25 July 2016

A Conversation on my Post Before Last

I got some in depth feedback on my post before last.
That's the parts in black.
My response follows in red.

Hi Bakari
My reply is too long to post into your "comment" box, so I am emailing it instead:

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to try to articulate your thoughts and beliefs more clearly so we can understand what you are thinking. 
Thanks for this reply!

I think that I understand your beliefs a little better now. 
That being said, I have many mixed feelings about your analysis and conclusions. ... who cares enough to want to influence things to be more just and fair and better for all; and ... that you are so intelligent and do so much research to try to discern what is real and true and what is not; and that you have the courage to express your beliefs regardless how unpopular. 
However, I believe that you oversimplify many things to make them fit neatly into your analysis
That is without a doubt true!  Topics the encompass hundreds of millions of different individuals can never possibly be discussed without oversimplifying.  If I were to flesh out every caveat, I'd end up with a book instead of a blog post.

(just as do many other people whom you accuse of making false allegations about the current state of affairs.)  Yes, the left ("liberals"), generally plays the same game of "us & them" as the right.  (The oppressed vs the oppressors or the disadvantaged vs the privileged, etc.)  But so do you.  The difference is just that yours is a team of one, rather than a self-identified group.  It is bright Bakari vs all those idiots out there on left & right who cannot see that the emperor has no clothes. 

Hee hee!  I'm not the single unique person - I actually often get more supportive comments than push back on what I think are going to be very controversial - including comments like "I always thought that, but you ar the first to ever say it".  I think many people who share my understandings are less vocal.  In general, most people aren't vocal, and especially not in the face of (usually angry) opposition.  
Besides, most of what I know and understand comes from other sources.  I just happen to have a particular nexus of not identifying with a particular side, being exposed to very different populations, finding certain things interesting, and - this is important - having a blog.  Anyway, I don't feel particularly "opposed" to everyone who sees things differently.  People with strong affiliations to one side or the other tend to write things to their own side, since the opposition is incorrigible. If I felt that far removed from everyone, I would have no incentive to write.

Re: "race" issues
I think you underestimate how much racism still exists in this country and oversimplify the causes. 
I agree that people often falsely assume they are being targeted for reasons of racism rather than due to their own behavior or in situations where they are not being targeted at all (as in the examples you gave).  However, I disagree with your apparent belief that, with all other things being equal (dress, behavior, etc.), that dark-skinned &/or African-featured people do not get harassed and/or discriminated against disproportionately more than lighter-skinned people.  There have been too many examples of well-behaved middle-class men in suits being targeted by police, as well as of white people acting just as poorly and dangerously being handled more gently, to be able to agree with your apparent assumption that race is not a large factor in how people in the U.S. are treated by police (and everyone else.) 

Not that I expected you (or anyone) to actually read all of every one of the links to past posts, but I tried not too repeat too much of what was in them (since it was already so long), but I have acknowledged previously that there is an element of genuine racism in many areas of life.  Most notably (and confirmed by statistics, not just anecdote), is the outcomes of criminal trials.  Incidentally, (and significantly), those outcomes are NOT determined by the "justice system", by police or DAs or judges.  They are determined by juries of random citizens.  Which makes that more evidence of a racist society than of "systemic" racism.
Even that said though, I also acknowledge there are disparities to be found other places.  
What I'm trying to emphasize is that these disparities are much much smaller than people assume when just looking at raw statistics without controlling for all the relevant factors.

By analogy, much has been made of the pay gap by gender.  Now, granted, there really is one.  But what people look at when they are trying to make a case for how bad our sexism is is just the overall average rates of pay.  The huge thing that doesn't take into account is the differing fields people tend to choose.  A female college student is much more likely to go into teaching or social work the business school or petroleum engineering.  Women are more likely to forgo career advancement if it means not being able to spend time with family.  When you factor those things out, and compare apples to apples, the 79 cents per dollar (a woman makes compared to a man) turns into 95 cents per dollar.  Absolutely, in a egalitarian society it would be 100 cents per dollar once you accounted for different choices people make, but it still wouldn't be 100 per dollar if you merely compared total compensation over total working hours.  Apparent sexism accounts for 5% of the disparity.  Different interests and values accounts for 16% - more than 3 times as significant a factor. 

Citing a misleading statistic, one that is 3 times higher than the "real" (adjusted) one leads to misleading conclusions, which in turn gets people to focus all their efforts in a place that isn't going to make any significant difference.

Similarly, yes, racism has more than zero role to play.  What I believe, what I am making a case for, is that leveling the economic playing field would make a MUCH larger difference in ending racial disparity than it would if we could wave a magic wand and make every decision maker "color blind" over night.  I actually think very little would really change if everyone stopped being at all racist, but nothing else changed.

I know you live by statistics; please refer me to your source that proves your case in this regard.

Much was made of how "disproportionate" stop-and-frisk in NYC was.  Opponents to it pointed out that young Black and Latino men made up only 4.7% of the population yet made up 41% of all stops.
Yet, they gloss over or ignore that that same population comprised about 90% of all murder suspects.
So looked at differently: Blacks and Latinos made up 90% of murder suspects, and yet despite that only 41% of stops were those demographics.
Even if by some enormous conspiracy of injustice where cops look the other way in cases where a murder suspect is white so often that that statistic is off by half, that still means that these minority youth were being stopped disproportionately LESS than the population's violent crime rate would suggest.

In one of the past blog posts I linked to in my post is a graph showing that in NY in 2011, while Blacks and Hispanics made up about 90% of people caught with illegal firearms, over 90% of shooting suspects, and 100% of those who shot at the police, they only made up around 80% of those shot by police - again, disproportionately low, when adjusted for behavior that would justify police shooting.
The irony is, I got this graph from a Mother Jones article, which was trying to prove how racist the NYC cops were!  Had they just used raw numbers, it might have been much harder to see how whites were actually being shot at disproportionately often when considering crime rates, but they put it in graph form, and didn't even notice it undermined their own argument.

In your analysis, you speak of patterns of stereotyping of different immigrant groups as they first arrived and how the stereotypes faded as each group became more wealthy and successful in society.  What is your analysis of why each of the groups you named were able to overcome the discrimination and go on to become successful and mainstreamed in a few generations, while African-Americans and Native-Americans (who were here before all of those groups of immigrants) still suffer with a much higher proportion of poverty and attendant crime?

I am not 100% sure, but I think a big part is that European immigrants reasonably quickly assimilated, and to a large extent, Asian and Hispanic immigrants make efforts to as well.  This is why "separate but equal" was a problem.  Even if it really was equal, "seperate" alone would always have been a problem.  Culture is why Black youth are so disproportionately anti-social.  The American Indian has the option to assimilate today - they are legally citizens, and nothing keeps them on reservations.  But there is a long cultural heritage of isolation.  In Eastern Europe, there was no particular racial distinction of townies from gypsies, but they lived separately, maintained separate language and culture, and poverty and crime - and prejudice - all followed them.
  This is why I was opposed to the idea a few years back of legitimizing "ebonics" - its true that linguistically it is no better or worse, but it is also a surefire way to prevent young Black people from getting good jobs.  Its why I think liberals were right to decry "white flight" in the 60s 70s 80s, and why I think they are WRONG to decry "gentrification" today, which is just "white flight" in reverse (note: people don't get evicted purely for rent in rent control cities, and people don't get foreclosures purely for property tax rates in CA after prop 8).  Because one part of changing a culture of poverty and crime is integration into the main society.
As I mention in the blog, there is still cultural isolation in Asian neighborhoods, but there is also the availability of in influx of money since many keep ties with home, and Asia has a lot of money, plus more recent immigrants are more likely to be let in if they have money or skills that make them money, and then they support older relatives and circulate money locally.  Heck, even going back to railroad building times, they may have come as indentured servants - and fit a pattern of poverty and crime at first, but (unlike slavery) that ended within a single generation, so the opportunity to build wealth could start before a culture of poverty got too ingrained.
This is all speculative, I'm not wedded to the theory.
One thing that I can show conclusively with statistics: the disparity can not be primarily due to racism by the rest of society.
Consider that African immigrants do dramatically better than multi-generational US blacks in (for example) education and income


Same skin color, different culture.  The averages are closer to white immigrants than they are to native African Americans.
Just like the women and pay thing, even after controlling for culture and poverty, there is still a disparity, but it becomes a tiny disparity.  So while racism may be more than 0 factor, it is the wrong thing to focus on if we want to make a significant difference.

Re: Your basic analysis & conclusions about economic disparity and change
I find your analysis of economic disparity to have a stronger foundation in research than your beliefs about the degree of racism in this country.  But I do think you are oversimplifying here as well.

Of course there are individual differences!  I'm not sure how that's relevant when we are looking at population averages.  There are some Black people who save and break out of poverty, and some white people who waste their money on stupid crap and become destitute.  There are Blacks who go to college and Whites who live life in prison.  If we wanted to just say "individual responsibility", I suppose you could make a case for that (plenty of people do), but there are also real statistical disparities.  Poverty (regardless of race), while it can almost always be climbed out of, the fact is most people don't.  It creates a self-perpetuating cycle.  Its an unfortunate, but well documented, fact of human psychology.  When a person is focused on paying a bill today, it is harder to think about the consequences of that payday loan next week.  Literally harder to think about.  The same person, under more pressing circumstances, will tend to make the same sort of (in the long run, bad) decisions, because the human mind defaults to immediate problems.  

While your theories all sound very factual, I do not know them to be true.  Many successful and productive people throughout history began with lives of wealth and privilege and were completely supported through college by their parents and inherited from their parents and still worked hard and were productive. Many people born in poverty remained in poverty whether productive or not.  Many times productive and unproductive people were born to the same family and raised in the same poverty, wealth or somewhere in between, and had the same gifts and support bestowed upon them by their family. 

Again, I never meant to imply that what I was saying applied 100% of the time to 100% of individuals.

I think there is a difference between support and assistance and "spoiling."

Agree.  Perhaps we disagree on where that line is. 

  I agree that if children are usually given everything they want and nothing at all is expected of them, they will be likely to take things for granted, and feel entitled to be taken care of all of their lives.  On the other hand, giving unconditional love and meeting all their basic necessities as infants and children is the best way to raise healthy happy people.  

I don't in anyway think that children should have to "earn" their food, shelter, clothing, or education.  I do think that adults who are capable of it, should, and that to have an equal society, any help one person gets everyone should get. 

Even as young adults, to give support and assistance when they are doing their best is not the same as "spoiling."  If I had the money to put children through college, I would not want to waste it on a child who cuts class all the time and refuses to study.  But I see no reason not to help the child who is getting straight As or who is struggling to work while in school and it is interfering with their studies.
I would like to see what scientific study, done scientifically, ruling out other factors, with bonafide statistics, etc., has convinced you that children who have parental support through school

I posted this link in the blog post:

and/or receive a substantial inheritance are generally less productive than those whose parents either cannot provide or intentionally deny them assistance.

I'm not sure about "less productive".  It would be impossible to measure, because in our economic system there is no real distinction between value produced by capital investment versus personal effort.  If a person owns a multinational company that, among its 50,000 employees, creates value of 10 million a year, is that owner producing 10 million a year?  What if they are a very involved CEO, personally making important decisions and micromanaging and working 80 hours a week?  What if they hire a very talented CEO, and sit back and live a life of leisure?  In either case, how much of that 10 million do they get credit for?  Which has been more productive, the person who builds such a company from scratch, and then retires early, or the one who inherits the company without working for it, but then begins working hard?
No right or wrong answers that I can see.

What I do know is

1) that the majority of middle class Americans get significant levels of help as adults, cash amounts large enough that the class you are born into becomes a major factor,
2) that the majority of the Middle class has an entirely self-imposed scarcity due to not understanding the value or power of money and making consistently bad decisions.  I

 believe these things are related, though I have no independent data to support that belief.

As to "doing the right thing," it sounds like you are saying that no matter how much you may donate to worthy causes (including economic justice agencies and scholarship funds), it is meaningless if you also give anything materially substantial to your own children.  Is that your intent? 

Hmm. I'd say "meaningless" and "materially substantial" are both rather ambiguous terms.  That's like asking if it is meaningless to ride a bike to work if you eat meat, or if it is meaningless to recycle if you use incandescent light bulbs. I think it would be best for society, as well as to individuals, if money spent on people's children instead went to leveling the playing field.  I think any degree of step in that direction is positive.  Its up to individuals to decide on their own what they find "meaningful"

To insist that one can't do both, or that it is meaningless if you do?

I think that, except for particular special circumstances, in general, in the long run, even if large cash handouts to adults who don't need it permanently raise the economic class, they rarely if ever make a person happier in life, so I don't see the point.  I think it is more valuable to teach life skills and values  - and that inheritance actively undermines those skills and values.  Why would I want to do that?

  You cited 2 examples of ridiculously rich men pledging to leave 99% of their wealth to charity, and then admitted that still left hundreds of millions for their children.  Most of us can't leave hundreds of millions to our children even if we gave nothing to charity.  So I do not see how these two examples support your points (about what the rich understand about not coddling children or about the injustice of inheritance).

I noted the caveat that a 99% pledge could mean leaving hundreds of millions and still meet the pledge.  I didn't say any of them said they actually were going to leave their kids 1%.  People generally like using the number 99, even when (like with the Occupy movement), 99.99% would be more appropriate.  Any anyway, this is in contrast to most billionaires who leave everything to their own kids.  I don't see how this has any bearing on the point about the injustice - I feel like that in self-apparent, regardless of what these particular people do.

It also seems that you expect the change to occur by just convincing people one by one to deny their children the inheritance that they would otherwise have given them, and refuse to help their children through college.  I believe that it takes systemic changes (like laws and govt. programs) to change the habits of masses of people.  For example, most people did not start to recycle until curbside recycling was made available. 

Agree, 100%!!  But before laws change, the people's opinions have to change.  The government rarely acts in a bubble completely removed from public opinion.  This is a democracy.  The people vote for elected officials based on their platforms.  
And it isn't just conservatives and rich people who oppose taxing middle class inheritance.    Only when enough people understand that this system is perpetuating inequality will there by any chance of changing laws.  
At the same time, individuals have complete control over only their own actions.  I can't force the city to implement curbside recycling, but if I believe it makes a positive difference, I can save up my own recyclables and take them to the recycling center.
I can't change our dependance on oil, but I can bike to work and power my truck on used veggie oil.  If everyone did that, it wouldn't matter if the laws changed.  And if enough people thought it was a worthwhile goal, the laws would change.
Either way, its the same message I want to spread.
And either way, I personally want to avoid contributing to the problem.

I think that, if your analysis of economic disparity is correct, than it needs laws limiting inheritance (&/or greatly taxing it) to make change on a scale large enough to make a difference.  Expecting conscientious individuals to do it alone, is like expecting a few to lose their houses to the IRS for refusing to pay taxes due to war, while the wars go on unaffected by the actions of so few.  Though I suppose it may be helpful to get people thinking about this stuff.  But I still question the efficacy of sacrificing your personal inheritance for an imagined change in our unjust economic environment.

That's the thing though!  Its actually perfect, because of the two unrelated things: inheritance has a negative effect on society, and it also has a small or zero positive effect (or even possibly a negative effect) on the individual!  It fits together perfectly (like how me riding my bike to work saves me money and provides healthy exercise).  There is a perfect convergence.  It is Win-Win.

One more point I want to make in reference to motivation.  You clearly think assistance (if you say "too much assistance," than I can agree) is de-motivating.  Has it ever occurred to you that many people are motivated to work and produce in order to provide for their children, and that if you denied them the ability to do that, they will be much less productive? 

Absolutely!  In fact, when I argue inheritance with conservatives this is a point they bring up often.
If someone has gotten so much wealth that it now has zero marginal utility in their own lives (there is nothing left they want to buy), then I am VERY ok with them not continuing to "be productive" (build wealth).
This is just suggesting that if people couldn't pass wealth on to children, they would stop amassing wealth once they had enough.
GOOD!  That means less inequality.  That means the job they continue to hold even though they don't need it becomes available to someone else.  We have no need to maximize productivity in this country.  We have more than we need already, as clearly evidenced by how much stuff we throw away, how much we put in storage, how much we replace things that are still useable.
But getting into the economics of infinite growth is a whole different topic...

The idea of just working for the public good without any personal incentive to work harder did not work very well in many of the communist countries where that was attempted, leading to a return to private enterprise in Russia, China and even in Cuba.

Now you are completely changing the subject!  I never said people should not be able to earn more money to buy themselves luxuries in their own lifetime.  In communist countries people received a fixed, subsistence level wage, no matter how hard they worked.  So the person who works 80 hours and innovates lives in the same house as someone who works 35 and does the bare minimum.  No incentive.  I am not suggesting people work "only for the common good".  I am suggesting that "parent" and "child" are not a single unit with interchangeable parts.  

My own analysis of what would make a fairer economic system & environment without denying people the ability to provide their children with any of the financial fruits of the parent's labor, is to try to even things out better through taxation.  I have no problem with laws to tax inheritance, and to heavily tax extremely large gifts.  Personally, I think that is the best way to deal with the issue. But even that gets huge push-back from the population, especially the rich.  I don't think your idea to do away with inheritance altogether is ever going to fly.  I especially don't think the 99% are going to be willing deny their own children while the rich families continue to hoard the mass of the wealth.  Case in point: [I am] willing to skip a generation to ensure that my descendants (whether biological or adopted) reap some of the benefits of my labor.  If even I am this corrupt (or "selfish"), one can hardly expect the rest of society to do away with inheritance altogether, don’t you think?

I think this is a very culturally ingrained idea.  It is not as universal as you seem to assume: Japan, for example, has a 55% inheritance tax.  More significantly, most of the developed world has an exemption on the order of $100-400k, compared to the US 5 million.  In other words, it applies to much of the middle class.
For example: http://www.uhy.com/uk-imposes-highest-taxes-on-inheritance-of-all-major-economies/

True, every culture has some non-zero degree of inheritance just like every culture has some degree of violence, drug abuse, and xenophobia.  But, as with those things, they degree is highly variable, and  cultures with inheritance taxes that apply to more people also have significantly less income inequality, and significantly less poverty.  The US has the largest exemptions of any country (that has any inheritance of gift taxes at all), and it also has the most inequality. 

I think that considering how many people care about race and poverty, and how strongly, that if more people considered the link between middle class family economic choices and society as a whole, we might eventually start to see change. 
I think if we don't, we are guaranteed not to - and the tragedies we have seen on the news every few months will just continue to accelerate as well meaning activists and attention seeking media continue to foment a race war.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you ask a question, I will answer it.

NEW: Blogger finally put in a system to be notified of responses to your comments! Just check the box to the right, below, before you hit "publish"