Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXX - Issue 1 - The Rawls Report
The Rawls Report
Thinking Straight About Race
by Alec Rawls
Racism is the failure to account properly for individual information. Suppose, for instance, that my race based expectation from past experience is that Asians are smart. If a particular Chinese person demonstrates that he is dumb, and I continue to expect him to be smart, I am a racist. Obviously, it would be dumb of me to fail to process individual information as it becomes available. Racists are dumb.
Racism can also refer to group- based expectations that derive not from actual information about group tendencies but from ill will. There are plenty of examples of this from history, where competing groups were presumed to be barbaric and inferior just because they were different.
What cannot tenably be called racism (if "racism" is to retain a pejorative meaning) is the set of group-based expectations that 1) are based on a person's actual information about group tendencies and 2) which give way to individual information as it becomes available. If 1 and 2 are kept, a person is just thinking straight, and thinking straight cannot in and of itself be immoral.
Some people do not accept that. If thinking straight points in a direction they don't like, they won't go there. As a result, they end up divorced from reality and wreak havoc on that about which they claim to care.
Rational race-based expectations harm innocent people. Blacks have approximately six times the murder rate of whites, six times the rape rate, six times the assault rate, six times the robbery rate, six times the shoplifting rate and six times the burglary rate. Because of this, law-abiding blacks suffer when, in the absence of individual information, they are treated according to race-based expectations. Followed in stores, considered bad risks for employment, avoided on the street, turned away at the door, it can be painful to be an upstanding black, when so many blacks are not.
Those who haven't learned to trust in truth think that the answer is to deny the validity of race-based expectations. The result is the current regime of affirmative action and equal-opportunity employment law, attempting to enforce racial proportions in hiring and admissions that mirror racial proportions in the general population, as would tend to emerge if there were no grounds for race-based expectations.
The inevitable effect is to magnify greatly the role that race-based expectations play in society. This is because race-based expectations are a cruder, less informative form of information about an individual than individual information is. Thus, if institutions are allowed to develop on the basis of pure private agreement, they will evolve so as to bring forth and make use of the more valuable individual information. The only possible effect of interference with this natural process is to keep individual information in check.
When companies have to be prepared to defend their hiring and promotion decisions in the face of government oversight, they react by hiring those individuals who look most qualified on the basis of what can be determined about them up front. Instead of finding out about people as individuals by hiring relatively indiscriminately and letting the wheat be separated from the chaff on the job, employers are forced to discriminate much more carefully before they hire, or they are liable to get stuck with bad employees who claim wrongful termination when they are fired.
That is, government oversight makes individual information about prospective employees very expensive to investigate, increasing the reliance on group-based information. This especially works against black men, who tend to have relatively terrible resumes. It's a male thing. Men reject authority and choose their own path. If they are upstanding, this is a virtue; if they are not, it compounds their vice. But thanks to equal unemployment law, which of these categories they fall into is never discovered.
The correct answer is pure freedom of agreement, with no government oversight of hiring, firing and promotion decisions. Then employers can take chances on people. They are free to go after the individual information that is most valuable to them. Government oversight suppresses the discovery of this individual information.
If employers were allowed to be racist, would they be? Overlooking black worth would cost money. Employers who own rents could spend their rents on racist behavior and still stay in business, and surely some would. But the beauty of liberty is that it allows each to seek out the most productive activities and relationships. Each picks from amongst the best of his offers. In this context, it makes no difference if the worst offers are REALLY bad. They are irrelevant anyway.
The great bulk of our economy is competitive. The only way racism can survive in competitive conditions is if consumers and co-workers are willing to subsidize it by paying higher prices, or accepting lower wages, to do business with a racist company. Because liberty empowers individual choice, it will lead to racist results only if individuals are racist.
They aren't. Not on a broad enough scale to matter. That is what Jim Crow proved. Throughout what by today's standards was an overwhelmingly racist South, the only way to stop the economy from integrating at all levels was to enact ever more elaborate segregationist legal requirements. Liberty rejected racism. Only government force could maintain it.
Unfortunately, while the Republicans have consistently been the party of freedom of contract and racial equality before the law, the Democrats went directly from being the party of legal inequality for blacks to the party of legal inequality for whites. Most of the votes for the civil rights acts came from Republicans, but then the Democrats flipped and started imposing racial inequality in the opposite direction. Liberty was never given a chance.
What a burden these Democrats are. He may be my brother, but he sure is heavy.
Because negative group expectations harm individuals who do not share negative group characteristics, affirmative action might seem to be called for as a way to offset this harm. If you are wrongly discounted, we will wrongly over-account you, and you'll end up where you should.
But this assumes that the university itself would, in the absence of affirmative action, be wrongly discounting blacks. The correct answer is just not to do that. Then the university degree becomes a basis for expectations that supersedes racial-group expectations. It declares that, in equal competition, this individual excelled. Race at that point confers no more additional information than hair color.
This is the natural state of a university in a regime of pure private agreement. A degree conveys the individual information that employers and employees value. If we muck with this, by having universities employ racial preferences, then their degrees no longer supersede group-based expectations. Race still carries information. A Stanford degree or a Stanford professorship means one thing if you are white and another thing if you are black.
As a remedy to the problem of group based expectations, affirmative action is a complete failure. It takes a process that would make group-based expectations disappear and turns it into a process that transmits group expectations. As with equal employment opportunity law, distrust in truth, refusing to accept the validity of group-based expectations, causes these expectations to be dealt with irrationally, so that they become a greater rather than a lesser problem.
The Civil War
Liberty of contract works. Thus, Stanford should be ALLOWED to discriminate any way it wants. But UC, because it is an instrument of the government, must not be allowed to play racial favorites. We fought a war over that principle. Anybody think that was a mistake?
In America today, many do NOT accept the outcome of the Civil War. They aren't southern racists. They are northern racists. They are the white and black illiberals who call themselves "liberal."
Imagine thinking that the descendants of the men who gave their lives to free your ancestors owe YOU?
People who don't trust in truth are capable of any moral crime. Disconnected from reality, they know not what they do. Still, the wrong they do is culpable, because distrust in truth is a choice.
That is the answer to black crime. Take out the trash. The more effectively we catch the criminals the more certain we all can be that those blacks we encounter in public or private life are NOT criminal because the criminals will all be in jail. Group-based expectations of criminality will disappear.
Liberty, responsibility, and equality before the law: these are not the only things necessary, but they ARE necessary. They solve almost all of our race problems. Sacrifice any of these and what you hope to ameliorate will explode in your face. Scorn for reality does that.
Alec Rawls would like to turn Rebel-Yell into a regular cartoon feature but he cannot draw. Anyone out there want to illustrate his captions? Contact email@example.com.
Page last modified on Thursday, 02-Mar-2006 00:21:22 MST.