant the qulaifier ‘empirically based’ to apply to argument, but as it stands it also might just apply to study. Them’s the breaks in informal writing. But I quoted you with scrupulous accuracy, and I hope in the future you will extend yourself the same courtesy. It is enough work keeping up with your bad logic, I don’t want to have to check your bad quotes too.

  63. 63 63 Ken B

    @Mark, Pat: Conceit is actually the precise word here, as applied to a particular case. Schtick is a mildly pejorative description of SL’
    s frequent use of shocking conceits. I do not think it implies a dismissal of the immanent logic (to be high-falutin).

  64. 64 64 Ken B

    QOTD: Michael Kinsley:
    “If you don’t care for something Rush Limbaugh has said, say why and say it better.”

  65. 65 65 Student

    I am an econ student at the University of Rochester, and frankly I am just pissed off. I am not in SL’s 108 lecture, but I have friends who are and I am sure there are at least 100 who attend lecture (I know 207 has 190 enrolled)… If it costs around 300 dollars per lecture (I worked out the math once but have lost the numbers so this is a conservative estimate), then this “protest” has disrupted nearly 30,000 dollars worth of education to a group of students who largely have had NO INVOLVEMENT WITH THIS DISCUSSION! Let’s ignore all of the philosophical discourse, the economic disagreement, and the rhetorical dialogue and just notice that simple fact. A group of students harmed the learning of other students to make a point (which they couldn’t even make when asked, the student in charge of the demonstration was quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle saying that he could not say why the protest was occurring). This is a gross breach of student conduct, and regardless of the demonstrators thoughts on SL, they should formally apologize to the students of his class.

  66. 66 66 Patrick R. Sullivan

    Seligman sounds like an Ann Coulter parody of a liberal invoking the right to be free from criticism.

    The mob ‘attack’ on Landsburg’s classroom only reinforces her recent book claiming liberals are like that.

  67. 67 67 Pierce Harlan

    It is disheartening, but not surprising, that so many who wander the rarefied halls of academia refuse to judge the merits of Ms. Fluke’s words by actually considering her words.

    The central tenet of Ms. Fluke’s testimony before Congress (aside from talking almost exclusively about the exceptional cases — the women who need contraception for extreme medical necessity) was this: “Forty percent of female students at Georgetown Law report struggling financially as a result of this policy [of not providing contraception coverage].”

    Read it again, and actually think about the words: it’s not the tens of thousands of dollars that go toward law school tuition every year, nor is it the cost of housing or books or anything else that cause female law students to struggle financially. It’s contraception.

    She just as easily could have added the cost of Skinny Flavored Starbucks Latte and similar beverages law students are known to purchase on a regular basis.

    We are stranded in an era where gross exaggeration is as good as the truth if it advances the correct agenda. Instead of critically examining Fluke’s position, too many, at your university and elsewhere, are content to gravitate to the easily mouthed clichés of political correctness, which gives them a false veneer of enlightenment and sophistication, and separates them from the “guns and religions” crowd they find so abhorrent. This veneer, of course, arms them with McCarthyistic bats to attack anyone who doesn’t share their world view.

    Ms. Fluke’s position is absurd on its face. Mr. Limbaugh did not need to resort to name-calling to underscore that. All he needed to do was quote her.

  68. 68 68 Kevin

    What’s irritating about your position — right up to the inevitable self-pitying plea for “lively debate” — is this assumption that if someone does not follow your mode of argument they deserve “jeering and mockery.” Sandra Fluke was called as a witness to offer a real-world example of the harm done by letting employers decide whether particular health costs should be covered. I don’t think she ever claimed ot be making a comprehensive argument for coverage. If a gay teen testified before Congress about bullying, would he be worthy only of jeering and mockery if he didn’t lay out a complete argument on the economics of school security? For someone whose expertise is supposed to be the marketing of ideas you have a very strange approach to public debate.

  69. 69 69 Will A

    @ Patrick R. Sullivan:

    Some liberals will storm a classroom as a way of stopping speech they do not like. The goal of course is that they are “sending a message” that other professors who make the same speech can expect the same treatment.

    Some conservatives will make personal attacks against those who testify on a certain issues as a way of stopping speech they do not like. The goal of course is that they are “sending a message” that anyone who makes the same speech can expect the same treatment.

    Some liberal commentators do the same.

    Some conservative mobs ‘attack’ congressmen to prevent them from talking about health care.

    I haven’t read Coulter’s book, but if she claimed that Liberals also eat food, you can point to me as an example of a liberal who eats food to back up her point.

  70. 70 70 Ken B

    Kevin: “I don’t think she ever claimed ot be making a comprehensive argument for coverage.”

    No, she was only making a comprehensive demand for coverage.

  71. 71 71 Martin

    @ Steven Landsburg

    Sorry for that, I was impatient and rude. My fault.

  72. 72 72 Ken B

    @Will A: I doubt Coulter would make such a reasonable argument. She might however be so purblind as to see no moral distinction between intimidation and physical interference, and stupid insults.

  73. 73 73 Ken B

    Some amazing stuff here. fangedfaerie wins the prize with this mishmash of foolish misstatement:
    Addressing SL: “No one discussed the repercussions of pregnancy and birth …You suggested taxing childbirth.”

    Steve did not suggest taxing childbirth; he noted correctly it was way to achieve a certain goal. I think drinking whiskey through a straw after giving blood is a fast way to get drunk; I am not suggesting anyone do it. (I know hypotheticals are hard.) And these posts are FULL of discussions of the costs and benefits of childbirth; aside from which no-one disputed women might have reasons to not want to get pregnant.

  74. 74 74 Zazooba

    The obvious question:

    Will Seligman discipline the students that disrupted SL’s class? Didn’t they disrupt the free exchange of ideas, to say nothing of being illegal?

  75. 75 75 Joe

    Ben nailed it with his first comment.

    Ms. Fluke came not as an economist, but as a person, to provide a human face to the issue. Limbaugh and Landsburg ridiculed, mocked and jeered and humiliated her for that, certain that the sheer power of their substantial intellects and righteous conviction would sweep her and her silly little ideas away.

    So now we have a graduate student who is exposed to be an unsophisticated thinker, and two middle aged men exposed as emotionally stunted bullies.

    Go ahead and claim your victory.

    The tone deafness on display here is astounding, but then I suppose in the echo chamber, all tones eventually sound alike.

  76. 76 76 martin

    keep up the good work dr landsburg,
    im am very impressed with how clearly you can dissect ideas.

  77. 77 77 Will A

    @ Ken B:

    Technically Prof. Landsburg said that taxing childbirth was the “right policy” to a solution.

    So in your example, you would want to say:
    I think drinking whiskey through a straw after giving blood is “the right” way to get drunk fast.

    And if you had said this, I think it would be reasonable to assume that you were making the point that drinking whiskey through a straw is the best way to get drunk fast.

    Your overall point is of course correct that it would be incorrect to assume that you favor people getting drunk after giving blood.

    I think though that it would be correct for me to question this statement. “What about an IV with everclear?”

  78. 78 78 Josh


    She could provide a human face, but what does that mean? Is everyone who provides a human face always right ?

  79. 79 79 Ken B

    Joe characterizes Fluke this way: “Ms. Fluke came not as an economist, but as a person, to provide a human face to the issue.”

    All I can say Joe is that that is not how I saw it. I saw an advocate, with a prepared speech. What you call a human face on the issue I call a bit of emotional blackmail on one side of the issue. I understand you object to ‘blackmail’. Surely you will agree — and I think have already conceded — that she made an emotional not a logical appeal. That already deserves ridicule when it’s a prepared speech willingly given in cause of a subsidy for yourself. Not I agree the kind of ridicule Limbaugh let flow, but I’m discussing Landsburg.

  80. 80 80 johnson85


    I suspect a gay teen testifying about bullying would probably want to be left alone, which seems pretty reasonable. If he started demanding that other people be forced to subsidize some relatively minor expense of his, while paying $30 to $40k to go to law school, I’d start to wonder if maybe understood what bullying means…

  81. 81 81 Ken B

    @WillA: That would still not be a recommendation to drink whisky with a straw. In the case at hand Landsburg is indeed arguing taxing childbirth is the best choice to deter births, but Landsburg favours more births not fewer. The correct inference is he opposes a tax on childbirth. I know: hypotheticals are hard.

  82. 82 82 Moon Dog

    Sent on 3/7/2012

    Dear Dr. Seligman,

    On March 6th, all University of Rochester students received a link to your editorial about Steven Landsburg’s blog entries regarding statements made by Rush Limbaugh. An ironic result of this is that many of us searched for and read Mr. Landsburg’s blog to see what all the fuss was about – something that we would not have read had you not pointed it out and made it available to us.

    I do not know Mr. Landsburg, nor have I ever read his blog before, but I could see immediately that this author has a twisted sense of humor and writes in an engaging tongue-in-cheek manner that provokes the reader to consider an alternative opinion. Frankly, the Rush Limbaugh blog entry made me look at Ms. Fluke’s position with new eyes and . . . dare I say . . . made me reconsider my own hostile position toward those who disagreed with her. Surely, this situation was contrary to what I imagine you intended when you tried to distance the University of Rochester from Mr. Landsburg’s writings.

    On the left side of your editorial, there is a link titled “Diversity at the University.” I have always assumed that “diversity” was the right to be and to think as one sees fit (as long as harm is not done to another individual) and to allow others to do the same. I do not agree with everyone I meet, but I recognize and respect their right to say what is on their mind. It seems that Mr. Landsburg was merely exercising this right with his blog entry. Neither you nor I should squelch such behavior. By doing so, we cross a dangerous line toward imposing our beliefs and views on others.



  83. 83 83 Joe

    The tone deafness continues.

    No, that does not make her right. As I said, claim your victory.

    Ken B,
    An emotional appeal is an argument to be refuted. A bully is a bully.

  84. 84 84 Ken B

    @Josh: In fairness to Joe (and in the expectation it will not be reciprocated) he is not saying Fluke cannot be wrong, just that she should not be mocked. I disagree with him in that I think whether she deserves mockery depends on what she says.

  85. 85 85 RPLong

    Josh wrote: “She could provide a human face, but what does that mean? Is everyone who provides a human face always right ?”

    I think the implication is more that economists aren’t people or that the arguments they make aren’t human.

    I don’t want go all “Ayn Rand” on everybody, but there is a real problem when society chooses to characterize uneducated, emotional viewpoints as “human,” whereas viewpoints buttressed by science, logic, and dialectics are… something else.

    What’s more human than dialectics? Other animals don’t have it. Other animals only express hedonic emotions. Animals want what they want, when they want it, and make a lot of noise when they don’t get it.

    Considering *MY* view of what is human and what isn’t, who is the more human here: Landsburg or Fluke? I’d say Landsburg, wouldn’t you?

  86. 86 86 Ken B

    This is a somewhat older emotional appeal. Some might call the speaker just a person, putting a human face on the issue, which coincidentally is special benefits for a group of students, many of them quite poor.

    I am harhser in my judgment, and think this deserves mockery and more

    And no Joe, I am not comparing Fluke to this speaker; I am testing your blanket claim of immunity in the two cases.

  87. 87 87 Will A

    @ Ken B:

    (possibly just quibbling in pointing out motivation)

    The correct inference is he opposes a tax on childbirth.

    I think your hypothetical is right on. I believe there are 2 possible inferences. One being that Prof. Landsburg goal is not to reduce childbirth. The other is that he is in favor of reducing childbirth by taxing childbirth.

    I think if you read the comments in his posts like:
    More explicitly: When we pay for the healthcare costs associated with pregnancies and childbirth, we are *getting something in return* (namely a fellow citizen, a potential friend, potential lover, potential mate, potential collaborator, potential employer, potential employee, potential customer and potential Steve Jobs).

    The correct inference would seem to be that that Professor Landsburg’s goal is not to reduce childbirth and therefore he sees no reason to support any policy that would reduce childbirth.

    A reasonable assumption might be that Prof. Landsburg’s goal is to stop any policy that reduces childbirth. This might be a stretch though.

  88. 88 88 Dusty

    “So now we have a graduate student who is exposed to be an unsophisticated thinker, and two middle aged men exposed as emotionally stunted bullies.”

    Miss Fluke’s lack of critical thinking unfortunately stands on its own. The claim that the detractors of her position are cold-hearted bullies is a tribute to sophistry.

    The facts are plain and simple. Obviously Miss Fluke is a person, but she presented her idea before the American public in the context of a student acting as a public funding advocate for birth control under the guise that students need subsidized contraception.

    I recognize her right to have sex just like any other human being. I also recognize that she should have the unobstructed right to acquire contraceptives if she chooses. But it is not her or anyone else’s right to demand that the cost of prevention techniques be collectivized. Although this violates political correctness, nor is it her right to be exempt from ridicule, student or not.

    Mr. Limbaugh was totally wrong in his analogy of Miss Fluke. But Miss Fluke put herself in the political forum, thereby opening herself up to both private and public scorn by acting as an advocate for subsidized contraceptives as a new “right.”

  89. 89 89 martin

    this has 2 views on youtube.
    it deserves more.

    (economics of beauty with landsburg)

  90. 90 90 Matt

    @ Joe

    Why do people separate the human from the economist? Many of the foundations of economic thought are in humanism as well as rationality. I always hear “oh this has nothing to do with economics,” but how do these people define the realm of such a broad discipline as economics… To make a “human” argument, the real cost of subsidizing birth control is a loss to cancer research, or education, or one of the many other “causes” the money could go to. One could then assert that Fluke is a bully, stealing from adorable cancer children… the claim that “x” or “y” person is a bully is a normative one, and as such it losses much meaning. So Joe you are correct… this is an echo chamber… one filled with a tone that strives to make significant contributions (whether for or against the issue at hand) and not generally meaningless pandering.

  91. 91 91 Todd


    I sincerely admire your willingness to voice unpopular positions, and especially your refusal to back down from what you believe is right when it would probably be much easier to simply apologize and let it blow over.

    You provide a rare and needed contrast to the all too common cowardice displayed by throwing a colleague under the bus at the first sign of controversy.

    You are the man, Steven Landsburg.

  92. 92 92 Ben

    Ken B, yes I did mean for my “qulaifier” to apply to argument. Try checking your own spelling too.

  93. 93 93 Joe

    Your comment exemplifies the tone deafness I was talking about. I disagree with so much of it that there is no point in the two of us picking it apart and discussing it.

    I would like to point out that you and many others on this thread have demonstrated that it is possible to debate a volatile issue without resorting to name-calling and bullying. That is to your credit, and it highlights just how far out of bounds Limbaugh and Landsburg were.

  94. 94 94 Joe

    I neglected to answer your question. I meant a “human” face as one that was sympathetic, that people can relate to. Not trying to imply that economists aren’t human or aren’t concerned about humans.

  95. 95 95 Matt


    I am curious as to how it exemplifies tone deafness, I guess if you are unwilling to discuss it then there is no real point in posting. However, I am still curious.

    What about the idea that money spent on one issue cannot be spent on another is questionable?

    Moving on, the issue at hand is that I have faced so many different (and often contradictory) points of view on how the world should be, that I am unwilling to support people’s “should be” arguments. Is that not actually supporting a medley (to stick with our sound theme) of ideas? By refusing to look at something as “should be” or essentially asserting that my normative structure should not determine an outcome, I am willing to weigh a multitude of viewpoints and simply strive towards what is the most optimum (as determined by what provides the most benefit to humanity… this is a general utilitarian welfare stance).

  96. 96 96 Ken B

    Ben: Typing flames. Good.
    Whatever you INTENDED I quoted correctly what you said; you didn’t.
    What you actually said fits my reading and my quotation perfectly.

  97. 97 97 Will A

    If you google “What does santorum mean?” you will see a definition invented by those who don’t like what Santorum says.

    Now the conservatives have struck back and tagged Fluke to mean a “parasitic flatworm”.

    I can understand doing this for a political figure. Doing this to a private citizen seems very cruel.

    At least though the conservatives who did this were able to make a point without using degrading misogynistic terms.

  98. 98 98 Ken B

    Matt, tone deaf is cant for “I am calling you names but need not supply evidence or argument.” The odd thing about it is that only certain demographic groups are ever called tone-deaf. This fact has usueful implications, usually ignored.

  99. 99 99 Pat

    Oh, fer cryin’ out:

    “I reserved the phrase `contraceptive sponges’ very clearly and specifically for people who demand subsidies without offering any reasons beyond the fact that they’d prefer to be subsidized.”

    So let me get this straight: Your complaint about Ms. Fluke’s public comments is limited to the circumstance that, while arguing for a legal requirement that health insurers, who largely already cover prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis, which are used only by men, also be required to cover hormonal birth control pills that are used by women, she failed to preface her remarks with a comprehensive argument for the existence of health insurance at all?

    Excuse me: The preceding sentence should have been punctuated with a “?!?!?!?!?!”.

    Is it not far likelier that Ms. Fluke, like the half of this country now horrified at her treatment in the public sphere, simply assumed that, in making a specific argument for mandating insurers to cover one specified treatment, she could employ the ordinary intellectual short-cuts one makes when one does not wish to relitigate the insurance function of the modern welfare state?

    Are those who would mandate prenatal care now “ultrasound sponges”? People in favor of workers’ compensation laws “elbow cast sponges”? Proponents of public education “blackboard sponges”? Or are such people worthy of derision merely if they fail to begin such arguments with a treatise-length defense of the state with references to public goods and charts involving utility functions?

    I simply do not believe one could get through grad school and still manage to be so fuzzy-headed, even when responding to a very visible scolding by a university president, which one would assume should inspire a fair bit of careful choosing of one’s words. This entire blog simply has to be a hoax. (It’s a good one, for the record.)

  100. 100 100 Ken B

    @Will A: Actually the flatworm is only one stage of a fluke’s life. It’s interesting, and Zimmer’s book on parasites has more, but I sadly agree with you here that’s it’s over the top here. Ms Fluke deserves ridicule, but as you note she’s not a public figure the way Limbaugh or Obama is. There’s an edge of nastiness you correctly identify we could do without.

  101. 101 101 Joe

    Here’s some of the tone deafness, “One could then assert that Fluke is a bully”. This isn’t a rhetorical exercise, Matt. Limbaugh and Landsburg treated Fluke very badly, and a lot of people are very offended by it. Being right doesn’t excuse being mean.

    I think we’re just too far apart to discuss the rest.

    You say ” the claim that “x” or “y” person is a bully is a normative one, and as such it losses much meaning”

    I say ” the claim that “x” or “y” causes “z” is a positive one, and as such it losses ALL meaning”

  102. 102 102 Redlining

    Moon Dog: “all University of Rochester students received a link to your [Seligman's] editorial about Steven Landsburg’s blog entries”

    Nice. Landsburg posts something on his own blog, but Seligman’s opinion gets pushed to all Rochester students. And Seligman doesn’t even bother to include a link to Landsburg’s blog. I congratulate Landsburg on his remarkably temperate response.

    By the way, Landsburg has analogized “Buy American” campaigners and others to racists. Oh no! This is character assassination! Landsburg is undermining the university ideal of a free exchange of ideas! I demand Seligman denounce this as well!

  103. 103 103 Neil

    University presidents are basically politicians, pandering to a constituency in order to keep their cushy, over-paid jobs. I happen to disagree with Steve’s view on this, but this is now a case where I feel it is necessary to fight like hell to defend his right to express it.

  104. 104 104 George

    There is one piece missing from the debate. Before the pill was made available women got married at 19 and had their first child at 19. Their income, and freedom, was curtailed. Given women are 50% of the population, this clearly has some properties of an externality.

    So subsidizing the pill was good.

    The real question of whether we should still do this hinges on two related questions: 1) Would these gains be lost if the pill was not covered?; 2) Are women rich enough/have enough control over household finances that they don’t need to worry about losing the right to contraception absent this subsidy.

    I am not sure about the answer to these, but I don’t think it’s an obvious no if you look at rates of domestic violence and so on.

  105. 105 105 Dusty

    “So let me get this straight: Your complaint about Ms. Fluke’s public comments is limited to the circumstance that, while arguing for a legal requirement that health insurers, who largely already cover prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis, which are used only by men, also be required to cover hormonal birth control pills that are used by women, she failed to preface her remarks with a comprehensive argument for the existence of health insurance at all?”

    I don’t think Miss Fluke was really arguing for birth control pills as hormone replacement. That’s already covered by most medical plans. The Cialis and Viagra argument is recognition that she was advocating for birth control pills for contraceptive purposes, not for hormone maintenance. This whole thing is about preventing unwanted pregnancies, not about women’s reproductive health.

  106. 106 106 Vald

    @Steven Landsburg, Ken B, and many others

    First off, to clear something up for many of you (Chas, Josh, etc.) Landsburg is a tenured professor at a private university. Seligman issued a stern rebuke, which has no power to force Landsburg to do anything. All it really does is draw a distinction between Landsburg and the University as a whole, where many, including President Seligman apparently, find the ideas Landsburg expressed rather troubling.

    I just have a lot to say in response to most of the commenters on this board and Landsburg in particular:

    There are many different people in this debate, some of whom may believe that Landsburg was wrong simply for criticizing Sandra Fluke. I am not one of those people, and I don’t really believe that Seligman is either. I went and read her testimony, and I agree with many of you (including Landsburg) that she provides very little (if any) supporting evidence for why insurance companies should be required to provide contraception for free (which is not to say that there are no substantive arguments, only that she does not provide any). What she does appear to provide a good argument for (at least in my opinion) is the need for stronger mechanisms to ensure that drugs for which coverage is guaranteed (such as birth control pills for non-contraceptive purposes) are provided. The story she tells about a friend who needed birth control pills to control the growth of ovarian cysts is extremely troubling, at least in part because this is something for which coverage was supposedly guaranteed. It also appears to me that most posters on this thread support this position. At the same time, however, she does not actually connect this story to her overall point that contraceptive coverage should be provided for free.

    Nevertheless, what I find troubling with Landsburg’s original piece is his complete lack of respect for Sandra Fluke as a person. He states that “while Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatsoever.” Unfortunately, he does not seem to feel the need to provide the same respect that he says she deserves. In his discussion, he proceeds to use words such as slut, prostitute, and extortionist. These are not words used to describe a position, they are words used to describe a person. A position is not an extortionist or a slut. Those are words used to define PEOPLE.

    The first example Landsburg provides is a mockery of the position advocated by Fluke and others. I find it rather crude and I think it adds little to the debate, but Landsburg is mocking what he sees as a logical inconsistency in Fluke’s reasoning, not at her sex life. As a side note, I also think that Landsburg is giving Limbaugh significantly too much credit for using logic and analogy. From what know of him, he’s just not that clever, but that’s beside the point.

    It is the next paragraph where I take significant issue. Landsburg begins by stating that he objects to calling Sandra Fluke a slut, but his reasoning is simply an insult in itself. He does not object to calling Sandra Fluke a slut because that’s really just an awful thing to call someone. On the contrary, Landsburg appears to find nothing wrong with calling someone a slut because it “connotes (to [him] at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous.” He thinks that calling her a slut is wrong only because it’s not quite the right term to use. It seems to me that if, in Landsburg’s estimation, she was a slut, he would have no problem using the term to describe her. He fails to see just how loaded the term is with derogatory meaning, or else he simply doesn’t care. Unfortunately in the world of pure ideas where Landsburg and many others on this blog seem to reside, the historic and cultural meanings and uses of terms such as slut and whore are irrelevant to the emotionless dictionary-based definitions of the terms.

    Scott F also makes a similar argument quite well.

    I find the same issues with his decision that she could be called a prostitute (or a five-letter synonym, which I assume is whore), so I will not repeat the above paragraph again.

    Surprisingly, by the end, Landsburg lands on the term extortionist, which is a much less loaded and problematic terms to use. While I still find it problematic that he is ridiculing HER personally, I have LESS objections to his use of this term than others.

    In contrast to some posters above, however, I do find it problematic that Landsburg decides to call out a student not only on her opinions (well deserved criticism), but her life. He comes very, very close to branding her with terms that are extraordinarily problematic. Also, as an educator myself, I think that teachers and professors should be held to a higher standard when dealing students, particularly their own students, but also in situations that could be compared to a classroom situation. In this case, Landsburg is confronted with an argument that he (correctly) find empty, and instead of simply instructing her, he ridicules her personally and tries to find just the right term to describe how she is acting (settling on the term extortionist). While I don’t know what Landsburg would be like in a class, I would sincerely hope that he would never dare to treat a student of his own like this in a classroom or otherwise. For a professor to treat a student in such a way would be at best an abuse of power. Whether he treats students this way or not, however, that is how this will appear to the outside world that does not think nearly as logically as Landsburg himself.

    As for whether Ms. Fluke was willing to debate, I would say she most certainly was. As other commenters above have already noted, she was willing and prepared to speak before a Congressional committee. While a committee is most certainly not the most highly intellectual forum, I would say it most certainly speaks to her willingness to debate the issues. The reason she didn’t testify there and face questioning from the committee is because Rep. Darrel Issa forbade her to speak, not because she was unwilling.

    Some final points:

    For those planning to tell me I’m a hypocrite for not calling out Bill Maher, I will preempt you. I find that man rather unsavory and despicable. I find him to be often crass and demeaning and not worthy of the fame that he has (for reasons that I cannot fathom). I think the terms he has used to describe conservative women are unacceptable and demand an apology. I also think it is telling that he has come out in defense of Limbaugh’s apology. Despite their vastly different political outlooks, both men are more alike in some ways than they are different, and both, in my mind, are equally objectionable.

    Yes, Seligman is a political hack. He is a university president, I’d think that’s part of the job description.

    At the same time, as an alumnus of the University of Rochester, I am extremely glad that he issued this rebuke, because I would hate for Landsburg’s comments in his first post to tarnish the reputation of the university and discourage prospective students from thinking about Rochester because the only thing they or their parents know is that some professor at Rochester called a girl a slut (which is obviously incorrect, but from the university’s point of view, I’m sure that’s what the concern is).

    With all that said, I think that the protest in Landsburg’s class yesterday afternoon was COMPLETELY inappropriate. There were, as I understand it, some 100 students or so in the classroom who were paying to learn basic economics. While the students have a right to object to Landburg’s use of language, and to spread information about their concerns, they most certainly did not have a right to interrupt the learning of the students in the room. I think it was conceited, selfish, and hurt their cause more than it helped.

    Just one last thing to add, since I was called out on it personally by Ken B:

    To start with, I was not demanding that Steven Landsburg, or anyone else, disavow specifically every demeaning word in the English language. I was troubled by the fact that so many posters, including yourself, seemed absolutely willing to throw around such terms, or to imply that there was nothing wrong with doing so. If Steven Landsburg had simply been discussing the substantive issues without addressing the use of such language, I would have been fine with him leaving out of the discussion the use of terms such as slut, whore, etc. It was Landsburg who brought the words into the discussion in the first place (on this blog anyway), and it was Landsburg who provided troubling arguments that seemed to imply that he was perfectly fine with the use of such terms in some imagined appropriate scenario. I brought in the idea of other terms (fagot, etc.) to expand my example and try to help anyone reading my comment understand what I was trying to say was broader than just the issues discussed here.

    As for Seligman, I find the language he uses to disavow Landsburg on this issue extraordinarily troubling. Seligman, ever the political hack (yes, I will admit that he is), has bought into the insane idea that it’s the prostitute’s fault that she is out on the street selling sex. What this view ignores is the fact that she is selling sex either because she wants to be, because she needs to be, or because she is being forced to do so. It ignores the fact that no matter why she is out on the street (a useful turn of phrase, but obviously not always accurate to the situation), she is able to be there because there are men out there willing to pay her for sex. It is the same flawed view as the current American policies that punish prostitutes (and sometimes pimps), while leaving the men who pay them virtually unscathed. It’s also the same policy that marks prostitutes and former prostitutes as forever tarnished, while leaving their customers virtually free from shame. (In this I am mostly referring to the US blood donation policies that forbids anyone who has ever been paid for sex from donating blood for the rest of their life, but puts a restriction of only one year on the men that pay for sex).

    So to answer your question about where was the outrage: the outrage was at work, and I needed some time after work to write up this extremely long-winded response.

  107. 107 107 Josh

    KenB: good point. My point that even a pretty human face can be wrong was missing Joe’s main point.

    Anyway, I simply wonder why people feel this 30-year-old law student should be treated with kid gloves. If you give a controversial stance on something for all the world to see in front of legislators who affect our lives, perhaps one should expect to be called some names by some? By my count, she’s gotten a lot more support than derision. So why should she feel bad if most or many people agree with her and are showing her support? People are acting like something heinous has happened just because she was called some names by some stupid commentator. This is not some 18-year-old college freshman, people. I don’t particularly like the name calling either and it definitely wouldn’t be my style, but, again, at the same time it doesn’t strike me as being as big a deal as it’s being made out to be.

  108. 108 108 asa1940

    “Sandra Fluke … demanded that somebody other than herself and her fellow students pick up the tab [for contraceptives]“.

    Wrong. In her testimony, Ms. Fluke pointed out that student health insurance is paid for entirely by the students themselves, completely unsubsidized by the university. From Georgetown University’s website, you can verify that students are mandated to buy the university’s health insurance policy, unless they obtain a waiver. For the 2011-12 academic year, students pay (in addition to tuition) $1,895 for student only coverage or $5,516 for coverage of a student and spouse.

    “”Sandra Fluke … didn’t even pretend to be interested in debating any of the serious issues raised by the question of when some of us should pick up the tab for others’ expenses.”

    I suppose she wasn’t interested in debating this point because it had no bearing on her factual situation. The students pay for the policy, but the university requires an exception that, according to Ms. Fluke’s testimony, 94% of the students reject.

    Others commenting in this blog have pointed out that Ms. Fluke’s testimony was not about anyone’s “sex life” but the difficulty women have obtaining contraceptive medication for medical conditions unrelated to sexual intercourse.

    Why do you and Russ Limbaugh continue to falsely portray Ms. Fluke’s testimony? I certainly have no respect for those, like you and Rush Limbaugh, who contend Ms. Fluke’s testimony was about having sex or getting “some of us to pick up the tab” for Ms. Fluke’s “sex life”.

  109. 109 109 Josh

    Asa1940: What exactly is she advocating then? You say she’s not for forcing someone else to pick up the tab. Ok, so you mean she’s willing to pay for the birth control herself, but she simply wants to force someone to sell her a policy that covers it? Is she for forcing Georgetown’s insurance company to cover birth control? Does she also want her premium to stay the same?

  110. 110 110 Matt

    @ Vald

    I think that that was a very well thought out and reasonable response.

  111. 111 111 asa1940


    Ms. Fluke was advocating for the defeat of the Blunt amendment. Read her testimony at I think you will find it more compelling than the mischaracterizations provided by Steven Landsburg and Rush Limbaugh.

  112. 112 112 David S

    I hate to depart from the strict policy analysis of birth control subsidies, but I’d like to comment on SL’s questionable rhetoric and the unintended polarizing effect it had on people.

    Firstly, I’d like to confess that I am a prospective UofR student (Econ Major!), and that I have heard wondrous things about Prof. Landsman. Reading this blog has sent my thoughts to entirely new places and positions, and I am so appreciative.

    If we can drop the policy wankery for a moment, I believe that Dr. Landsburg made a serious misstep in the rhetorical and strategic approach of his initial blog entry. If he intended for his logic to be ACCURATELY HANDLED by the political circus that undoubtedly follows any sort of support for Rush Limbaugh, he would have chosen a different tone for his piece.

    After reading several entries, I now recognize Landsburg’s style. Political pundits do not have such time on their hands, and if they did, they wouldn’t want to throw out such a juicy story, ripe for manipulation. I see this as a display of naivety; a logic-heavyweight economist VASTLY underestimating the irrationality with which the political world would tear him apart. To draw comparisons to his piece, it is like Landsburg trying to argue with…well…less intelligent people! Things just don’t communicate.

    The speed with which the University President responded is indicative of how picaresque this nightmare must look to the PC/University community. As the UofR trends higher and higher in national and international rankings, drawing brighter (and more liberal) students to its campus, HERE COMES AN ECONOMICS PROFESSOR to raise the shadowy demon of movement conservatism. This is a goddamn perfect storm! An Economics Professor! The only way to present a more cliched vision of the Rochester’s “dark and evil supply side” would be for Landsman to have coauthored his piece with the UChicago Milton Friedman Institute and to have published it in the National Review.

    The University President must have been scared deeply by the press swarming your remarks. I don’t blame him.

  113. 113 113 asa1940


    You made a reference to Ms. Fluke’s “overall point that contraceptive coverage should be provided for free.”

    I don’t think that is Ms. Fluke’s argument. One of her points is that she is required to carry and pay for the university’s insurance (unless she qualifies for a waiver), which does not cover contraception. The mandated university insurance, however, does cover pregnancy and child birth expenses. After paying at least $1,895 a year for insurance with coverage for pregnancy, there is for many students little money left for contraceptives. Perhaps the insurance would be cheaper, or at least no more, if contraception were to be included and pregnancies would thereby be more easily avoided.

  114. 114 114 Vald


    You are correct that I have somewhat misstated what Sandra Fluke’s ultimate argument was. I did this consciously in an effort to use the language that has been used on this blog.

    At the same time, this argument, which she did make, doesn’t necessarily provide a logical connection about why contraceptive coverage should be provided through a government mandate. One of the problems with the entire debate as it is currently playing out on the national stage is that there are very few sensible arguments being voiced by either side. Most of the arguments being had (and in this I do not include this blog) are more or less arguments of people on one side saying that insurance companies must provide coverage, and on the other side individuals saying that no one should be allowed to provide coverage. While some people in this debate understand the reasons for and against such policies, reasons are rarely given a stage on which to speak.

  115. 115 115 asa1940


    I agree that the cost issue was not addressed well in Ms. Fluke’s testimony, and this detracted from her remaining testimony. I thought her main, and most compelling, point was how demeaning it is to women if insurance policies don’t cover contraception medication, even when a contraception prescription is “technically covered” for a medical condition.

  116. 116 116 Willem

    As a former student of Econ 108, graduate of UR, and reader of your blog, I am disheartened to read President Seligman’s misrepresentation of your post. I am also disheartened that the students that chose to protest your post interfered with their fellow students attempt to learn the fundamentals of economics. As I recall, in the final lecture of Econ 108 in the fall of 2006, you received a hearty round of applause. I read this blog because of your keen ability to simplify a seemingly complex issue by identifying the parties that benefit and the parties that do not. We should subsidize you, sir, because had Ms. Fluke and President Seligman been positive externalities of the impeccable logic with which your teaching imparts, society would benefit greatly.

  117. 117 117 FangedFaerie

    Others pointed out that birth control is frequently used for medical conditions unrelated to sex and pregnancy, and that argument was quickly dismissed because policies “should” already cover that usage. It was said a few times in other threads that the specific use of birth control AS a contraceptive had not been successfully argued as needful.

    Secondary health problems related to pregnancy (like incontinence and prolapsed uterus) were never discussed on this blog. C-sections and their potential risks were never discussed, and the simple fact that there are some medical conditions which would make the fact of pregnancy dangerous for some women were never discussed.

    My main point, there, was that birth control AS pregnancy provention has medical validity, and as such should be covered by insurance.

  118. 118 118 FangedFaerie

    “Prevention” ugh. I’m sleepy.

  119. 119 119 Pat T

    George, you wrote:

    “There is one piece missing from the debate. Before the pill was made available women got married at 19 and had their first child at 19. Their income, and freedom, was curtailed. Given women are 50% of the population, this clearly has some properties of an externality.

    So subsidizing the pill was good.”

    So much question begging here. If you want to justify a pill subsidy you have to answer these questions. Do babies infringe freedom? (I think they’re a choice.) If there is an externality, is that externality negative? (I think the externality is positive.) If the externality is negative, is it big enough to justify the cost of the subsidy?

  120. 120 120 Ken B

    @Vald: I would like to see an example where I called Fluke a slut, whore, prostitute etc. From the beginning I condemned that.

    In the comment I linked you characterized several of us, even those who had explicitly criticized the use of the words, as being comfortable with their use applied to Fluke or others. This is a pretty clear deamnd we prove our worthiness by doing so. Readers may judge for themseleves

  121. 121 121 Ken B

    @asa1490: the really demeaning thing is that a women should need to get a permission slip to buy the pill.

  122. 122 122 Joe

    Well said Vald

  123. 123 123 tom beebe st louis

    I believe all would agree that we would like to see universal health care, if we could afford it. But we cannot, so what limits should be applied? Perhaps the same that are applied to limiting all other desired products and services. One limit is necessity. Are birth control measures essetial to maintain life? In some cases, yes. In other cases they are optional, merely to serve the conveniences of the user. The distinction can and should be made by health care professionals. Absent such a determination, why should we, as taxpayers, be held responsible for cost of another’s choice? I’d like a Ferrari but can get to work with a used Chevy. Will you save me from a boring commute?

  124. 124 124 Dave

    Old definition of insurance: Insurance is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss.

    New definition of insurance: A prepayment plan.

  125. 125 125 Bob Murphy

    @Vald 11:21pm… Very nice post. I’m guessing you and I don’t have the same views about government policy etc., but I think you nicely summed up a perfectly reasonable position that is critical of Landsburg’s first post. Like you, I find it odd that Steve’s defenders are saying, “He specifically said Rush shouldn’t have used those words!” when Steve’s objection wasn’t the use per se, just that they didn’t quite fit.

    Finally, you hit the nail on the head when you said that despite Steve’s caveat that all people deserve respect and it’s just positions we should be jeering, that he went on to use words that described a person, not a position.

    (BTW, the only reason I am “piling on” Steve here, is that his scores of defenders actually seem not to understand what the big deal is, and to think that the UofR president must not have read the post or something. No, he did in fact read the post, and Vlad et al. are trying to explain to you why it would sound shocking to someone who isn’t intimately familiar with the Enigma That Is Landsburg.)

  126. 126 126 Joe

    tom beebe st louis,
    One possible argument is that requiring a prescription for birth control increases the cost to both the producer and consumer, leading to sub-optimal use of birth control. Providing insurance puts some of that cost on the insurer, enhancing welfare by getting us closer to the optimal use.

    Now I can’t back that argument up, but my point is that if we are only seeing one side of it, we are not looking hard enough. There is a great deal of depth to this issue. Landsburg has stayed very close to the surface.

  127. 127 127 Al V.

    @Interested, health insurance premiums are tax deductable. Therefore, if an insurer chooses to cover any medication or procedure for an increase in premium, that increase is in effect subsidized by taxpayers.

    That said, there is no evidence that any insurers will raise premiums to cover birth control under the Obama Administration’s “compromise”.

  128. 128 128 Ken B

    @Bob Murphy:
    “Like you, I find it odd that Steve’s defenders are saying, “He specifically said Rush shouldn’t have used those words!” when Steve’s objection wasn’t the use per se, just that they didn’t quite fit.”

    You shouldn’t. Demanding that I condemn not just the words used in the case at hand, but that I also ostenatatiously denounce every and any such use of those words is a deamnd that I prove my worthiness to be part of the debate. It is the equivalent of a loyalty oath. I will no more consent to genuflect to prove my worthiness to debate than I will demand you genuflect to prove yours.

    Consider an example. If I drag up a post from the blogosphere calling Landsburg a ‘kike’ and call it to your attention I expect you would condemn it. It would be wrong of me to demand that you further condemn any use of any epithet in any forum. If you wrote “That is despicable and the commenter is a jerk” how would you feel if if I went around arguing that Murphy seems to think [insert epithet here] is acceptable because he didn’t extend his remarks to condemn it more broadly? Would you think that fair and reasonable? That though is precisely what Vald did in an earlier comment to several on this board, and what many have done to Steve Landsburg.

    We all see that Steve sidestepped the issue of condemning such language. As one poster noted Steve often sidesteps emotionally provocative stuff to concentrate on the logic.. the evocative term he used was that is ‘Landsburg’ schtick’ He does this not to endorse the slurs but to somewhat flamboyantly call attention to his argument.

    The same literate commenter used the term ‘conceit’. That explains Landsburg’s post. Like a poem by Herbert there is an underlying trick around which Steve’s exposition is organized. It is this: I will reject Limbaugh’s language but instead of posturing I will *ta-da* end up with a different bit of mockery, viz ‘extortionist with an overwheening sense of entitlement.’

    So let me repeat my main point. I will no more submit to prove my worthiness to debate than I will demand you prove your worthiness to me.

  129. 129 129 ID

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Free speech for me but not for thee. I can’t wait until the higher education bubble pops and people like Joel Seligman are exposed to reality.

  130. 130 130 ThomasD

    So, what (if any) actions are being taken against the ‘protesters’ who disrupted your class the other day?

    Does your University President have any concern for the rights of the students enrolled in your class and present that day? It is undeniable that their educational experience was disrupted by that bullying mob.

    Surely he owes the students of his own University a higher duty than a third year law student from another institution.

  131. 131 131 iceman

    @asa1940: We know Fluke wants to be (or her friends to be) subsidized by someone (does saying it’s just her fellow students make it better or worse?), because she tells us *precisely* what the future cost is for something that will address the medical issues she describes. In which case the only thing to be gained by accessing it through her plan is the diluting of that cost across all members of the pool. In other words, what she is seeking is simply a ‘benefit’, not protection against *risk*.

    @Al V: Good point about the deductibility of premiums affecting all taxpayers, but does that apply in the case of a university?

  132. 132 132 Ben

    Dr. Landsburg, when you insinuate that Sandra Fluke’s supporters are from the “pro-respect crowd” does that imply that you are anti-respect?

  133. 133 133 Al V.

    tom beebe st louis,

    One point that has been lost in all of this discussion was in SL’s original posting on this subject. It does not make economic sense to cover repetative prescriptions under insurance. The purpose of insurance is to cover unpredictable health expenses. Medications that are taken regularly, or that are predictable, don’t fall into that scope. For example, I take medicine for high blood pressure, one pill every day.

    That my blood pressure medicine is covered under my health insurance creates two disconnects. First, I’m paying the same premium as someone my age who doesn’t take that medicine, so in effect others on the same insurance plan are subsidizing my prescription. Second, because my insurance premiums are tax deductable, the U.S. taxpayer is also subsidizing my medicine. This makes no economic sense.

    However, there is some public policy rationale for this. Covering these repetative prescriptions under insurance, and subsidizing them, increases the likelyhood that people will be willing to pay for and take their medicine. And in many cases, paying for people to take birth control, blood pressure medication, or anti-depressants, is more cost effective on the whole than dealing with the consequences of people not taking that medication.

  134. 134 134 iceman


    “requiring a prescription for birth control increases the cost”

    Are you simply endorsing Ken B’s proposal that the pill be OTC?

    “Providing insurance puts some of that cost on the insurer”

    If the previous answer is yes, then this seems superfluous.
    But do you mean “mandating insurers cover something and not charge for it”? Or as someone who works in insurance do you believe insurers do not charge people for their services?

  135. 135 135 FangedFaerie

    Do babies infringe freedom?
    - Ask any parent. Unless you have the luxury of paying for childcare at the drop of a hat, the resounding answer is YES. I can’t believe you’re even asking that question.

    (I think they’re a choice.)
    - Good job negating the entire pro-life/pro-choice debate. I’m not even going there.

    If there is an externality, is that externality negative?
    - If you mean the economic and social consequences of having children, that’s complicated. On the one hand, you have new members of society who, in about 15-20 years, will theoretically become the new workers. On the other hand, you have the entire set of arguments and discussions that go with working parents (subset discussion: maternity leave and people who become stay at home parents), latchkey children, abuse and neglect, nutrition and healthcare costs, public schools, etc.

    If the externality is negative, is it big enough to justify the cost of the subsidy?
    - If you’re comparing the shared costs of health insurance covering birth control to the shared taxes and other expenses for raising a safe and healthy child, I think the answer is obvious.

    This holds even if you disregard the small percentage of women who have medical conditions that put them at risk of death should they become pregnant, and the larger portion of women who would have to deal with other changes to their bodies and lives during pregnancy and after birth.

  136. 136 136 Ken B



    “requiring a prescription for birth control increases the cost”

    Are you simply endorsing Ken B’s proposal that the pill be OTC?

    One of the things I like about TBQ is that I get to be one of the radicals here. Take women’s rights. Unless I overlooked a comment I am the only one here to argue that women should not need a permission slip to take the pill. A woman would be wise to seek medical advice but I don’t think she should need anyone’s permission. I am one of the few who things a woman should be able to sleep with any adult she wants for any reason she wants. Including cash. I am not sure how many here support, as I do, letting a woman control her own nostrils or her own veins, and decide for herself what she puts in them, but I suspect it’s a minority.

  137. 137 137 Joe

    No, I am not endorsing Ken B’s proposal.

    Not sure what you’re getting at with the “not charge for it”. If there is a net cost, it will end up in the premium eventually.

  138. 138 138 Ken B

    Let’s go back to ‘tone-deaf’ since I finally figured out how I want to put the point. ‘Tone-deaf’ in a political context means out of step with the feelings of your audience, or of some audience used as a reference. It’s a bad thing in a politician, it can lose him an election or influence. But in the context of an intellectual debate or a search for the truth ‘tone-deaf’ is not a bad thing, or a relevant thing. Challenging the implicit assumptions of an audience is a good thing in that case.

  139. 139 139 Ken B

    @Joe: the “not charge for it” comes from demands from some, and proposals from others, that there be no copay and no rate adjustment.
    Of course there WILL be a rate hike eventually. [But that still represents a cost to non-users, and the lack of copay has incentive effects too.]

  140. 140 140 cas127

    Seligman runs an institution (a university) that has become so indentured to the largess of the State (hello federally guaranteed student loans – propping up insanely overinflated tuitions) that he *has to* dance to the music of his master (the Welfare State).

    That makes *him* a mighty big Sponge himself.

    Very easy to conceive, when you think about it…

  141. 141 141 Martin

    Great, I see there are two Martin’s commenting on this blog.

  142. 142 142 Pat T

    FangedFairie, you define freedom differently than me. Having a son might make it more difficult to go to dinner with just my wife but that is not a reduction in my freedom. Not having a son makes it much more difficult to play with my son. Having a son changes what I might freely choose to do (more playing, fewer dinners at fancy restaurants). I don’t see that as a reduction in freedom justifying a government tax.

  143. 143 143 FangedFaerie

    PatT: There speaks privilege.

    Having a child means less disposable income, and imposes greater requirements on living conditions (a studio apartment doesn’t cut it anymore) and transportation (it’s hard to take a baby to the doctor on a bicycle, and it’s impossible with a newborn).

    You can’t take a baby to most workplaces, and they aren’t welcome in college classrooms, so childcare must be arranged. If you haven’t graduated high school, the imposition on the parent’s life (or parents’, if the father stays involved) is much greater.

    During pregnancy, there is a long list of “don’ts” to follow, many medical appointments and tests to run, and the general discomforts and exhaustion that come from creating and carrying a new life. Some women suffer more than others from this (ex. round ligament pain). If there are any confounding factors like Rh incompatibility, things are that much more stressful and difficult and potentially medically dangerous.

    There is also the “crucible” of everyone being able to hold up mentally through the first months of the infant’s life, when the baby has to feed every 2-4 hours ’round the clock, and must be cleaned, diapered, and taken to the doctor frequently. If you can wave your hand at that as not being an imposition on personal freedom to do whatever one wants, then I have nothing further to say to you.

  144. 144 144 Ken B

    FangedFaerie: “There speaks privilege.” There speaks ad hominem. But the ‘privilege’ bit is debatable.

  145. 145 145 Joe

    Ken B,
    When I wrote “tone deaf” I was referring to the fact that Seligman said that Landsburg was mean, and the primary response from Landsburg and others here was that Landsburg was right.

    There is a vast distance between the concepts of acceptable and unacceptable, and those of correct and incorrect. Landsburg’s critics were primarily concerned with the former, and his supporters with the latter.

    There is also a second order tone deafness here. It seems that many think that they can close the gap between the two, that if Fluke is wrong enough, then Landsburg’s writing is acceptable. But the critics already know that. They know that it is OK to mock, ridicule, and humiliate people like George Wallace and Hitler. They are saying that there is a line, and that this case is way over it. It will take a much more thoughtful argument than what I’ve seen here to rebut that.

  146. 146 146 Joe

    Ken B,
    And you are wrong that tone-deafness is not bad in a search for truth. Tone deafness implies not that you don’t agree with their implicit assumptions, but that you don’t even understand or recognize them. It is a unambiguously bad thing.

  147. 147 147 FangedFaerie

    If the only inconvenience of having a child is missing out on a fancy dinner with the wife, then that is a very privileged life.

  148. 148 148 Ken B

    What you miss Joe is that ‘tone-deaf’ is not an objective thing. it means you affront the prejudices of a certain group, in the judgement of some observer using the term. As ever context matters.

    And as Will A would say, boring discussion.

  149. 149 149 Ken B

    Joe: ” They are saying that there is a line, and that this case is way over it.”
    This is entriely correct. had SL called her a slut I would agree he was over the line. he did not. He also did not explicitly condemn RL for doing it. Many conclude from that SL endorsed the slur. Many do not. I think it a bad inference that places a demand on people to explitly disavow things they don’t endorse just to listened to. That is a bad thing. Your mileage differs I know.

    Say that the relavant passage of SL’s first post had been this:

    There’s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a “slut” because, he says, she’s demanding to be paid for sex.
    Rush’s use of terms like slut is reprehensible in any case. No-one should ever use sexual slurs to demean an adversary. He should apologize of course. Not only that but he can’t even get the logic right.
    There are two things he gets wrong here. First, the word “slut” connotes

    Would we be having this whole debate? I think not.

  150. 150 150 Joe

    Ken B,

    Again, it is not affronting their prejudices, it is failing to understand or recognize them.

    Landsburg still has got to get past this “…I just don’t get is why the pro-respect crowd is aiming all its fire at Rush. Which is more disrespectful — his harsh language or Sandra Fluke’s attempt to pick your pocket”

    That was the conclusion of the post–Why is everybody picking on Rush? My goodness, even the title is “Rush to Judgement”. The whole point of the post was “I agree with Rush.” Not a close call.

  151. 151 151 Ken B

    Is tone-deaf related to blind?
    “The whole point of the post was “I agree with Rush.” Not a close call.”

    No. The whole point was ‘I[Landsburg] partly agree with Rush.’
    You are clearly smart enough to know SL did not endorse RL in toto, but just in part. Yet you treat partial agreement as sin enough. Loyalty oath.

  152. 152 152 Joe

    Ken B,

    “…I just don’t get is why the pro-respect crowd is aiming all its fire at Rush. Which is more disrespectful — his harsh language or Sandra Fluke’s attempt to pick your pocket”

    He is either justifying “his harsh language” or he is minimizing it. Either way, it’s over the line.

    And did you read what Rush said? It was misogynistic and disgusting, even outside of the slut comment. I wanted to take a shower after reading it.

    Not a close call

    It is possible though, and perhaps likely, that Landsburg didn’t actually read or hear all of what Rush said. If that is the case, then I would encourage him to read it and determine if there is anything else that Rush said that he disagrees with.

  153. 153 153 iceman

    @Bob Murphy: I agree one should expect a quite different response from people who are familiar with SL’s ‘dialectical style’ — which seems like a reasonable expectation for people who voluntarily come to *his* blog? (It would seem fair to hold an op-ed to a different standard.)

    It’s unfortunate that the ‘linguistic analysis’ section of the post has served as such a distraction (perhaps even provided cover for some who preferred not to deal in the substance of the matter), for something I personally presumed to be a little tongue-in-cheek (no puns intended) and more importantly, found to be not very germane to the main point. I generally find a fearless commmitment to taking arguments or analyses to their logical conclusions admirable, like when I read the abortion-lowers-crime section of Freakonomics — “boy, they’ve got more guts than I do”. (I know Leavitt has endorsed SL’s books for this very reason.) It seems to me there’s much to be said for the idea that the way to show true respect is to take someone’s ideas / arguments at face value and make them stand on their own merits, and doing anything less seems patronizing.

  154. 154 154 iceman

    @Joe: “If there is a net cost, it will end up in the premium eventually.”

    Then I’m not sure what you’re getting at with “Providing insurance puts some of the cost on the insurer.”

  155. 155 155 Pat T

    Fairie, your argument is that 1) babies reduce current and future disposable income which in turn 2) reduces freedom and 3) should be corrected by a tax.

    Replace “babies” with “anything that costs money” and think about whether your argument makes sense.

    I don’t care if you have silly definitions of words but I do care if you think your silly definition gives you the right to take my money to address a phony externality.

  156. 156 156 iceman

    @FangedFaerie: Don’t see where this discussion of “freedom” came from or what point you’re trying to make, but if someone decides the “inconveniences” of having a baby will outweigh the new experiences it makes possible (like playing with your child as Pat T observes), then one is *free* to place the baby for adoption. If you’re arguing for a subsidy you’re arguing to impose on the freedom of others, period.

  157. 157 157 Joe

    You are right that it doesn’t stay with the insurer. The benefit in that hypothetical scenario comes from the fact that the insurer charges everyone, not just the user. This lowers the cost to the user, increasing usage closer to the optimal amount.

    Again, it’s only a hypothetical, illustrative argument.

  158. 158 158 iceman

    @Joe: Yes, illustrative that Ms. Fluke is in fact seeking to pass the cost along to others, and we are left searching for hypotheticals for arguments she did not offer (to my knowledge) involving externalities that coincidentally support her wish. Also it still reads to me like the source of your ‘suboptimal’ usage is the prescription requirement, but since you don’t think we should remedy that (e.g. by making it OTC) one would presume you consider that a necessary cost, which again begs why usage is suboptimal.

    BTW I do agree that information costs are a classic potential source of asymmetry (e.g. since Arrow’s seminal paper) from which people have argued for intervention in health care. (Complexity per se isn’t so persuasive to me, e.g. smartphones are pretty complicated too with all kinds of features to compare — even *insurance* — but I see no evidence people are helplessly underinvesting.) But I’m not totally convinced of the notion that individuals need to figure out every specific drug & treatment they might want…what they need is to figure out (or have someone help them figure out, like we have people help us figure out our taxes, wills, retirement planning) what types of health issues they want to have coverage for, and have an agent (e.g. the insurer) that seeks to negotiate those services with providers in a cost-effective and, yes, ‘ethical’ way. (In a market setting reputational considerations often play a critical role here; insurers cannot exist solely to deny claims.) But it’s certainly true this is subject to another classic issue of principal-agency conflict.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  159. 159 159 The Woodwose

    The most depressing piece of Joel Seligman’s screed was his rant starting with, “I am outraged that any professor would demean a student in this fashion” in reference Professor Landsburg’s criticism of Sandra Fluke’s clarion call for her right to free contraceptives. Since apparently Seligman is a mental midget ill equipped to the intellectual demands of his office, let me spell out the problem with his rant for him.

    Sandra Fluke interjected herself into a national political debate with the demand that she receive free contraceptives paid for by every person in this country. This was not a classroom. This was not a student debate. This was not some student exercise. Sandra Fluke did not receive college credit for her little foray into national politics – or she better damn well not have. No one elected Sandra Fluke as some kind of “Speaker for the Students.” No one appointed her to any kind of office. She spoke with no official capacity and only as a private citizen who happened to be a student.

    Yet Seligman is “outraged” because a Professor is “demeaning” a “student.” Being a student has nothing to do with any criticism directed at Sandra Fluke over her stated position. And Seligman is a duplicitous, deceitful, soft-headed, arrogant twit for arguing that Landsburg is wrong to criticize Fluke.

    It’s an argument as emotional and childish as Fluke’s argument was to begin with.

  160. 160 160 Syed


    I appreciate your reasoned argument; however, I disagree with some significant portions of it.

    SL did not just call Fluke a “slut”, “prostitute” or “extortionist”. If that’s all SL had said in his post I would be similarly outraged. Those words of course have certain meaning and what he did was say the first two do not fit the position she’s taking, the last does. (How could a respectable person even think to dissect the meaning of those words or its usage.? Horror of horrors! Not only women, even men of good stock are getting the vapors. ) Of course, SL doesn’t stop at which word may fit the motivation, he address the underlying issue on the substance.

    “[SL] does not object to calling Sandra Fluke a slut because that’s really just an awful thing to call someone. On the contrary, Landsburg appears to find nothing wrong with calling someone a slut because it ‘connotes (to [him] at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous.’”

    You ascribe motivation and intent that I don’t think is obvious or the most likely. Very much more likely is that SL is playing with a term that RL used in his rant.

    Your sense of decorum may make you queasy to discuss the usage of such words in your personal blog, but please don’t suggest your standard as the only legitimate one. SL was, quite appropriately in my opinion, mocking her sense of entitlement. You seem to agree on the substance but not the style. So be it. But please don’t assume that there is only one style that is legitimate. SL often uses sly humor and other pedagogic tools to get a point accross. BTW, nowhere is there any evidence that SL mocks his students, so your alluding to it is inappropriate (and frankly hurtful). Fluke is not a student at UofR, nor is her position being mocked because she’s a student at Georgetown Law. It was her public pronouncements in favor of having her contraception expenses picked up by others based on the simple proposition that we need it and congress should get others to pay for it.

    As a fellow alumnus of Rochester I am very disturbed by Seligman. Before he took the asinine step of publicly inserting the office of the President into what was essentially a minor issue in a corner of the blogosphere, University of Rochester was not the issue. Do a google search, you’ll see most of the news articles are based on Seligman’s response not directly to this blog. It’s Seligman who brought Uof R into this controversy. If it was something that was getting many UofR students upset, he could have announced internally that this is a private blog and does not reflect the University’s position. As was pointed out here by a current student, many only found out because Seligman sent out a mass email to all the students. I would characterize that as incompetence.

  161. 161 161 Bradley Calder

    @Ken B

    I mean this in the most complimentary way possible, why don’t you also have a blog?

  162. 162 162 Vald


    I recognize that he dissects the meaning of the derogatory terms he uses, but I objected to his definitions because they lack any recognition of, to quote my previous post, “the historic and cultural meanings and uses of [these] terms.” Unlike you and Steven, I do not believe that calling a woman a slut simply means that she is a woman who really likes to have sex a lot. Calling a woman a slut is to say that she is a terrible person, because she likes to have sex a lot. For centuries, terms such as slut and whore have been used to demean a woman’s existence and sully her reputation in the eyes of society. Whether the woman had actually had sex or not was irrelevant to the slur because the point was to destroy her, make her unappealing to possible husbands, or to ruin her ability to be trusted, etc. This is also why under the English common law of the 17th century, use of such terms would provide a cause of action for a slander lawsuit. It wasn’t just calling someone a name, it was using a term meant to destroy her reputation.

    This usage is actually confirmed by two different dictionary definitions of the term slut:
    Merriam-Webster: 1. A slovenly woman. 2. A promiscuous woman; a saucy girl. 1. A dirty, slovenly woman. 2. An immoral or dissolute woman; prostitute.

    Each of those definitions connotes, to me at least, a rather negative depiction of a woman, not just that of a girl who has sex a lot.

    As for my ascribing of motivation, what exactly do you think is incorrect? Steven Landsburg is, as you say, playing with a term that Rush Limbaugh uses in his rant. Landsburg dissects the word, as you say, with a definition that I find insufficient. He then goes on to find that the word denotes a joy that he does not think applies in this case. The term joyous implies, again at least to me, a rather negative connotation, which I think is COMPLETELY inaccurate with regards to the word slut, for the reasons I list above.

    I don’t think that I have shied away at all from discussing the usage of words such as slut, whore, or prostitute. If you would like me to go further and find you more information on the historic usage of such terms, I will, but I don’t think that is necessary because I doubt you would care what I find.

    While I agree that my standard is not the only legitimate one, my standards for the use of such words seem much more in line with that of the vast majority of people who are defamed by such words. Unfortunately, both you and Steven Landsburg could care less what words mean to the people at whom they are hurled. The only standard of decorum that seems to matter to you is the strictly non-offensive meaning, or, if you understand the offensive meaning, you simply do not care (for more of my opinion of this matter, see my post on the “Rush to Judgment” thread about white privilege).

    As for whether there is any evidence that Steven Landsburg mocks his students, I was not referring to actual evidence, I was referring to public perception of this incident and what it might mean for a student in his class. So far as I, as an educator, am concerned, the way you treat people, and particularly students, reflects on how you will treat your students in your class. If one finds terms such as “slut” and “whore” appropriate to use, as long as that use is in context, I worry that one might think that it is, therefore, equally appropriate to use such terms in what one believes to be the appropriate context in a classroom or with a student. As I noted in my post above, in incidents such as this, it really doesn’t matter how Landsburg treats his students in class, what matters is how prospective students BELIEVE he treats students in his class. If all future students know about Landsburg is that he find it acceptable to call students sluts, do we expect them to know whether he would do so in a classroom or not?

    I agree that Seligman sending out a mass email to everyone was a misstep because it gave more publicity to Landsburg’s statements than they otherwise would have had. Although I am a regular follower of this blog (but not, until recently, an avid commenter), I do not think that sending so many students here was a good thing. Steven Landsburg and most of the posters on this blog think on a completely different level than the average human, and it seems that most people (as evidenced by some of the most recent, post-Seligman comments) simply do not understand what Landsburg is saying most of the time.

    I personally saw the initial blog post when it was first posted, long before it became a national controversy. I found it insulting at the beginning, but I learned long ago that it is senseless to fight the Steven Landsburg’s unwavering resolve in the face of adversity.

    I do agree with you that Seligman should have announced something more subtle than the response he gave. At the same time, however, anything that he said was bound to make news, if only because with facebook, such things spread like wildfire.

  163. 163 163 Doc Merlin

    “Again, my objection is to people who think we ought to draw policy conclusions based on nothing more than their own personal preferences—that is, people who think that ideas don’t matter. ”

    Isn’t that what politics and government are? They are mechanism that designed for people to be able to use violence to force their personal preferences on others?

  164. 164 164 Syed


    Have you ever heard a man being referred to as a swine in casual conversation? Are you aware of the historic significance of that word for Muslims and Jews? Have you heard the term male chauvinist pig used? If someone said in your presence that such and such a person behaves like a swine, would you walk off in a huff? When you go to comedy club, do you wither at all the vile language? Or do you, like most in the audience take it in context? Do you take it as affectation or do constantly and loudly voice your displeasure? There are many words that have historical meaning that is at odds with its usage today. That’s why context matters.

    A blog is very personal. There is no compulsion for anyone to read it. I think an author of a blog should have the freedom to use any affectations he or she chooses. If that author is able to engage his readership, they will keep coming back, if not, they will move on. You’ve said you are a long time reader of this blog, as am I. Like you, I’ve chosen not to comment much until now. As a regular reader, I assume you value what Steve has to say. Then you should already know that he sometimes pushes the boundary to make a point. As no doubt you know, consistency is important in a logical discourse. (Refer to my questions above.) Sometimes to delve into the logic of an argument, one needs explore the extreme. If a reader gets hung up on the extreme, it’s quite easy to miss the general thrust of the argument. I think to get hung up on the word “slut” is to miss the main point.

    It seems to me the primary reason that many have focused on those words on a fairly esoteric blog is to delegitimize arguments on one side of a national debate. It is a lot easier to have an emotional reaction than to address the substantive arguments. Based on your earlier thoughtful post, I don’t believe you are in that group. However, a lot of the brouhaha is to intimidate those that make counter arguments, and the easiest way to do so is to stir the emotion.

    Let me make one point about prospective student. Before Seligman took a very public position, how many prospective students and their parents would have said: I’ve heard there’s a professor at this university who used the word slut in his personal blog and that’s just too much. Do you think this is the biggest danger that parents would worry about when sending their kids to college. Would they also say don’t go to Duke or Virginia Tech or Columbia or NYU? If they really thought that the student cannot escape taking Steve’s class, would they have bothered to check Rate My Professor. I want UofR to attract the best students. Seligman certainly hasn’t helped in that regard.

  165. 165 165 Robert L. Paquette

    March 8, 2012

    Dear President Seligman:

    My wife and I are graduates of the University of Rochester. I received a Ph.D. there in 1982 when the history department ran one of the top graduate programs in the United States with the likes of Robert Fogel, Stanley Engerman, Gene Genovese, and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. I met my wife there. She was a Soviet Jewish emigre who had managed to escape persecution in a totalitarian regime during the last year of the Carter administration. She received her undergraduate degree in math and computer science.

    I write because your official statement regarding the comments of Professor Steve Landsburg has left us both concerned and scratching our heads. You, as president of a major university, have leveled a most incendiary public blast at a distinguished professor of economics for raisng concerns about the policies advocated before Congress by Sandra Fluke–a thirty-something veteran political operative.

    Have I missed something? Here is what I read in Professor Landsburg’s blog: “But while Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatseover.” Please note Professor Landsburg spoke about Ms. Fluke’s “position” on the issue, not about Ms. Fluke’s person. Yet your overreaction makes it seem that Professor Landsburg vilified her character, and now I read in the Rochester newspapers that activist students have marched into Professor Landsburg’s classes with U of R security standing by and doing nothing. Given my own experience at an elite institution of higher education, I know full well how an administrator’s speech, glossed with a pro forma commitment to academic freedom, can actually cover a purposive call to arms for the squadristii to march and chill that very academic freedom you say you defend.

    So, it appears, President Seligman, you have emboldened the campus thugs. As my wife watches these events she mentioned to me that she did not leave one totalitarian regime to come to another. I think you owe Professor Landsburg an apology, even if you have decided not to offer him protection.

    In my position, I come into contact annually with hundreds of high school students. I will now tell them to stay away from my alma mater unless I see tangible action on your part to redress the wrong you have inflicted on Professor Landsburg.


    Robert L. Paquette

  166. 166 166 Joe

    There are some gaps in your logic in the first paragraph. It is likely that there are good reasons to require a prescription for the pill. I defer to the medical community on that, so I’m starting from the reality that it does require a prescription, which may lead to increased costs and under-utilization.

    Again, just an illustration.

    I think you are underestimating the complexity of health care. Cell phones are probably not an apt comparison.

    If you want to consider a more open market, with a greater variety of options, one aspect to consider is how that interacts with Arrow’s results. In the base case, where the decision is one of buying insurance or going without, high risk people buy insurance, low risk people go without, and the price goes way up. If we go with a menu approach, the result is that people at high risk for pancreatic cancer buy pancreatic cancer insurance, people with a lower risk don’t, and the cost of pancreatic cancer insurance becomes prohibitive.

    Health care is probably as far away as any of us will ever get from the standard economic models of markets. And every time we correct an inefficiency, we crate a cascading effect of new distortions. That’s why Obamacare and Romneycare are so complicated. Because they have to be.

  167. 167 167 lurkerbee

    I think Seligman was wrong to interject as he did. It can’t help but foster self-censorship among non-tenured faculty and inhibit intellectually honest classroom discussion. I do hope Seligman realizes that his reaction turns a lot of us off. I have two college-bound (and high-performing) children. Such displays do not persuade that your school is the place for us.

    More broadly, I find this whole argument about contraception so disingenuous – and the word parsing now taking place in the comments as an attempt to distract from the main issue.

    Let’s be clear: Birth control is widely and cheaply available and has been for my entire adult life. This mandate is not about whether birth control will continue to be so. It changes the game by dictating that birth control be provided under ALL policies without any co-pay or deductible — that is, “free” to those who don’t understand that those costs are simply buried in the overall fees for insurance.

    This isn’t about women’s health. It’s an attempt to buy the women’s vote, pure and simple.

    Moreover, it’s a brazen middle finger to the Catholic Church. With its lack of exemptions for conscience, the mandate is clearly trying to make the Church choose between its faith and its presence in the public sphere. (And to those commenters who would point to the Obama administration’s so-called accommodation, save it. It’s an insult to the intelligence.)

    Understandably, the Catholic Church has cried foul, in accordance with a Constitution that reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….”

    What’s worrisome is that so many supposedly thinking people want to brush this religious freedom issue aside. It shows an utter lack of historical awareness and understanding; there were good reasons these provisions were included in the First Amendment.

    As for Sandra Fluke, she’s clearly a political activist taking very public and ugly aim at a religious institution that she willingly chose to attend. Let’s quit pretending she’s some poor victim.

  168. 168 168 Vald


    I don’t think that you can divorce the word slut from its historic meaning because it is still used in much the same way. Rush Limbaugh was not using it in some highly thought-out and clever economic logical twist. He was attempting to discredit her right to even speak, not based on her ideas, but based on her presumed sexual proclivities. Steven Landsburg seems to think that the term can be used in a less controversial way, and I disagree with him.

    I COMPLETELY agree with you that most of the people screaming about the use of these words are attempting to discredit the other side of the argument, and overall simply avoid discussing any substantive issues. I think this is just awful. Aside from the downright awfulness of the words, one of the reasons that I don’t think that someone like Steven Landsburg should be using such words (in any context) is because it will, as we have seen, overwhelm any national discussion of the substantive ideas that he has to offer. While I disagree with most of his arguments, I know that he has the capacity to explain them well. By using words like slut and whore, he distracts from his main point and gives his detractors something silly to focus on instead of attempting to debate his more substantive points. I think the country is worse off for that.

    I also don’t think Landsburg is completely blameless. Given today’s political discourse, Landsburg should have known full well that using such terms would cause a stir and take people away from his main argument. There are many possibilities as to why Landsburg did this. He may have wanted to cause a stir to bring himself publicity (which appears to have worked). He may have wanted to set up an extremely complicated argument so that when people came in claiming he called Sandra Fluke a slut, he could sanctimoniously dismiss them out of hand. Or he may simply be so cut off from the world that he didn’t realize this would happen, or else he didn’t care. Whatever reason it was however, Landburg is not blameless in the brouhaha that developed, as much as he might want to claim that he is.

    As for President Seligman, I hadn’t thought about it in that light, but what you say makes complete sense. At this point, I’m willing to say that Seligman was wrong, and he shouldn’t have issued such a stern rebuke. It did nothing but bring attention to Landsburg and cause a ridiculous stir. Also, as you say, no one would have known about it outside of the university community if he just hadn’t said anything, or had issued a simple statement distancing the university, or even something as simple as reaffirming the University’s commitment to academic freedom without specifically emphasizing Landsburg.

    @Robert Paquette
    While I now accept that President Seligman should not have issued his statement (see the immediately preceding paragraph), I think you go a bit far. If you look at one of my earlier posts on this blog (the really, really long one), you will find my critique of why Landsburg was not critiquing her position. Your analysis seems to be a case of believing exactly what Landsburg says, without regards to what he has actually written. He did not take aim at her policy position with his use of terms such as slut and prostitute. A position cannot be a slut, only a person can be a slut. While we might quibble about whether Landsburg ACTUALLY vilified her character, I believe that if he did not, he came EXTREMELY close with his implicit endorsement of these terms, even if not in this situation. As I said, I already provided a much more complete argument above, so you can read the rest of my opinion there.

  169. 169 169 RightwingHippyChick

    Some people here claim that Viagra and similar drugs are the equivalent to birth control medication and claim that because impotent men get it via their insurance, it is only fair if ladies get their birth control for free.

    This is a fallacy.

    Viagra restores (some) sexual function in impotent males.

    Usually, birth control pills however simply facilitate elective sexual intercourse, which is not a base condition for sexual health.

    As birth control pills may also be used to cure certain medical conditions, are there any statistics available that inform us as to how many such patients there are on average in the population? And, if there is an unusual cluster of cases, should there not be an urgent investigation into the root causes of the epidemic?

  170. 170 170 Steve Landsburg


    Viagra restores (some) sexual function in impotent males.

    Usually, birth control pills however simply facilitate elective sexual intercourse, which is not a base condition for sexual health.

    This does not seem to me to be a useful distinction. Viagra, like birth control, facilitiates elective sexual intercourse.

    There are, though, two important differences between birth control and Viagra:

    1) Georgetown elected not to cover birth control. I do not know whether they’ve elected to cover Viagra. If in fact they don’t cover Viagra, and if Georgetown men are demanding that it be covered, for no better reason than that they don’t want to pay for it themselves, then I think they merit the same mocks and jeers as Sandra Fluke. To my knowledge, this isn’t happening right now, though.

    2) Birth control tends to reduce the birth rate; Viagra (if anything) tends to increase it. So if you’re making an argument based on birth rates, then those who will want to subsidize birth control should want to tax Viagra, and vice versa.

  171. 171 171 Eric Rasmusen

    President Seligman:
    [of Professor Landsburg] ” And, of course, no reasonable person would ever assume that he speaks for the University of Rochester.

    I also have the right to express my views.”

    It’s shocking that Professor Seligman was ever a law professor when he writes these two sentences consecutively ON A UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATIVE SITE AND WITH THE UNIVERSITY LOGO AND THE WORDS “OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT” right above the title.

    It’s kind of tough to do that an end your attack with the disclaimer, “This statement represents my personal beliefs and not my views as President of the University of Rochester.” Oh, but President Seligman didn’t add any disclaimer either.

  172. 172 172 Ken B

    @Bradley Calder: Thanks. I did once, and attracted some high profile links, which was fun. To do a good job of it, the way SL does or Paul Rahe does — you should see how fully he engages commenters — was more committment than I wanted. Plus I learn more on blogs like this one.

  173. 173 173 Ken B

    Robert L Paquette:
    “So, it appears, President Seligman, you have emboldened the campus thugs”


  174. 174 174 Ken B

    @Vald: I think you make a good argument Steve exercised poor judgment. Indeed I think he did, and have siad so in other fora. [ Briefly: I think he over-estimated the honesty and good faith of those who would oppose him.] But error is not sin.

  175. 175 175 rabbit

    Landsburg properly uses his private blog to espouse his political views.

    President Seligman, in contrast, posts his replies on the official university web site marked “Office of the President”, thus bringing the force of his executive powers to his arguments, and raising the question of whether his views represent those of the university administration as a whole.

    This is wrong. If Seligman wants to carry out political debate, he must make it clear that he speaks for himself and is not speaking in an administrative role.

  176. 176 176 Syed


    “He [Landsburg] was attempting to discredit her right to even speak, not based on her ideas, but based on her presumed sexual proclivities. Steven Landsburg seems to think that the term can be used in a less controversial way, and I disagree with him.”

    I think you have articulated your position on this clearly and strongly. I also strongly disagree with you for the reasons I’ve alluded to above. Neither of us can know anyone’s inner motive, all we can do is state our opinion based on our judgment. Not wanting to beat this horse any further, I’m satisfied to agree to disagree on this matter.

    I’m glad that we can agree that Seligman did not serve the interest of our alma mater well, even if we disagree on the particulars.


  177. 177 177 FangedFaerie

    You guys completely ignored my comments regardinng the medical risks of pregnancy and childbirth, because you’re so hung up on the idea that babies are a net positive in someone’s life. One of my points was that, for many people, especially those who are below the poverty line, babies are not, or not ONLY, a joyful and positive addition to the family.

  178. 178 178 Steve Landsburg


    You guys completely ignored my comments regardinng the medical risks of pregnancy and childbirth

    In what sense are these risks are external?

  179. 179 179 FangedFaerie

    I’d say the injury or loss of childbearing women would have a significant impact on society as a whole.

  180. 180 180 Alan Marchant

    Dear Pres. Seligman,

    May I respectfully point out that your unprovoked and uninformed political attack on Prof. Landsburg has brought shame upon the University. You should at least have informed yourself on the economics of government mandates, subsidies and victimology before making a fool of yourself and turning your distinguished office into a political tool.

    When I graduated first in my class from the Simon School in 1993, the faculty was nationally recognized for its analytic skill, intellectual diversity, and careful scholarship. The best thing that I learned at your school was respect for the discipline of economics. You deserve no sort of praise for devaluing my degree in order to score personal political points.

    Dr. Alan Marchant
    U of R Simon School, 1993

  181. 181 181 FangedFaerie

    Lest you argue that such loss or injury is rare enough that you don’t believe society at large should pitch in to prevent it, allow me to point out that there is at least one situation that is extremely common. It is not safe for women who have just given birth to get pregnant again immediately, especially if the mother had a C-section. Arguing for abstinence (instead of birth control) is unrealistic, not only because the majority of us have a strong biological urge that overrides our logic and common sense, but because it is common wisdom that a healthy marriage includes sex.

  182. 182 182 Steve Landsburg


    Lest you argue that such loss or injury is rare enough that you don’t believe society at large should pitch in to prevent it

    Who would argue such a thing? Why would you expect rarity to be correlated with externality?

  183. 183 183 FangedFaerie

    I’ve heard the argument elsewhere, that if risk is sufficiently small, then “economically” the benefits of reducing that risk are outweighed by the cost.

  184. 184 184 Ken B

    @Steve, FangedFaerie: I get the idea you guys are missing each other’s point. Anyway I think FF has made a fair point that Steve missed. Steve argues newborns are a positive externality because they grow up useful on balance. Hard then to not see the fertile young women as a positive externality too. The pill keeps more of them alive, so that’s a ‘pos ext’.

  185. 185 185 Steve Landsburg

    Ken B (and FangedFaerie): If this is indeed FF’s point, then I did indeed miss it. Thanks for making me see it, and thanks to FF for persistence.

  186. 186 186 FangedFaerie

    I thought I was pretty explicit when I said: “I’d say the injury or loss of childbearing women would have a significant impact on society as a whole.”

  187. 187 187 N Perkins Weyl

    Former adjunct professor at the U of R political Science Department and Medical School, and took my Econ Intro Class with Professor Landsburg:

    Pregnancy and childbirth are not always in net positive externalities. In particular, when discussing such issues with my African-American students, they held the idea that having children, even before graduating from high school was held in high esteem, because they thought that children were “special”‘ and accorded even young women with a particular social status.

    It is a given in policy wonk circles since the days of Daniel Patrick Moynihan that early childbirth coupled with lack of a high school degree leads to dependence on public financing of basic human needs. Therefore, public financing of birth control, however unused, makes sense to advance the other opportunities for below-poverty line women, but the argument becomes very much weaker for college or post college white female activists. It’s just like any other choice. Pay or play.

    President Seligman is soon to depart the U of R. Here’s hoping the Board of Trustees and the Search Committee understand how vehemently the alumni who donate to the University support academic freedom and Professor Landsburg.

  188. 188 188 David Grayson

    Hey Steve, don’t let those idiots running your university get under your skin. You know that you’re right and that’s all that matters. I know that you’re right too. Just looking at the UR President’s letter it’s clear he doesn’t know how to think: he takes little sound bites from your blog post and and just claims to be offended at them, but he doesn’t offer any substantive arguments against your actual logic. If the logic stands, then the conclusions stand.

  189. 189 189 David Grayson

    Also: all press is good press, and good thing you have tenure! (I assume)

  190. 190 190 Ken B
  191. 191 191 Boria

    President Seligman was disrespectful toward Prof Landsburg. Referring to someone he knows by last name only in his statement was out of line. A person with that education should know better.

  192. 192 192 Eliezer

    I’m sorry if this was said already.

    There’s a simple mistake a lot of people are making, including Professor Landsburg. They are referring to Dr. Seligman as an academic. While he may have been one in the past, his function as UR President more closely resembles that of C.E.O. than academic. The President is responsible for the “image” of the University so that people will continue to donate $$$ and students will continue to enroll. He’s simply doing P.R. A little damage control for the University’s image so they don’t loose $$$ because of some “kook” (public’s perception, not mine) professor.

    In conclusion, the function of college administration has more to do with earning money than education.

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