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America and the Left Half of the Bell Curve | Part IV: Helping the Left Half of the Bell Curve - the Not So Hot Ideas
Part II: How the Other Half Lives
Part III: IQ and the Class Struggle
Part IV: Helping the Left Half of the Bell Curve - the Not So Hot Ideas
What policies would most aid the left half of the Bell Curve? The essential requirement: policies must help people with double-digit IQs help themselves. In this article, I'll consider ideas ranging from bad to only marginally useful. In the next, I'll consider the more promising alternatives.
Welfare? It's not exactly front-page news anymore: welfare for single mothers has proven morally disastrous for them. But why did the two interrelated Big Ideas imported from Sweden in the Sixties - (1) generous welfare for unmarried mothers; (2) no social disapproval of childbirth outside marriage -- turn out to be Bad Ideas?
Because people on the left half of the Bell Curve tend to be below-average at prudent long-term decisions. When American intellectuals imported these concepts from the Swedes, they expected Americans to act like Swedes. That was like expecting Jimi Hendrix to sound like ABBA.
The damage done to Swedes by these ideas has been glacially slow. It takes generations of welfare to undermine the remarkable Swedish work ethic. Same with sex: if you make marriage unfashionable, Swedes will still form long-term relationships and act like they're married. They tend to be too shy to be comfortable with practicing promiscuity and too responsible to walk away from their out-of-wedlock offspring. According to Francis Fukuyama, even now 90% of Swedish illegitimate babies are born to co-habitating couples, compared to only 25% in the U.S.
Not surprisingly, in the U.S. the tide has finally turned against high welfare payments to single mothers. More sophisticated redistribution schemes like the Earned Income Tax Credit do less moral damage, but have distinct limits. They do nothing for those who can't find jobs. And they can impose a sizable marginal disincentive that would keep low-wage workers from looking for higher paying jobs.
Racial quotas? -- Whites and Asians are almost twice as numerous on the right side of the Bell Curve as blacks and Hispanics. So racial preferences divide the working class rather than deal with its difficulties. Nor do the lower earnings of blacks stem significantly from irrational discrimination. Blacks earn an average of 98% as much as whites with equal IQs. No, their problem is that their IQs tend not to be equal. The median African-American's IQ is only equal to that of a white at the 16th percentile.
But quotas are a near-inevitable political response to the reality of racial differences. They are at least a semi-serious response to a deeply serious situation. In contrast, the standard conservative debating ploy of blustering, "If you support quotas, then you're really saying blacks aren't equal to whites" is just a slick soundbite. It's not a morally serious response to the reality that, on average, blacks are not equal to whites in the ability to make money.
Sure, African Americans could do better if they got their act together. (In fact, they are doing better than in 1990, during their self-inflicted crack epidemic.) Still, the evidence is overwhelming: as a group, the blacks are no more likely to reach economic equality with whites than whites are likely to reach athletic equality with blacks.
This somber fact poses severe moral and practical challenges for America. And for any state comprised of racial groups with unequal productive capacities - witness a coup in Fiji, pogroms in Indonesia, corruption in Malaysia, genocide in Germany.
Many establishment conservatives see unskilled mestizo immigrants as our New, Improved Poor People. The Old, Unimproved Poor People: native-born blacks. But this only makes sense if we could somehow exchange blacks for Hispanic immigrants. Without deporting blacks, immigration will only create a second undercompetitive, and thus resentful, racial group.
Mestizo Hispanics tend to suffer (somewhat) less severe problems than African Americans - but their potential numbers are larger. For example, Fox Butterfield reported in The New York Times (August 10th) that Hispanics are 1/3rd as likely to go to jail as blacks (Whites? Merely 1/10th). But by the end of the century, Hispanics may be three times as numerous as blacks. We'll enjoy equally large groups of black and Hispanic jailbirds. Quite a legacy to leave our great-grandchildren.
The essential fact about African Americans is that they are Americans. They did not ask to come here. At minimum, our nation's obligation to them is to not worsen their plight by importing competitors that are slightly more competent.
Republicans point to newly-arrived immigrants outcompeting native blacks as proof that blacks shouldn't blame us for their problems. Okay, fine. It's not our fault. But, in what system of ethics is it the average black's fault that his IQ, which is mostly determined genetically, is 85? Is he to blame for failing to choose his parents wisely?
Class Quotas? -- Many in the political center now want to reform affirmative action. Replace race with class background, they argue. Under these schemes, you could simultaneously drink yourself out of the middle class and your kid into Harvard!
But, as The Bell Curve made clear by looking at a huge sample of whites, class background is a much weaker predictor of what a person will earn when he grows up than his IQ. Class-based quotas simply miss the point about what causes economic inequality. Today, the U.S. probably does a better job of helping high IQ individuals from all segments of society move up the ladder than any country in history. So analysts find huge economic inequality not just within pairs of strangers coming from the same class, but also within pairs of siblings coming from the same home. Charles Murray's study of 710 pairs of siblings found that those with IQ's below 90 average only half the income of their brothers and sisters with IQ's above 110.
IQ Quotas? -- No, if you want to focus affirmative action on those who really need it, you'd have to create IQ quotas - the reductio ad absurdum of affirmative action. Nobody wants their hospital to turn down smart surgeons and hire more stupid ones. (Of course, discriminating against the cognitively competent in favor of the mentally mediocre is also in effect the essence of race and class quotas.)
Nor is it clear that quotas do their intended beneficiaries much good. Consider a young man with a strong body, nimble hands, and a decent work ethic. Let's also imagine that reading and writing aren't his strong suits. Would a quota that gives him an entry-level office job where he's supposed to read and write memos all day really offer him such a wonderful opportunity? Or are you just wasting his time by starting him off on what will prove to be an unsuitable career?
Unions? -- Private sector unions' effectiveness is heavily dependent upon a tight labor market. Cesar Chavez's success at winning higher wages and safer working conditions for stoop-laborers in the 1960s and 1970s was the result of government policies like President Eisenhower's Operation Wetback deportations that dramatically cut the number of Mexican migrant workers in the 1950s and 1960s. But after the floodgates opened up again, millions of Mexican immigrants undermined the United Farm Workers' power.
The AFL-CIO's leadership, which had been losing members for decades, has seized on a brilliant new strategy for benefiting themselves: Betray their traditional base of regular Joes in windbreakers in favor of government employees - and immigrants. Just like the big corporations, John Sweeney's AFL-CIO now wants to import a new, more malleable proletariat to replace the native working class that, ironically, it too finds unsatisfactory.
Sweeney intends to evade the laws of supply and demand that rule the private sector by playing the racial guilt card in the political sector. Since few white Americans apparently feel they owe any loyalty to fellow native-born Americans in unions (that would be the crime of "nativism"), Sweeney wants to bring in brown foreigners. He appears to believe that upper-middle class whites are more likely to favor laws mandating above-market pay for members of immigrant-dominated unions than for members of unions dominated by their fellow native-born Americans. This strategy has already enjoyed success in winning higher wages for the Mexican janitors of Los Angeles, who had earlier pushed native-born blacks out of the field. [http://www.capitalresearch.org/LaborWatch/lw-0800.htm]
Further, all these immigrants with fifth grade educations will need lots more unionized social workers to look after them.
Protectionism? -- As a free marketer I always assumed that protectionism was always a terrible idea. For example, I opposed the Reagan Administration's import quotas for the Japanese cars. Yet by encouraging the Japanese to open assembly plants in the U.S., that move worked out spectacularly better than I predicted. Japanese management showed that Americans workers could achieve much higher quality than American management had assumed.
So protectionism may work in practice more often than it works in theory. But still, it typically makes managements lazy by cutting their competition. Further, other nations can retaliate with higher tariffs. This could start a downward spiral in the world economy.
(Retaliation, by the way, is not a risk if we tighten our immigration policy. Few countries could possibly tighten their restrictions on immigrants from America any more than now. Mexico, China, India, all our major immigrant sources, believe that turnabout is not fair play. We opened our borders unilaterally, if selectively, without any attempt to ensure what in trade negotiations is called "reciprocity.")
Enough lousy ideas! The next column will list some good ones.
August 27, 2000