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McCloskey Wants to Change the Title and the Substance of Her Article on Corruption

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From Deirdre McCloskey
Deirdre McCloskey
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Deirdre McCloskey has responded with two comments (to date) to my series of articles critiquing her book review in the Wall Street Journal of two new books about corruption. We welcome her to the pages of New Economic Perspectives and invite her to provide an article or series of articles presenting her views on elite white-collar crimes such as fraud and corruption of whatever length she thinks best. The harm done by these crimes is so severe that these topics well warrant extended discussion and debate. NEP is one of the rare economic blogs that devotes considerable space to these topics.

A word about NEP and its mechanics. Our comments are moderated. Anyone who has experienced how non-moderated websites' comments tend to spin out of control and drive away thoughtful people understands why many sites moderate comments. We also (very briefly) review proposed articles prior to publication. Our authors will attest that we do not do this for any nefarious purposes. McCloskey, should she decide to accept our invitation to publish articles on NEP, will face no censorship of your views. NEP has one person who posts all our comments and articles. Devin Smith is our invaluable unpaid volunteer from our UMKC economics program. He has heavy demands on his time from family, work (graveyard shift), school, and NEP. So, let me begin, on behalf of everyone involved with NEP, by thanking Devin for his selfless work and good cheer.

These acute resource constraints mean that, depending on our joint availability, it can take a bit of time for us to approve and post articles and comments. Many of my posts appear a day after I submit them and some take over 48 hours to be posted. This is life in a small public university where all our NEP activities are done without compensation, often at very odd hours. Our rule on replies by those our authors criticize in the pages of NEP is straightforward. We will print your replies in our comments and we will invite you to respond at length through an article or articles on the subject. There are potential limits on this -- none of which we have ever had to impose. You cannot, obviously, go on a homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, libelous, etc. attack on other people. If someone were pretty clearly suffering a psychotic break we wouldn't publish ramblings. If someone became clearly obsessive and endlessly repeated personal attacks in dozens of posts we would stop publishing at some point.

I approved McCloskey's responses to my articles about her book review without reading them because she was quite properly invoking her right of reply to criticisms I made of her article and policies. I was busy prepping to give what turned out to be over a three hour lecture/discussion with Ecuador's procurement oversight authority's senior managers about procurement fraud. Procurement is McCloskey's second of her three "cheers for corruption," and will be the subject of my third article in our series of articles about her book review. I knew I would be tied up all day, so I approved publishing her comment without any review because (1) NEP's policy is that she has a right of reply, (2) I was certain, because I know and have appeared on Kilkenomics panels with McCloskey that none of our potential limits on replies would be relevant, and (3) I wanted her comment to be posted as soon as we could do so. Devin did so.

But, of course, the rule in every society is that no good deed goes unpunished. McCloskey wrote a second comment that reads it full.

"Dear Professor Black,

You have grossly misread my piece. But I have said this my previous comment, which you have not printed. is that the policy on your blog, to make absurd accusations and then not allow the victim to respond?

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Deirdre McCloskey"

I've described our general procedures and our specific treatment of McCloskey's comment in the hopes that a gentle answer might turneth away wrath. Substantively, I will now turn to why I do not believe I even slightly misread her book review. Rather than making "absurd accusations" I quoted relevant passages from her book review repeatedly in my pieces, to show what she argued and then to explore the logical implications of what she argued in her book review. As to the "victim" claim, I would point out as a criminologist that the "victims" are the victims of the corruption and fraud that she supports. McCloskey is encouraging the people who victimize the public through corruption and fraud. That makes her the opposite of a victim.

More generally, McCloskey seems stunned that white-collar criminologists would criticize those who give "two cheers for corruption" in the WSJ. Sorry, but we read the WSJ because in our field it is the Nation's crime blotter. The WSJ's news section is filled with acts of elite white-collar crime and its opinion sections are filled with excuses for elite white-collar crime. An enormous part of our responsibility as social scientists is to critique these apologias.

Here is the full text of her substantive comment.

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"Submitted on 2015/03/05 at 9:33 pm

Dear Mr. Black,

I am astonished that you think I am in favor of "bribery, fraud, and extortion," You cannot have read much of my work. Nor have you read my little piece in the Wall Street Journal with care (by the way, you need to know that authors do not choose the headlines on such articles; I do not approve of the title the editor chose, but it was published without my permission; I would have called it "State of Thieves").

But on the other hand, let me put this case to you. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. It is regulated. Would you approve a little bribery to keep a gay man from being jailed for life? Or is your principle that any law of any state is to be obeyed, and not evaded?"

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William K Black , J.D., Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Bill Black has testified before the Senate Agricultural Committee on the regulation of financial derivatives and House (more...)

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