Thursday, March 21, 2013

Some interesting experiments on "racism"

In the 1950's and 60s there was a concerted Marxist-led effort by psychologists to prove that people with "racist" attitudes were psychologically maladjusted. The fact that the whole world had been racist up until the war didn't seem to hold them up any.

Reality triumphed eventually however and psychology textbooks these days routinely concede that some form of "in group favoritism" is normal, natural and essentially universal. We all tend to like best people similar to ourselves. In Freudian terms it is an extension of self-love.

It seems, however, that economists have been reinventing the wheel by demonstrating in-group favoritism yet again. There is a description below. The authors found that bus drivers were less likely to give a free ride to dark-skinned people.

As with all such experiments, however, the problem of generalizability arises. What generalizations, if any, can we extract from the findings? The authors of the study offer a fairly expansive interpretation of their findings but a simpler explanation might be that dark skin is in all the English-speaking countries associated with a high crime rate, so the drivers may have been more likely to suspect dark-skinned requests for a free ride of being dishonest. The principle of parsimony would favour that explanation.

But in reality it is all speculative. NOTHING firm can be concluded from the data. And the authors themselves show how weak generalizations in that field are. They show that what the drivers said they would do and what they actually did were roughly opposite. As LaPiere showed in the 1930s, you cannot infer behaviour from expressed behavioural intention. But if you cannot predict behaviour even from behavioural intention, what can you predict? Again the answer is nothing.

So these little experiments are fun but are no cause for any heartburn. We are all "racists" to a degree but what implications that has for behaviour will vary with both the individual and the situation. Only a Leftist could deny that.

Of course, part of the problem is how racism is defined. To the hysterical Left any mention of race is racism and any mention of racial differences is doubly so. Such reactions are irrational however so the most expansive definition I would support is "preference for one group over another". And that is the sense in which I have used it above.

Even that usage, however tends to associate too much with racism. It associates probably harmless attitudes with some of the great evils of history. A more historically-grounded definition would be: "Advocating or practicing harm or disadvantage to other people solely on account of their race". Racism of that sort is exceedingly rare today outside Muslim countries. -- JR
Two economists from the University of Queensland, Redzo Mujcic and Professor Paul Frijters, will publish the results of a natural field experiment on Thursday in which trained "testers" of different ethnic appearance got on buses in Brisbane, discovered their travel card wouldn't work, but then asked the driver to let them to make the trip anyway.

Various testers did this more than 1500 times. Overall, the driver agreed in almost two-thirds of cases.

But whereas the success rate for testers of white appearance was 72 per cent, for testers of black appearance it was just 36 per cent.

Testers of Indian appearance were let on 51 per cent of the time, whereas those of Chinese, Japanese or Malaysian appearance were allowed to travel about as much as Caucasians were.

On average, bus drivers were 6 percentage points more likely to favour someone of the same race. Black drivers tended to be the most generous, accepting in 72 per cent of cases, compared with 54 per cent by Indian drivers and 64 per cent by Asian and white bus drivers.

If you think that's interesting, try this: to test the importance of how people were clothed, the testers were then dressed in business suits with briefcases. The success rate of whites rose by 21 percentage points and the combined rate for blacks and Indians rose to 75 per cent.

Next, the testers were dressed in military clothes. The success rate of whites rose by 25 percentage points while the combined rate for blacks and Indians rose to 85 per cent.

As a follow-up, the researchers then conducted a random survey of bus drivers at selected resting stations in Brisbane, presenting them with pictures of the same test subjects and asking the bus drivers whether they would let them on or not with an empty travel card.

Some 80 per cent of the bus drivers at resting stations indicated they would give free rides to Indian and black test subjects, even though in reality less than 50 per cent were let on.

Indeed, bus drivers said they would let on white subjects 5 percentage points less often than black subjects, whilst in reality white test subjects were favoured at least 40 percentage points more than black testers.

The main reason given for not letting someone on was it was against the rules, while the main reason to let someone on was it was no burden to do so.

It's all a bit disturbing - if not so surprising - but how do we make sense of it? And what's it got to do with economics?

Frijters, perhaps Australia's leading exponent of "behavioural" economics, is developing an economic theory of groups: the different types of groups and how and why they form. All of us feel an affinity with a range of groups. Businesses and government agencies are groups, but there can be groups within those groups; working teams as well as sporting teams. Mixed in with all this are in-groups and out-groups - people we want to associate with and people we don't.

Often we form groups so as to co-operate in achieving some goal. And groups often involve reciprocation - I do you a favour in the expectation that, when my need arises, you'll do me one.

So Frijters explains the results of his experiment in terms of group behaviour. "People with Indian or black complexions are more likely to be treated as an out-group and less worthy of help compared to Caucasians and Asians," he says.

"The reason bus drivers were more reluctant to give black and Indian help-seekers a free ride was that they did not personally relate to them."

When testers were sent to bus stops in military clothes this made them appear to be patriots, defending the same community as the bus driver. So the drivers' original out-group reaction could be overcome by in-group clothing.

The more favourable treatment of testers in business dress suggests the "aspirational groups" of the bus drivers include people richer than themselves, people with more desirable visual characteristics. That is, people the drivers regard as part of their in-group.

If all this sounds more sociological or to do with social psychology than with economics, it is. But that's the point of behavioural economics: to incorporate insights from other social sciences into economics.

And what have groups got to do with economics? That's simple: the objective of many groups is to give their members greater control over economic resources.

Frijter's new book, An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks, written with Gigi Foster, will be published this month.



The research described above is still unpublished in its original form so I am not entirely sure what is in it but the authors would appear to be reinventing the work of Hechter as in:

Hechter, M. (1986) Rational choice theory and the study of race and ethnic relations. Ch. 12 in J. Rex & D. Mason (Eds.) "Theories of race and ethnic relations", Cambridge: U.P.

Hechter, M. (1987) Nationalism as group solidarity. "Ethnic & Racial Studies" 10, 415-426.

Hechter, M., Friedman, D. & Appelbaum, M. (1982) A theory of ethnic collective action. "International Migration Review" 16, 412-434.


Behind the Cyprus turmoil

An attempt to rein in Greek and Russian collaboration in crookedness

The European Union's $13 billion bailout plan for Cyprus has nothing to do with socialism but rather with much greater stakes. This is the EU attempting to outmaneuver an uncharacteristically flat-footed Vladimir Putin and Russia in a key battleground, over long-festering issues: transparency, corruption, and support of Syria and Iran. This is also a case of the EU calling out a Trojan-horse country embedded inside the Eurozone.

In exchange for the $13 billion from the EU, Cyprus would have to impose a one-time tax on bank deposits, increase corporate taxes from 10 percent to 12.5 percent, and submit to greater financial transparency. It's about time. But what a potential nightmare of transparency for Russia.

Cyprus accepted a 2.5 billion euro loan from Russia in 2011, with Russia denying a more recent loan request for 5 billion euros. Now, Russia is saying that it will be so generous as to, at the very least, ease conditions on the initial loan if Cyprus provides the Russian government with the identities of Russians sheltering money in Cyprus banks. And Russia isn't forking over any more cash because it isn't convinced that it has to (yet) in order to maintain Cyprus as an ally. The two nations are as thick as thieves, and both have been playing the EU for utter morons.

Foreigners hold an estimated 40 percent of the cash in Cyprus banks, most of it belonging to Russians. It's not hard to imagine why, when a 10 percent corporate tax rate is available to anyone willing to spend 300,000 euros on a Cyprus residence. As an added bonus, after five years you get Cypriot citizenship, an EU passport and zero taxation on your global income. Russia has also been trying to get Cyprus to lobby the EU to lift Russian visa requirements.

The World Bank lists the gross domestic product of Cyprus at $24.7 billion, yet Russians (including 80 oligarchs) hold an estimated $25.6 billion in Cyprus banks, according to German intelligence.

What's the nature of this cash, exactly? Seedy-to-filthy at best. In February, the EU's Financial Intelligence Unit launched an investigation into whether Russian mafia cash had been laundered through EU banks. And late last year, according to Russia's own RIA Novosti state media, Cyprus opened an investigation into whether $31 million in Russian tax-fraud cash uncovered by anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died while awaiting trial in a Russian jail after accusing Russian officials of $230 million worth of tax fraud, had been moved to five Cyprus banks.

Cypriot and Russian authorities have been playing the EU and the rest of the world for fools since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both say they want to fight corruption, though they never seem to get around to actually doing anything about it. When American intelligence busted a Russian spy ring in 2010 -- which most famously included redheaded Anna Chapman -- the alleged money-man and SVR (Russian foreign intelligence) point man, Pavel Kapustin (alias: Christopher Metsos), was nabbed on an Interpol warrant in Cyprus and successfully fled because he was conveniently bailed by Cypriot authorities. Nice crime-fighting.

In early 2012, the Guardian reported that a Russian transport ship carrying 60 tons of ammunition purchased by the Syrian government from state-controlled Russian munitions exporter Rosoboronexport pulled into the Cypriot port in a storm and, despite being in clear violation of sanctions, was sent back on its way by Cyprus authorities.

Similarly, key Russian trade partner Iran has long circumvented sanctions through Cypriot front companies. Intelligence Online reported last year: "According to our sources, one of the traders supplying Syria is the small Cypriot company Q-One Energy Ltd, headquartered at Soboh House, Limassol, in the same building as fellow trader Soboh Pentroleum, headed by Aiman Soboh and which works closely with Russian traders. Q-One delivered two shipments of 30,000 tonnes of petrol to Syria on board the Breeze A on March 11 and the Voyager A on March 22."

Sounds cozy.

There are 19 Iranian front companies circumventing U.S. sanctions via Cyprus, according to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control -- and those are just the ones identified so far.

If Russia does offer Cyprus another bailout, it will be because Russia fears the revelations and strategic losses that would result from the tiny nation moving squarely into the Western sphere of influence. No doubt Putin has been hoping to get the EU to pay the bill for propping up Russian business accounts, backed by Russian banks, in Cyprus. Any cash Russia offers will come under the guise of "fighting corruption," of course. "Don't worry, we'll take care of this cleanup. Nothing to see here, so please don't look."

Sure. Russia has done such a crack job with that so far. The EU is finally trying to do right.



To Save Traditional Marriage, End State Involvement in Marriage

Within the next few months, Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely rule that same-sex marriage is mandated by the Constitution of the United States. The ruling will offend both common sense and Constitutional law. But it will nonetheless become the law of the land. With it, states will be forced to recognize same-sex marriages; same-sex marriage will enter the public school lexicon; religious institutions will be forced to recognize same-sex marriages or lose their tax-exempt status. Religious Americans will be forced into violating their beliefs or facing legal consequences by the government. The First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty will largely become obsolete.

There is only one way to stop this development: Get the government out of the business of marriage. Right now.

States and localities originally gave tax benefits and crafted specific legal systems in order to incentivize Americans to get married and have children within the context of marriage. But those legal institutions have been undermined over the past several decades by a culture that degrades marriage and child rearing. Incentive structures that used to provide the cherry on top of good moral decision-making no longer matter enough to drive such decision-making.

That gap between culture and the legal system has led to a cycle of defining deviancy down, with government taking the lead. The view of the value of marriage in American life changed in the 1950's and 1960's; the left used that cultural shift in order to legitimize no-fault divorce laws, legal custody and child support arrangements that incentivized divorce and social welfare systems that incentivized unwed motherhood.

The last bastion of the old value system was the state's approval of traditional marriage. But thanks to a decades-long cultural shift away from marriage, the left is now in position to use the levers of government to redefine the institution once and for all -- and in the process, destroy the American religious culture that under-girds American freedom.

Unlike the movement to retract laws restricting sexual behavior, the same-sex marriage movement has never been about freedom in any real sense. The push for same-sex marriage is not about wanting freedom to copulate; same-sex copulation has been effectively legal in this country for decades, and formally legal since Lawrence v. Texas (2003). The push for same-sex marriage is not about wanting legal benefits available to heterosexual couples; same-sex couples are largely able to make contractual arrangements to achieve those benefits, and in many states, civil unions equate legally with marriage.

The push for same-sex marriage is about placing the power of government in direct opposition to traditional religious viewpoints.

And conservatives cannot stop that push unless they are willing to restrict government power. Conservatism has always been about preventing the power of government from invading the lives of citizens. Leftism has always been about using the power of government to restrict the behavior of others. It is time for conservatives to recognize the reality of their situation, realize the dangers inherent in their insistence on government interventionism and act quickly.

Getting the government out of marriage would mean voluntary lifestyle arrangements governed by contract -- a practice that has roots stretching back millennia. Religious people would not be forced by the state to approve behavior they find morally problematic. They would not have to worry about their children being taught about such behavior. Conservatives would be forced to rebuild a culture of marriage rather than focusing on a crumbling legal bulwark.

Conservatives lost the culture. Then they lost the law. They can only regain traditional values by removing legal coercion and incentivization from the table -- the left will never hesitate to use those means -- and focusing once again on the raising and production of children within a culture of traditional morality.




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