A few thoughts on the campaign against racism

As a kind of convenience, I'll present these thoughts as responses to an article with Micha brought to my attention. These aren't meant to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject, just a few thoughts.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a post about the intersection of race and crime that dovetails with a conversation I had shortly after learning my friend Brian had been shot last week. I got to thinking about how the economic effects of past racism create breeding grounds for new racism—at once more subtle and more difficult to extirpate.

But how much of the economic misfortune is really caused by racism? There are other causal factors, such as welfare programs creating dependency, absentee fathers failing to bring their sons up right, various effects of the drug war, and so on. Is it even at the root of very much? In other times, minorities have been the object of severe hostility but have succeeded economically. Jewish and Chinese minorities succeeded in the face of severe hostility. My sense of it is that racism accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortune of blacks in America, that racism generally speaking accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortunes suffered by most any ethnic group - in times of sufficient peace. Genocides can, of course, be perpetrated against minorities, for example.

And I even found myself wondering whether, paradoxically, the healthy social consensus about the unacceptability of racism doesn’t make it more difficult to root out in its less obvious but arguably most pernicious forms.

If it's causing problems then maybe it's not so healthy after all. And how much of it is really 'social consensus', at least in any spontaneous sense, and how much is adaptation to the legal environment? As a point of analogy, a lot of people think that selling cocaine is really bad but selling tobacco and alcohol isn't that big a deal and selling caffeine is no big deal at all. This is surely not a spontaneous social consensus but an adaptation to the legal environment. Were the law changed, people's attitudes would change.

This is not to say that the spontaneous social consensus would be that racism is acceptable. There are different ways of being unacceptable. Arithmetic errors, spelling errors, the f-word, inattention in class, and any number of other things are each unacceptable in their own way. There is an element of fear and panic nowadays associated with being thought a racist, which may have a connection, if an indirect one, with the current legal environment.

[...]The disturbing thing here is that while these reactions are at least arguably racist in some sense, they’re not obviously irrational as a kind of statistical heuristic. In light of the facts on the ground—facts that are themselves substantially the product of past racism—they eventually become instinctive.

Well, that's right, they're not irrational, and this is an important point. If you're going to condemn rationality then you've set up a herculean task for yourself, because rationality will reassert itself again and again, and if you condemn it then it will hide itself from the light of day. But the problem here is that you're wrong and your target is right. If you condemn the right and seek to replace it with the wrong, then you don't have truth and reason on your side any more, all you have is (possibly) power. People are going to be much more receptive if you can clearly show that such-and-such demonstrable bias is demonstrably irrational.

If it were limited in context, if it were only a matter of how conscious you are of the guy on the street at night, it might not be a serious problem. But that’s not how reflexive reactions like this work. They tend to bleed over into contexts—the temp agency, the corner store—where they are both inappropriate and destructive.

Do you know this for a fact? Do you know how extensive the effect is? Are you engaging in a bit of mindreading here?

And the contexts aren’t even all that separable: The skittish convenience store owner may have a statistical reason for being more nervous when a group of black or Latino male teenagers walk in, but the atmosphere of suspicion that creates for the vast majority who have no designs on the till is so toxic it’s become a trope.

Tragic to be sure, but if it's rational to be suspicious then if you try to make the owner feel bad for being rational then you're wrong and he's right, and nothing especially good will come of you attempting to "correct" him.

Thinking in stereotypes comes easily to us, and it takes conscious effort to at least keep them cabined away where they will do least harm. And that requires entertaining that uncomfortable thought: I might, in some sense, be a racist.

If you include valid statistical heuristics as racist then I most definitely am racist and will always be racist and nothing you or I or anyone can do will stop it. But if by 'racist' you mean that my heuristic is actually mistaken, then you actually need to prove that it's mistaken. Which is, admittedly, hard work. But it's work you have to do if you want to really induce me to drop that heuristic. It's work I have to do if I want to induce myself to drop that heuristic.

Understand what I'm saying here. I'm saying that you need to prove case by case that there is racism and that it's not necessarily easily to do. A particular judgment may in fact be entirely rational. The mere fact that it employs race does not automatically make it irrational.

It's not good for a person to be mugged repeatedly only by young black men and to be aware of the statistics and yet repeat to himself or herself, 'it's racist to be afraid of the black guy behind me in this dark alley.' That's not virtuous - that's insane, it is a rebellion against a person's own rationality. And it's not going to work. At most it's going to make the person feel uselessly guilty for not being able to help being rational. The Catholic Church gets criticized for something similar: apparently in essence it treats human nature as sinful, and so naturally, all Catholics sin and sin repeatedly, and confess and do penance and are forgiven repeatedly. That, at any rate, is the impression I gather admittedly from some distance.

Which leads me to wonder: Is it possible to be so opposed to racism that it becomes more difficult to root out racism?

Sure. But there's something else: it's possible to be so incoherent and/or unfair about what counts as racism that it becomes more difficult to root out racism. If by 'racism' you mean nothing other than true bias - not statistically justified heuristics but true bias that systematically misleads - then you've made your task easier. But when you fail to distinguish between the valid and the invalid, when you declare off-limits all use of the category of race by the brain to draw conclusions about an unknown person, then you are doing the same thing that lawmakers do when they impose unjust law. What they do is induce a loss of respect for law, for all law, and an increase of fear of law, desire to avoid law, desire to run in the opposite direction whenever the police are around. And what you do if you're not careful in what you call racist is replace understanding and agreement with fear. You make people shut up and shut down when you come around with your inquisition. You will still get people nodding, but they will be nodding the way North Koreans praise the Great Leader. Watch North Koreans and they look like they're madly in love with the Great Leader, but you know and I know that it is not based on understanding and agreement with the Great Leader. You and I know that it is based on fear.

[...] But the variety of racism more common today is more subtle than that, and in a way more pernicious for it, since the overt bigot is unlikely to wield much social power. It’s the subliminal reaction of the manager looking for a new cashier who, for some reason he can’t articulate, just doesn’t think the minority candidate seems quite trustworthy enough. It’s this person who we most want examining his own attitudes. But to do that means being prepared to start from the difficult premise that even he—educated, urbane, kind, and so on—may indeed harbor racial biases. Like Hitler! Like a Klansman!

Maybe he does and maybe you're trying and failing to read his mind. The very hiddenness of the supposedly subterranean racism creates a problem of knowledge. If it's hidden, how do you know it's there? If it's there, to what degree are you exaggerating that it's there? When you start condemning and hunting that which is invisible, then you create a situation that doesn't entirely fail to resemble the witch hunts. Back when they hunted witches, they were also hunting the hidden and the invisible. In fact, how do you seriously propose to avoid this turning into a witch hunt? It may already be already a witch hunt.

Now, there’s an obvious way around this, though it should make us uncomfortable for different reasons. We could make a point of talking about race bias and stereotyping in a more gradated way. At one pole is the Klansman. At another, there’s that “typical white person” who is more guarded and alert walking past a black guy at 1am on 7th and V than he would be walking past a similarly-dressed white person.

There's also the "typical black person". How racist is he or she? Can we (typical white people) even talk about such a generality without risk of being branded racists ourselves? Do we dare make easy generalizations about the "typical black person", as easily as Obama makes about the "typical white person"? Obama makes a generalization about a "typical white person" which you accept without trouble even though he has presented no statistical studies backing up his claim. But if I were to say a bunch of things about the "typical black person", I would be almost certain to be condemned as racist not only if I didn't have statistics to back me up, but even if I did have statistics to back me up. People hear Obama easily talk about the "typical white person" and immediately they recognize a form that they themselves would be roundly condemned for employing in the other direction. Is it any wonder that they feel something is off here? And this obvious lack of fairness is yet another problem with the campaign against racism. This is a serious inconsistency, a serious unfairness, and the rational mind rightly rebels against it.

But think about the defensiveness, even outrage, we saw in response to Obama’s “typical white person” comment:

The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know (pause) there’s a reaction in her that doesn’t go away and it comes out in the wrong way.

Is this really controversial?

In addition to what I wrote above, here's Instapunk on Obama.

The world has long needed an heir to Teddy Kennedy, a younger master of the art of beiing rich and well connected while condemning everyone who does actual work.

Now we have him. Aren't you happy? I know I am. There's nothing better in life than being lectured about how we're supposed to be by people who have never accomplished a damn thing but getting elected to the public trough.

That is one more explanation of the allergic reaction to Obama's words.

[...] So reservations notwithstanding, maybe there’s something to be said for acknowledging that, as the Avenue Q song has it, “everyone’s a little bit racist.” I’ll accuse myself here: At 2am on 7th and V, I am not color blind. Maybe that bias is defensible at that time and place. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bias, or that it’s not potentially dangerous.

To the extent that it is defensible, then it is not a bias.

[...] The tricky part here is threading our way between, on the one hand, a sort of blunderbuss condemnation that creates a counterproductive incentive for people to conceal their biases even from themselves, and on the other, a lazy complacency about those biases. I don’t know exactly how we do that. It seems beyond grotesque to ask the law-abiding black guy on the wrong end of a thousand suspicious glances to indulge the skittish whites.

I go through something like this myself as a male, regardless of my race. In certain situations I cause caution in people who don't know me for no other reason than I am male, even though I am in fact no danger to them. They don't know that. But how is this in the slightest their fault? The people to blame, if anyone, are the other males who have created this rational response. Those are the only people I can see myself rightly blaming for the caution that people rationally exercise in certain situations around me. Other people like me. To be entirely fair, then, when a young black law-abiding man is treated with rational suspicion, should he not blame, should we not all blame, other young black men who are not so law-abiding? Rather than the ones who have good reason to be suspicious of this young black man who they don't know anything about.

It seems unrealistic to expect the skittish whites to just knock it off.

It's unrealistic because it's unfair - if you like, grotesque - to ask them to shut off their own reason. And meanwhile, what about actual racism? Actual bias? Actual systematically wrong judgments? Are you ready really to prove case by case that this exists? Or do you want to condemn both actual bias and the use of reason as 'racist' whenever an unknown person's race is used as a clue about him? Certainly, it is much easier for you to do the latter, because it is a lot easier to see that race is used as a clue than it is to see whether its use was rational or irrational, statistically justified or statistically unjustified. It's easier, then, to condemn both, because it's hard to distinguish between them. But it creates a problem when you do so.

Share this

My sense of it is that

My sense of it is that racism accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortune of blacks in America, that racism generally speaking accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortunes suffered by most any ethnic group - in times of sufficient peace.

But your "sense" is just incorrect. Numerous studies have shown that employers are less likely to hire someone if they are black, landlords are less likely to rent to them, storekeepers are more likely to treat black customers with suspicion, etc. Jews can pass as white; blacks can't.

If you're going to condemn rationality then you've set up a herculean task for yourself, because rationality will reassert itself again and again, and if you condemn it then it will hide itself from the light of day.

But if anything, this is an argument for government intervention and laws against racism, the same laws you just finished complaining about. What may be rational for the individual may not be collectively rational. Think about a racist Southern town a few generations ago. Collectively, it was irrational for whites to treat blacks poorly. There was no intrinsic difference between the two groups that justified unequal treatment. But then you run into a collective action problem on the individual level. An individual store owner might be acting rationally by not serving black customers, or by serving them as second class citizens, because a store that did not segregate its clientèle would be unpopular and face legal repercussion, boycotts, etc. So just because something is individually rational does not make it right, moral, wise, desirable, etc. It may be worth wanting to change.

Do you know this for a fact? Do you know how extensive the effect is? Are you engaging in a bit of mindreading here?

Yes, he knows this for a fact. There is a ton of sociological research on this effect.

I gotta go. I'll try to respond to the rest later.

Studies

But your "sense" is just incorrect. Numerous studies have shown that employers are less likely to hire someone if they are black

"Less likely" does not quantify how much less likely. And "if they are black" needs to be replaced with "if they are black and controlling for other factors." And what of the effect of competition in the market? Can the market sustain a systematic unfair depression in the employment and wages of blacks? What of the argument that a large number of halfways smart entrepreneurs will seize on this as a golden opportunity to make themselves tremendously wealthy while bringing blacks up to par in the process? Do these studies supply an answer that standard point?

My evidence is blatant and extreme: through history easily identifiable minorities have done well in hostile cultures. In fact, that they did well was often a cause of much of the hostility. Do you seriously disbelieve that this happened?

But if anything, this is an argument for government intervention and laws against racism, the same laws you just finished complaining about.

You can characterize my comment about the law as a "complaint", but it was a statement about consequences. Nothing you write here contradicts the statement about the consequences, so my "complaint" stands. My warning about the condemnation of rationality also stands.

Think about a racist Southern town a few generations ago.

Jim Crow era. You're describing the historical consequences of laws mandating racial segregation and claiming that this is an argument for government intervention in private decisions. You have shown that when the law mandates immoral behavior, people behave immorally.

You have not, however, shown that it is immoral for a person to employ everything he or she can see about a stranger as a clue about that stranger. To do so is to minimize the likelihood of error. Do do anything else is to increase the likelihood of error. I am talking about truth here. If you think it is immoral to rationally use the available information as clues about a person, then you are arguing against rationally using the mind to approximate the truth as closely as we can.

Yes, he knows this for a fact. There is a ton of sociological research on this effect.

And yet I still have the feeling that you're blowing something tremendously out of proportion. For example, he mentions a temp agency. Sounds to me like he's talking about significant disparities in employment prospects and income between whites and blacks. But, there are many potential causes of observed disparities. Again, if racism produces sizable economically irrational outcomes, doesn't this provide halfways intelligent entrepreneurs with a tremendous opportunity for profit?

I can't respond to the whole

I can't respond to the whole comment; I'm late for dinner. I'll try to get to the rest later:

What of the argument that a large number of halfways smart entrepreneurs will seize on this as a golden opportunity to make themselves tremendously wealthy while bringing blacks up to par in the process?

But this is precisely what Julian was talking about. It can be rational for individual employers to engage in statistical discrimination; assume properties about a group that may not be true about a given individual (and may not be true about the group, either). The fact is, this sort of discrimination still exists, and economic theory does not disprove empirical observation, whatever Austrians may believe.

My evidence is blatant and extreme: through history easily identifiable minorities have done well in hostile cultures. In fact, that they did well was often a cause of much of the hostility. Do you seriously disbelieve that this happened?

One reason anti-black racism is so persistent is that skin-color remains easily identifiable. Other ethnic minorities can pass as white, and eventually assimilate. Blacks cannot.

A few more quick

A few more quick comments:

Real markets are not as efficient as economic theory sometimes suggests. Off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons for this. First, employers and retailers are not perfect profit maximizers. They may be willing to discriminate even if it costs them money to do so. And the gap in profits but not be large enough or visible enough for entrepreneurs to take advantage of it. Second, which ties in to the first, the principle-agent problem means that employees in charge of hiring or sales can often discriminate at no cost to themselves.

The libertarian argument isn't that markets are perfectly efficient and allow no room for inefficient behavior like discrimination. It is that markets are more efficient than governments, and competition tends to (but does not always) reduce these pernicious effects, while government often (but not always) amplifies them. For example, since individual voters don't face any cost for voting one way or another, the ballot box becomes a cheap and easy way to express bigotry. See Loren Lomasky on this subject.

This also touches on Rad Geek's recent appeal to libertarians to see the pernicious effects of spontaneous orders in Women and the Invisible Fist.

You have not, however, shown

You have not, however, shown that it is immoral for a person to employ everything he or she can see about a stranger as a clue about that stranger.

I doubt I would be able to "prove" to you the immorality of bigotry in a single blog post. If you don't already see why bigotry is wrong, I'm not sure what I could say to convince you otherwise.

But what I do want to point out is the harmful effects for the people being discriminated against. As a victim of collectivist discrimination, you as an individual are being pre-judged by the assumptions about the group you belong to. How do you think it feels when people assume things about you that are not true, simply by the color of your skin? Even if those assumptions are statistically justified, nobody likes being prejudged by things outside their control.

See, that's a problem

I doubt I would be able to "prove" to you the immorality of bigotry in a single blog post. If you don't already see why bigotry is wrong, I'm not sure what I could say to convince you otherwise.

You have just now included the pursuit of truth under your category of 'bigotry'. That's a problem. See, I like the truth and I like the rational pursuit of truth. So I can't like 'bigotry' the way you define it. I'm happy to go along with a definition of 'bigotry' that categorizes various kinds of error as bigotry. But not one which categorizes instances of rationality in the pursuit of truth as bigotry.

To me, that is a really big problem.

As a victim of collectivist discrimination, you as an individual are being pre-judged by the assumptions about the group you belong to.

People who encounter me in the street have no choice but to make guesses about what sort of person I am. There is no way around this. They have themselves, their property, and their family to protect. Since I am a man and not a woman, it is entirely reasonable and justified for them to be correspondingly more suspicious of me than they would be if I were a woman. This is true of absolutely any category into which they can place me. They are not assuming anything about the group to which I identifiably belong - they know full well that men are more dangerous than women. It is not collectivist to have probabilistic beliefs about me based on the information that they can gather about me (such as that I am a man).

How do you think it feels when people assume things about you that are not true, simply by the color of your skin?

However it feels to me, they have every right to act as rationally as they are able on the basis of the limited information they have about me. My feelings do not take away their right to act rationally based on what they know.

Even if those assumptions are statistically justified, nobody likes being prejudged by things outside their control.

We are all always necessarily judged, as strangers, by things outside our control. That is inescapable. Even if you succeed in eliminating rational discrimination, all that will happen is that we will now be judged by other things outside of our control. All that will happen is that we will be placed inside a larger group (e.g. all men regardless of race, all humans, all mammals), which will itself have a composition outside of our control.

You have just now included

You have just now included the pursuit of truth under your category of 'bigotry'.

Where did I do that? What I did was deny that employing everything you can see about a stranger is a clue about that stranger. This is not the pursuit of truth. The clue may be so statistically insignificant that it does not justify a change in behavior in how you treat that person.

Suppose it is the case the left-handed people are more likely to know how to yodel than right-handed people, but the vast majority of left-handed people do not know how to yodel. Upon observing that Sam is left-handed, is this a clue that Sam is a yodeler? No. It may be a clue that Sam is more likely to be a yodeler than the average person, before you know whether that person is left-handed or right-handed. But it still tells you very little about how likely Sam is to be a yodeler. You are certainly not justified in treating Sam as if Sam knows how to yodel.

Then it will have no impact

The clue may be so statistically insignificant that it does not justify a change in behavior in how you treat that person.

Then the clue will have no measurable impact. Here is a fuller chunk of the text to which you replied:

You have not, however, shown that it is immoral for a person to employ everything he or she can see about a stranger as a clue about that stranger. To do so is to minimize the likelihood of error. Do do anything else is to increase the likelihood of error. I am talking about truth here. If you think it is immoral to rationally use the available information as clues about a person, then you are arguing against rationally using the mind to approximate the truth as closely as we can.

I am talking about the statistically justified, rational use of all clues we are able to gather. If a particular clue is insignificant, then its rational use is to treat it as insignificant.

Suppose it is the case the left-handed people are more likely to know how to yodel than right-handed people, but the vast majority of left-handed people do not know how to yodel. Upon observing that Sam is left-handed, is this a clue that Sam is a yodeler? No.

To be more precise, it slightly increases the probably that he is a yodeler, from very close to zero to slightly farther from but still very close to zero.

You are certainly not justified in treating Sam as if Sam knows how to yodel.

That's right, but I wasn't saying you were. You are justified in treating him as slightly more likely but still highly unlikely to yodel. That is rational. It would be irrational to treat him as very likely or definitely a yodeler - but since it would be irrational, then this is not a good model of rational discrimination. Nor is it what I was talking about.

Then the clue will have no

Then the clue will have no measurable impact.

Huh? That only follows if we assume people are perfectly rational. But people engage in irrational behavior all the time, based on clues that are statistically insignificant, or are on clues that due not justify the behavior. People hear that some tomatoes might have e-coli. So they completely stop eating tomatoes. Even if it is true that, as rational Bayesian updaters, they should readjust their internal metrics regarding the danger of tomato eating, that still doesn't necessary justify not eating tomatoes at all.

Jim Crow era. You're

Jim Crow era. You're describing the historical consequences of laws mandating racial segregation and claiming that this is an argument for government intervention in private decisions. You have shown that when the law mandates immoral behavior, people behave immorally.

You can't shrug off all forms of discrimination from this era as a result of bad laws. People shared widespread preferences for racism, some of which were backed up by government law, some of which were not. The point I was trying to make is that in cases where widespread racist preferences exist (even apart from those preferences backed up by law), it may be individually rational to cater to those preferences even if the preferences themselves are collectively irrational.

Speculation

You can't shrug off all forms of discrimination from this era as a result of bad laws. People shared widespread preferences for racism, some of which were backed up by government law, some of which were not.

That sounds to me like: there is too much evidence of alien abductions. You can rule out maybe 99.9% of the accounts, but there's a remaining 0.1% which cannot be ruled out. Be specific. Tell me that such-and-such economically significant bit of racism would have been sustained, and would have had a sustained significant economic effect, without the backing of the state.

The point I was trying to make is that in cases where widespread racist preferences exist (even apart from those preferences backed up by law), it may be individually rational to cater to those preferences even if the preferences themselves are collectively irrational.

That is purely speculative. In principle, in theory, one might be able to imagine a case where... But what we actually have is a society with Jim Crow laws. It doesn't do much to support your speculation.

Tell me that such-and-such

Tell me that such-and-such economically significant bit of racism would have been sustained, and would have had a sustained significant economic effect, without the backing of the state.

But I don't need to do that because we already have evidence of widespread preferences for racism outside of Jim Crow laws. Heck, many of these preferences still exist, which was the point of all the papers I linked to.

The question isn't whether

The question isn't whether racism can exist independently of government support--I think pretty much everyone here would agree that it can. Rather, the question is how much it matters. And I'm not aware of any evidence that it does matter much.

Theoretically, we would expect non-racist employers to be able to negate the effect of racist employers, even if they were a (sufficiently large) minority. If black employees are just as good as white employees and available at a discounted wage, it makes sense to hire them exclusively to the point where the discount is arbitraged away.

Empirically, controlling for cognitive skills dramatically shrinks the black-white wage gap. According to Murray and Herrnstein's analysis of the NLSY data, controlling for age and AFQT score reduced the black-white wage differential to 2%. I was able to duplicate this myself, and there have been other studies finding similar results with other data. If you know of a study which controls for cognitive skills (not just educational attainment) and still finds a sizeable black-white wage gap, I'd be interested in seeing it.

And I'm not aware of any

And I'm not aware of any evidence that it does matter much.

Matters much to whom?

Matters as far as outcomes

Matters as far as outcomes such as wage differential as Brandon described.

Matters in the sense of

Matters in the sense of subjecting racial minorities to significant economic hardship.

But economic hardship isn't

But economic hardship isn't the only thing that matters. People can still be made to feel like they are second-class citizens, inferior, looked down upon, hated, distrusted, etc., even apart from any effect this may have on economic well-being.

I don't know of a good

I don't know of a good source that summarizes or collects the above-mentioned research, so I'll just continue to add them to this post:

Dean Karlan and Marianne Bertrand, at MIT and the University of Chicago found in a 2003 study that there was widespread discrimination in the workplace against job applicants whose names were merely perceived as "sounding black". These applicants were 50% less likely than candidates perceived as having "white-sounding names" to receive callbacks for interviews. The researchers view these results as strong evidence of unconscious biases rooted in the United States' long history of discrimination (i.e. Jim Crow laws, etc.)

- Sendhil Mullainathan and Marianne Bertrand (2003). "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination", NBER Working Paper No. 9873, July, 2003).

----------------------------------------

Devah Pager and Lincoln Quillian compared employers' responses on questions involving race-related hiring practices to their actual hiring practices by sending matched pairs of young men to apply for jobs, either both white or both black, but one of the men had a criminal record. Pager and Quillian found that employers claimed they would be much more willing to higher an ex-offender than they were. Additionally, while the survey results showed no difference in hiring preferences between blacks and whites, employers were more than three times as likely to call white job applicants back as they were to call black job applicants back. In short, Pager and Quillian found that employers, in their survey responses, were more open to hiring both blacks and ex-offenders than they were in practice.

- Pager, Devah and Quillian, Lincoln. 2005. Walking the Talk? What Employers Say Versus What They Do. American Sociological Review. 70(3):355-380.

--------------------------------

Research of an experimental nature, extending across 35 years and 9 countries, has consistently detected significant discrimination against non-whites in access to employment. Asians, Arabs and various African-descendant groups have encountered such discrimination in Australia, Europe and North America. The same research technique has also detected sexual discrimination in the labour markets of Australia, Europe and the United States.

The technique of using bogus pairs of job applicants to test for employment discrimination originated in England in the 1960s and has subsequently been extended to Australia, North America and several European countries.

Two bogus applicants respond to job advertisements in person, by telephone or by letter. The applicants present equivalent qualifications, experience and age, so that the only distinguishing characteristic is race or sex. In the case of personal applications, the English tradition has been to use professional actors, to ensure that presentation and motivation is controlled for. If one race or sex is consistently preferred in employer responses, it provides unequivocal evidence of employment discrimination as all other
factors have been controlled for in this experimental approach.

Experiments in 7 countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, the Netherlands and Spain) have detected that non-white racial minorities were discriminated against in more than 25% of the occasions when interviews or jobs were offered.

MIT study

I'll look at this study, which you listed first:

Dean Karlan and Marianne Bertrand, at MIT and the University of Chicago found in a 2003 study that there was widespread discrimination in the workplace against job applicants whose names were merely perceived as "sounding black". These applicants were 50% less likely than candidates perceived as having "white-sounding names" to receive callbacks for interviews. The researchers view these results as strong evidence of unconscious biases rooted in the United States' long history of discrimination (i.e. Jim Crow laws, etc.)

- Sendhil Mullainathan and Marianne Bertrand (2003). "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination", NBER Working Paper No. 9873, July, 2003).

1) Discrimination does not rule out rational discrimination - one of the major points of my comments.

2) Do you seriously think that successful minorities did not suffer comparable discrimination? It did not stop them from succeeding.

3) The actual problem this specific hurdle poses to the individual is minor. If he receives fewer callbacks then he must submit proportionally more applications. This is not a major economic expense. This point helps to explain the historical fact of (2).

4) How exactly do we know to what degree the effect is caused by racial discrimination laws? One can imagine an employer wanting to avoid certain legal hassles.

5) The way the market works, irrationality among many players is made up for by the remaining rational players, so that the outcome is close to or even matches the outcome if all players were rational. This also helps to explain (2).

1) Discrimination does not

1) Discrimination does not rule out rational discrimination - one of the major points of my comments.

Non-sequitur. Julian's comments were precisely about the pernicious effects of rational discrimination.

2) Do you seriously think that successful minorities did not suffer comparable discrimination? It did not stop them from succeeding.

Again, I don't see what this has to do with anything. It is interesting to theorize why certain minority groups subject to discrimination have been more economically successful than other groups. But this does nothing to disprove the existence of the discrimination itself.

The actual problem this specific hurdle poses to the individual is minor. If he receives fewer callbacks then he must submit proportionally more applications. This is not a major economic expense.

This comment just comes off as extremely callous. How in the hell do you know how minor this sort of thing is to the individual experiencing it? The point is that this sort of thing occurs not just in a single instance of applying for a job, but how salespeople treat potential customers, how police treat potential suspects, how landlords treat potential tenants. These "minor" costs begin to add up.

Really!

Non-sequitur. Julian's comments were precisely about the pernicious effects of rational discrimination.

Actually, Julian's comments seemed to imply that psychological factors caused a bleeding effect which produced irrational discrimination as a side-effect of rational discrimination. But anyway, if this is a non-sequitur, then my whole long blog entry is a non-sequitur. Well, be that as it may, it was a statement of some problems I have with the campaign against racism, so if it's not appropriate as a response to Julian, still it's appropriate as a statement of the problems I brought up.

But this does nothing to disprove the existence of the discrimination itself.

But I thought we were arguing about the economic impact of that discrimination. Recall what I wrote:

My sense of it is that racism accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortune of blacks in America, that racism generally speaking accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortunes suffered by most any ethnic group - in times of sufficient peace.

That is a statement about the economic impact. That's what I thought we were arguing about. Well, we are to be sure having multiple arguments simultaneously on different points. But I thought this particular line of argument was about that. Anyway, whether we were arguing about it, it's an important point. Whether and how much racism as a real impact on the economic fortunes of people is an important point.

This comment just comes off as extremely callous.

Oh, I was wondering when you would start pontificating from a moral high horse and portraying your opponent as a vile human being. This, by the way, is one of the really big problems with the campaign against racism. And Julian wonders why there's a problem.

Oh, I was wondering when you

Oh, I was wondering when you would start pontificating from a moral high horse and portraying your opponent as a vile human being.

But you were the one pontificating! You asserted that if the effect exists, it surely imposes nothing but a small cost on the victim. As if you know! Why be callous? Why make assumptions like this?

And I didn't say that you were a vile human being. I said that your comment comes off as extremely callous. Which it does.

Tragic to be sure, but if

Tragic to be sure, but if it's rational to be suspicious then if you try to make the owner feel bad for being rational then you're wrong and he's right, and nothing especially good will come of you attempting to "correct" him.

Nothing especially good? But you just said it was tragic. Overcoming tragedy is "nothing especially good"?

Why are you assuming that it's "right" to statistically discriminate? It may be rational in the sense that, say, there are more shoplifters in group A than group B, so it is more rational to assume that a random person from group A is more likely to be a shoplifter than a random person from group B. But treating each and every member of group A as if they were a shoplifter is not necessarily rational. However much you may be correct in catching True Positives, you are likely to get a whole lot more False Positives. That is not a rational tactic.

False vs. True Positives

Micha, I tend to agree mostly with you in this debate here. But this:

However much you may be correct in catching True Positives, you are likely to get a whole lot more False Positives. That is not a rational tactic.

depends on the value of True Positives compared to the cost of False Positives. For example, a store owner for whom black people are not a significant source of income might falsely suspect all of being shoplifters, but the savings of preventing a few shoplifters may equal or exceed the cost of lost business to the owner. So even a much larger percentage of false positives is worthwhile to prevent the true positives.

I think this goes to the point Megan McArdle had in response to Sanchez's post. Not allowing blacks to patronize certain establishments is a public practice which is sufficiently odious for non-black patrons to object and/or take their business elsewhere. Blacks being followed in stores is both a practice which does not often happen in front of white patrons (similar to how men rarely witness women being catcalled) and which doesn't inspire significant objection from white patrons to force business owners to change their practices. The majority of black patrons who are being followed without cause either cannot choose other establishments to patronize or their business is a minority of the establishments overall income and balances out with the savings of crime prevention.

Economically Rational vs. Epistemelogically Rational

I agree that discrimination can sometimes be economically rational, in the sense that the costs are low - punishment by boycott or competition is unlikely. But I don't see how this justifies the behavior morally; the fact that someone can get away with an injustice without being punished by the market isn't a mark in its favor.

And, as I argued elsewhere in this thread, while it may have been fully (economically) rational to cater to racist preferences earlier in the century, and perhaps some segregated enclaves still exist where this remains true, I can't imagine as likely a situation where it is rational for a nonracist store owner with a nonracist clientele to refuse to serve blacks on the grounds that the cost of true positives would outweigh the cost of false positive. If such a thing did happen, it would be a result of dumb luck, not a result of rational calculation.

Marginal Racist Behavior

But the key to the sort of discriminatory behavior that we're talking about is that it isn't about extreme behavior, but marginal behavior. It isn't a refusal to serve blacks, but the suspicion of black customers. The cabs that try to find non-black fares. The temporary staffing agencies which favor non-black candidates.

I think that such behavior is difficult to justify morally, but the problem is that the economic case for it is significant. A single robbery is a great cost on a shop owner or cab driver; a single misjudgment of character is a great cost on a temp agency. Further, bad information exaggerates the economic benefit of discrimination. Incidents where shops and cab drivers are robbed are given significant publicity. Racist stereotypes which distort reality exaggerate risks for temp agencies. Doing the "morally right" thing may occur to the store owner or temporary employer, but on some level, it becomes a question of the moral benefit of behaving correctly (which will probably be known only to the owner or employer in question) versus the potential, and probably exaggerated, cost of error.

I can't imagine as likely a situation where it is rational for a nonracist store owner with a nonracist clientele to refuse to serve blacks on the grounds that the cost of true positives would outweigh the cost of false positive.

This is true primarily because of the extremity of the example. When it comes to marginally racist behavior, I think the equilibrium changes.

Rational means rational

That is not a rational tactic.

Then it's not what I'm talking about. I've probably used the word "rational" dozens of times to specify what I'm talking about, and still you interpret me as talking about, and defending, one or another form of irrationality and error.

Let's define our terms

Let's define our terms. Are we using rational in a loose economic sense, as profit maximization? Or in a epistemological sense of justified belief? Because the two are not necessarily the same.

Justified belief

I've been interpreting this:

The disturbing thing here is that while these reactions are at least arguably racist in some sense, they're not obviously irrational as a kind of statistical heuristic.

and this:

The skittish convenience store owner may have a statistical reason for being more nervous when a group of black or Latino male teenagers walk in

and this:

Thinking in stereotypes comes easily to us

and this:

It's the subliminal reaction of the manager looking for a new cashier who, for some reason he can't articulate, just doesn't think the minority candidate seems quite trustworthy enough.

and this:

At another, there's that "typical white person" who is more guarded and alert walking past a black guy at 1am on 7th and V than he would be walking past a similarly-dressed white person.

and similar statements as being primarily about belief justified or unjustified (e.g. belief about how much of a threat the other person poses), and that's what I've been addressing.

However as a kind of background I pretty much assume everyone is at least trying to maximize his own profits and will therefore employ his beliefs to choose a course of action which, given everything he knows or thinks he knows, maximize his expected profit. If his beliefs are erroneous, then he will tend to do more poorly than if his beliefs were correct. So I see a link between justified belief and profit maximization. But if I need to pick one, it's justified belief.

De Jure Racism

"racism generally speaking accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortunes suffered by most any ethnic group "

No way. History is full of de jure racism and that is always extremely harmful.

So modify the statement

Recall that my statement was:

My sense of it is that racism accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortune of blacks in America, that racism generally speaking accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortunes suffered by most any ethnic group - in times of sufficient peace.

I made an exception for outright attacks on the minority (as opposed to mere voluntary, non-aggressive economic ostracism, which is what people are complaining about here). Maybe my exception wasn't broad enough. Please feel free to include state and state-assisted aggression.

Shiny happy people holding hands

I once used an example to a friend just a few days ago, debating this very same thing.

Suppose a Police Officer has learned (through some form of education on his way to becoming a Police Officer) that he has a higher chance of being shot dead, if he pulls over a black male, than any other race or sex.

It is his first day on the force. Somebody drives past him at 80 mph. He is now obligated to turn on the lights/sirens and get down to business.

Upon pulling this car over, he notices this person is black. His fear and caution are at higher levels because of what he has learned (let's leave all personal experience out of this for the moment). Is this fear he has, this uneasy feeling, racism? (to all)

Now add in all the personal experience (either positive or negative) with Black people. Is it still racism?

I was debating with a Black male at work about a year back. This was about racism, and he told me: "The white man is the architect of evil."

That comment ties into this entire conversation in a ton of different ways. Don't have time to get into that now though.

Your Black Male Friend is a Racist

Actually your black male friend at work is a racist if he said that.

Maybe

Quickly... (because I be damn tired)

He's not my friend. But I do have friends from all manner of races who I consider slightly "whitey" hating. I have no problems calling them out on this, when they feel it benefits them to play victim.

I see a "general" kind of bigotry from all sides. Blacks, Hmong, Whites etc. But usually whitey is usually being blamed for being the racist when the conversation ever comes up. Why?

Even I can admit the thought of George Bush getting shot by a black man (yes, I said man) hasn't even crossed my radar like it does for Obama getting knocked off by a hateful white racist. But I'm not speaking of that kind of hate in my example above.

I think the example of being afraid (in a dark alley, say, or in a traffic stop) used in earlier examples is a good (and bad) example for different reasons. It nicely sidesteps some of the harder explanations... but no time now.

Macker, I was going to send you a video of a black man who was absolutely DISGUSTED with black people in general for calling Obama "black." I found it hilarious after I stumbled upon it by accident after your dissenting remarks, and I was really urged to give you a slight ribbing with that one. But I didn't.

All in good humor. Did you want the link?