Sunday, April 08, 2012

Thoughts on the Derbyshire racist rant


Well, I kept trying to think of a coherent argument to make about John Derbyshire's racist rant, but everything I thought of was either too obvious ("racism is bad, mmmkay!") or so beside-the-point that it risked distracting people from the badness of the racism. So instead of a single long post, I thought I'd list a few loosely connected thoughts I had in response to the rant.


1. Derbyshire really is racist, and his racism really is dumb.

Intelligent racists these days tend to defend their bigoted statements by prefacing them with a disclaimer that "What I say is only true on average," or "This is just a statistical tendency." Derbyshire does the same thing at the beginning of his rant. But then he goes on to make prescriptive statements about individuals based on those "statistical tendencies"! He goes from "On average, black people are more violent" to "If you see black people, you should avoid them."

This is a statistical and logical fallacy, as any researcher knows. Descending into nerdspeak for a moment, statistical significance is not the same thing as effect size. In plain English, this means that whether a person you see on the street is black is not a useful indicator of how likely they are to attack you. There are much better ways of predicting who is likely to be violent, just from looking at them.

For example, take  a look at these two screenshots (the former from the movie Boyz n the Hood, the latter from the TV show Community):

Screenshot A

Screenshot B

If you're walking around and see people who look like the guys in Screenshot A, you might reasonably want to avoid them (though actually I wouldn't, but save that for later). Why? Not because they're black! Because they look poor, tough, and mean. Those would be good reasons to avoid someone who looked like Ice Cube looks in Screenshot A. Their blackness would be beside the point. It would not be an important consideration, on top of the other things you could already see. If they were Vietnamese, there would be absolutely no less reason to avoid avoid them.

Conversely, if you see some guys who look like the guy in Screenshot B, you would have no good reason to avoid them. Troy from Community looks like an even-tempered middle class guy - a guy who is highly unlikely to attack anybody. The fact that he's black makes no difference at all. If you go around avoiding guys who look like Donald Glover in Screenshot B, you aren't being prudent, you're just being an idiot...you're like one of those OCD kids who never steps on cracks in the sidewalk, except that instead of simply looking like a doofus, you're making people uncomfortable.

To put this another way: Suppose you see a bunch of rowdy-looking, tough-looking 18-year-old guys swaggering down the street in a poor neighborhood. Do you think to yourself, "Oh, if those guys were white, I'd go up and ask them for directions, but since they're black, and because I have this theory about ancient African evolution making black people more violent, I know they're likely to be violent, so I'll avoid them."??? No. No you do not. Because you are, hopefully, not an idiot.

So it's easy to see that the "statistical tendency" of black Americans to commit more violent crime should have no implications for behavior toward individuals. Violent people of any race are easy to spot. This directly contradicts Derbyshire's admonishment to avoid black people. If they follow their dad's racist advice, Derbyshire's kids are just going to look like idiots and be socially ostracized, without actually being any safer.


2. I actually find poor black people less scary than their white counterparts.

Here's my personal background. I grew up in College Station, Texas, which in the 80s was a highly conservative, mostly white town with a small, mostly poor black population. My neighborhood was next to the neighborhood where the poor black people lived, so I rode the same bus as them. There were a smaller number of white kids on our bus, mostly lower-middle-class Southern whites.

The black kids on my bus never once bothered or threatened me. They clearly had a culture that was very different from mine, including a very different dialect of English (which I eventually learned to understand). But they never tried to bully me, and never acted unfriendly toward me (they would always let me sit next to them, and usually would let me have the window seat so I could read a fantasy book or sleep).

The same was not true of the Southern white kids. They were also very culturally different from me (I was a nerdy Jewish kid with Northern parents and no Texas accent). While the black kids were on the bus, the Southern white kids would be sullen and silent, but as soon as the black kids got off, the white guys would start trying to bully me. They were definitely aggressive and targeted me, other non-Southern whites, and Asians.

I asked my mom why this was the case, and she shrugged and said something like "Maybe it's because the KKK hates black people and Jewish people!" I thought that sounded a little far-fetched (though the Southern white kids often spoke approvingly of the KKK when there were no black people around!). I came up with a different hypothesis: I was too different from the black kids for them to see me as a threat or competitor. People usually don't just attack strangers just out of pure sadism; they assert their dominance over competitors. To the black kids, I was just some kind of interesting oddity; to the Southern white kids, I was a white kid of a different tribe, and one who needed to be reminded of his place.

This pattern has repeated itself in other times and places. In California, in Japan, and now in Michigan, I've found that black people never want to fight me, but white people sometimes do. Although I generally avoid people who look tough, poor, and violent (see Thought #1), I sometimes break this rule for nonwhite people. Once or twice, I've gone up and started chatting with "gangster"-looking black dudes on the streets of Tokyo and Detroit, and they turned out to be pretty friendly. Now I'm not stupid - if I do that 1000 times I know I'm eventually likely to get mugged - but I wouldn't even try asking directions from a bunch of drunk rowdy-looking white guys walking down the street in Ann Arbor.

Who knows, maybe it was just the school bus that made me who I am.


3. I think Derbyshire-style racism really is holding back black people in America.

The disappearance of explicit racial discrimination in American public life has convinced a lot of people that racism is no longer holding back black people. I disagree.

An outsized percentage of black people in America are poor. Because of the cultural pathologies that stop American poor people from forming stable families (see Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report on poor blacks or Charles Murray's recent book on poor whites), this means that an outsized percentage of young black men are going to be violent. And given the prevalence of gun ownership in America, violence here is very dangerous.

This puts Americans in great danger of committing Derbyshire's Fallacy - of assuming that race is a good proxy for violence. Many white and Asian Americans share Derbyshire's fear of associating with black people. This means that white and Asian Americans are less likely to have black friends, which means that black people are often frozen out of networks of business and professional connections. That makes it harder for black entrepreneurs to embed themselves in existing white and Asian networks of customers, suppliers, and business partners. It means that black employees will have fewer white and Asian connections when they are looking for a job.

The separation of black networks from white networks will keep black people poor. And black people's poverty will keep causing people to indulge in Derbyshire's Fallacy. It's a stable equilibrium.

How do we break out of that equilibrium? I'm pessimistic, because I know how easy it is to assign race an outsized importance when making judgments of people. If someone cuts you off on the freeway, your first thought probably isn't "Oh, that incompetent driver!", it's "Oh, that old person!" or "Oh, that Hispanic person!" or "Oh, that woman!", etc. We humans are hard-wired for tribalism, not Bayesian rationality.

There are, however, some things we can do. One is to continue to admit lots of nonwhite immigrants. Asia has a lot of these. Just getting rid of the notion that white Americans are "the real America" should go a long way toward eliminating the deeper, more dangerous racism left over from the old Confederacy. When admitting immigrants from Africa, we should make sure to especially focus on high-skilled immigrants in fields like engineering, computer science, etc. There is no shortage of these, as the burgeoning numbers of Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ivorese, and Senegalese electrical engineers and software engineers at American universities demonstrates. It's hard to argue that black people are dumb when you need to ask their help on your semester project.

Also, we should just do sensible things like ending the drug war, breaking up concentrations of poverty in inner-city government housing projects, etc.

And finally, there's urban policy. America is caught between a suburban/exurban racially-segregated past that is no longer economically feasible, and a dense urban/suburban future that is being stymied by low funding for public transportation, and by zoning regulation (see Matt Yglesias). The faster we manage the transition to the new urban America, the sooner Americans will be forced to live around people of all races. When that happens, people will learn that it makes sense to identify dangerous people by their clothes and attitude and behavior, not by their race.

Well, hopefully.

38 comments:

  1. Not being a Derbyshire-ologist, do you think he also freaks out around low-income whites? (I'm thinking of your point #3). It's pretty clear Charles Murray does.

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    1. If he doesn't, he's a fool. If he does, then the purpose of his rant was just to be an asshole, not to say anything useful...

      Delete
  2. Anonymous3:26 PM

    "I wouldn't even try asking directions from a bunch of drunk rowdy-looking white guys walking down the street in Ann Arbor."
    I don't think drunk rowdy-looking people of any race in Ann Arbor are particularly dangerous (mainly because Ann Arbor is weird), rather, if anything is to be inferred from DPS crime reports, it's those people are quite often the victims of violent crime in Ann Arbor.

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  3. "Basic point: Who cares? Even if group differences are present, do we need them to predict who's going to be violent? If I look at a tough mean-looking poor-looking guy, do I think "Oh, I would have felt perfectly safe going up and talking to you if you were white, but since you're black, my theory about ancient African evolution tells me that I should avoid you"???

    Of course, there is a big difference between the question "do we need them to predict who's going to be violent" and "do these factors predict who is going to be violent with a minimal number of factors". This is also a little (perhaps unintentionally) disingenuous because relatively theory-free studies (see James Heckman) have come to some pretty strong conclusions about these issues. More on this later.

    So we have better *real-life* predictors of violence than black or not. Who has looked at the crime literature (or lived in a city) that could disagree?

    Does that mean we should throw out the part of black or not that is exogenous to the other factors?

    On a related note (and I hate to defend Derbyshire), it's easy to formulate a simple model where Derbyshire's reasoning makes sense even in the presence of better predictors than black or not (provided A. you're computationally limited OR B. black or not adds information exogenous to the other factors). By the principle of internet argument charity, you probably shouldn't make it seem like he's committed a fallacy that devastates his argument when a simple reformulation would keep all his essential points the same.

    Also, the entire Bayesian rationality-tribalism dichotomy is totally manufactured. The literature on statistical discrimination and the economics of discrimination is filled with examples of "tribe X" as a signal to take a different policy action than for "tribe Y" based solely on the theory-free history of "tribe X" vs. "tribe Y". You actually provide the sanity check that this kind of reasoning can make sense with your "old people are bad drivers point." It turns out to be true for theoryful reasons (bad eyes n stuff) but a Bayesian could make a decision simply by assigning a factor to old vs. young.

    Besides that, points 2 and 3 is perfectly reasonable.

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    1. On a related note (and I hate to defend Derbyshire), it's easy to formulate a simple model where Derbyshire's reasoning makes sense even in the presence of better predictors than black or not (provided A. you're computationally limited OR B. black or not adds information exogenous to the other factors).

      1. Computationally limited? Think about it for a second. You can judge someone's visual characteristics almost instantaneously. It does not take any substantial computing power to see that a guy is tough-looking, mean-looking, and/or poor-looking. So this caveat seems incredibly unrealistic.

      2. My whole argument is that "black or not" does not add any significant amount of information. Which I think I illustrated pretty well with the reductio ad absurdam that you quote.

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    2. 1. The proof is in the pudding. The fact that people *do* discriminate using a single factor as opposed to the multiple factors that black or not might summarize suggests we live in this world.
      2. Right but your reductio ad absurdam is pure assertion about the state of the world we're in. We've more or less moved beyond the realm of data here, so let us proceed carefully:

      What would I think if I saw a bunch of white people with red bandannas walking 50-deep? I wouldn't think I was about to have an encounter with the crips. But change the color, the probability of this being the crips has suddenly risen significantly.

      Everyone in a neighborhood might be similar *except* for their color/and other stuff. See: growing up in Newark. Of course, perhaps Sherlock Holmes might tease out the right factors to optimize his relationships under some risk constraints, but I didn't growing up. Curiously, I don't remember black-on-white violence becoming something to worry about until my teenage years, but that's neither here nor there.

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    3. Finally, there's also something to be said about how sure we are that the signal we're getting from the tribe is real.

      For instance, used car salesmen were forced to strip black or not as a variable from their regressions by the Supreme Court. Now, if you're right that there are no differences not captured by factors (X1, X2,..., none of these factors are black or not), then it seems like the original discriminatory policy was leaving money on the table. Other evidence suggests that the used car salesmen WERE leaving money on the table using this discrimination tactic, but that the factors they'd want to use couldn't be measured well by salesmen and plugged into a regression OR would be measured by salesmen differently (salesman A. thinks you look poor, but B. thinks you have unique style).

      I'll leave you to think through the implications.

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    4. 1. The proof is in the pudding. The fact that people *do* discriminate using a single factor as opposed to the multiple factors that black or not might summarize suggests we live in this world.

      No. People are dumb. People day-trade.


      2. Right but your reductio ad absurdam is pure assertion about the state of the world we're in.

      The point was to illustrate how dumb most people would feel if they realized that they were making a decision based on such silly criteria...


      3. What would I think if I saw a bunch of white people with red bandannas walking 50-deep? I wouldn't think I was about to have an encounter with the crips. But change the color, the probability of this being the crips has suddenly risen significantly.

      Um...crips are blue, dude.

      Also, gangs don't walk 50 deep. If you see people walking 50 deep wearing identical bandanas, it's not a gang, it's a parade.

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    5. 1. Hmm...I mean, you've finished grad school so you've got credit, but I think computationally limited is just a subset of dumb. People are stupid in different ways, and I think this one fits!
      2. I guess if you really hate fights you might use stupid decision rules so that you have a fewer than optimal number of encounters because you picked stupidly. I might see if their is a model on this because if there isn't it could be useful to write one up.
      3.Good call on the crips and yea, 50 was an illustrative exaggeration.

      Anyway, I'm pretty much done. In policy conclusions, I'm on your side anyway, but maybe it could be profitable to think a little harder about these issues.

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    6. Heh. I think that you might mistake readability for lack of logical rigor in my post. It's always a tradeoff in the blogging world.

      How about if I had said this: "You don't need John Derbyshire's theories about African evolution and I.Q. to know a dangerous-looking black guy when you see one, because any dangerous-looking black guy just looks like a dangerous guy. And if you use John Derbyshire's theories as a reason to start avoiding black people who would otherwise not look dangerous to you, you are avoiding too many people. Hence, John Derbyshire is giving his kids bad advice."

      Delete
    7. Anonymous6:48 PM

      “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage of my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see it’s somebody white and feel relieved. How humiliating.” Jessie Jackson.

      Sorry Noah, I just had to do it! Good discussion you two. Thx

      Delete
    8. It's pretty scary when you have to spell this out, Noah.

      I worry about how to convince people that their intuitive perceptions of who is dangerous are likely to be overly colored by prejudicial messages coming from nearly the whole society, mass media to friends and relatives, which suggest that any black man is dangerous unless signalling otherwise.

      If we simply filter by who looks dangerous, without examining that concept more precisely and exposing what signals represent legitimate bayesian inferences and which represent prejudicial habits, then we will make mistakes. I'd argue (and I'd hardly be alone) that most white people's pattern matching on "dangerous" involves too many matches of black men to "danger", so that on average, they will overrate how dangerous looking black people are, and underrate how dangerous looking white people are, relative to the actual level of danger that the people represent.

      But we're not even having that conversation here.

      You're actually having to explain to people that it's unreasonable to add a whole separate adjustment for blackness *on top of* the "dangerous looking" criterion, which is *already* mildly prejudicial to black people.

      I weep.

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  4. Derbyshire is racist because of his take on "life is an IQ test."

    Whether of not certain races are smarter or taller is of little importance to ANYONE who is not interested in forming extensive social policy.

    If you are a small govt. conservative, even more a libertarian, with no desire for social engineering the only reason you'd care about this information is if you were trying to make a good or service to sell to a given group of people.

    If there are favored genetic traits lets get busy on R&D and selling the ones people like! To the future!

    When Steve Sailer and Derbyshire start in with their blacks are mentally inferior statistically, it is being used to try and affect policy in some regard. Sometimes it is end affirmative action (a good thing, but a HORRIBLE argument), sometimes to keep out immigrants (a bad thing).

    Each man judged as himself, forced to face the world without piles of social engineering will achieve greater human growth in the mid term.

    The reality is anytime there are a group of people being unfairly treated based on a stereotype, or re-cast because of a historical outrage, there is PROFIT in being the guy who sees through it and goes and snags the deals on human capital that others are willfully missing.

    Once others see your profits, they will bid the human capital up regardless of race. What we need is TRANSPARENCY and constant auctioning of excess human capital.

    We can have EVERYONE in the US working full blast in 1 years time (see my Paypal / Ebay plan) and reduce the angst and human stress levels of the lower classes, by giving everyone who wants it a job in the private sector and an income they can live on.

    Overnight, we can quiet the assumption we have that others have it easy.

    This is far more effective on time scale, than waiting around for people to need help from an immigrant on their homework.

    One thing Noah, you really can't have wide open immigration and a bountiful safety net the way you imagine it.

    But you truly can under my plan. My plan scales. Under my plan, eventually the whole world can be American.

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  5. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Morgan do you have a life? Because I mostly see you trolling with an incredibly rude attotude at blogs where your opinion is not wanted. Go invent some stupid technology and leave us Alone.

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    1. Dude, I'm your future. In your future, what the left says they want they get. Also in your future, what the left really wants deep down, they don't get.

      You'll GET a Guaranteed Income for every man jack that wants to work.

      You won't get to direct their labor under govt. authority to projects you deem acceptable.

      Auctioning excess capacity to the private sector to recover the Guaranteed Income - that scales.

      If you think this is rude trolling, I don't know what to tell you - what you won't do is actually argue with me, because yours is the weak and losing hand.

      Govt. doesn't scale. Remember that.

      ---

      My actual argument bears repeating...

      The intellectual racism that comes from the "right" is disturbing, because guys who make Derbyshire arguments are not small govt. conservatives.

      They are bullies who wrap their hate in science and want to grasp the reins of social policy. Even if they had to grow govt. to get their agenda accomplished they would. That's not really conservative.

      Small govt. conservatives truly are self-interested doers who see business opportunity or small govt. solution in every problem around them, every complaint they hear.

      And people who think like that don't read "The Talk" and think well let me tell you about the talk I give my white kids about blacks.

      They think:

      Jesus Christ, we live in a police state and get fondled at the airport, any notion of presumption of hoodie guilt isn't going to go away until the Democrats end the TSA, Prison Guard unions, and military weaponry in police depts.

      Hey! maybe we can appeal to some member of the black community to repeal all this stuff.

      The Talk is about cow-towing to police which is bad.

      But the talk is also about meeting the rest of the world in ways that make them comfy... and that's profitable.

      These are small govt. thoughts.

      Using the opportunity to play eugenics is not in the small govt. cards. It is not real conservatism.

      Delete
    2. Dude, I'm your future

      You're certainly grandiose. Do you perhaps misuse substances?

      Seriously, Morgan. Why don't you put up your own blog and see how well you do in the marketplace of ideas.

      I would charitably put you down as "delusional". FYI.

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    3. People self-select their reading materials.

      Liberals have even more self-reinforced bias than conservatives.

      I'm interested in actual policy / political solutions that need solving, done in ways that the right can adopt that hog tie the left.

      Frankly, I don't have that many policy positions. Getting Tea Party conservatives to read them is easy. I'd written them all down at Big Gov. But getting liberals to go read them is impossible.

      One last question, what is a sit log?

      Delete
    4. But getting liberals to go read them is impossible.

      Imagine that. You want liberals to buy into your efforts to "hog tie" them!

      Happy trails.

      Delete
  6. Anonymous6:30 PM

    "If someone cuts you off on the freeway, your first thought probably isn't "Oh, that incompetent driver!", it's "Oh, that old person!" or "Oh, that Hispanic person!" or "Oh, that woman!", etc. We humans are hard-wired for tribalism, not Bayesian rationality."

    Have behavioral economists studied tribalism? I think I remember a paper by Akerlof on identity and economic outcomes... but I am not sure if this has been developed more.

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    1. Here's an experiment by my friend Roy Chen, here at UMich.

      It's about identity, though not about attribution bias.

      Social psychologists have done a lot of work on attribution bias. Just google "Fundamental Attribution Error" or "Ultimate Attribution Error."

      Also, back to econ, there's the famous Alesina result about diversity reducing public good provision.

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  7. Anonymous7:19 PM

    This is Edmund Phelps on statistical discrimination:

    "A paradigm for the theory is the traveller
    in a strange town faced with choosing between
    dinner at the hotel and dinner somewhere
    in the town. If he makes it a rule to
    dine outside the hotel without any prior
    investigation, he is said to be discriminating
    against the hotel. Though there will be instances
    where the hotel cuisine would have
    been preferable, the rule represents rational
    behavior it maximizes expected utility- if
    the cost of acquiring evaluations of restaurants
    is sufficiently high and if the hotel
    restaurant is believed to be inferior at least
    half the time."

    And here's Noah:

    “This pattern has repeated itself in other times and places. In California, in Japan, and now in Michigan, I've found that black people never want to fight me, but white people sometimes do. Although I generally avoid people who look tough, poor, and violent (see Thought #1), I sometimes break this rule for nonwhite people. Once or twice, I've gone up and started chatting with "gangster"-looking black dudes on the streets of Tokyo and Detroit, and they turned out to be pretty friendly. Now I'm not stupid - if I do that 1000 times I know I'm eventually likely to get mugged - but I wouldn't even try asking directions from a bunch of drunk rowdy-looking white guys walking down the street in Ann Arbor.”



    Of course, you aren’t statistically discriminating, right? I mean, they’re white people you‘re avoiding!

    In all seriousness I agree with about half of your post. The rest isn’t too convincing.

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  8. Scott Bremner12:57 AM

    You almost think. Not bad for a kid.

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    1. Was this supposed to be some sort of insult aimed at yours truly?

      Delete
    2. Jack Johnson3:51 PM

      You almost critique. Not bad for a troll.

      Delete
  9. Noah: "An outsized percentage of black people in America are poor. Because of the cultural pathologies that stop American poor people from forming stable families (see Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report on poor blacks or Charles Murray's recent book on poor whites), this means that an outsized percentage of young black men are going to be violent. And given the prevalence of gun ownership in America, violence here is very dangerous."

    No honest mention of the second author is complete without mentioning his full name: Charles 'Bell Curve' Murray.

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  10. Anonymous1:09 PM

    Concerning black crime and intelligence, kindly survey the following information:
    http://unamusementpark.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/flyer1_crime.jpg
    http://unamusementpark.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/flyer2_intelligence.jpg

    Concerning immigration, you need to have your head examined if you think having more hispanics or asians in the country will improve the lot of blacks. White people have MUCH more favorable opinions of blacks than do either of these groups of immigrants. Seriously, how much experience do you have in frank conversation with asians about race? For hispanics, check out these graphs: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/03/31/opinion/sunday/racial-identity.html?ref=sunday

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  11. Concerning black crime and intelligence, kindly survey the following information

    Hmm, poorly written PDFs with no links...work on presentation first, then tell me how this "information" relates to my point...


    White people have MUCH more favorable opinions of blacks than do either of these groups of immigrants.

    Doesn't matter. In 1910, Polish, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, and Czech immigrants all hated the shit out of each other, as well as hating and being hated by Irish-Americans and other earlier immigrant groups. Now they are all "white". Same thing will happen with new immigrants, except instead of "white" it'll just be called "American". As an example look at Brazil. Racism still exists there, but it's not so sharply defined by groups.

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  12. Larry Headlund10:38 AM

    1910 was just past the peak of European immigration (1907) for that era. That era ended with the 1921 and 1924 laws that essentially restricted immigration to northern Europeans. Looking at the period 1895 to 1920 was racism against black Americans greater or less at the end? Did the influx of 'different' immigrants have any positive effect on black-white relations?

    When ethnic quotas were removed in 1965 the number of first-generation immigrants quadrupled over the next 40 years. These immigrants were of a radically different ethnic mix than that which existed in the US in 1965. How much of the positive changes in black-white relations over this period would you attribute to this immigration (show your work)?

    Any further changes in immigration are likely to be much less dramatic then 1965. Why is this suddenly to be so positive?

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  13. Anonymous5:44 AM

    I feel a thought crime coming on, but what can I do? You write: "There are, however, some things we can do. One is to continue to admit lots of nonwhite immigrants. Asia has a lot of these. Just getting rid of the notion that white Americans are 'the real America' should go a long way toward eliminating the deeper, more dangerous racism left over from the old Confederacy." Can you please refer me to a previous article where you recommended the same for Israel?

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    1. Sorry, I don't recall the post you're talking about...

      Delete
  14. Anonymous9:35 AM

    Personally, I find this post grimly hilarious.

    Firstly, Noah Smith warns us that we shouldn't worry about the threat of violence from someone just because they're black.

    No, it's *much* smarter to be scared of black people who look like Ice Cube. I mean, why worry about the guys who are dressed like Urkel?

    Uh, right. Way to stomp all over stereotypes, but I think your fellow racists may have figured that out already.

    You see, according to the OP, the problem isn't with black people per se, it's with the poor! It's being poor that makes people commit violent assaults, rapes, and so on, and since a disproportionate number of black people are poor, they commit a disproportionate amount of violent crimes.

    Conclusion: to avoid the threat of violence, just avoid poor people.

    Secondly, Noah Smith demonstrates his anti-racist/racist bona fides by informing us that he finds poor whites scarier than poor blacks.

    Just. Brilliant.

    Finally, Smith's Brechtian solution to America's racism problem is his most breathtaking contribution to the debate. His idea is to... import foreign populations to displace the white population. Just re-engineer the whole population and your problems will all be solved, obviously!

    Less white people as a proportion of the whole equals less racism, or something, because only white people are racist, and if there's one thing that the 20th century has taught us, it's that creating states with lots of racial dividing lines is the royal road to peace and harmony. And of course, nothing says don't worry about race like we're replacing you in your native land. Aum mane padme hum.

    Anyway, who cares what the current population thinks, right? Racists shouldn't get to vote, so everyone wins, except racist Amerika.

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  15. Or you could just aim straight at Derbyshire's crap mathematics.

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  16. Larry Headlund10:59 AM

    There are, however, some things we can do. One is to continue to admit lots of nonwhite immigrants. Asia has a lot of these. Just getting rid of the notion that white Americans are "the real America" should go a long way toward eliminating the deeper, more dangerous racism left over from the old Confederacy.
    Which, of course, reduces the income and prospects for lower class native born. Supply and demand and all that. Even worse, the hiring preference in the US is roughly white male native, white female native, immigrant female, immigrant male, black female native and black male native. Who better to pay the price of eliminating racism than black males?

    When admitting immigrants from Africa, we should make sure to especially focus on high-skilled immigrants in fields like engineering, computer science, etc. There is no shortage of these, as the burgeoning numbers of Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ivorese, and Senegalese electrical engineers and software engineers at American universities demonstrates. It's hard to argue that black people are dumb when you need to ask their help on your semester project.

    Technical fields are the traditional way up for white ethnic males since in these professions class mattered least. But if somebody must pay the price for ending racism, why not lower class males?

    I notice you don't advocate the wholesale immigration of say economists, of which I'm sure there is an ample foreign supply.

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    1. Which, of course, reduces the income and prospects for lower class native born. Supply and demand and all that.

      Only very temporarily. Immigrants spend locally, which boosts labor demand. Also, immigrants are more entrepreneurial than the native-born, which boosts labor demand even more. And that's not even taking agglomeration effects into consideration. So on balance, immigrants are a plus for the native-born, in terms of employment prospects and income, and high-skilled immigrants are a much bigger plus.


      I notice you don't advocate the wholesale immigration of say economists, of which I'm sure there is an ample foreign supply.

      I most definitely DO advocate this!!!!!

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    2. Larry Headlund8:19 AM

      Only very temporarily.
      A well known economist had a quip about the short and long run.

      So on balance, immigrants are a plus for the native-born, in terms of employment prospects and income, and high-skilled immigrants are a much bigger plus.
      This is the well known free trader's argument. Evidence would be nice. particularly for groups potentially negatively impacted. It could even be true that the economy on the whole benefited while still some groups, like lower skilled black males or technically trained lower class lose. I have seen evidence of that loss.

      most definitely DO advocate this!!!!! (wholesale immigration of economists)
      Safe to do since it isn't on the table. H-1B visas are a reality.

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    3. Larry Headlund2:56 PM

      Only very temporarily
      Why would the effect be very temporary? You grant that immigration can depress employment and prospects initially, but then claim that the immigrants will boost the overall economy sufficiently to later make up for that.

      Let's grant that.

      However, immigration isn't a one time event. Immigration on a scale to change the ethnic mix of the US is a matter of decades. That means decades of reduced prospects, not a matter of even a few years.

      Even a few years can be crucial: it has been pointed out during the current crisis that a poor employment environment when starting out can have a permanent negative effect on a person's economic life.

      I was struck when a few months back when you were explaining the process of your (and other economists) getting a position that you said, paraphrasing, "you go in one end and out the other and basically everyone gets a job." You might consider that only one third of a US graduates in science and engineering end up working in their field. Some of this might be physicists in finance but I don't think that explains any great number.

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  17. Great post.

    I haven't noticed anyone talking about the ugliness of Derbyshire's thirteenth point. He advises his children to seek out friends for the benefit (in part) of being able, in the distant future, to use them as shields if they ever get accused of racism. So he is not only advising his kids to be racist, but consciously dishonest, too.

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  18. Anonymous9:21 PM

    This is pretty stupid. On the one hand you purposely attack the utility of a valid statistical inference (proportionally speaking, more young black males are involved in violent crime than others) but are perfectly willing to commit the same "sin" regarding something which you have no data on (just what proportion of people who wear those ridiculous clothes actually commit crime? Do we have any stats on that? I think not). And even stranger, you think this is "logical".

    So in other words, one type of prejudice, deemed "acceptable" (that against clothes) is OK, but another (against skin color) is considered "unacceptable" and therefore "stupid". Even though the latter has far more statistical backing than the former.


    Just to be clear, I'm not taking this from a moral angle, where you may have a point (after all, skin color prejudice is worse than prejudice against clothes). But I AM surprised you claim the position you are taking is more "logical", specially in light of the verifiable evidence.


    == JubaQ

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