Thursday, April 25, 2013

Genes and Racism

 Thomas Sowell

During decades of watching both collegiate and professional football, I have seen hundreds of touchdowns scored by black players -- but not one extra point kicked by a black player.
Is this because blacks are genetically incapable of kicking a football or because racists won't let blacks kick a football?

Most of us would consider either of these explanations ridiculous. Yet genes and discrimination were the predominant explanations of black-white differences offered by intellectuals in the 20th century.

It was genes that were the preferred explanation in the early decades of that century and discrimination in the later decades, as I show in my recent book, "Intellectuals and Race."

The intelligentsia did not simply offer these as possible explanations among others. On the contrary, each was offered as the predominant, if not exclusive, explanation. Anyone who said otherwise risked being dismissed as a "sentimentalist" in the early 20th century or denounced as a "racist" in later years.

Out of such dogmatic insistence on some one-size-fits-all theory came racial quotas and "disparate impact" lawsuits in our times, based on the presumption that racial differences in outcomes show that somebody did somebody else wrong.

In earlier times, the prevailing theory was that differences in outcomes show that some races are inferior to others. This led to such things as eugenics and ultimately to the Holocaust.

In both eras, the prevailing theory flattered the egos of the intellectuals -- first as saviors of their race, and later as rescuers of victims of racism.

Among the alternative explanations of group differences that were ignored were geography, demography and culture.

For example, people with the geographic handicap of living in isolated mountain valleys have seldom, if ever, produced world-class achievements that advanced science, technology or philosophy. On the contrary, people in such places have almost invariably lagged behind the progress in the rest of the world -- including people of the very same race living on the plains below. Mountaineers were long noted for their poverty and backwardness in countries around the world, especially in the millennia before modern transportation and communication eased their isolation.

People geographically isolated on islands far from the nearest mainland or people isolated by deserts or other geographic features have likewise seldom kept up with the progress of others. Again, this was especially so before modern transportation and communication put them more in touch with the rest of the world.

Conversely, urbanized peoples have often been in the vanguard of progress, producing far more of the historic advances of the human race than a similar number of people scattered out in the hinterlands -- even when both were of the same race.

Geography has been a factor in this as well, since not all geographic areas are equally suitable for building big cities. The overwhelming majority of cities have been built on navigable waterways, for example -- and not all regions have navigable waterways available.

Isolation can be man-made, as well as created by nature. Centuries ago, when China was the most advanced nation in the world, its leaders decided to isolate the country from other peoples, all of whom they regarded as barbarians. After a few centuries of isolation, China was shocked to find itself overtaken by others, and to some extent at the mercy of those others.

Demography is yet another reason why some groups have very different outcomes than others. Age differences between groups within a nation, or between whole nations, have often been a decade or even two decades. Peoples with decades of difference in experience are almost guaranteed to have different achievements, whether they belong to the same race or to different races.

There are many differences between races that have nothing to do with either genes or discrimination, but have much to do with their educational, economic or other outcomes. However, it is a much harder job to examine these many factors, and their complex interactions, than to seize upon whatever happens to be the prevailing theory of the day that may be both easier to grasp and more self-flattering.



SNAP up some recreational food

The federal food stamp program—now called SNAP—is attracting a lot of media coverage. One reason for this is that the program’s costs have exploded—spending more than quadrupled during the Bush-Obama years to $82 billion in 2013 (see here and here p. 16). The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations all took steps to loosen the purse strings on food stamp eligibility, and those changes have led to the ballooning costs of recent years during the stagnant economy.

Aside from the rising costs, two other aspects of SNAP have garnered interest. One is food stamp fraud. The other is the program’s “Twinkie problem”: taxpayers are paying for billions of dollars of junk food, which seems like a huge waste of money to most people.

These two issues have come together in a high-profile effort by a group of media organizations that is demanding greater transparency in SNAP operations. The organizations—led by the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ)—have sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (whose agency oversees SNAP) asking for full disclosure about where food stamps are being spent and what they are being spent on. The Daily Caller reports on the issue here.

Let’s look at the fraud issue. The government claims that the food stamp trafficking rate is just 1 percent and the general overpayment rate is just 4 percent. I suspect that the real rates are much higher, for three reasons: First, the overall costs of SNAP and the number of beneficiaries have skyrocketed. Second, SNAP is ideally suited for abuse: the USDA has few investigators to police the roughly 200,000 SNAP retailers, any of whom could be scamming the system. Third, overpayment rates on other federal subsidy programs are often around 10 percent. Medicare and Medicaid overpayments are in that range, for example, and overpayments have long been around 20 percent in the EITC program.

The AHCJ-led effort is asking the USDA to release data on food stamp purchases by retail outlet. This would be a very useful resource for investigators across the nation to help the government reduce waste and fraud. Are food stamps being cashed in at liquor stores? Which corner stores have unusually high food stamp usage? Let’s get detailed SNAP data on the Internet and allow journalists and the public to help answer these questions. After all, scandal after scandal illustrate that the federal government is lousy at policing programs itself.

The journalists are also asking the USDA to provide detailed breakdowns of the types of food being purchased with SNAP money. It’s remarkable that in an era of Bloomberg-style efforts to restrict private food choices, the government itself runs a giant $82 billion program that subsidizes junk food. How much junk food? We don’t know, and that’s what many journalists want to find out.

Food stamps can be used to purchase just about any edible item other than alcohol, hot food, restaurant meals, and live animals. The USDA explains the rules here and specifically notes that “soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream” are allowed.

Many health experts would like to ban junk food purchases in the food stamp program because they want Americans to eat more nutritious food. I’m a libertarian, so I don’t want the government telling people what to eat. But I think banning junk food in SNAP would be a good step for a different reason: it would greatly reduce demand for the program and thus cut taxpayer costs. If we told the 48 million users of food stamps that they could only use their electronic subsidy cards to buy items like spinach and broccoli, a lot fewer people would use the program and they would buy less stuff.

Why has the USDA been stonewalling journalists on providing SNAP program data? I’m guessing that federal officials don’t want to be embarrassed about: 1) how much taxpayer money goes toward junk food, and 2) the endless series of stories about SNAP fraud that would likely be generated if journalists could explore the program’s operational details.

Optimally, SNAP should be terminated altogether and food subsidy activities left to the states—or better, to private charities. But until that reform happens, the current effort to pry open the workings of this giant hand-out program would be big step in the right direction.  



EEOC: A Scofflaw That Poisons The Climate For Hiring

One way the current political climate discourages hiring is by turning problem employees into potential lawsuits for the employers who take the risk of hiring them. The legal climate has gotten much worse over the past several years due to the appointment of more left-wing, anti-employer judges by President Obama, and an increasingly out-of-control Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sues employers for terminating bad employees who fall into “protected classes,” and for sensible hiring decisions that most judges would consider perfectly legal, since the plain language of federal civil-rights laws permits them. The EEOC even sues employers for using hiring criteria required by state law, such as health and safety codes.

The EEOC’s abusive, out-of-control behavior is a point of agreement among lawyers who agree on little else, liberal and conservative alike. The liberal lawyer “Loki,” writing at the Volokh Conspiracy, observes:

Without going into too much detail, I recently had the bizarre experience of the EEOC first arguing that the plain language of the statute didn’t matter. Then we dug up their own policy, which contradicted their stated litigation position. They argued that their own policy didn’t matter. The issue hadn’t been litigated much, but we found case law directly on point contradicting them (and for which they had been sanctioned). They argued that the case law didn’t matter. Then we found prior DOJ opinions on the issue- guess what? The EEOC said the DOJ opinions didn’t matter.

The judge? He thought it mattered.

I wish this was a one-off experience, but it’s not. Every single time I have dealt with the EEOC, it’s something similar. It’s gotten to the point where I fully expect them to be pissing on my leg so they can tell me it’s raining. And note that I’m not reflexively anti-government; I’ve dealt with the DOJ and SEC (among others) and have nary a bad word to say with the attorneys I’ve dealt with. . .I honestly don’t know what it is in the water at the EEOC. . . I had to do a lot of research on EEOC cases, and I found so many cases where the trial courts just got fed up with the EEOC it wasn’t funny.

Similarly, as the libertarian/conservative lawyer David M. Nieporent observes, the EEOC routinely disregards straightforward legal mandates imposed on it by law, such as the explicit statutory duty to engage in conciliation efforts before suing: “They have a statutory mandate to try to mediate employment disputes before filing suit, and they keep getting spanked by courts for failing to undertake this simple procedural step.”

The EEOC has pressured employers to hire felons as armed guards. It is going after G4S Secure Solutions for refusing to hire felons. That company provides guards for nuclear power plants, chemical plants, government buildings and other sensitive sites, and it is prohibited by state law from hiring people with felony convictions as security officers. As Jim Bovard notes in The Wall Street Journal, the EEOC brought proceedings “in 2010 against G4S Secure Solutions after the company refused to hire a twice-convicted Pennsylvania thief as a security guard.”  As he points out,

The EEOC’s new regime leaves businesses in a Catch-22. As Todd McCracken of the National Small Business Association recently warned: “State and federal courts will allow potentially devastating tort lawsuits against businesses that hire felons who commit crimes at the workplace or in customers’ homes. Yet the EEOC is threatening to launch lawsuits if they do not hire those same felons.” At the same time that the EEOC is practically rewriting the law to add “criminal offender” to the list of protected groups under civil-rights statutes, the agency refuses to disclose whether it uses criminal background checks for its own hiring. When EEOC Assistant Legal Counsel Carol Miaskoff was challenged on this point in a recent federal case in Maryland, the agency insisted that revealing its hiring policies would violate the “governmental deliberative process privilege.” The EEOC is confident that its guidance will boost minority hiring, but studies published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum and the Journal of Law and Economics have found that businesses are much less likely to hire minority applicants when background checks are banned. As the majority of black and Hispanic job applicants have clean legal records, the new EEOC mandate may harm the very groups it purports to help.

Ironically, the EEOC has a much worse record of labor and civil-rights violations than most corporations and agencies with a similar-size workforce.“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, responsible for ensuring that the nation’s workers are treated fairly, has itself willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act on a nationwide basis with its own employees, an arbitrator has ruled.” The EEOC was found guilty of systematic, illegal, reverse discrimination (discrimination against white males) in Jurgens v. Thomas, 29 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1561, 1982 WL 409 (N.D.Tex.1982), and continued to illegally engage in it later, long after it had been ordered to stop, as federal judges found. See, e.g., Terry v. Gallegos, 926 F.Supp. 679 (W.D. Tenn. 1996). The EEOC also has had a lot of sexual harassment lawsuits against it (and I am talking about real sexual harassment, not weak claims based on a couple of off-color jokes or overheard offensive speech, the sort of trivial thing the EEOC itself might unsuccessfully sue a private employer over). See, e.g., Spain v. Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439 (3rd Cir.1994). In short, as John Berlau once noted, the EEOC is like “the fox guarding the henhouse.”

The EEOC recently sued Pepsi for doing criminal background checks on job applicants, forcing it to pay $3.1 million to settle the lawsuit. The EEOC is also threatening employers who require high-school diplomas with lawsuits under the ADA.

Employers’ ability to hire and fire based on merit has effectively been curtailed by the EEOC, which has ordered employers to discard useful employment tests and accommodate incompetent employees. For example, a hotel chain was recently compelled to pay $132,500 for dismissing an autistic desk clerk who did not do his job properly, in order for it avoid a lawsuit by the EEOC that would have cost it much more than that to defend. The EEOC has sued companies that quite reasonably refuse to employ truck drivers with a history of heavy drinking, even though companies that hire them will be sued under state personal-injury laws when they have an accident. The EEOC used the threat of endless litigation for force a cafe owner to pay thousands of dollars for not selecting a hearing- and speech-impaired employee for a cashier’s position that the employee was unsuited for (even though the the employer was happy to retain the employee in a different position that did not require standard speech and hearing abilities). The EEOC’s aggressive anti-business interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reflects its left-wing majority under the Obama administration, which has appointed anti-business extremists to the EEOC.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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