Saturday, March 12, 2011

False Accusations of Racism

Like most white people, I've been called a racist at least once in my life, and as always, it's not for doing or saying anything racist but for saying something that is taboo for a white person to say in a politically-correct environment. As an example, pointing out the high level of crime among male black youths. It's an innocent little statistical fact, not a smear, and yet for a white male to point it out is like walking across a mine field, you never know what you'll set off. And I'm talking about just pointing it out, not making some kind of white supremacy argument.

This kind of thing has got to stop, but I don't think it will stop until certain ethnic groups more or less achieve economic parity with the majority of the population, and I don't think that will happen without some major cultural shifts. And I don't mean cultural shifts among whites.

If I point out that white southerners (excluding Yankee-fied pockets such as parts of Florida or Texas) on the whole do not earn as much as white Northerners, or that they tend to read less, or do worse in math or reading scores, or tend to attend or complete college less, or when they do get a college degree they tend not to major in STEM, medicine, economics, etc. but in other softer degrees, or that they tend to be fatter, or even such things as pointing out that white southerners are often louder than many white northerners, I would just be reciting a bunch of statistics which point to some aspects of white southern culture that "hold back" the South, for lack of a better term.

Southerners like to pin all of their woes on Northerners, it's common to hear that the South is still suffering from the devastation visited upon it by the North during and especially after the Civil War. And there was plenty of devastation. This mirrors the argument made by many black people that many of their woes (lower than average job earnings, high school graduation rates, college graduation rates, representation in medicine, engineering, science, business, and higher rates of crime and single-mother households) are legacies of slavery.

But past devastation alone cannot account for the earnings and other disparities between rural white Southerners and the majority of the population, or between blacks and the majority of the population, etc. After slavery was abolished, it was actually the Chinese immigrants who faced the worst kind of racism and segregation laws, not the blacks, but these days the Chinese-American population earns more than the averages, learns more than the average, is way over-represented in the sciences, academia, etc. One place they are greatly under-represented is in government.

Likewise, the Jews were almost wiped out by Hitler, but many of them came to America, rebuilt their lives and families, and they too earn and learn more, are over-represented in society's upper-echelons, etc.

The point of this is to illustrate how with the right cultural background, an ethnic group can thrive even after the most extreme oppression possible. As bad as slavery and Jim Crow laws in America were, they were a whisper compared to the Holocaust. Nor can white Southerners just blame Northerners for everything. I suppose I should point out right now that I believe the effect of white racism is a minimal contributor to the economic disparities between blacks and whites, or hispanics and whites, etc. The disparities between Asians and whites certainly aren't a result of Asians being anti-white. I think such disparities exist because, on the whole, blacks and hispanics have not made themselves as productive as the average person--they haven't gone to college as much, or when they do they tend to major in lower-paying degrees, and they tend not to open businesses as much as white people, or Asians for that matter. For lack of a better way to put it I believe these disparities are the outcome of problems in "black culture." Black people are allowed to talk about these problems amongst each other (higher rates of illiteracy, low graduation rates, high crime rates, drug problems, lower rates of savings, lower workforce participation rates, higher illegitimacy rates, low pants, etc.), but it is still taboo for a white person to talk about these things. Even black people will take heat for bringing up these things. Barack Obama and Bill Cosby have both been criticized for comments they've made.

Getting back to the main topic, one wonders why false accusations of racism are so common from certain ethnic groups but not from others. Where is the Chinese-American equivalent of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, immediately flying to any part of the country where an asian guy had his toes stepped on and holding protests, vigils, and threatening to sue unless changes are made to the system? Too busy having a real job, I suppose. I think the reason these false accusations fly from blacks and Hispanics (I'll cover false accusations from white people in a bit) are chiefly because of the existing economic disparities between them and the rest of society, and merely pointing out an tragic truth like the high black crime rate is pouring salt on a wound. Like Zora Neale Hurston said, "my people, my people!"

I think that people in general think of themselves as part of a larger "tribe" and when the tribe has its dirty laundry aired, the shame can instantly metamorphose into anger at the airer of said laundry, and the anger can be confused, by the person who feels it, as justified anger at real racism, or if the airer is black, at being "talked down to" by a guy who "acts white."

Everybody does this. How often did you, as a teenager, react with anger at your parents for them pointing out how you hadn't done your chores or your homework? That was you turning your shame into anger, and you will quickly rationalize the anger you feel however you need to. Events from the past and existing disparities provide a very convenient rationale for the person who wants to call their anger a reaction to racism.

Coming from white people, I think the reason is almost entirely political. Leftists use the word "racist" as a club, and it's got to stop. I think most accusations of "racist!" coming from a white liberal are obvious rhetorical ploys and not expressions of genuine feeling. There is also "definition creep," the way words change on us. There are people using the word "racism" in bizarre ways, ways the word never meant before. Now, if you criticize Welsh people, you're being "racist," as if the Welsh were a race and not just a nationality. McDonald's was criticized as being racist for celebrating black history month and having some kind of advertising campaign centered around this (the accusation I heard came from white conservatives, for what it's worth). There is nothing racist about selling hamburgers to black people, or saying "all Italian men are sluts." The other big way in which "racist" and "racism" is being changed is to apply it to religion. Criticize Jews or Judaism and you're a racist, or criticize Hindus and you're racist. Criticize Muslims and you're definitely racist.

I think part of that has to do with the Holocaust, and people like Hitler making popular the belief that Jews were somehow a race, when there are black Jews, white Jews, Persian Jews, Arab Jews, etc. Jews are defined by their faith, as are Muslims. I find anti-Jewish rhetoric offensive when it is made racist by the people who make it, when the people making the statement adhere to the Jews-as-race belief (either extremist Muslims or extremist white nationalists). But is it racist when the New Testament of the Bible points out that Jews who do not believe in Christ have separated themselves from God and do not have salvation? That is a theological point, not a racial one.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Serious Question about the Wisconsin Pandemonium

I understand why Democrat politicians and the people who work for them are upset at something that takes away political power from the unions, after all the unions are how the Democrats launder money. I'd expect Republican politicians to be similarly up in arms if the military were suddenly disbanded: a major source of money and political support would have been diminished. And I understand why the actual union members aren't happy about this, they'll lose a lot of their expensive perks and job security. IOW, they'll have to do what everybody else does and actually earn their keep or lose their job. Stay productive or be terminated. Join the real world for once in your lives, union members.

But I don't understand the anger and harshness over what happened in Wisconsin. There are near-riots at the Wisconsin state capitol building, the internet is exploding with left-wing rage, etc. And if you aren't actually a Democrat politican, or somebody who works for them, or an actual union member, you shouldn't be upset at all. Union members are earning above-market-level salaries and benefits at the expense of everybody else. No serious, sober economic analysis of the situation would lead one to think that the lack of competition and efficiency going on among government employees is a good thing. No serious person is going to think "yes, paying too much for labor and going broke by funding golden parachute pensions instead of operating more efficiently and saving the tax-payers money is a good thing."

Which leads me to believe that most of the people who are so angry don't really know much about the actual situation. I think they may be full of misconceptions and half-truths about the situation, but I think if you sat them down and actually hashed out the issues, you'd quickly find that they just don't know much about what's happening. I think many die-hard union supporters who are not actual union members themselves fall into two categories: limousine liberals trying to make a show of how sympathetic they are to "the common man" (as they used to say), and people who don't know much about what enforced unionization actually means.

And the "enforced" is really the nub of the issue. Collective bargaining isn't the problem, really. In effect, a union operates as an employment agency, a subcontractor. But when a business hires an agency to, say, clean the building or do their IT work, there is no government agency forcing them to stick with that particular agency, or to pay them a certain amount, or to prevent them from firing workers who aren't up to snuff, etc. There is truck and barter going on among employers and employees, and through trial and error, guided by the price system, eventually an arrangement will be settled on that is the most efficient one possible.

But enforced unionization prevents this from happening, especially in governments, which are notoriously slow and static anyway. It's probably too subtle a point for the political pundits to go into, and certainly too subtle for headlines, but what is really happening is that the government is foolishly agreeing to hire people for much more than they are actually worth, not fire anybody no matter how incompetent, and go broke paying for top-notch pension and insurance schemes. Leaving aside union politics, this is really just another case of a politically-well-connected special interest seeking rents from the government. The particulars may differ from contractors hired to build public works, or agricultural subsidies, but the economics are the same.

One last point: the slogan I keep hearing is "they're destroying the middle class/working families." I doubt the people saying that have honestly thought about what that means for more than a few seconds, but I'd like to ask them: if de-unionization of government workers means that working families or the middle class are being destroyed, does that mean that the great majority of the working population, which is not unionized, is already destroyed? Why are states which are not heavily unionized thriving economically in comparison to states where unions had free reign?

I happen to think that collective bargaining can actually be a good thing, when unions are not political bodies, do not get special favors or any kind of recognition from the government (such as closed-shop laws, etc.), but when they are honest bodies of workers who have collectively decided to dictate terms of employment to employers. There are times when this has been effective. Where unions go wrong is when they assume that merely be being a union, that they are right and all of their demands are reasonable, and therefore they deserve to have the government force their employers to put up with them. Telling employers what labor to buy and how much to pay for it is exactly the same, in principle, from the government telling you what brand of toothpaste to buy, where to shop, how much to pay, etc.

Unions can be a good thing when they are voluntarily formed and when employers voluntarily abide by union demands, because this is nothing more than a particular mechanism to smooth over the bidding process (Hazlitt).