The Political Incorrectness Racket


Cass R. Sunstein in Bloomberg View:

Among Republicans, it has become politically correct to be politically incorrect. Actually that’s the most politically correct thing that you can possibly be. As soon as you announce that you’re politically incorrect, you’re guaranteed smiles and laughter, and probably thunderous applause. Proudly proclaiming your bravery, you’re pandering to the crowd.

A math-filled new paper, by economists Chia-Hui Chen at Kyoto University and Junichiro Ishida at Osaka University, helps to explain what’s going on. With a careful analysis of incentive structures, they show that if self-interested people want to show that they are independent, their best strategy is to be politically incorrect, and to proclaim loudly that’s what they are being. The trick is that this strategy has nothing at all to do with genuine independence; it’s just a matter of salesmanship, a way to get more popular.

Focusing on the role of experts rather than politicians, Chen and Ishida note that in many circles, political correctness is “associated with a negative connotation where people who express politically correct views are perceived as manipulative or even dishonest.” For that reason, the unbiased expert has a strong strategic incentive, which is to “deviate from the norm of political correctness” to demonstrate “that he is, at least, not manipulative.” Of course, the deviation is itself a form of manipulation, strategically designed to convince people that the expert can be trusted.

Chen and Ishida’s punchline is that whenever experts care about their reputations, “we cannot regard political incorrectness naively as a sign of blunt honesty since it can easily be an attempt to signal one’s hidden characteristics rather than the true state of the world. ” With respect to Republican candidates, that’s putting it much too gently. It’s the strategic go-to line when things get tough.

Consider the Republican chorus in this light. Donald Trump complains that we have “become so politically correct as a country that we can't even walk. We can't think properly. We can't do anything.” Ted Cruz is more concise: “Political correctness is killing people.” Ben Carson insists that the biggest threat to free speech comes from what he calls the “Political Correctness police,” who have “created fear in a large portion of our population, causing them to remain silent.” Mario Rubio says the “radical left” is using a “politically correct way to advocate Israel’s destruction.”

It’s true that in some left-wing circles, especially on college campuses, political correctness is doing serious damage, because it entrenches a particular ideological orthodoxy (and dampens necessary dissent). In some places, you reject that orthodoxy at your peril. If you say that you oppose affirmative action or an increase in the minimum wage, you incur a kind of reputational tax, and the price may be too high to be worth paying.

But those who deplore political correctness tend to entrench an orthodoxy of their own.

More here.