Conservative So Baffled That Libertarians Would Honor Transgender Economist, He Wrote Column About It (UPDATED W/ Apology)


UPDATE: Higgins responded to me and other libertarian critics with a thoughtful update to his original piece. He writes that we “read all manner of things in [the piece] I did not intend.” The original article, Higgins contends, was intended to highlight the oddity of CEI honoring McCloskey despite its reputation as a “conservative” organization. In addition, Higgins claims to himself be a libertarian who finds no issue with McCloskey’s gender identity.

My apologies to Higgins for assuming he meant malice with his words. While I stand by how I believe the piece could have been misread, I’d like to apologize to Higgins for assuming he was a conservative with the intentions of concern-trolling. Without knowing Higgins’ personal libertarianism, it was easy to read into the piece as an attempt to stir up concerns over the “oddity” that is a transgender economist being honored.

As Higgins indicated, he plans to attend the CEI dinner, and has no personal issue with McCloskey’s gender identity. This would have been nice to know in the original piece, but does not excuse mine or any other libertarians’ assumptions to the contrary.

My sincerest apologies.

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Late this afternoon, Washington Examiner senior editorial writer Sean Higgins posted a column with the blaring headline, “Competitive Enterprise Institute to honor transgender woman at annual dinner,” expressing bewilderment at the libertarian think-tank’s decision to honor transgender economist Deirdre McCloskey with an award.

Higgins attempts to paint the think-tank as a “pretty conservative place” — based on the fact that its scholars often appear on Fox News and have been subject to liberal environmentalist ridicule in the past — which makes him raise an eyebrow at the idea that such an institution would honor one of those transgendered folks.

On the contrary, CEI is well-known for its libertarian politics, taking a hardline stance in favor of legalizing online gambling and seeking more classically-liberal reforms to our immigration system, as opposed to the restrictive desires of conservative think-tanks. Part of that libertarian ideology also includes an apathy towards the things at which social conservatives — a group which presumably includes Higgins — frequently wring their hands.

McCloskey’s transgender identity does nothing in the way of discredit her work or make her any less an accomplished and worthy economist; and to breathlessly bring negative attention to it would seem rather strange. Yet Higgins went for it, posting and bolding the below portions of how McCloskey is described in the award ceremony’s invitation:

Deirdre McCloskey teaches economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. A well-known economist and historian and rhetorician, she has written sixteen books and around 400 scholarly pieces on topics ranging from technical economics and statistics to transgender advocacy and the ethics of the bourgeois virtues. She is known as a “conservative” economist, Chicago-School style (she taught for 12 years there), but protests that “I’m a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not ‘conservative’! I’m a Christian libertarian.”

The horror! He also noted that McCloskey’s picture appears just below that of the esteemed keynote speaker, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Gasp!

Higgins laments that “this not the first time CEI has shown a progressive side on gender politics,” citing their co-sponsoring of the GOProud event at CPAC 2013. How that’s “progressive” as opposed to, you know, fundamentally libertarian in nature? One will never know.

But apparently McCloskey’s transgender-ness baffled Higgins so much that he felt compelled to call CEI and ask for comment. An event organizer reportedly told him it “never occurred” to her that anyone would find something unusual about the institute honoring a woman who happened to be transgender. To libertarians that makes sense but, for whatever reason, Higgins had to get to the bottom of this affront to conservative gender politics.

Of course, Higgins might claim that his piece simply aimed to point out how odd it is for CEI to focus on McCloskey’s transgender advocacy when it is seemingly irrelevant to the award at hand; but as a former economics student and someone who has long been familiar with her work, I can assure you that her work in transgender advocacy is just one of many things that forms the breadth of her eclectic and inspiring academic work. And, more importantly, advocating equal rights regardless of gender identity is not something of which anyone should ever be ashamed.

Moreover, if “unnecessary transgender flaunting” were Higgins’ real concern, then why didn’t he call CEI to ask why they felt it necessary to parade her “progressive Episcopalian” beliefs in the biographical blurb? Might one also consider that irrelevant to the award she will receive?

The bizarre column was brought to my attention by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation’s VP for International Programs Tom G. Palmer, who has perhaps the best assessment of the entire piece:

Some guy sees an award to a distinguished economist and historian and can’t get past “transgender woman.” What an ugly, malicious and small minded approach to the world. It must be awful to go through life like that.

Agreed. And if Higgins is indeed offended by her presence — as the column would suggest — then he should feel free not to show up.

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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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