Power & Market

The Opportunity Cost of Political Correctness

Political correctness is the hottest topic of the season, but few pause to ponder its costs. Exposing the idiocy of political correctness manifested by the venom of cancel culture offers short-term enjoyment without bestowing intellectual insight. Readers may celebrate the trenchant critiques of identity politics penned by James Lindsay and other thinkers, and yet fail to recognize that if political correctness had not succeeded in infesting powerful institutions astute thinkers would be compelled to produce illuminating works relevant to their academic interests.

Instead of assailing the ills of political correctness, James Lindsay for instance, could be writing on mathematical theories. Of note is that in an interview with this author, Michael Rectenwald admitted that identity politics distracts scholars from pursuing more worthwhile projects. Explored from an economic angle political correctness is a classic case of the broken windows fallacy. When entertained by erudite rebukes of political correctness, readers earnestly consume their witty retorts, though remaining incapable of recognizing the unseen costs of not delivering superior literature.

There is no comparison between ridiculing cancel culture and articulating elegant theories in mathematics and philosophy. When academics compose articles excoriating the inanity of cancel culture this is time not spent exploring new frontiers in research. Ultimately, the deadweight costs of critiquing political correctness impose a negative externality on society because fewer resources are expended on communicating complex ideas to the public.

Although, readers think that the intellectual enemies of political correctness are advocating their plight – they are demonstrating false consciousness. Some intellectuals may genuinely oppose political correctness, yet many leverage the hysteria of cancel culture to rebrand themselves as dissident academics. Cancel culture is propped up by thinkers on the right because it creates a platform for some to advertise themselves as underdogs fighting the establishment.

By projecting this image of the underdog, they appear relatable to ordinary people who are inspired to endorse their platforms. Unfortunately, the average Joe is not a partner in a cerebral clash of ideas, but rather a connoisseur of cheap gimmicks. Intellectuals are aware that denouncing the evils of cancel culture, wokeness, and identity politics is becoming stale, however, attacking these villains is profitable. One can easily make a name for himself by “Owning the Left.”

Undoubtedly, rebuking Robin Diangelo is a more profitable venture for the enterprising intellectual than fashioning a new sociological theory. Hence contemporary intellectuals thrive on entertainment since ordinary people willingly reward sensational output. Therefore, cancel culture will remain a permanent fixture in Western societies because it is a lucrative business for intellectuals on the right and the left.

Right-wingers consistently rehash the horrors of cancel culture to expand their platforms and leftists employ it to reinvent themselves as diversity consultants and anti-racism professionals by arguing that the existence of cancel culture indicates that institutions require remodelling to foster equality and cultural awareness. For leftists, cancelling public figures is evidence that society is plagued by institutional racism. Even if the reasons for cancel culture are fallacious the fact that someone was cancelled is sufficient justification for the assertion that racism permeates society.

The quest for power and status also explains why leftists lobby social media entities to deplatform controversial users. By exaggerating the sins of their opponents, they manipulate others into perceiving their deeds as virtuous. And unfortunately for consumers social media companies waste time exploring hate speech policies, instead of working to enhance the user experience. However, mainstream intellectuals are not the only people benefiting from the puritanical ethos of contemporary culture. Publications, irrespective of ideology, use such stories to elicit traction from readers by articulating the details to suit narrow agendas.

But despite enjoying critiques penned by intellectuals, ordinary Joes are failing to capitalize on political correctness and could become more delusional in the process. The truth is that cancel culture is a problem in some quarters, but it is being weaponized by the left and right for financial gains. As such, they should limit consumption of this narrative since in the long term they are only wasting valuable time.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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