Roland G. Fryer Jr. and thoughts on economic injustice, racism, and achievement that are no fault of the fine man

  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : Function ereg() is deprecated in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/file.inc on line 646.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/melancon/public_html/includes/unicode.inc on line 311.

A 2005 article on hot young economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. by Stephen J. Dubner got me thinking about my thesis again.

About all I need to know to want to keep track of his work is that his model is W.E.B. DuBois.

But this statement is disturbing, and the author is an economist himself. Following up on examples of Fryer's willingness and capacity to look at all things that might affect black achievement, including genetics, Dubner wrote:

So here is Fryer's final anomaly: he is a man who revels in his blackness and yet also says he believes, as DuBois believed, that black underachievement cannot entirely be laid at the feet of discrimination.

What sort of fool, let alone a self-described rogue economist, would frame the question as a matter of discrimination? Kidnapping and slavery and no compensation hardly fit neatly under discrimination. Follow history a tad longer and you get to sharecropping, which puts the problem squarely in an economic context.

Make wealth and resources equal, and I bet black people will overcome racism – with great difficulty, but ultimately overcome it – and achieve just about anything professors and bureaucrats care to measure.

This isn't a rhetorical point to say "here is the obvious problem, too bad it's impossible to change"– this is a practical point that economic injustice is the most important thing to change.

I know of studies that indicate so-called racial scholastic achievement gaps persist when income is equalized or accounted for (but the same studies show that income of previous generations, which is getting to be a proxy for wealth, reduces measured gaps). And there is horrifying evidence of classist and racist assumptions of potential throughout the educational system. And of course one's own expectations for oneself play a very important role, but obviously expectations are influenced by reality.

Explanations of racial disparities in any given artificial measurement of achievement has a formidable stack that, of the reasons that come to mind at this moment, I would place unconditionally in the following order:

Economic injustice (primarily wealth inequality), institutionalized racist policies, individual racism, internalized racism.

(Especially if we're talking about children, the impact of each element above on parents and community is an important route of influence.)

Important point: economic injustice applies to almost everyone, not just a given group, and the latter three components of racism overlap a great deal with classism, which can also apply to all groups. That the impact is worse on certain groups doesn't change the shared injustice and need for redress.

(Many of the worst – and least discussed – forms of discrimination perpetuate and worsen inequality of wealth directly in monetary terms: higher rates on loans, housing and rental discrimination, police profiling, and discrimination throughout the judicial system are as direct impactors of income as employment discrimination.)

The political point is simple: Material resources should be made more equal for everyone.

In conventional economic terms, this means a tax that happens to have the least perverse incentive on economic activity: a tax on wealth, say two to ten percent per annum, redistributed to everyone equally.

That's a specific solution endorsed only by me, that I know of, but the scientific point is more important in this context. The article repeatedly alluded to the possibility of genetic explanations.

(If you really think that, maybe because it has the scientific aura of biochemistry around it, it's more scientific to attribute a measured difference to genes than the observable circumstances of economics and even discrimination, maybe you're a candidate for science to identify the stupid gene after all.)

In seriousness, we're talking ultimately about economic achievement, in the framework of economics. To skip over economic injustice and to try to tease out explanatory significance from unmeasurable alleged inherent qualities is scientifically dishonest and traitorous to humanity.

That's a strong statement, but it's the political climate we're in, and have been for more than a hundred years. Any tiny suggestion of scientific endorsement of a genetic distinction among the fluid races of humanity (for there really is but one human race) will be seized on to ignore the blatantly obvious gaping wounds of economic, social, and political injustice and instead ram through such enlightened policies as eugenics, segregation, anti-miscegenation and genocide.

It's just science being put to mis-use by and for the benefit of the powerful, as religion and philosophy and who-knows-what-all were and still are.

So, what to do?

That stack that starts with economic injustice is about explanation of difference in measured achievement experienced by blacks as a group. That's quite different from what to do about overcoming difference in areas where we think it's important.

(On "where we think it's important": No need for blacks to reach whites' higher level of cigarette smoking, for instance, and ideally we wouldn't have to make standardized testing a focus, nor should we aim to produce more soulless capitalists, corporate yes-men, Clarence Thomases, or Condoleeza Rices from any group.)

To restate, conceptually separate from the causes of racial disparities are what we can do about it. For any given goal, sources of success that are not the cause of a difference in group results can nevertheless be focused on to reduce the disparity.

Working harder than others, of course, is and will continue to be a key strategy for disadvantaged individuals and groups.

I still think a struggle for economic justice has to be front and center.

But to build the better world we want, we also have to do many things which can be done immediately. Maybe Fryer's studies into incentives will have an effect. While wealth inequality is a root cause, its workings are not mysterious and on something like academic achievement are not out of reach of a broad social movement: time and peace to study, good food, books of all kinds, other educational materials and tools and help and mentors, and hope of work or other way to contribute to society and make a living.

I would like to be part of this movement. One specific way to making a living is doing Drupal. Any Agaric interns out there?

Organization as a movement is as important as individual acts, and not only because individual or collective actions so often depends on movement connections and organization in any case. Identifying as a movement makes credible other efforts. Even implying (by not talking about larger problems) that a community library is a solution to structural black unemployment and underemployment is laughable. One does not need to read about theories of capitalism's need for an underclass to see that. People might respect a 24-hour community library unapologetically for both individual opportunity and group organizing for justice.

At any rate I want take part in that kind of effort.