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Woke mob tries to get economics professor fired for arguing police shouldn't be defunded

When economist Harald Uhlig tweeted a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the call to “defund the police,” he didn’t expect to lose his editorial position.
Brad Polumbo Washington, DC

When University of Chicago Economist Harald Uhlig tweeted a milquetoast, tongue-in-cheek criticism of Black Lives Matter’s official call to “defund the police,” he probably didn’t expect that to be the end of his tenure as editor of a top academic journal. But if the mob of rabidly illiberal academics descending on Uhlig gets their way, he’ll be fired from that position.

First, here’s a look at what the professor tweeted that got so many left-wing academics and activists so upset. (Spoiler alert: It’s far from radical).

Essentially, Uhlig took the position of a standard Democrat, backing police reforms but dismissing the far-left proposals to “defund the police.” A YouGov poll found that only 16 percent of Americans support decreasing police funding at all, and that even almost 70 percent of African Americans oppose budget cuts for police. One can reasonably project that public support for a total defunding of the police is even more slim.

“Defunding the police” is, objectively, a radical position, even if activist groups such as Black Lives Matter have endorsed it. For taking a perhaps snarkily-worded but quite moderate stance on Twitter, left-wing activists and academics are trying to sabotage Uhlig’s career.

Brookings Institute senior fellow and The New York Times contributing writer Justin Wolfers helped lead this mob:

University of California Berkeley Professor Max Auffhammer circulated a petition calling for Uhlig’s removal as journal editor:

Other notable academics and critics piled on:

It’s important to note that these woke critics weren’t just attacking Uhlig over his tweets about Black Lives Matter and “defunding the police.”

They also seized on a past blog post the economist wrote and claimed that he insensitively conflated dressing in KKK garb while waving the confederate flag and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem. But if you actually read the blog post, he’s clearly just using an extreme example to correctly argue that kneeling during the anthem is not a First Amendment or technical free speech issue, a form of logic known as argumentum ad absurdum, not actually putting the two displays on any moral equivalence.

The mob also seized on a perhaps awkwardly worded but hardly hateful letter to the editor that Uhlig once wrote criticizing the Hollywood diversity narrative by pointing out that Hollywood isn’t really meant to be diverse, and that critics are calling for more African American representation but not more representation of Arab people or non-beautiful people.

It is interesting to note that in all this backlash little of it was actually centered in argument. Few of Uhlig’s critics truly defended Black Lives Matter’s position or “defunding the police,” they just piled on and tried to deplatform him and get him fired. It’s a shame, because actually having a productive argument or disagreement about this issue furthers the discourse instead of quashing it.

Instead, a left-wing mob targeted a professor who really only slightly deviated from liberal orthodoxy and never once stepped outside the bounds of mainstream American opinion. These critics evidently have no regard for free speech or academic freedom, and believe that holding an editorship at prestigious academic journals should require not dissenting from a single far-left belief.

If academics cannot even hold moderate or center-left beliefs on key political issues without drawing the ire of a mob, imagine how hostile academia must be for actual conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans. The growing rise of intolerance and thought-policing in academia should seriously concern anyone who wants to live in a society that tolerates debate and differences in opinion.

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Brad Polumbo
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