The same basic respect, i.e., none.

It’s been well over a week since a conservative radio host launched into a not-uncommon series of misogynisitic ad feminam attacks against a women speaking on an issue of concern to women.  The woman, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law student, was invited by Congress to speak on the issue of mandated contraception coverage for women.  The relevant part of her remarks can be read here.

Rush Limbaugh has such a long history of dishonesty and abuse that his views no longer deserve rational analysis.  I’m sorry for the millions of listeners who listen to him.  I’m especially sorry for those who listen only because they find his brand of humor funny.  It’s best, I think, not to develop a taste for certain things.

Some people defending Limbaugh, on the other hand, do warrant discussion.  Here is fairly well known professor of economics at the University of Rochester, Steve Landsburg.

Rush Limbaugh is under fire for responding in trademark fashion to the congressional testimony of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who wants you to pay for her contraception. If the rest of us are to share in the costs of Ms. Fluke’s sex life, says Rush, we should also share in the benefits, via the magic of online video. For this, Rush is accused of denying Ms. Fluke her due respect.

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 whatsoever. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty. I expect there are respectable arguments for subsidizing contraception (though I am skeptical that there are arguments sufficiently respectable to win me over), but Ms. Fluke made no such argument. All she said, in effect, was that she and others want contraception and they don’t want to pay for it.

To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.

It is funny how so many of our debates concern the rules of our debates.  Many claim–correctly in my view–that Limbaugh broke basic argument rules, distorting a person’s words to malign her (fallacious ad hominem attacks, straw men, etc.).  This fellow, Steven Landsburg, inexplicably, thinks Limbaugh has not in fact done this, but has rather zeroed in on the critical issue–whether you and I should pay for this woman to have sex.

That, however, wasn’t nearly the point of Limbaugh’s 46 or so tirades.  Here’s one:

She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

And Landsburg thinks only the word “slut” was out of order.

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. There are two things wrong here. 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. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”. Or better yet, “extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement”. Is there a single word for that?

I’m sad for this guy’s students, his department, and his university.

15 thoughts on “The same basic respect, i.e., none.”

  1. He publishes on Moral Philosophy-The mind boggles at what he must be teaching.

  2. The subject heading and related tweet seem to imply that Landsburg is endulging himself in the same sort of Ad Hominem Limbaugh did (at various points in his tirades). To me, he seems to be trying to seperate the serious point (about the argument) from everything else that Limbaugh does in his rant. Landsburg is only commenting on the two headline-grabbers (the video suggestion and "slut"). So invoking the rest of Limbaugh's commentary and chastising Landsburg for defending Limbaugh in all regards is unfair, methinks.
    On these two points Landsburg seems to be right. Fluke is tryng to ride off non-birthcontrol users (and those who are particularly thrifty in their BC purchases) in order to save money for those who do use it. Landsburg says their is no compelling interest for non-users to support this subsidy, and thus they should expect some sort of benefit… The video is an amusing suggestion.
    On the name-calling question, I think you'd agree that Landsburg is right to seperate Fluke's argument from any claim about her level of promiscuity. She's just trying to save some money doing what she and other do at someone else's expense. Call "extortionist" harsh, but not inappropriate.

  3. That's crazy, Reardon.  And also illegitimate iron-manning.  Landsburg didn't offer any analysis of Fluke's actual position re: contraception.  He claimed without support that her position deserved all of Limbaugh's crazy ass and misogynistic ridicule (just not those two words).   His other points about extortion, etc., are just ludicrous.  Extortion entails some kind of threat.  The point is that the pill ought to be offered as a part of a health plan, as it has also non sexy usess as well.

  4. My issue with this here pertains to the use of the phrase being payed to have sex. Pardon me if I am wrong, but how does having contraception being payed for universally entail paying for one to have sex. As I understand it, contraception of anykind isn't a necessity for the act of sexual intercourse to be performed. If contrqception was a requirement then I do believe anyone who is engaing in sexual intercourse and trying to conceive a child is clearly not having sex in the proper fashion. This of course is an absurd idea. The purpose for universal contraception does not pertain to sexual reasons, but rather to biological health benifits.

  5. "Fluke is tryng to ride off non-birthcontrol users (and those who are particularly thrifty in their BC purchases) in order to save money for those who do use it."
    I was hoping for more from a tutor. Making sure insurance includes contraception coverage is not the same thing as asking someone else to pay for your contraception. You pay for insurance. It covers things. What things insurance ought to cover are debatable, but the fact that you receive a benefit for your insurance coverage is not the same thing as having someone else pay for your benefits. That's just what insurance is. Fluke is arguing that insurance ought to cover BC because it is basic to women's health. As such, there certainly is a "compelling interest" for "non-users" insofar as the overall relative health of the insurance pool benefits all of the members of the pool in the form of lower premiums. In addition, I think there are probably a few non self-interested reasons one could advance for why we should support women's health even if we aren't women.

  6. Thanks for the comment Jem. I think the empirical case is far from made on BC coverage reducing costs for the entire pool. If it were obviously the case, insurers would have every reason to be providing it ubiquitously already (barring some moral bugaboo or conspiracy wth the healthcare industry).
    In any case, insurance is a hedge against risk. If I wanted to join a pool filled with hypochondriacs demanding cadillac coverage, it would be only out of charity… I'd be paying much more than my share of the risk. An insurance mandate for BC just eliminates options for those who don't use BC or would otherwise be more price/quality sensitive. I think what is clear is that the vast majority of BC expenses are very forseeable, and pooling risks in those instances really distorts the cost/benefit analyses that drive prices down and availibility up over time.
    This move from shared coverage of unforseen risk to collective provision of predictable private goods is probably the most significant factor in driving up healthcare costs over time. I'll concede the the effect BC coveage would have on this trend is minor, but it's nevertheless a move in that direction.  

  7. You're killing me here. The empirical problem is not the problem raised by Limbaugh or the econ douche. 

  8. Landsburg's call for a benefit to those (partially) funding the activity is contingent on there being a transfer from them to BC users. I'm just trying to establish that that trasfer is indeed taking place, or is at least contingent on an empirical claim that could certainly obtain in some cases.   

  9. Three things:
    1. Limbaugh should apologize, I don't know how anyone can defend them
    2. Insurance is designed to cover large unanticipated expenses (injury, illness), it probably shouldn't cover birth control. Even emergency birth control is such a small expense, it shouldn't cover it.
    3. Organizations who have a religious objection to paying for it don't have a leg to stand on. If they pay their employees salaries they already pay for birth control, porn, sex toys, alcohol, drugs, etc. All sorts of things that I'm sure they don't approve of. Insurance is part of an employees compensation and employers have no say in how that compensation is spent.

  10. Hi Ben

    Re:2. Catastrophic health coverage is designed to cover large unanticipated expenses (badly). Health insurance, the kind most people get from their employers, is different. They cover regular prescription drugs, doctor visits, pre-existing conditions, yoga, massage, etc.

    Certain forms of birth control, as was the point of Fluke’s testimony, are related to women’s health. Those are covered for that reason. Like viagra.

  11. John,

    Health plans strike me as an inefficient delivery system, for much the same reason as Matt cited (albeit with less fancy econ. jargon). It seems if you have to file a claim with your insurer for every expense that adds a lot of overhead to otherwise minor expenses. It also reduces the incentive to shop for the best price; but that is just a first impression without digging any deeper.

  12. Hey Ben,

    This post is about something else entirely. 

    Blame the overhead on the insurance company.  This is the stupid way we do things in our country. 

Comments are closed.