Saturday, September 17, 2016

Still Looking for First Base

Glenn Loury and John Mc Whorter for the umpteenth time are bemoaning the state of left-wing thought on race and poverty. These guys have been engaging in this funny little dance routine for years now.

I'd like to hear John or Glenn - or anyone else who shares their perspective - discuss what policy directions we might move in. I tend to agree with them that racism isn't what is driving black poverty (If you're not a seasoned reader of this blog, do me a favor and go back to some of my older posts on racism here, here, or here). But I disagree that it is something "they" need to figure out how to solve by themselves.
But I start from a place of determinism, where culture and institutions are what create all of our behavior. I can't just say someone "ought" to do X or Y, I also have a moral responsibility as a member of society who has been fortunate, to not just sit back and take advantage of that grace while less fortunate others don't have the option. Further, as a participant in an economic, legal, political, social, etc. system, I am perpetuating this system. So, what then to do. We can start with identifying the problem. What are the behaviors that people are engaging in that is leading them away from success? I would start at birth. Three year old children from impoverished families are already falling behind in their cognitive and emotional development. You can track them up through elementary, middle and high school, and plot the cycle of poverty. Then it becomes - if not racism or some nebulous notion of "bad choices" - accounts for the specific behaviors that disadvantaged people are engaging in? What are the institutional relationships? What are the social relationships? What are the economic relationships? There are micro-operations, such as how parents are speaking to their children, to macro-operations, such as how wages are determined for low-skill work. (I think part of the problem is that it is insanely complex stuff, and it is much easier to spend one's intellectual resources engaging in easy answers. This behavior is also reinforced by the sweet nectar of blame - in which we can point fingers and suckle at the teet of self-righteousness. Those silly liberals, those silly conservatives, etc. But the truth is that most people's quiver is sadly empty. And who likes to admit they don't have all the - heck, even some of the answers.) Oh yeah, so finally - after we identify the behavior, then identify the causes. What should the policy solution be? What should we do or not do? What is possible to do? But if we can't even agree at the first or second, we'll certainly never agree on the third level.

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