Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Today in [racially segregated] straw armies...

So Kevin Williamson, whom friends of the blog have met before, was tapped by noted white-supremacist rag National Review to deliver the [g]libertarian response to Ta-Nehisi Coates' address on the state of our racial union. Get an umbrella, folks, it's gonna get pissy in here.

We begin in the very first paragraph:
Mr. Coates’s beautifully written monograph is intelligent and sometimes moving, and the moral and political case he makes is not to be discounted lightly, but it is not a persuasive case for converting the liberal Anglo-American tradition of justice into a system of racial apportionment.
Now, if you're like me, you might be scratching your head what the everloving fuck Williamson is talking about. Is he referring to the actual justice system -- a system that in its colorblindness just happens to imprison black men an order of magnitude more frequently than white ones? Or is he referring to some more inchoate tradition of justice, like the one which greeted the returning veterans from World War II with flowers if they were black and federally subsidized mortgages if they were white?

You cannot read Coates' essay and not realize that the Anglo-American tradition has been one of racial apportionment since the 1600s. This is the entire point. Goods of great and lasting value have been apportioned, through private and market-oriented means as well as through public policy, in a racially lopsided way. Now, of course not every lopsided apportionment of goods is a crime, but Williamson can't even seem to get this far.

A little further on, Williamson dances with an actual insight before losing the beat:
The most valuable aspect of Mr. Coates’s essay is as a corrective to the tendency to treat the systematic political and economic repression of black Americans as though it were a matter of distant history and a question that had been for the most part settled at Gettysburg, with a few necessary legislative reforms in the following century. The process of extirpating effective racism did not end in 1868 or in 1964; even assuming a zero racial handicap on a forward-going basis, we would expect it to take decades before the average economic differences between blacks and whites were to disappear. (If, indeed, we should expect them to disappear at all.)
Now, let's take a suggestion from that BBC piece about toilets and go through the thought-experiment of how this works in detail.

Under what conditions would we expect the economic distribution of whites and blacks to converge to each other, assuming that they have formal equality of access? One of the drivers of continued inequality is inherited wealth: if I am wealthy, then on average my children and grandchildren will be wealthy as well. Now, if I am white, what is the expectation that my children and grandchildren will be white? Here is where I think the models underlying Williamson's expectations might not match up with mine. Williamson, I suspect, models U.S. society going forward as a place of heavy racial intermixing, so that between those descendants of today's black people who benefit from hard work and entrepreneurship and those who marry into previously white money, the boundaries between the races blur and the overlapping distributions will coalesce.

I'm less optimistic. While I do see plenty of glorious miscegenation taking place, the drivers of de facto segregation in the U.S. are not gone even if everyone has formal access to the same suite of financial tools. And segregation -- in schools, in neighborhoods, in all these places -- is a countervailing force against this commingling of the descendants.

If segregation remains as powerful a fact as it is today, then we would expect the wealth distributions of white and black people not to converge, but precisely the opposite.

There is probably a vicious circle at work here: Even controlling for income, blacks are financially risk-averse compared with whites, which probably has something to do with the history that Mr. Coates cites; but this risk aversion has the long-term effect of leaving them worse off as they forgo higher returns on their savings
Worse off than what? Higher-return investment strategies are by definition higher-risk -- what Williamson is saying here is a direct denial of even weak forms of the efficient markets hypothesis. Unless he thinks that black people's risk-aversion takes the form of saving in the First People's Bank of Mattress, any approach to personal finance which beats inflation is either just as good as any other or improperly priced.

Hey, wait a minute. It couldn't possibly be the case that the personal-finance game is rigged against people with lower assets, could it?
Blacks probably should extend that skepticism, or even transfer it, to the welfare state. Mr. Coates does not spare the New Dealers, who enacted a raft of progressive policies that were in many cases designed to exclude or disadvantage African Americans. Contrary to the convenient myth related by our contemporary liberals, there was no substantial conflict between Democratic liberals and Democratic segregationists on most of the progressive agenda — the  progressives and the segregationists were, in the main, the same people, and the so-called conservative Democrats in the South were very enthusiastic about federal regulation of businesses, the minimum wage, social insurance, and welfare programs, so long as they could be structured in a way that would not benefit blacks very much. But Mr. Coates does not give much consideration to the possibility that a similar dynamic still is at work among our 21st-century progressives — not in the sense that white progressives see their own interests being in direct competition with those of black Americans, but in the sense that programs run for the theoretical benefit of the poor, who are disproportionately black, are in fact run for the benefit of the largely white upper-middle-class bureaucrats who are employed by them.
I smell piss. Piss, everywhere.

Listen, Kevin. We've been over this. It is impossible to be both a progressive and a segregationist, at least in the sense(s) the word "progressive" has been used in the post-Civil-War political context. Yes, the New Deal was a pretty raw deal for black people. The rising tide eventually lifted some nonwhite boats, but it's quite true that in order to get the damn thing on the books and in force, FDR needed the votes of his southern Democratic caucus.

But I can't figure why you are making this bait-and-switch to talk about how conservative Dems in the 1930s didn't hew close to the shibboleths of the modern conservative movement. Federal regulation of business, minimum wage, social insurance, and welfare programs can be net positives for a state economy. Now, conservatives love to accuse the latter three of these of impoverishing their nominal beneficiaries, but that case falls apart every time. (Hence the fallback position of "well, it inculcates a culture of poverty", which is both false and paternalistic bullshit. When there are jobs to be worked which pay better than welfare, people work them if they can get them.) But that's not even the case you're making here, since you pivot to "bureaucrats" without even the courtesy of telling us which programs you're imagining the bureaucrats are occupying, sucking up our precious bodily fluids.

Well, that's not quite true. Right after the last excerpt, you mention teachers' unions and how they're fighting school reform. Now, it's not clear what teachers' unions and bureaucrats have to do with each other, and it's very very unclear that turning the Washington D.C. school system over to Michelle Rhee was in the interests of anybody except Michelle Rhee and a whole bunch of fly-by-night charter schools. But seriously: what the hell point are you trying to make here? It's an incoherent mess.

We're almost done:
Blacks are disproportionately poor, and policies that encourage economic growth and robust employment, which is the only meaningful long-term anti-poverty program, should benefit blacks with roughly the same disproportion.
This is just simple mathematics: absent any structural amelioration of the reasons that some discrete subgroup of the population is disadvantaged, just growing the economy preserves disadvantage. A color-blind approach like this is both naive and counterproductive.

And this is, again, the whole case being made: that the assaults against black people in the U.S. have been public, sustained, and not racially neutral. It defies logic to think that a racially-neutral response could possibly work to counter this history.

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