David R. Henderson  

Does Bad Science Always Lead to Bad Policy?

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Mac McCann, on Reason.com, writes:

Texas has a lot of things to be proud of. The Republican Party of Texas, however, is not one of them. Turns out everything really is bigger down in Texas, including our embarrassments.

He then goes to to quote from the Texas Republican Party's 2014 platform. I won't repeat the relevant portions here in full. You can check his post for yourself.

His whole piece is full of ridicule for the Texas Republican Party. The majority who voted for these platform planks apparently believe that "Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples." Also, "We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle."

But here's the question McCann never answers. Were the Texas Republicans wrong in the policies they advocated? One gets the impression that McCann thinks so. But, surprisingly, given that Reason is a libertarian site dedicated mainly to discussing policy, McCann doesn't answer that question.

Yet most of what the Texas Republicans supported in the platform planks McCann cites are libertarian policies, specifically equal treatment, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to seek medical treatment.

Here's the specific policy in the plank on homosexuality:

We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

The first sentence seeks equal treatment of homosexuals. The second sentence is a little vague, but it seems to advocate freedom of speech for those who oppose homosexuality and freedom of association for those who don't want to associate with homosexuals.

Here's the specific policy on medical care:

We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

I have no idea whether counseling is legitimate or efficacious. Count me skeptical. But so what? When it comes to specific policy, the Texas Republicans advocate not having the government limit access to this therapy. In other words, they advocate medical freedom.

But because McCann is so focused on ridicule, he forgets to address these policy issues.

Here's what I wonder: Would McCann disagree with my reasoning?


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COMMENTS (34 to date)
David Boaz writes:

David, you have a point. But context is important. The platform plank that McCann cites begins, "Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples." So the putatively libertarian clauses that follow are based on these premises.

Imagine that they adopted a plank reading,

Judaism is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Jewishness must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include Jewish couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for the Jewish religion, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose Judaism [and refuse to hire or serve Jews, or rail against them] out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

Would you find that creepy and illiberal, even if technically libertarian?

Also note that I think "special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin" means refusal to recognize marriages and perhaps adoptions made in other states.

John writes:

The sentence on homosexuality that you quoted is immediately preceded by:

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.

So public school teachers can't (for example) read a book that involves a homosexual family, they can't tell a bullied child of homosexual parents that his family is "acceptable," books presenting a "gay lifestyle" can be removed from public libraries, and, oh yeah, gay people can't get married. Do you believe that this is a platform of "equal treatment"?

Nacim writes:

The only likely demographic for reparative treatment for homosexuality will be the under-18 crowd. Any adult should be able to seek whatever treatment they wish, but since this kind of therapy will most likely be forced upon teenagers by terrified parents, its effectiveness and appropriateness is a legitimate area of regulation by the state even from a libertarian standpoint. Just because they argue for not limiting this therapy doesn't mean that the platform is taking a hands-off approach. For example, I don't see anything that would prevent judges from ordering teenagers to undergo reparative therapy.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John,
Good question. No, I don’t. I think you make a good argument and that THAT’S the argument McCann should have made.
@Nacim,
The only likely demographic for reparative treatment for homosexuality will be the under-18 crowd.
I’m pretty sure that’s not true. If I recall correctly, I’ve seen stories about people over age 18 seeking such treatment. But you make a good point about using force against teenagers. Like John’s point above, its an argument that McCann should have made.

David R. Henderson writes:

@David Boaz,
David, you have a point.
Thank you.
But context is important.
I agree.
Would you find that creepy and illiberal, even if technically libertarian?
Some of it, yes. Some of it, no. Let me hit them one by one.
Judaism is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.
Creepy.
Jewishness must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include Jewish couples.
Creepy and illiberal.
We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for the Jewish religion, regardless of state of origin.
Not creepy. Liberal.
Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose Judaism [and refuse to hire or serve Jews, or rail against them] out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.
Not creepy. Liberal.
Also note that I think "special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin" means refusal to recognize marriages and perhaps adoptions made in other states.
Good point, and one that McCann should have made.


James writes:

The consensus of experts, both religious and secular, is that homosexuality is contrary to Biblical principles. Recognizing this is not "creepy." It is accurate.

Too many secular libertarians seem to get caught up in some sort of identity politics when it comes to this "culture wars" nonsense. Over the last half century, conservatives went from wanting to make homosexuality illegal to just not wanting to be forced to call one man the husband of another. Liberals today want to make it mandatory for people to associate with gays even if they would rather not. Somehow most secular libertarians identify with the side that is becoming less libertarian and use pejoratives like "creepy" to describe the side that is becoming more libertarian.

lukas writes:
We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin.

The interpretation of this sentence depends on whether you think of same-sex marriage as a special legal entitlement or special status.

I won't pretend to read the authors' mind, but I find it hard to make sense of this (especially the "regardless of state of origin" bit) unless it is understood to refer to same-sex marriage.

Tom Lee writes:

What if we turned one of the arguments on its ear and said:

"We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for heterosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin."

If implemented, would it mandate the rollback of laws governing traditional marriage between a man and woman?

The question of what to do with the many laws governing/subsidizing (sometimes even penalizing) man/woman marriage should be at least as interesting to libertarians as what to do about gay marriage.

Michael writes:

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

These conservative/libertarian Texans walk a fine line - what they should say is that the government has no place in marriage at all, and that marriage is the intellectual property of the church/mosque/synagogue/religious group. Let the government recognize contracts between consenting adults. But, since we don't live in that world, their policy positions are informed by their faith first, then their conservative/libertarian leaning.

Ethan Roberts writes:

Is there any doubt that "special legal entitlements or creation of special status" refers to gay marriage? It seems fairly clear to me that this means "we oppose gay marriage." I've never heard of any attempt, in any state, to grant some sort of privilege to homosexuals that heterosexuals do not have.

Michael makes the key point. Government should not be involved in marriage at all. But Texas Republicans, and too many others, don't make this point. They're fine with government as long as it does what they think it should. That is extremely illiberal.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tom Lee,
If implemented, would it mandate the rollback of laws governing traditional marriage between a man and woman?
Good question, Tom. I think it would.
The question of what to do with the many laws governing/subsidizing (sometimes even penalizing) man/woman marriage should be at least as interesting to libertarians as what to do about gay marriage.
I agree and, given the large numbers involved, arguably even more interesting.

Tom DeMeo writes:

"Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose Judaism [and refuse to hire or serve Jews, or rail against them] out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.
Not creepy. Liberal."

So the core issue is the requirement that private businesses providing public accommodations allow equal access.

Would you really want to roll this back?

Mark Bahner writes:
We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for the Jewish religion, regardless of state of origin.
Not creepy. Liberal.

In this case, I think the analogy fails. I think the "special legal entitlements or creation of special status" that the Texas Republicans are thinking of in this context is the "special status" that couples of the same sex can marry. Their reasoning (I'm pretty sure) is "Heterosexual men can't marry other men. So it's 'special status' for homosexual men to marry other men."

Which reminds me of a great song and lyrics from My Fair Lady..."Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?
PICKERING
Of course not!
HIGGINS
If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?
PICKERING
Nonsense.
HIGGINS
Would you complain if I took out another fellow?
PICKERING
Never.
HIGGINS
Well, why can't a woman be like us?


sourcreamus writes:

Many libertarians have a blind spot on gay marriage for cultural affinity reasons.
Marriage is not a creation of government, it predates our government by millenium. The government recognizes marriages it does not create them.
What gay "marriage" means is forcing people to recognize certain marriages whether they want to or not. Every gay person in Texas is free to rent a hall, invite guests, and make unrealistic promises to anyone they choose to. They are also free to enter into a contract with anyone regarding common assets and inheritances. Likewise every business is free to include anyone on the health care coverage they want to.
As we have seen in other states, once gay marriage is ruled mandatory by the courts, businesses no longer have the freedom to choose who to do business with, and companies no longer have the freedom to choose who to cover under their healthcare.
There is nothing libertarian about using government to force people to agree with you about who is married and who is not.

Ethan Roberts writes:

Which predates which is irrelevant. Marriage is currently a legal contract that carries certain benefits. That contract, and those benefits, are granted by the government. Some consenting adults cannot access that contract and benefits. That is illiberal. There are no two ways around it.

If you don't think government should force two private actors to enter a contract, I agree. That, however, supports the elimination of government having any involvement with marriage.

Tom West writes:

I think this also misses the point that any platform or law that is worded to specifically deny special protection for a specified group *will* be read by a not insubstantial group as the government basically *approves* of discrimination against the group.

And since the government approves of such discrimination, it will be reasonably believed by a significant segment that the government will also look the other way if citizens were to extend that disapproval to non-legal avenues.

And, to be honest, they'd be right.

sourcreamus writes:

The law does not discriminate, any marriage between a woman and a man is recognized and any between anything else is not. Two straight men can not get married and a gay man and a gay woman could.

There is no reasonable belief that if a state does not grant certain groups special rights than it approves of violence of any other form of "non-legal disapproval".

Mark Bahner writes:
The law does not discriminate, any marriage between a woman and a man is recognized and any between anything else is not. Two straight men can not get married and a gay man and a gay woman could.

An analogy would be that miscegenation laws did not discriminate. And that segregation laws didn't discriminate.

Pajser writes:
Brian S.: More thoughts: The validity the state-as-landlord analogy at least depend on establishing why the state can claim ownership of the land where its legislation is recognized to apply. It should also withstand the argument that law (as opposed to legislation), including laws that recognize property rights exist, can be recognized, and be defended without the state.

The state claims ownership like individuals do. In both cases, people usually require some, not very long tradition in support of the claim. If they research far in the past, they might find that property (both private and state) is result of conquest, homesteading, extortion, who knows what, but people rarely care. It is not justified to require stricter proof of ownership from state than from individual owners.

As state property over territory is justified on the same way as private property, and not through private property, eventual proof that private property can exist without state property doesn't invalidate state property. Conversely, state property can exist without private property, but that alone is not enough to invalidate private property.

I agree with Tom West on Dan Klein's article. The state behaves as landlord, and attitude of the citizens is the same as the attitude of tenants. I think it is fact, not some particular political position. Just like people can divorce without reasons, the reasons for abolition of the state are not necessary. However, we can still ask for reasons.

Klein believes that strongest argument is that the state wasn't landlord once, and that words changed meaning. Maybe, but it does not follow that original meaning of the words or reality should be reestablished. Other argument is that private property is natural. I think first people lived in groups that owned and defended territory. Like chimps. But, people have the right to change tradition. Third argument is that he, Klein, did not signed contract. It is expected that people respect property rights even if they didn't signed contract.

Tom West writes:

sourcreamus, when you start listing groups *by name* that don't have a particular privilege or protection, I think it's a matter of simply not granting special rights.

Mark Bahner writes:
The law does not discriminate, any marriage between a woman and a man is recognized and any between anything else is not.

Another way to look at it: the government recognizes heterosexuals marrying people they love (for Britney Spears, love for 55 hours) but the government doesn't recognize homosexuals marrying people they love.

NZ writes:

I'm confused about what the "bad science" part of this post's title refers to.

If we want to think about homosexuality scientifically, then let's start with the facts:

  • Homosexuals are far less likely than heterosexuals to be monogamous. Studies show that homosexuals are far more promiscuous (by orders of magnitude, often), and that even those who consider themselves monogamous still frequently have about half a dozen other sexual partners outside their primary relationship per year. Therefore, it is certain that allowing all gay people to marry would fundamentally alter our society's concept of marriage well beyond simply redefining it to include two adults of the same gender.
  • Rates of domestic abuse among homosexual couples are far higher than among heterosexual couples.
  • Rates of divorce among homosexual couples in states where they have been able to marry are extremely high.
  • Rates of homosexual marriage in states where it is legal are extremely low. This is not a surprise to anyone who understands the purpose for marriage (solidifying the bonds that facilitate the rearing of children in a stable nuclear household--this, by the way, is why government SHOULD be involved in marriage), but undercuts the more popular argument that gay marriage is necessary for gay people to feel accepted and equitably treated.
  • There is a long historical record of homosexuals able to live normal lives with married spouses of the opposite gender and with children reared within that relationship. Gay marriage, therefore, is not homosexuals' only alternative to misery and second-class citizenship.
  • There is no clear reason why homosexuals should be considered a "class" of people any more than, say, left-handed people or claustrophobes should be considered classes of people, and therefore the claim that homosexuals are being treated unfairly as a class is dubious.
Beyond all that, I see no coherency in the gay rights argument as it is being made. For example, Ethan Roberts writes,
"Some consenting adults cannot access that [marriage] contract and benefits. That is illiberal."
To say this he must also support access to that contract for polygamists. Not only that, but his specifying "adults" seems arbitrary. If not just heterosexual monogamists, then why just adults? He must also support child marriage, and child-adult marriage. He must also support incest marriage.

To oppose any of these he must invoke practical concerns, but I just listed several practical concerns above about gay marriage, which he (or, if not him personally, then most others arguing on his side) would reject in favor of lofty principles about equality.

So, where's the science?

NZ writes:

By the way, why should Texas Republicans--or anyone else besides liberals, for that matter--be concerned with avoiding views that are "illiberal"?

NZ writes:

One more thing:

"Reparative treatment for homosexuality" has been interpreted by commenters thus far as "pray the gay away" type stuff. This may be the correct interpretation, but I don't see it spelled out anywhere.

When I read that phrase, my mind first went to AIDS.

sourcreamus writes:

Mixed raced marriages have been around for centuries at least. By banning them states were trying to change the definition of marriage to exclude a group. Gay marriage advocates are also trying to change the definition of marriage by government fiat. Libertarians should be suspicious of government trying to change a pre-existing social arrangement by force instead of just recognizing what is already in place.
I love my brother, mexican food, and the Dallas Cowboys, but I can not marry any of them. Is the government discriminating against me? No, it is simply recognizing reality, marriage is between a man and woman for the purpose of creating a stable family. Lots of other forms of love exist, but they are not marriage.

Mark Bahner writes:
I'm confused about what the "bad science" part of this post's title refers to.

I'm pretty sure it refers to the idea that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, rather than how a person is born. And that homosexuality can be "healed" with counseling therapy.

"Reparative treatment for homosexuality" has been interpreted by commenters thus far as "pray the gay away" type stuff. This may be the correct interpretation, but I don't see it spelled out anywhere.

Here's what the Texas Republicans said:

We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.

It seems pretty clear to me that the counseling is the "reparative therapy" that provides "healing" from the "homosexual lifestyle."

Mark Bahner writes:
Mixed raced marriages have been around for centuries at least.

A fun fact: Homosexual marriages have been around for millenia. At least according to the Catholic World Report*:

Homosexual marriage...nothing new under the sun

*Motto: "Christians...hassling gays for nearly two millenia." ;-)

Tom West writes:

No, it is simply recognizing reality, marriage is between a man and woman for the purpose of creating a stable family. Lots of other forms of love exist, but they are not marriage.

No, marriage is whatever we say it is. It isn't a scientific principle. There is no universal law. It's simply social convention.

Go ahead and argue the consequences of recognition of various relationships. But let's not pretend there's a universal code of conduct.

I'm not in favor of polygamy or being able to marry your car. But if enough people believe it in the future, then 50 years from now, you'll be able to do both (and I'll be cranky - but I won't be claiming this breaks reality.)

NZ writes:

@Mark Bahner:

I understand that the direction of one's sexual urges isn't really a choice (whether this is due to something genetic, to in utero conditions, to early childhood influences, or some mix of these, is apparently not a settled matter), but that is different from whether one leads a homosexual lifestyle. One doesn't have to act on one's urges. Many homosexuals have ignored them and married/had kids with people of the opposite sex--even well after the era where homosexual acts were outlawed or widely taboo. For them, at least, the homosexual lifestyle was clearly a choice--one they chose not to lead.

Straight men who commit homosexual acts in prison are also making a choice, in the other direction.

I read that same sentence by the Texas Republicans that you just quoted, about the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, and instinctively I thought it referred to AIDS. Do they confirm a different meaning anywhere else?

NZ writes:

@Tom West:

"Marriage" is a word, so in that sense marriage can indeed be whatever we say it is, but this is in the linguistic sense only.

Marriage itself is rooted in our biology. Heterosexual monogamy, the oldest and by far the most common form of marriage, evolved as a way for tribal societies to increase trust and cohesion, and decrease intratribal violence, by decreasing the amount of male-on-male competition over females, and by checking the power of alpha males over that of beta males and women.

Language is a kind of open source software, so of course we are free to change the meaning of words, Humpty Dumpty style, as we see fit. But the real concepts underlying the language do not go away: software does not determine hardware. You cannot write a program that makes your hard drive's total capacity bigger.

I may call a utensil with a round, smooth-edged, concave end a fork, but that does not change the fact that the utensil fitting this description is really a spoon. All it does is complicate things for people who care about what a spoon is.

Mark Bahner writes:
I understand that the direction of one's sexual urges isn't really a choice (whether this is due to something genetic, to in utero conditions, to early childhood influences, or some mix of these, is apparently not a settled matter), but that is different from whether one leads a homosexual lifestyle. One doesn't have to act on one's urges. Many homosexuals have ignored them and married/had kids with people of the opposite sex--even well after the era where homosexual acts were outlawed or widely taboo.

Yes, completely ignoring how one feels seems to be a small price to pay for being a homosexual. (And I don't know what you consider "well after," but here in North Carolina--as in Texas--sodomy laws weren't struck down until the U.S. Supreme Court did it in 2003. And I'm ashamed to say that North Carolina passed a Constitutional amendment forbidding recognition of gay marriage in 2012. Led by Republicans, of course.)

Gay marriage is here to stay. There are already many states that recognize it. The U.S. Constitution requires that:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.

Republicans in Texas, North Carolina, and elsewhere can try to retreat as far back as they'd like into the 20th century, or even 19th or 18th. But it's like trying to bring back segregation.

There's a good series on CNN on the 60's. It's amazing to see a bunch of white people shouting racial epithets outside stores, simply because some black people want to sit and eat lunch. I'm pretty sure the people of the U.S. in the 2060s will look on efforts to block gay marriage in the same way.

Tom West writes:

Marriage is not heterosexual monogamy nor is it any other relationship - it's a religious, social or governmental recognition of a relationship. As such, it's natural that it changes as our religion, society and government does.

But the real concepts underlying the language do not go away

Of course, heterosexual monogamy is, and will continue to be, the dominant form of long-term relationship even if all forms of formal recognition are abolished.

But it's been at least one generation, and perhaps two since children were the primary purpose of marriage to the people who were actually getting married, and it's entirely natural that marriage change with it (albeit like any institution, more slowly).

Moreover, the idea of banning marriage on the basis of procreative possibility is ludicrous to almost everyone. (No marriage for anyone past child-bearing years?)

Opposition to SSM is primarily based on the "ick" factor (same as the miscegenation laws were). And as that fades over time, SSM will become inevitable.

NZ writes:

@Mark Bahner:

If ignoring one's homosexual urges is the same as "completely ignoring how one feels", then homosexuals' only feelings must be those related to their sexual urges. Are you saying this is the case? I don't think it is.

On the day after the Volstead Act was passed in 1920, its Progressive proponents might have said that those who opposed it wished to retreat into previous centuries. But in reality, this is merely a slander, the same one you are now using on these Republicans.

Should I list reasons why refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples is NOT like segregation? Maybe during my next break I will.

@Tom West:

More specifically, marriage is the recognition of the end of a relationship (which implies two individuals) and the beginning of a single entity. Thus, two people are "married" and one is considered to be subsumed into the other. They are at that point a family.

What is the point of two people being married otherwise?

It's like saying that a bike chain can be lubricated with sand (squirted out of a bottle) instead of with chain lubricant. We can do something to a chain with sand and call it "oiling the chain", but it isn't really oiling the chain.

The purpose of doing this is inscrutable--maybe it's simply to combine some other substance with the chain using the same motions so we can say we did it?--and you will probably find that most bike owners don't wish to do this to their chains.

NZ writes:

@Tom West:

Regarding bans on marriage for those unable to procreate:

1) Young married heterosexual couples who are unable to have kids on their own usually try to adopt. Compare this with only a very tiny minority of married gay couples, who apparently married for other reasons*.

Source: 2009 data brief from CDC.

2) If we made a law against marriage between men and women who are too old to have kids, I wouldn't have any principled objection to it. What do these couples really want to marry for?

Also, the more we lower the cost of divorce (in this case by offering the possibility of taboo-free, government-sanctioned second and third marriages later in life), the more people will consume it. Econ 101. We don't need a higher divorce rate.

*Social recognition and legal benefits are incentives to encourage people to marry, but they are not valid reasons to marry in and of itself.

[Comment edited by request of commenter.--Econlib Ed.]

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