Joined: Jan. 2006
Behind your reasonable paragraphs lies a nest of assumptions which, at least as far as I know, are neither established nor refuted. As such, they are statements of preference. I'd like to provide a slightly different viewpoint, just to see where our disagreements may truly lie.
|The United States is bedevilled by extreme disparities in wealth and economic opportunity, disparities reminiscent more of Latin American banana republics than liberal democracies.|
In all accuracy, these disparities have existed in every society where wealth can be accumulated. As you go on to say:
|Many of those disparities are the result of factors over which no one has any control. Let's face it, people are born with different capacities and needs, and no amount of legislation can correct for those differences|
But if differences in "capacities and needs" (not to mention kismet generally) always produce such a pattern, can we really denigrate it with words like "bedeviled"? The slings and arrows of the inevitable?
|(although I can probably give Bill an aneurysm by saying "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" might be a pretty good prescription for a just society).|
I suggest that such a philosophy is a matter of scale. It seems to be not only workable, but the ONLY workable approach, in very small communities (immediate families, very small and tightly coupled teams). It breaks down terminally where people begin to feel that the fruits of their labors aren't being directly reciprocated. YOU may be comfortable living in a society where productivity is penalized so as to provide rewards for being unproductive, but few people are, and by trial and error (or by anthropological observation) this point is reached somewhere in the 50-100 person community. Beyond this point, the temptation to consume more "justice" than one needs is beyond the ability of too high a proportion of the members to resist.
|However, some of these differences in opportunity are the result of historical events that are not very flattering to America's self-image as Land of the Free and Home of the Brave™. A history of institutionalized slavery is certainly one of these, as is its successor, institutionalized racism.|
No one denies that these things happened. While some may deny that there are any lasting effects, that's almost as ridiculous as denying the Holocaust. The effects are plain to anyone who is willing to see. Regardless of whatever statistics Mr. Bill would like to wave about as to the causes of the relative poverty of, e.g., African Americans, it's impossible to deny that there is a systemic disparity in the relative economic opportunity of African Americans (and others) as compared to white Americans.
While this disparity is undeniable, the circumstances of the Asian-Americans should not be so carefully tuned out. In comparison to African-Americans, the Asians share a goodly number of characteristics: They are immediately, visibly different. Offspring of European-Asian breeding look like the non-European. Active discrimination has been waged against them. They were never slaves, but they were surely demonized in the last Great War. During which African-Americans were segregated into their own military units, while the Asians were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. So it's hard to argue that Asians have been welcomed with open arms, or that they integrate so quickly into a European-dominated economy (as did the Irish, the Italians, the Swedes, etc.) that they blend under the radar.
Yet the Asians excel in schools, on standardized tests, in business and in technology. Why? What truly major difference leads to this astounding disparity in social success between Asians and blacks?
|So, the question then becomes, what does a just society do to resolve these disparities? Well, one possibility is to just claim that African Americans are inferior to European Americans, Asian Americans, etc., and just ignore the problem, claiming it's either God's Will (if you're of that persuasion) or that it's Darwin's Will (if you're of the other).|
And indeed, this claim is made. I don't buy it myself, but rejecting this claim entails drawing a distinction between inherent differences and *performance* differences across a wide spectrum of performance measurements. How can we measure inherent (biologically meaningful social) differences, without looking at performance against some measure? Not a simple task.
|Another possibility is to take as a given that many of the problems African Americans continue to suffer from are due to their treatment at the hands of their fellow humans, those European American guys, either in the past or currently.|
I'm sure this is largely the case. The question remains, WHY such an immense difference between blacks and Asians?
|If one makes that assumption (because, after all, there has to be some explanation for the lack of economic success of the majority of African Americans), then one is obliged to come up with some sort of remedy. A possible remedy is what became known as Affirmative Action.|
To the best of my knowledge, Asian-Americans have never been the target of Affirmative Action, because by all reasonable measures they haven't needed it. Yes, there have been articles (a recent major article in Science, for example, that in major research facilities, Asians make up over half the workers and only about 5% of the management. But this too is changing, without any targeted government program to force it to happen. All that was needed was to point it out. It's not like enough of the lower ranks lack the qualificatons for promotion, so in this case "Affirmative Action" met the original model - fully qualified candidates were in fact plentiful. And ironically, it's this fact that rendered any Affirmative Action program unnecessary.)
|It is not difficult to make the case that Affirmative Action has not been very successful. However, how long was affirmative action practiced as a matter of law in the United States? 40 years? That's hardly a generation and a half.|
And still Affirmative Action to artificially boost Asian-Americans has been practiced, well, uh, it hasn't. Hasn't been necessary. Again, why not? Perhaps it's possible that the reason why not might give us a pretty good clue why Affirmative Action was started in the first place, as well as why it has had relatively little effect. Asians fresh off the boat, not even speaking the native language, have consistently outperformed African-Americans in schools and in business (even within the ranks of organized crime). No two generations (or more) required.
|How much success would one expect to see in a program over forty years that clearly would take generations to have a discernible effect on society? Would one expect to see parity between African Americans and European Americans on that sort of time scale?|
Again (because you really DO need to address this), we see Asian success at truly spectacular levels *immediately*, much less after 40 years. We see Asians whose English is barely comprehensible dominating the graduate schools of our best universities. We see that they are financially doing very well indeed.
Perhaps we could argue that the previous immigration waves were mostly European enough to vanish in a generation of interbreeding, and that's why none of them ever required anything like Affirmative Action. But the Asians do not vanish by interbreeding.
|(And in the meantime, I don't want to hear any whining about how Affirmative Action is "unfair" to white people. Take a look at the prison system and death row and then tell me you think American society as a whole is unfair to white people.)|
This argument is not honest. Even if we grant (and it would be hard not to) that blacks are WAY overrepresented in the prisons and death row, and that given essentially similar fact situations blacks are WAY more likely to be convicted, and to get far heavier sentences upon conviction, this says nothing about fairness of employment opportunities. If you run a footrace, finish first, and someone you handily defeated is given the trophy because "his ancestors were mistreated, and people of his description are overrepresented in prison", have YOU been treated unfairly? Absolutely. I'm sorry, but when the qualifications for a desirable job are made explicit, and you spend perhaps years polishing your abilities to meet them, it's simply not fair to give that job to someone substantially less qualified because *some else somewhere else, unrelated to either of you* was treated badly.
|This is what bugs me about conservatives. A program that conservatives don't like for ideological reasons (e.g., affirmative action, social security, medicare) had better work flawlessly or there's going to be constant pressure from the right to a) starve it of funds, and b) kill it once it's sufficiently weakened.|
While I agree as far as you went here, I'm amused at where you stopped. It is true of people generally, of every description and ideology, that what they DO NOT agree with must clear a higher bar than what they like. As a subset of people generally, conservatives are orthogonal to this measure.
|On the other hand, programs that are ideologically favored (SDI, Operation Iraqi Liberation -- oops, did I say that?) which clearly will never work, are funded to death, no matter what the results turn out to be.|
Which is simply the flip side of that same coin. We all filter the world through our ideology, giving every benefit of the doubt possible to what our personal values find "good", and demanding miracles (and not seeing them even if they happen) otherwise.
Affirmative Action addresses, however ineffectively, a very real disparity whose cause isn't at all obvious (because if our "explanations" are correct, the Asians would be impossible). Maybe a better-aimed program would work better. SDI was technically not feasible. Social security seems a reasonably good idea poorly maintained - when it was started, age 65 was the average lifespan (not counting infant mortality) - i.e. the median worker died at 65, so only half the workers who paid into the system survived to extract from it. Social security might still be a reasonably good idea, if the eligibility age had been pegged to the median age of death. Because this didn't happen, the burden of supporting an ever-increasing percentage of capable but nonproductive citizens is beginning to exceed national wealth creation.
But anyway, your point that "conservatives" (you imply they have an exclusive on this) are the only ones to prefer their preferences, is frankly silly. "Liberal" is also a label implying a constellation of preferences. Are these necessarily more rational? Are you kidding? Are you really that incapable of noticing that YOU have preferences, which you find more reasonable? NOTHING is more reasonable than a shared prejudice. I may share many of yours, but I know them for what they are.