Friday, July 17, 2015

Ethos and the welfare state.

The OECD Secretariat released recently (November 2014) a revealing summary (pdf) of public social expenditure by OECD countries. The database the study is based on is available online. (Private social expenditure--i.e. private charity--is not covered by this post.) Social expenditure being defined as:
Social expenditure comprises cash benefits, direct in-kind provision of goods and services, and tax breaks with social purposes. ... To be considered "social", programmes have to involve either redistribution of resources across households or compulsory participation. Social benefits are classified as public when general government (that is central, state, and local governments, including social security funds) controls the relevant financial flows.
I was struck by the graph adjacent, covering specifically paid-in-cash benefits, which indicates that Anglo, Dutch and Scandinavian welfare states are strongly downwardly redistributive (i.e. the bottom income quintile receives a larger share of social expenditure than the top income quintile; and the former can be reasonably assumed to pay less tax than the latter) while the Mediterranean states are strongly upwardly distributive (i.e. the top income quintile receives a larger share of social expenditure than the bottom income quintile: one cannot say upwardly re-distributive, because that requires look at share of tax revenues). And, regarding present debates over fiscal austerity in the Eurozone: cutting public expenditure in states with downwardly redistributive social expenditure is likely to mean something rather different than doing so in states with upwardly distributive social expenditure.

There seemed to be some patterns in the data, so I downloaded said social expenditure data, added in data on economic freedom and (via Wikipedia's useful lists) on religious adherence as % of population and was able to generate various, somewhat striking, correlations.

Using the bottom quintile's share of social expenditure less the top quintile's share of social expenditure (in % points of total such expenditure) as an indicator of how downwardly distributive social expenditure was, there was no significant correlation (0.18) between the total level of social expenditure (as a share of GDP) and how downwardly distributive total social expenditure was. So, the level of public social expenditure as a share of GDP tells us literally nothing about how focused on helping low income folk such expenditure is.

Regulation fairy stories
There was quite a strong positive correlation (0.59) between the level of economic freedom and how downwardly distributive social expenditure was. Now, if you believe in the state-as-regulation-good-fairy story (the state typically regulates to improve overall social and economic outcomes), this may be a surprise.

If, however, one accepts that a significant amount of regulation is to favour selected groups and that, generally speaking, the higher the level of regulation the more this can be expected to be so, then this result will be unsurprising. (Not least because, as mechanisms of transparency and accountability are not infinitely elastic, so the more they have to cover the weaker they can be expected to operate.) Especially as the better connected, resourced and organised an interest group is, the more it is likely to be able to bend regulatory policy in its favour.

So, taking economic freedom to be an indicator of "neoliberalism", then the more neoliberal (other things being equal) your economic regime, the more downwardly distributive public social expenditure it tends to be. Shocking only if you accept the "bad fairies" theory of neoliberalism: which so many academics do; but, then, much of what academics write about neoliberalism is crap.

The deserving poor
There was quite a strong positive correlation (0.60) between the Protestant share of population and how downwardly distributive social expenditure was and a stronger positive correlation (0.64) with the no-religion share of population.  (It was clear from the sources that, depending on context, people would nominate both a religious identity and as being of no religion: I took that to mean they were culturally Protestant, Catholic, etc.) So actual and cultural Protestants, and folk with no religious belief, apparently tend to believe in the deserving poor: i.e. that welfare expenditure should be downwardly re-distributive.

This was capturing something specific, because the correlations between between the Protestant share of population and the level of economic freedom (0.47) and between the no-religion share of population and the level of economic freedom (0.36), though positive, were not as strong. 

Protestantism I would characterise as "naked before God" religion, since one has direct access to the basic religious authority (Scripture) and is entitled to make one's own judgement about it. Folk with no religion can be expected to generally also believe in a strong sense of individual moral sovereignty.

So, my tentative hypothesis would be that a confidence in one's own moral judgements (and the sense of moral sovereignty that flows from that) apparently encourages social expenditure to be downwardly redistributive: what perhaps might be called a strong sense of the deserving poor. Perhaps because it encourages considering people by fairly direct, and directly identifiable, notions of worthiness (in this case, lack of income).

Preserving rank
A very different result was gained if the Catholic+Orthodox+Muslim share of population were added together, because then there was a strongly negative correlation (-0.70) between said share of population and how downwardly distributive social expenditure was.

Again, something specific is going on, as the correlation between the Catholic+Orthodox+Muslim share of population and economic freedom, though negative, was not as high (-0.48). In keeping with the level of social expenditure not being a key factor, there was no significant correlation (-0.08) between the Catholic+Orthodox+Muslim share of population and public social expenditure as a share of GDP.

Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Islam I would characterise as "priests and clerics give detailed instructions" forms of religion. They involve both hierarchical notions of moral authority and complex moral maps--since it is in the interest of gatekeepers of righteousness to promote moral complexity, as it inflates their role. You probably don't need a priest or cleric to tell you that murder is bad; you probably do need them to tell you whether you need to wash your hair every time after you have sex or how to expiate specific sins.  

The combination of moral complexity and moral hierarchy apparently leads to public social expenditure which reflects, even reinforces, existing social rankings. Thereby leading to much less policy weight being given to such a direct characteristic as (low) level of income. Remembering that complexity of any sort is a great way to obscure who is receiving what.

Ethos matters
So, ethos appears to matter, given that there is such a vast difference between the apparent connection between Protestantism (religious or cultural) (0.60) and no-religion (0.64) on one side, and Catholic+Orthodox+Muslim share of population on the other (-0.70), and how downwardly distributive public social expenditure tends to be.

One possible mechanism via which religious roots of cultural perspectives could matter is different perspectives on time. The work of psychologist Philip Zimbardo and others on time perspectives (pdf), suggests that higher self-trusting, future-oriented Protestants might be more likely to think that the state should concentrate on those who need help. Conversely, lower self-trusting Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims who are more past or present oriented may think the state should do more for everyone regardless of current situation.

The former will lead to more downwardly distributive social expenditure, the latter much less so. Especially as, once it is accepted everyone should receive, the better organised and connected are much better place to, well, so receive.

Whatever the actual mechanism by which the observed effects happen, the data does clearly suggest that policy, over time, reflects the choices of the voters. Choices that appear, in turn, to significantly reflect what moral ethos is dominant among voters.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Rotten Heart of Europe

Bernard Connolly's The Rotten Heart of Europe: Dirty War for Money is a jeremiad against European monetary union first published in 1995. Its publication led to the author's sacking from the European Commission, where he had been senior monetary and foreign exchange economist. This is not, as Connolly a matter of saying the "Emperor has no clothes" but that, in his words, the Emperor is "ugly and sickeningly malodorous".

It is entirely within keeping with the book's analysis that the European Court of Justice referred to the book as:
aggressive, derogatory and insulting.
Apparently the Court took, in the words of the above news report:
particular umbrage at the author's suggestion that Economic and Monetary Union was a threat to democracy, freedom and "ultimately peace".
While the Court did not ultimately go there, the Court had been invited to consider the book analogous to blasphemy. (No, I'm not making this up.) Europe, with a capital EU, really is a substitute religion, a secular Faith.

A new of edition of The Rotten Heart of Europe was issued in 2011, with a new introduction. The ongoing Eurozone crisis puts Connolly in the position of Robert Conquest (at least as suggested by Conquest's friend Kingsley Amis): I told you so, you fucking fools. The author notes in said introduction:
That no-one dared to attack the book's economic analysis but that the book's author was subjected to a concerted campaign of vilification says much about the nature and purpose of monetary union.
The book reads very much as an insider expose, because Connolly was very much an insider. It is fairly obvious he can describe various meetings and events so vividly because he was there (or worked with people who were: as a former policy bureaucrat, I can testify such folk are incurable gossips).

The book is an enlightening, if depressing, read. Depressing for an outsider living in an economy which has avoided so much of this nonsense; if you and yours actually had to live through the ill-effects, it might make you as angry as the author.

The book does lurch into hyperbole at points (particularly in the introduction written for the 2011 re-issue). But hyperbole is the vice of the impassioned, and the author has plenty to be angry about. Since it is about monetary policy and the effects thereof, the book could have done with an introductory primer--following the balance of payments, interest rates, etc interactions is a bit of an ask for a lay reader, even though Connolly is a clear writer and, if you persevere, explanations are generally forthcoming.

ERM as Euro precursor
The book covers the rise, operation and collapse of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) and the use of the ERM as a springboard to Monetary Union--i.e. the Euro. It is a "how did we get here?" book, for the ERM, in its creation, reason for existence and operation was completely the precursor to the Euro: monetary union was always the aim. The ERM was the Euro, mark 1: the Euro is the ERM, mark 2. All the problems, failures and difficulties of the Euro were already on display with the ERM; but not as bad, because the Euro is far more constraining and the democratic deficit now bites even deeper.

The Euro is far more constraining because, while one could leave the ERM with a press release, leaving a common currency is much harder, as the Greeks are wrestling with. But that made the Euro more attractive to the Europeanising networks, not less, for it insulated their power-and-connection games against external disturbance.

A floating exchange rate is an economic shock absorber, a fixed exchange rate an economic shock transmitter. The stability of the Australian economy since the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) adopted a broad inflation target in 1992-93 has been based on the ability of (changes in) the exchange rate to absorb economic shocks, making it much easier for the RBA to keep total spending on goods and services in the economy on a fairly even path.

That is why Optimum Currency Area (OCA) theory considers what alternative shock absorbers economies have (specifically factor mobility and fiscal coverage) in examining how suitable territories are to share a common currency. That is why economist Paul Krugman entitled his paper on the Euro debacle Revenge of the Optimum Currency Area (and added financial integration to needed shock absorbers). As Connolly writes in his 2011 introduction:
The great ... mistake ... was that monetary union simply converted currency risk (the risk that a certain government's bonds might be devalued, in terms of another currency) into credit risk (the risk that a government might simply be unable to pay its creditors).
Hence the Greek tragedy.

The European Faith
The "coordinated" exchange rates of the ERM again and again magnified economic shocks, to the detriment of participating economies. Rather than the failure of the ERM leading to a rethinking of the project, the European elite "doubled down", going all the way to the Euro. Creating, if somewhat delayed, a much worse set of difficulties, problems and failures. Fairly clearly, they will not willingly abandon the Euro project, but want to "double down" again, using the ongoing crises to create an even higher level of policy, financial and political integration.

All of which is based on a deep interweaving of faith and interest. The faith is A Single Europe; the interest is the status, career paths, financial handouts and poorly (or simply un)accountable power the EU system provides. What Connolly refers to, in his 2011 Introduction, as:
a self-serving transnational nomenklatura made up of interlocking political, bureaucratic, business, financial, academic and media elites.
The book makes it clear, as it had long been to those with eyes to see, that the European Union's democratic deficit is not a bug, but a feature.

Connection uber alles
One of the perennial questions amongst folk who prefer their economic policy to be of the liberalising kind is how does France manage it? It seems to continually "break the rules" yet create a successful society and economy (well, mostly successful; let's ignore the suppurating social sores of the les banlieue). Reading The Rotten Heart provides useful basis for understanding how it is managed; through technical excellence, insider meritocracy, and corporate life operated as one vast insider trading exercise.
  • If the French builds something, it works.  This simple technical capacity provides a pervasive advantage and support for the broader system.
  • Their grande ecole system produces extremely well-trained, skilled and self-confident (indeed, somewhat ruthless) bureaucrats. Bureaucrats embued with a deep belief in, even reverence for, the State.  A reverence that easily translates into faith in Europe and the European superstate being built.
  • Networks and connections are keys to corporate life. The return to information (particularly regarding policy action) and certification comes from connection. As does ability to affect policy decisions in advance. 
Which is why the masters of the system tend to loath the "Anglo Saxons": not merely their success but their "casino markets" and excessive democracy.

It is not merely, as Connolly rather savagely puts it, that:
the French Establishment has never forgiven the Anglo-Saxon world for liberating the homeland from the Nazi occupation their incompetence and decadence had permitted (Ch.9).
(Just as, as their moral pretensions swell, the European elite cannot forgive Israel for the Holocaust.)

The 2005 riots: many local unpleasantnesses.
The combination of "Anglo-Saxon" economics (accepting the dynamism of open markets) and of "Anglo-Saxon" politics (governments as seriously responsible--British version--or accountable--Washington version--to their voters) is doubly subversive to the French elite's entire modus operandi. The "Anglo-Saxons" provide an identity to define oneself against and, in the case of the US, a counterpoint to seek to surpass. (One cannot really say "rival" because the US fails to feel threatened by European unity--indeed, actively promotes it; which is, if anything, even more infuriating.)

Open markets tend to dissipate the advantages of connection. Closed or restricted markets can accentuate it. For example, the difficulty in dismissing employees under French law raises the risks of employing new people and thus increases the advantage of certification and being in the correct networks. As Connolly writes of the French technocratic elite:
For them, economics is not only a subject invented and developed by Anglo-Saxons, it is a subject fit only for Anglo-Saxons and their decadent liberal democratic societies. The servants of the enarque state have no need of economics: they possess power instead (Ch.12).
I wonder if an Anglo-Saxon economist of working class origins found dealing with the such folk a bit wearing. On the other hand, he is talking of folk he dealt with professionally, for years. His is an informed antipathy.

Admirers of the Bundesbank might also profit from reading his informed, but jaundiced, view of its operations and performance. Having read Richard Hetzel's two (pdf) articles (pdf) on the history of German monetary policy in the C20th, I found Connolly's critique plausible but not surprising, though his observations on how much the Bundesbank relied on essentially managing (and stunting) the Frankfurt financial market were striking. (Which would make it somewhat similar to--but not, on Connolly's description, as bad as--the way the Japanese Finance Ministry does the same to the Tokyo financial market.)

Continental European corporations more generally have a level of state support and political cushioning that American corporations strive to achieve but ultimately fall short of. In Europe, particularly continental Europe, connection trumps, and generates, money. A game the French technocratic elite plays better than anyone else because they are so well trained to play it and believe in it so passionately.

EU as French state multiplier
The pattern of connection trumps, and generating money, is extended and reinforced by the EU; partly because said elite labours so mightily to make sure it does. As Connolly notes:
For France (as for Germany), a "level playing field" in the Single Market had always meant a slope steeply in their favour -- the result of the ERM and the Social Charter impositions, both intended to keep the 'peripheral' countries of the Community in a state of economic weakness and political dependency (Ch.13).
Flexible exchange rates allowed countries to evade the anti-competitive effects of the Social Charter and other EU regulations by devaluation. The ERM, and even better Monetary Union, cut that option off. As Connolly writes:
For the French elite, money is not the lubricant of the economy but the most important level of power (Ch.1).
Moreover, the less say the general public has over important matters of policy, the higher the return to connection and insider status is. So, elections are managed so both sides of politics (with the occasional backsliding) play the key games the same way.

(One of Syriza's fundamental flaws is that they actually want to play the same game too--that even more be done via state networks is not subversive, it is the pretence of it--yet the massive Greek indebtedness which brought them to power also casts them as supplicants; they get the attention of the Top Table folk, but not in a good way. Margaret Thatcher was more threateningly subversive of the EU than Alexis Tsipras could ever hope to be.)

Hence we get 'Corporatism in One Continent' as Connolly nicely labels it (Ch.2). Something which favours the established but provides no avenues for the up and coming (Ch.3). Hence also the attraction of monetary union:
Fix the exchange rate, neuter monetary policy, and then use the fear of macroeconomic instability as an excuse to stifle the dynamism of the capitalist process (Ch.3). 
Thus the effort invested in the ERM then and the Euro now. If reversion to independent floating currencies occurred:
... more than just 'monetary Europe' could be lost to France's corporatist, fonctionnaire, industrialist and financier class: 'Europe' itself, with its promise of 'Corporatism in One Continent' in which bureaucrats, indigenous multinationals and trade unions could hold at bay the tide of the Anglo-Saxon market economy could be at risk (Ch.9) 
The creation of a remarkably unaccountable central bank, as the European Central Bank (ECB) is, was very much not a defect of Monetary Union: despite differing conceptions of final outcomes between German and French EU-elites, they both found that highly desirable.

First the French manage the Germans (and vice versa) and then they manage everyone else, for:
The Franco-German axis is the Community, and the role of other members of the European Council is to give a ceremonial benediction to what the French and German leaders want to do (Ch1.).
One of the themes of the book is other countries trying to be "core" and not "periphery". But that is a status decided by the Franco-German connection, according to the interests thereof.

Accountability (or, rather, the lack of it) is at the heart of the problem. Particularly when one gives such power to an unaccountable central bank:
... politicians have at some point to confront the consequences of their mistakes; their unaccountable central bankers do not (Ch.10).
While the ECB embraced inflation targeting originally pioneered by New Zealand, the full New Zealand model of an explicit (indeed, performance-based) contract between central bank and elected government horrified European central bankers. Connolly warned:
... the trend toward greater interference by central bankers in explicitly political affairs, set in train by Maastricht, will be hard to arrest as long as the fools' paradise of EMU beckons (Ch.10, fn10).
The fools' paradise has arrived, and so has the predicted pattern. A pattern that has not fully run its course, and which Connolly feared, for:
an ECB would be a totally anti-democratic institution that hastened the decaying of political life in 'Europe' and a probably precursor to an authoritarian reaction to mounting chaos (Ch.13).
We are not there yet, but nor has the working out of the implications ended. Connolly summarises the ERM thusly:
The rules of the system were, from the outset, more important than its results, for the framing and interpretation of the rules determined the distribution of power between and within -- perhaps even over -- the Community countries (Ch.11).
As with the ERM, so also with the Euro.

Another theme of the book is that Britain can never really be at "the heart of Europe", in part because of a seriously divergent political culture:
For most people in Britain, politics is seen as providing a framework within which the constant balancing of the interests of different groups, or for that matter of different regions or countries, can proceed in legitimacy and reasonable harmony ... That idea of politics is, literally, foreign to French technocrats. What they are interested in is power -- first imposing their will on France and then imposing their conception of France's will on everyone else (Ch. 14).

The Church of EUrope
Reading this analysis of how the EU works, one is reminded of late medieval ("Renaissance") Catholic Europe and its interplay of doctrine and interest. Now the doctrine Is Ever Greater Union, and heretics (such as Connolly) are to be hunted down, denounced, and thrown into the outer darkness. (Actually, in Connolly's case, he seems to have had a nice post-Eurocrat career as a exchange rate analyst.) As Connolly puts it in his 2011 Introduction, the EU has no demos but
'Europe' has a right to arise because of its supposedly superior ethos and supposedly necessary telos.  
Nor has his righteous anger abated:
the absence of a European demos implies, given the strains produced by the efforts to create and maintain a monetary union, a ruthless, deceitful, malignant anarchy-imperial ethos reflecting a telos devoted to destroying law, democracy, accountability, legitimacy and to emerging victorious in a 'clash of civilisations'.
Go on, tell us what you really think.

Meanwhile, in counterpoint to the Church of EUrope, the Eurosceptics and enraged nationalists are the oikish Protestants, daring to want to decide things for themselves. Of course, those damned Protestants actually did rather well for themselves; as, in the long run, the combination of more open cognitive systems, nakedness before God and personal sovereignty created increasingly more dynamic societies.

It was a bit of a revelation to discover that "growth-positive fiscal austerity" was originally ERMonomics, just as it has now become Euronomics. As an aside, countries such as Australia, Norway, Denmark, the UK have unusually downwardly redistributive (pdf) welfare states: fiscal "austerity" implies something rather different in such societies than it does in the upwardly distributive Mediterranean states. (The share of GDP spent by government on welfare is actually a very poor measure of how redistributive a welfare system is.)

Though the blogosphere metaphor of Calvinism (i.e. rigid theologising) to describe those who insist that everyone is to blame, and everything is to be done, except examine the role of the ECB and the entire Euro project, comes across as even more appropriate. Connolly argues that an underlying notion of the ongoing General Will is used to trump mere elections. Hence the response to the (narrow) rejection of the Treaty of Maastricht by Danish voters in June 1992:
The Treaty of Rome be damned, they said in effect, a few thousand Danish votes one way or another could not be allowed to stop the March of History, to frustrate the General Will as decided by the political bosses in the countries that really mattered (Ch.6).
Framings for ignorance
Reading Connolly's book, I am struck by the power of Scott Sumner's point that so many people--including policy makers--simply do not understand monetary economics:
... monetary policy failures are not about special interest politics. There is an almost mindboggling lack of understanding of monetary theory at the top levels of government. The entire world economy is resting on the hope that a few sane people like Haruhiko Kuroda can keep their head and keep NGDP chugging along while the rest of the political establishment careens recklessly from one extreme to the other.
But policy makers do have framings through which they view the world, so they just apply the framing to matters of monetary policy that makes sense to them on other grounds. 

So, in the absence of genuine understanding, those who worship at the altar of the state apply those framings to monetary policy. Those who get wrapped up in signalling Virtue apply that framing to monetary policy. Supporting the ERM and Monetary Union was the way, par excellence, to signal what a Good European you were.

Hence also conservatives tend to instinctively go for hard money policies, because it fits in with their social order concerns--they naturally think that devaluing money (so undermining proper order) is the worst thing you can do to it. (Not even close to true, but then you would have to understand monetary economics to realise that hard money and sound money are very much not the same.) There is quite a history of economically liberalising (or at least liberal) right-of-centre governments being brought down by hard money obsessions.

Which is part of the story Connolly has to tell--how Thatcher's otherwise very able Chancellor of the Exchequer (1983-89) Nigel Lawson's obsession with having the Pound Sterling shadow the Deutschmark stoked the boom-and-bust that helped fatally weaken Thatcher's Premiership. Connolly clearly admires Lawson, who comes across as the tragic hero of the story.

Margaret Thatcher, who proved to be entirely correct about the problems of the ERM and of the proposed Monetary Union, is the book's fallen hero and martyr, since her fall made the path to disaster all but inevitable (and, Connolly argues, was at least partly engineered by Europeanising networks). Bundesbank President (1991-93) Helmut Schlesinger is admired for his commitment to German national interests, sense for German public opinion, and his strategic skill (particularly as he used it to effectively destroy the ERM).

The book has too many villains to count. Though Banque de France chief Jean-Claude Trichet is treated with thinly veiled contempt and Thatcher's successor John Major with open contempt.

As an Australian reader, the constant political and policy dramas, the twists, distortions (and at times outright lies) engaged in to "defend" some particular exchange rate just seems mad. Which, if your goal is good economic policy for people in your society, it is. But the combination of portentous ignorance, faith and self-interest operating in a milieu of sabotaged accountability produced this madness, fed on it, and spiralled it up to even grander madness. Leading to the Eurozone having to beware of Greeks bearing debts and forcing deals which not only won't work, but can't, even in theory. But what is elementary economic and fiscal logic to Faith in Europe?

Though some mordant humour is to be had:
The Bonn summit was a classic example of international economic 'coordination': one country agrees to something that is bad for it on condition that another country does something equally bad for it (Ch.2).
Or, on the Major Government's ultimately failed attempt to be in the ERM:
Instead, the government resorted to the tried, tested and failed methods of the 1960s and 1970s: bravado, declarations of undying and irrevocable commitment to the parity, insinuations that sterling would soon enter narrow bands, sneering denunciations of anyone who suggested a change in policy on the exchange rate (Ch.6).
Needless to say, the final outcome was--a change in policy on the exchange rate (ejection from the ERM and a floating exchange rate).

But, as Connolly notes of international coordination:
'The masters of the world' inevitably prefer 'coordination' to competition as a way of arriving at the desired result, simply because the processes of international 'coordination' increased their own influence, prestige and insulation from political accountability (Ch.7).
Not that Connolly was a perfect predictor. The ECB proved to be much tougher on inflation than he expected, and much more independent of the French politicians than he (or, for that matter, folk such as Mitterand) expected. But that was the outcome of French and German elites managing each other.

Cognitive closure
What comes across strongly in the book (and the history of the Euro since) is what a disastrous engine of cognitive closure signalling Virtue can be. Conservatism is prone to its own forms of cognitive closure: in recent decades, they have tended to matter much less since conservatives have so little role or influence over educational, academic, cultural, literary and intellectual life. In the case of the ERM and the Euro, many conservatives were very much wrapped up in signalling being Good Europeans, so ended up helping to build bricks in the wall of cognitive closure.

A wall of cognitive closure from which a constant public barrage was mounted, leading Connolly, in his introduction to the 1995 edition, to quote political scientist Leonard Schapiro's famous analysis of propaganda:
the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.
And dissent against Virtue is wicked, so need not be engaged with, merely denounced as signs of a deformity of moral character. As Connolly writes in the final sentences of his book:
On this question, as on every other question about the ERM and monetary union, the propaganda steamroller attempts to flatten analysis. For analysis can only mean dissent. And dissent cannot be tolerated.
Cognitive closure indeed. And yet, all those Virtuous Europeans were so wrong, and Margaret Thatcher was so right.

But only if you care about economic consequences; particularly the way mass unemployment blights lives.* But the Good Europeans clearly don't (or they care about others things a whole lot more). The have their Faith and their Connections and that is clearly more than enough for them.

If you want to see their ugly and shockingly malodorous world in operation, then The Rotten Heart of Europe is a guided tour therein.  The book is 20 years old, but still explains so much of what is happening in Europe now.

*A lot of which is caused by supply-side restrictions, but they are also part of the EU game, as played variously in different countries. And post-2008, by the policies of the ECB.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

When the three languages of US politics get in the way

Economist Arnold Kling, who blogs here, has provided a useful framing of American political debate as divided into three languages of politics. He discusses his framing with economist Russ Roberts here, and his analysis is usefully discussed here. The three languages are:
  • the conservative barbarism-civilisation axis, 
  • the progressive oppressors-oppressed axis, and 
  • the libertarian freedom-coercion axis.
None of them provide a useful way of thinking about the overall situation of African-Americans in the US. Certainly there are elements of the experiences and circumstances of African-Americans which the various languages can get some hold of; but that is actually a negative, because it invites conflation of that one element into becoming the entire perspective on the overall situation of African-Americans.

One-frame progressives
Starting with the typical progressive approach (since it tends to be the noisiest), the issue is racism--oppression of African-Americans, the oppressed--it is always racism and if you don't see that it is always racism then you are probably a closet (or not so closet) racist yourself. For if you are disagreeing with the analysis that it is all about racism--which it so "clearly" is--then you are condoning racism.

Since racism explains remarkably little about the current overall patterns and dilemmas of African-Americans (however much to do with how we got here--not the same thing) yelling "racism!" constantly is mostly enormously unhelpful for any other purpose than signalling Virtue. But since it is very, very useful for that, there is no sign it is going to stop any time soon.

I have previously argued that slavery and its legacies explain much more about the present situation of African-Americans than racism--especially as American racism itself is very much part of the legacy of slavery. And slavery is, of course, a system of (profound) oppression. That there is a long history of oppression of, and racism against, African-Americans does provide a clear oppressor-oppression narrative about African-Americans. Alas, it really does not actually explain nearly as much as its propounders believe. The legacy of past oppression can be, and is, a lot broader than the current, remarkably pale, shadows of the same. Nor is oppression the only theme or factor in African-American history: still less in their current circumstances.

There is a sub-version of the progressive position which adds in "culture of poverty"--African-Americans are oppressed by a culture of poverty which is a legacy of racism and slavery. This approach goes back at least to the (later Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report The Negro Family: the Case for National Action (pdf): though his report is rather more specific and empirically grounded.

Now, as I have previously posted, I am not keen on the culture of poverty explanation either as it appears to answer the question before asking and because, like racism, it is analytical "silly putty"--it can be shoved into any shape to cover the required analytical hole. Besides, it is largely rejected as an explanation among progressives in place of, you guessed it, racism.

One-frame conservatives
Conservatism have their own answer to the situation of African-Americans--more civilisation, less barbarism. Now, there is variance between those who think essentially all African-Americans are barbarians who have to be kept in line (a widespread view once upon a time, rather less so now: it was strongly part of the rhetoric justifying Jim Crow and segregation) and those who think the African-Americans community suffers from too many barbarians, which more civilisation would keep in line.

A sophisticated version of this would be that African-Americans have not fully been through sociologist Norbert Elias's civilising process. Which may well have something to it, particularly regarding the high levels of violence (and that it is much the same among African-Americans and jurisdictions of majority African slave descent as the African west coast source population). Especially so, given that African-Americans have hardly experienced American history and the American state as have other Americans--a point conservatives (and quite a few libertarians) tend to be very poor at grasping. As the (later Justice) Clarence Thomas pointed out to the Cato Institute: that freedom had been eroding since the Revolution was not how history had been experienced by African-Americans.

If we consider African-Americans as a particular ethnicity, shaped by common experiences--which is analytically much more fruitful than thinking of them as a racial group (especially given the rising migration of people of African descent who do not share those experiences)--then applying Elias's analysis is well worth considering. Especially as current African-American homicide rates are positively sedate by medieval European standards and unremarkable by C16th and C17th European or North American colonial standards.

Returning to current conservative views, a very clear manifestation of this civilisation-versus-barbarism outlook is this discussion (pdf) of what it is like to teach black kids. It is massively stereotypical in its language--full of whites do this and blacks do that--but it is pervaded by the language of civilisation (white) versus barbarism (blacks). (If one gets past it being far too black-and-white, it is also a rather depressing testimony.) Another former teacher reacts to the article by talking more neutrally of the difficulty in teaching black kids while a selection of comments to the original piece is here.

So, just as with the the problem is racism response, there are certainly things to point to give the civilisation versus barbarism response some legs. But not nearly as much as proponents think. Consider this example of successful reduction of gang violence in California. It is much more a process of broad civic engagement than imposing civilisation or "being tough" with the barbarians. (A version of which was previous LAPD policy, and a comprehensive failure it was too.)

The biggest single problem with this approach is the same as that with the oppression-oppressor axis; it excludes consideration of alternative factors. Such as, for example, that the African-American experience of American history and the American state has been very different from that of other Americans.

When there is yet another problematic incident with police in the US, the standard conservative response to the claims of racism! will be a "soft on crime" response: police have to impose order, you are getting in the way of that, you are being "soft on crime", risking the lives, person and property of the wider society. Having decided that racism is not a factor, then any invoking of the same will be labelled "race-baiting". The possibility that the US might have a broader problem with feral law enforcement gets excluded (as it also does, of course, with cries of "its racism!"). Which is surely the take-away point about those incidents which also involve black police officers or white civilians.

In both cases, the proponents cry their equivalent of "wolf!" way too often and way too loudly, which gets in the way of being more broadly persuasive when they do have a point: sometimes it really is racism, sometimes there really is a threat to civilised order.

The libertarian half-answer
One group who are more likely to approach the performance of law enforcement in the US with precisely such broad scepticism are libertarians. When they do pay attention to the situation of African-Americans (it is not exactly a hot topic among libertarians) their response is likely to be along the lines of too much state coercion: in particular, that the "war on drugs" is much of the problem.

Well, yes, the war on drugs has particularly adverse effects on the African-American community. But pointing to the war on drugs hardly explains why. Talking about African-Americans as living in more vulnerable communities just raises the question of why this is so: which the war on drugs point provides no basis for. Given that slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), and Jim Crow overturned by the Civil Rights Acts, talking about African-Americans as victims of past state coercion (while certainly true) is not much help in tackling present problems.

Indeed, as David Boaz points out, that history is often something of an embarrassment to US libertarians, who have their own heroic narrative of American history: though their's is typically one of decline from a more gloriously free past which, for African-Americans (and lots of other folk) just ain't so.

No way in
So, the preferred framings of progressives, conservatives and libertarians in the US are each quite poor at providing a full picture of the social patterns and dilemmas of African-Americans. Worse, they tend to be used to blot out what parts of other framings do have value and to wildly exaggerate the coverage of their own. No wonder public debate in the US is both so polarised and keeps "circling the drain" when it comes to the problems and prospects of African-Americans.
From here: uses median household income, not individual income.
African-Americans tend to have smaller households than Hispanics.

But it is worse than that, because African-Americans are not merely seriously badly served by public debate in the US, they are also seriously badly served by the political process in the US. Part of the problem is obvious: they essentially have a monopoly political provider--the Democratic Party. They overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and seem to be thoroughly "rusted on" Democrats: indeed, appear to be the most thoroughly "rusted on" group. (With Southern whites the next most "rusted on" group--but to the Republicans.) So Republicans have little or no incentive to seriously consider African-American issues.

But it is worse than that. Not only do African-Americans effectively have only one political provider, they tend to live in one-Party jurisdictions: that is, metropolitan areas where the Republicans are not competitive. Ironically, the decline in overall levels of crime have helped make the Republicans less competitive. So Democrats also do not have much incentive to seriously consider African-American issues--they get their votes anyway, with only concerns about turnout to provide some edge to that.

Republicans may be competitive (even dominant) at a State level, but have little incentive to apply themselves to urban issues of the large metropolises. Precisely the places where African-Americans tend to live. With teacher and other public service unions key providers of money and activists to the Democratic Party, there is even less incentive from the political class of large metropolises to look critically at the supply of public services to, and the effects of policy on, African-Americans. Especially as blaming racism at every opportunity provides splendid displacement and cover.

So, dominant frameworks of public debate which narrow what is considered and by whom; having an effective monopoly political provider across all levels of politics; and living in one-Party jurisdictions at a metropolitan level. There are not much grounds for optimism that public policy will start working better for African-Americans.

Wanted: a discovery process
Surely the most impressive political mobilisation in C20th US politics was the (overwhelmingly black-led and organised) civil rights movement. But it had a clear focus and plenty of entirely righteous passion to back it up.

What is needed now is not that single-minded focus, but a discovery process where different policies, efforts and means are experimented with, to see what works and what does not. There is always some of that going on--the US is a large and diverse country. But discovery cannot happen if choices are constrained by monopoly-interest politics and closed cognitive frameworks.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The poisonous legacy of slavery and the US race tangle

In his book War, Peace, War: The Life Cycle of Imperial Nations, historical demographer Peter Turchin argues that the mass slavery of the Roman Empire--which was at is most intense in Sicily and Southern Italy--is still depressing the social capital of the area centuries later; that the socially disintegrative effects of mass slavery can persist long after the institution has been abolished. When I read it, I thought it was a big claim. In looking into American homicide and the history of American racism, I have come to have rather more sympathy for the claim.

It is not merely that the anti-black racism of the Americas and the Arab world originates in slavery and slavery across a colour line creates racism, and of a particularly invidious sort. (Racism does not cause slavery, as slavery long predates anything we might call racism.) It is that the legacy of slavery continues to poison societies and human interactions.

I have no patience for the claim that the US Civil War was not about slavery--a simple reading of the Confederate Constitution disabuses one of that canard. (Particularly a clause-by-clause comparison.) What is slightly more odd is conservative resistance to the notion that slavery might have enduring effects. Surely much of the central point of conservatism is that cultural effects can be resilient and unexpected, hence being cautious about major social changes.

About culture
While I have long been sceptical about cultural explanations ("the last refuge of the analytically bereft"), especially as they can be used as the analytical equivalent of "silly putty"--put in any shape wanted and shoved in to fit any required analytical use--I have become more sympathetic to use of cultural explanations, if done carefully. In particular, when one looks at cultural friction effects--difficulties in communications and lack of shared expectations and preferences (see my post on problems with South Asian call centres)--and if one takes a careful and precise approach--as was done by Kenneth Pollack and his Ph.D dissertation (The influence of Arab culture on Arab military effectiveness) turned book (Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991) culture can be a useful explanatory tool. (Though see here for a more critical take on Pollack's analysis.)

There also seems to be a difference between those aspects of culture which respond (often surprisingly quickly) to changes in incentives and those which are more resistant to change. A point emphasised by economist Deepak Lal. First, he tries to get some precision into the concept of culture (pdf):
... culture remains a murky concept. I have found particularly useful a definition adopted by ecologists (Colinvaux 1983). They emphasize that, unlike other animals, the human one is unique because its intelligence gives it the ability to change its environment by learning. It does not have to mutate into a new species to adapt to the changed environment. It learns new ways of surviving in the new environment and then fixes those ways by social customs. These form the culture of the relevant group and are transmitted to new members (mainly children) who then do not have to invent the “new” ways de novo for themselves.
Noting that:
This conception of culture fits in well with the economists’ notion of equilibrium. Frank Hahn (1973) describes an equilibrium state as one in which self-seeking agents learn nothing new, so that their behavior is routinized. It represents an adaptation by agents to the economic environment in which the economy “generates messages which do not cause agents to change the theories which they hold or the policies which they pursue”. Such routinized behavior closely resembles the ecologists’ notion of social custom, which creates a particular human niche.
Lal goes on to distinguish two levels of culture:
It is useful to distinguish two major sorts of beliefs about the environment: the material and the cosmological beliefs of a particular culture. The former relate to ways of making a living and encompass beliefs about the material world, particularly about the economy. The latter are related to understanding mankind’s place in the world; they determine how people view the purpose and meaning of their lives and their relationship to others. There is considerable cross-cultural evidence that material beliefs are more malleable than cosmological ones. Material beliefs can change rapidly with changes in the material environment. There is greater hysteresis of cosmological beliefs, that is, of ideas about how, in Plato’s words, “one should live.” Moreover, the cross-cultural evidence shows that these worldviews correlate more closely with language groups (and thus with cultural origins) than with environments (Hallpike 1986).
A striking manifestation of culture mattering is a study comparing (pdf) US children of African descent raised by white mothers with those raised by black mothers. There is no reason to assume that African-Americans have the same cultural and social capital as wider American society, and much reason to think not. Having a white mother is likely to change both the (cultural) presumptions brought to child-raising and the networks one has access to (a large part of social capital) compared to being raised by a black mother. The study finds that being raised by a white mother massively reduces black-white differences in education and employment. That the study only compares African-Americans raised by white mothers with those raised by black mothers limits what one can infer from it. But it is highly suggestive.

Also highly suggestive is the success of Afro-Caribbean migrants and recent African migrants, and their children, in the US and the UK, as noted in this piece. I find the evidence on that much more interesting than the argument over IQ tests and the hereditary influence on intelligence (also, the piece does not understand regression to the mean).

On the other hand, the focus on ethnic groups is much more sensible than tired and pointless general racial comparisons--and the long-established African-American population in the US is clearly a specific ethnic group with a specific history and selection processes, an example of ethnogenesis. (They have a much longer grounding as a specific ethnic group than do, for example, Palestinians as a nation; which Palestinians clearly are now but weren't in, say, 1919.)

The success of Afro-Caribbean migrants and recent African migrants, and their children, in the US and the UK also gets in the way of racism as a blanket explanation for problematic social outcomes for the long-established African-American population: or even of reading too much into the observable phenomenon of unconscious discrimination and familiarity preference.

Note that racism is a classic analytical "silly putty", as it can be shaped to fit just about any pattern of observed differences by race or ethnicity. Something that its cachet in signalling Virtue exacerbates, though its precisely its apparent analytical ubiquity which makes it so useful in doing so: a utility which may well extend into published academic studies

West African coast versus New World post-slavery homicide rates
The paper comparing African-American children of black and white mothers suggests one mechanism for having a white mother making such a difference in speech patterns. Using distinctive African-American speech (aka "ghetto talk" or, more positively, ebonics) reduces employment opportunities because it signals difference from employers, their likely staff, clients and customers. It also invokes unhelpful associations. The most notorious of which is the much higher homicide rates for African-Americans--around 6 times higher than for other Americans: the differentiation between black and non-black teenagers being higher still (around 20 times higher). 

Looking at comparative statistics on homicide rates, I had a strong suspicion that the legacy of slavery had a lot to do with the elevated African-American homicide rates. Looking more closely at the data, that does not seem to be the case.

If we look at homicide rates of the 11 countries from which over 80% of African slaves in the US came directly from (Angola 10.0 per 100,000, Cameroon 7.6, Congo 12.5, Gambia 10.2, Ghana 6.1, Ivory Coast 13.6, Liberia 3.2, Namibia 17.2, Nigeria 20.0, Democratic Republic of Congo 28.3), then African-Americans (15.2 per 100,000) have a higher homicide rate than all but three of those countries. 

Yet the slavery-source countries have a population-weighted average homicide rate of 17.9, as the Democratic Republic of Congo (77.4m) and Nigeria (174.6m) are the demographic giants, accounting for two-thirds of the total population of the 11 countries and with the two highest homicide rates. So, on that basis, the African-American homicide rate looks rather more like that of their original source populations.

Even if we cast our comparison wider to the homicide rates of the 18 jurisdictions with a majority African slave origins, many of which have very small populations (Anguilla 7.5 per 100,000, Antigua & Barbuda 11.2, Bahamas 29.8, Barbados 7.4, British Virgin Islands 8.4, Bermuda 7.7, Dominica 21.1, Grenada 13.3, Guadeloupe 7.9, Haiti 10.2, Jamaica 39.3, Martinique 2.7, Montserrat 20.4, Saint Kitts & Nevis 33.6, Saint Lucia 21.6, Saint Vincent 25.6, Turks & Caicos 6.6, US Virgin Islands 52.6), 8 such jurisdictions have higher homicide rates than African-Americans.  Nevertheless, the weighted average homicide rate of said jurisdictions is 16.5 (driven by Haiti--66% of the population--and Jamaica--19%), much the same as the African-American homicide rate and also rather like that of the source populations.

So, if not evidence for a slavery effect and its persistence, it does appear to be evidence for the importance of the source population in homicide rates. I would be sceptical, however, of any strong claim of genetic effects, as slavery was a very specific selection process, so it is very unlikely--even presuming a strong hereditary element in intelligence and other traits--that we could just infer across from source to slave populations. Conversely, even with the socially pulverising effect of slavery, culture would be significantly transferred. Social capital much less so, and would have to be rebuilt from a very low base after the abolition of slavery (1804 in independent Haiti, 1833-8 in British colonies, 1848 in French colonies, 1863 in Dutch colonies, 1865 in the US, 1869 Portuguese colonies, 1873 in Spanish Puerto Rico, 1886 in Spanish Cuba).

What it is clear evidence for, however, is that the elevated African-American homicide rates have little or nothing do with racism. Not only are they in line with jurisdictions with majority African or African-descent populations, they are compatible with jurisdictions which have had full black participation in political life for well over a century. Even in the US, they also occur in cities which have high levels of African-American participation in politics and policing.

On the other hand, the wide variety of homicide rates between jurisdictions and shifts over time suggest that there is nothing inevitable about the homicide rates experienced (another mark against genetic explanations). Merely that factors specific to the social dynamics of African-American communities are going to have to be identified and tackled if their homicide rates are going to be reduced.

Residential segregation
The wildly variant homicide rates between African-Americans and other Americans are sufficient, on their own, to explain residential segregation by race--indeed, enough to do so even if racism, unconscious discrimination or familiarity preference played no roles at all. Consider: you are a family living in a previously non-black neighbourhood. Black families start moving in, with this much higher average level of violence. Do you and your children continue to live in the neighbourhood, or do you leave? The question answers itself.

In the US, preferences on house size and proximity can lead to significant residential segregation by political outlook (the urban liberal/rural conservative effect). How much more powerfully will highly differentiated homicide rates lead to residential segregation? Zoning laws in the US partly had their origins as mechanisms of racial separation (pdf): while racism had a considerable amount to do with that history, current patterns sadly look more like rational parental concern.

Which goes how complex and tangled these issues are in the US.

Entrenched patterns of disadvantage
This does not mean I am buying into some "culture of poverty" explanation. That is just another form of analytical "silly putty". Not only do what characteristics one means have to be carefully delineated, the label provides a putative answer before asking the question. Especially as African-Americans are not predominantly poor even by US standards and are certainly not so by world standards.

African-Americans do have average incomes significantly lower than white Americans, yet higher than Hispanic Americans. According to US census data (pdf), African-Americans had a per capita income 68% of the overall US per capita income (for non-Hispanic whites 116%, Asian-Americans 112%, Hispanics 58%). Applying that percentage to World Bank data, that gives African-Americans about the same per capita income as Japan--or around 26th of the 185 jurisdictions covered by the World Bank data--and more than that of Italy, Spain, South Korea and Israel.

Nevertheless, there are clearly entrenched patterns of disadvantage: African-Americans are much more likely to live in communities with high levels of poverty and find it much harder than white Americans to escape from such communities. Much of African-American disadvantage is a African-American male disadvantage. The elevated homicide rates are overwhelmingly elevated male homicide rates. An unusual feature of African-American IQ results is that women do better than men. African-Americans males have a persistently low (if rising somewhat) college graduation rate of 35% in 2005: up from 28% in the early 1990s. African-American women have a college graduation rate of 46% in 2005: up from 34% in the early 1990s.

The African-American disadvantage in graduation rates continues. Which then feeds back into lower income opportunities and average incomes. Even though historically black colleges actually do a better job of getting students through than their intake demographics would suggest. Again, these issues are complex and tangled.

Particularly when one looks at school graduation rates, which are generally rising but with the gap between blacks and white males widening as that between white and Hispanics males is narrowing (remembering that Hispanics have significantly lower average incomes than African-Americans):
Since the last report in 2012, the gap between the four-year graduation rate for black males and white males widened from 19 points in the 2009-10 school year to 21 points in the 2012-13 year. For Latinos, the gap shrunk to 15 points from 20 during that same period, according to the report.
The national graduation rate for black males was 59 percent, 65 percent for Latinos, and 80 percent for white males for the 2012-13 school year, according to the report. Particularly striking was Detroit where only 20 percent of black males graduated on time in the 2011-12.
Detroit: the social disaster that just keeps rolling along. Given that the city is 83% African-American, it is again hard to blame racism for that disastrous school graduation rate.

Where to look
Cultural factors and low social capital are much more plausible contenders. Especially as the higher levels of violence, particularly amongst male teenagers, disrupts social capital formation and education participation (the much higher homicide rate among black teenagers can also be expected to translate into a tendency for more disruptive behaviour in class) while also being a product of the same: once again, complex and tangled issues. There is, to put it mildly, not the same culture of courtesy and educational attainment one sees among East Asians or South Asians, for example. The disruptive effects of entrenched violence is likely to matter quite directly, as cooperation and networking are crucial to social capital and its formation (pdf).

Lower levels of school graduation mean lower levels of college entry and job opportunities. Lower levels of college entry and lower levels of college graduation have compounding effects in reducing African-American entry into professional and other high income jobs. Which means fewer examples of same, and so it goes around.

It also means that persistent negative stereotypes of African-Americans, while suffering the generic problem of stereotypes (people are not categories), are not entirely without foundation--which, of course, makes them harder to shift.

Jonathan Chait and Ta-Nehisi Coates had a revealing exchange over African-American history and disadvantage. In his responses Coates made some telling and powerful points but, once again, without some fairly precise delineation, his pointing to white supremacy is every bit analytical "silly putty" as culture of poverty. His essay The Case for Reparations tells of the grim history of American racism. Yet it is, in the end, looking for external redemption.

Slavery's poisonous legacy
The American South has lower levels (pdf) of social capital than the rest of the US. That is surely the legacy of slavery. Mass slavery is much longer ago in Italy, but social capital is also much lower in southern Italy. This is likely both an origins and a subsequent developments story, but part of that story is surely that previous structures affect future paths.

Then there is slavery and income inequality: the US has high income inequality by developed world standards, low inequality by the standards of former slave societies. There is evidence of persistent effects of slavery on unequal human capital formation. In a summary of another study:
In other words, the share of slaves in the population in 1860 is also correlated with current racial inequality in school attainment. Since the quantity of human capital is the main determinant of earnings, it follows that the schooling gap has immediate repercussions on income inequality across races.
Having a white mother means having a mother who is not part of that legacy.

Depending on where you are in the Americas, race or skin tone or some combination of both matters for income inequality (pdf). The authors note this shows the multidimensionality of race identities; but it also raises what is being signalled or is associated with what: remembering the effect of having a white mother.

Post-revolutionary Haitian society was promptly taken over by its mulatto and freedman elite, particularly after the massacre of the remaining white population (something which then fed into Southern fears in the lead up to the US Civil War). It is clear enough, however, that slavery has a persistent legacy and it is a socially divisive one.

The legacy of slavery also continues to retard (pdf) economic development decades later: and not just through initial unequal distributions of factors of production but through continuing effects--such as discouraging social capital formation and human capital acquisition.

For slavery's poisonous legacy in the US is also a bad faith story. American patriotism is based on heroic narratives, and slavery gets in the way of those narratives. As does Jim Crow and the history of American racism generally.

Amerindians and African-Americans were, along with American Tories, the big losers from American independence.  The triumph of the North in the Civil War and the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, the civil rights struggles, leading to the Acts of almost a century later, can somewhat repair the narrative, but they are easily countered, given that the Reconstruction Amendments did not deliver what they implied and African-Americans remain mired in patterns of disadvantage and outright repression.

American society does not bind across its history, it divides, and divides racially. That baggage still affects interactions between black and white Americans; an Australian going to the US can find that saying "g'day" a lot can elicit changes in responses from black Americans as they shed that legacy of expectations.

The combination of residential segregation, divided experiences, seriously different and differentiating expectations all combine to make social capital further racially differentiated. Another legacy of slavery and its effects down the decades.

It is easy to notice signs of a racially divided society and say "that's racism!". Yet it is hard to see what change in white behaviour will change a 20% black male school graduation rate in a city that is 83% black. It is hard to see what change in white behaviour will change African-Americans having a homicide rate 6 times that of other Americans, or the 20-fold difference in homicide rates between black teenager and white teenagers.

Even more so if having a white mother turns out to eliminate much of the education and employment disadvantage--people who deal with you don't see your mother. Even more so if having two black parents but being a recent Caribbean or African immigrant does the same.

Yes, it is very easy to take any pattern of racial difference--particularly of racial disadvantage--and way "that's racism!" Racism is analytical "silly putty"; you can shove it in to explain any such difference. Alas, it is not that simple, however comforting it might be to think it is. And perhaps a little condescending--because it also turns whites into the obligated redeemers of blacks. Informed understanding and equity in behaviour and policy--which definitely should be sought--not being quite the same thing.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]