When 'minority' is a trick of definition
The facts Jeff Jacoby puts forward below are an important corrective but they still leave unmentioned important areas of concern about the Hispanic presence in the USA -- principally the high rate of gang activity and crime generally among the children of Hispanic immigrants. One normally expects the children of immigrants to assimilate to approximately the majority norm but the children of the majority of Hispanic immigrants are not doing that in important ways. Overall, they are in fact even more prone to crime than their parents. Clearly, the children of those who arrive illegally are perhaps unsurprisingly not strong on respect for the law
WHEN THE CENSUS BUREAU this month issued a press release headlined "Most Children Younger Than Age 1 are Minorities," the media snapped to attention. News outlets nationwide covered the announcement, hailing it as a "historic demographic milestone" (CNN), as the "dawn of an era in which whites no longer will be in the majority" (Washington Post), and as an "important turning point for the nation" (McClatchy) that would "starkly … change the face of America's next generations" (Time).
None of that was true.
None of that was new, either. The Census Bureau keeps dangling commonplace demographic data as if they were a dramatic racial revelation, and the press keeps taking the bait. The stories this month about minority births becoming the majority could have been recycled from a year ago, when the same thing was being reported -- and with the same air of history in the making. "For the first time," an AP story declared in June 2011, "minorities make up a majority of babies in the US, part of a sweeping race change … that could reshape government policies." Three months earlier, The New York Times had told its readers that babies born to minorities were "on the verge" of becoming the majority of all US births.
For years Americans have been hearing about the coming nonwhite majority. With every fresh tranche of census data, the issue is raised anew. "Minorities, now roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042," the Census Bureau forecast in 2008, "with the nation projected to be 54 percent minority in 2050." Savor the absurdity of the phrase "54 percent minority." It isn't the only thing about this issue that is irrational.
To begin with, all the ballyhoo about America's impending metamorphosis from white to nonwhite makes sense only if white Hispanics aren't what they say they are. Census Bureau guidelines specify that "Hispanics may be of any race" and that "The federal government treats Hispanic origin and race as separate and distinct concepts." In the 2010 US Census, 50.5 million Americans identified themselves as ethnically Hispanic; of those, more than half -- 26.7 million -- were white. The only way to conjure up a looming nonwhite majority is to arbitrarily subtract whites of Hispanic origin from the nation's overall white population.
That "sweeping race change," in other words, is a trick of definition. Maybe you relish the prospect of whites becoming a minority of the American population or maybe you dread it -- or maybe, in an era when more newlyweds than ever are marrying across racial lines, you wonder why anyone is still obsessed with race and color.
But whatever your attitude, there is no point waiting up for The End of White America. It isn't coming. Drill down into the Census Bureau's latest population estimates, for example, and it turns out that of the 3,996,537 babies younger than age 1, nearly 72 percent are white. The only way to shrink that very hefty majority to less than half is to exclude the nearly 900,000 white babies whose ethnic background is Hispanic.
Rita Hayworth starred with Fred Astaire in the 1942 film 'You Were Never Lovelier.'
The same is true of the "54 percent minority" scheduled to arrive by 2050. What the data in the bureau's spreadsheets actually project is that white Americans, who now constitute nearly 80 percent of the population, will make up 74 percent by midcentury. Only if tens of millions of white Hispanics aren't counted as white will America in 2050 be anything other than a majority-white nation.
There may be those who simply refuse to regard Hispanics as white, perhaps because of bigotry or ignorance or because they never saw Rita Hayworth, Martin Sheen, Raquel Welch, or Andy Garcia. But then, there have always been Americans with curious ideas of who could and couldn't be "white." Benjamin Franklin was sure that German immigrants were not only non-white but unassimilable; Henry Cabot Lodge said the same thing about Russians, Poles, and Greeks. There was a time when US immigration policy classified Irish, Italians, and Jews as non-white, and when state laws required any resident with "one drop of Negro blood" to be listed as black.
To us, looking back, all those distinctions today seem ludicrous. A generation or two down the road, it will doubtless seem just as ludicrous that anyone would ever have thought of Hispanics as anything other than part of the broad, "white," American mainstream. Perhaps by then the very idea of race -- white, black, or anything else -- will finally have been discarded, and children will marvel at the idea that color of skin or shape of eye could ever have mattered so much.
Greece is a nation of layabouts and crooks
That's not quite what the head of the IMF said but she got close. I've met a lot of Greeks and there are of course exceptions but they are generally a a very lazy and crooked lot in my experience. Like Ms Lagarde I have no sympathy for them. Only when working in their own businesses or under a very watchful eye do they make an effort
The IMF has no intention of softening the terms of Greece's austerity package, says Christine Lagarde. Photograph: Emmanuel Fradin for the Guardian
The International Monetary Fund has ratcheted up the pressure on crisis-hit Greece after its managing director, Christine Lagarde, said she has more sympathy for children deprived of decent schooling in sub-Saharan Africa than for many of those facing poverty in Athens.
In an uncompromising interview with the Guardian, Lagarde insists it is payback time for Greece and makes it clear that the IMF has no intention of softening the terms of the country's austerity package.
Using some of the bluntest language of the two-and-a-half-year debt crisis, she says Greek parents have to take responsibility if their children are being affected by spending cuts. "Parents have to pay their tax," she says.
Greece, which has seen its economy shrink by a fifth since the recession began, has been told to cut wages, pensions and public spending in return for financial help from the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank.
Asked whether she is able to block out of her mind the mothers unable to get access to midwives or patients unable to obtain life-saving drugs, Lagarde replies: "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens."
Lagarde, predicting that the debt crisis has yet to run its course, adds: "Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax." She says she thinks "equally" about Greeks deprived of public services and Greek citizens not paying their tax.
"I think they should also help themselves collectively." Asked how, she replies: "By all paying their tax."
Asked if she is essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe that they have had a nice time and it is now payback time, she responds: "That's right."
The intervention by Lagarde comes after the caretaker Greek government met to discuss a sharp fall in tax revenues – down by a third in a year. Under the terms of the country's bailout, Athens has agreed to improve Greece's poor record for tax collection in order to reduce its budget deficit, and Lagarde's remarks are evidence of a growing impatience in the international community. Reports surfaced in Germany and France of preparations being made to cope with Greece's possible departure from the single currency after its election on 17 June.
Belgium's deputy prime minister, Didier Reynders, said it would be a "serious professional error" if central banks and companies did not prepare for an exit.
Jürgen Fitschen, joint head of Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche, described Greece as "a failed state … a corrupt state". Separately, however, there were reports suggesting that the chancellor, Angela Merkel, was dusting down the economic modernisation plan used to revive East Germany after the fall of communism in the belief that similar measures could be applied to Greece and other struggling eurozone countries. Today's Der Spiegel magazine says Merkel will present a six-point plan based on the East German blueprint as a growth strategy. It includes measures such as privatisation, looser employment law and lower tax rates.
Opinion polls are pointing to a close race between parties backing and opposing the terms of Greece's €130bn bailout, but neither Germany nor the IMF has demonstrated any willingness to water down Greece's austerity programme.
In her interview Lagarde says Greece is not getting softer treatment than a poor country in the developing world, and that the IMF does not find it harder to impose strong conditions on a rich nation.
"No, it's not harder. No. Because it's the mission of the fund, and it's my job to say the truth, whoever it is across the table. And I tell you something: it's sometimes harder to tell the government of low-income countries, where people live on $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 per capita per year, to actually strengthen the budget and reduce the deficit. Because I know what it means in terms of welfare programmes and support for the poor. It has much bigger ramifications."
Europe's fake austerity
There are tax increases but no austerity
The austerity vs stimulus debate is the focal point of attention once more, as the recent results of Greek and French elections show an increasing opposition against Europe’s unique type of redistributive austerity. But few understand what austerity really means. They refer to it as “painful cuts that are hurting growth”.
Even by phrasing the choice as 'austerity vs growth', it is obvious that people don't really understand what austerity is, and even less what their governments are doing.
Recent posts from the Mercatus Center, Cato Institute, Tyler Cowen and many others shed some light on this, and have pointed to the inconvenient fact that there is no real austerity in Europe, at least not the type that could theoretically help these economies recover. In fact, Tyler Cowen asks what austerity is, trying to come up with a precise definition in order to overcome the biases behind the term and its policy effects. Looking at Wikipedia and Investopedia he finds the following:
"In economics, austerity is a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided."
"A state of reduced spending and increased frugality in the financial sector. Austerity measures generally refer to the measures taken by governments to reduce expenditures in an attempt to shrink their growing budget deficits."
Defining the term is particularly important for policy reasons. As you can see, there is no mention of tax increases in any of the two definitions. However, governments do often tend to use tax hikes to lower the deficit. But the very definition of austerity implies cutting spending and cutting entitlements in order to create more scope for the private sector to grow on its own. In other words, to remove the dependency mentality from people and from businesses.
Then comes the following graph from Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center:
Where is the austerity here? Where are the significant cuts in spending necessary to address public and private sector dependency on the government and to reform the labour market? Particularly interesting examples are UK and France, where no signs of decreasing spending can be seen. In the UK, public spending to GDP has reached a 50-year historical high (46% of GDP). Some cuts have been made, but everything that was saved up was again used to steer the economy. And so Britain saw schemes that want to pick industrial winners, guide investment projects, subsidize housing, subsidize unemployed young people, and even control the amount and prices of loans in the economy. How do any of these address systemic dependency and how do any of these fit in the aforementioned austerity definition?
In France, the painful burden of redistributive austerity was one of the causes of Sarkozy's electoral defeat. The French were apparently fed up with it. Still, I'm struggling to see the actual austerity in France. I may be wrong, but maybe what's bothering the people in France is the same thing bothering people in the UK — taxes are going up, people are left with less and less disposable income, nothing is done to address the endemic dependency of the people or businesses to the state, private sector growth is unlikely, banks are in an uncertain position and refusing to lend.
In France, as a result, people are resort to radicalism, which was evident on both French and Greek elections where ultra-right and ultra-left parties won seats in parliament and got a dangerously significant portion of the votes.
The very idea of depicting the debate as austerity vs growth is wrong. This implies that the solution is the opposite of austerity — a monetary or fiscal stimulus to close down the nominal GDP gap.
Even if a short-term fiscal or monetary stimulus can temporarily boost growth, that isn't the way towards a proper restructuring of the economy. I know the logic behind these views: "let's just get the economy going and all will be better afterwards". The idea that it's much easier to do structural reforms after things are going well is a wrong approach, since no politician will have the power, strength or the courage to engage into painful but necessary reforms after what the world economy is going through at the moment.
We should expect austerity to be an unpopular policy. Its primary goal is to cut the dependency to the government. This does not come easily and will cost votes. But doing what the European politicians are doing currently has no chance of achieving growth any time soon, is constraining the population from spending (through tax hikes) and the businesses from investing (by causing uncertainty, sending bad signals, and offering no institutional support), and will result in a double loss — of elections and the recovery. As Margaret Thatcher once said: "If you want to cut your own throat, don't come to me for a bandage". This precisely sums up what Europe's allegedly austere governments are doing — cutting their own throats and hoping they stay alive. Not likely.
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