Sunday, August 29, 2004

Acting Affirmativley and You

This started out as a comment response but it got too big so I'm posting it on the main site.

1) I find you statement that “no correlation can be drawn a priori between outcomes and opportunities” to be a bit… loony.

On an individual case I would agree a host of other factors can intervene between opportunity and outcome, mostly I would expect luck, competence, and moral failure. But should we really expect consistently persistent inequality of outcome across racial lines? If people rise and fall on their merits (i.e. if America is fair) and we take a large enough sample size then luck is out of the question, and unless you want to argue that blacks are less moral or less competent than average, then competence and moral failure are out.

(You may argue that luck can effect racial groups as a whole. I suppose you'd ask them to "suck it up" and quit complaining. But then, why single out racial groups as having to live with thier lot? Why not shut down public schools and let poor children to fend for themselves?)

Obviously, most of the discrepancy can be accounted for by certain racial groups being poorer than others. If it explained all of it there would be no reason to bring race into it. The problem is when we find consistently persistent inequality of outcome in a statistically large enough group that can’t be accounted for by their disproportionate poverty.

2) Did I misunderstand what you said or just extended you logic farther than you wished or just mistyped? I don’t know and this whole slavery thing is a red herring so let’s move on.

3) “Newsflash: America is already fair, at least as far as race is concerned and as long as you exclude the case of whites screwed by preferences.” Yeah, I let the readers decide that one on their own.

4) "Wuh! "Poor children"? Hold it, I thought we were talking about ethnic groups, not social ones... "

No, that’s you listening to the liberal stereotype in your head again. If you had read what I wrote you would realize that I was explaining that the government’s responsibility to the poor (a group separate from any ethnic identification) parallel’s its responsibility to deserving truly underprivileged groups.

And just so I don’t have to trot out this definition again let’s define the deserving truly underprivileged group as follows:

deserving truly underprivileged group

Any group which through no moral or intellectual failing of their own, performs more poorly than average and whose underperformance cannot be explained by that group’s disproportionate representation in other, better defined group. This classification obviously relies on what other groups one can define. If the group in question is a racial group then the deserving part (that there is no collective moral or intellectual failing) is immediate. An undeserving group would be for example, convicted rapists. They probably don’t do as well average, but I’m not going to lose any sleep about that.

I will refer to these as DTUGs. Poor children form one DTUG (it is plausible that their parents find themselves poor through sloth or other moral failure so the group must be confined to children). Blacks, to a much lesser extent, form another since they do even more poorly than you would expect given their poverty. Obviously, if we had perfect information we could refine our understanding of blacks enough to see that really, their inequity arises from disproportionate membership in other non-racial groups.

For the next part of our intellectual journey, let’s define one more term:

fundamental deserving truly underprivileged group

A DTUG whose underperformance cannot be explained by disproportionate membership in any group, not just the ones we can define.

You are upset because you (and I and almost anyone who thinks about it) realize that blacks are not a FDTUG. Clearly there is some reason which explains their underperformance that does not depend on how much melanin is in the skin. If we had that information, we could define those groups and removes the DTUG status from blacks. We all wish for that day because that is the day we can stop looking at something as stupid as the color of someone’s skin to figure out government policy. However, if we stop collecting data in the first place as you suggest you can bet that we’re going to be having this argument for years and years and years.

To say that we must wait until we can define a FDTUG to start fixing a problem is a fancy way of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

5) “I don't even begin to understand what you mean here.”

Government has a responsibility to help poor children and does so by providing (for example) public education, Other DTUGs also deserve attention of some kind, be it some extra funding for schools they attend or recognition of the extra work a member probably had to go through to have the same results. I don't care to get into the specifics. How to execute public policy isn't exactly my strong suit. But I only wish to explain why race concious pulic policy isn't a priori wrong.

Since I'm leaving the country for a month tomorrow I won't be able to respond to the doubtless witty retorts and accusations of excessive verbosity. I do realize that there are several assumption in my argument that weren't made explicit but I believe that most of them lead us to a kind of crude social darwinism that we can all agree to shun.


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