Saturday, March 31, 2012


A consequence of the Trayvon Martin tragedy is that Americans of all stripes are rallying behind the hooded sweatshirt - it is, after all, worn by virtually everybody under 30 in America, whether to work out, stay warm, or to hide behind to avoid identification.

To be true to their principles, conservatives ought to strongly defend the hoodie. The NRA owes it a statement of support; after all, they support concealed carry of weapons, and liberal policies with regards to handgun sales.

A little bit of Googling shows that... yep... they already got there.

Love 'em or hate 'em, constitutionalists understand that citizens have a right to walk around looking and acting suspicious. Walking while black, walking while hooded, and walking while Muslim are all fully protected in the U.S. Constitution.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Governing Philosophies, in Brief

Politicians frequently vilify the other side of a debate as "anti-American" or "anti-liberty" or as an intolerant "Mullah". Occasionally, this is justified. Usually, the other side has a different philosophical view - either due to different premises or different emphases. In teaching about public & common goods, I thought of this useful taxonomy of the major political movements in America today, as they relate to the role of government. Each view is more nuanced than I'm allowing here, for the sake of clarity.

I am particularly interested in explaining the Conservative position here, which is less ideologically or philosophically clear than the others. As has been suggested, Conservatism isn't primarily or originally a philosophical idea. Hayek calls it a defense of the "extended order", which evolved via some social form of natural selection, and is more complex than its critics appreciate.

In America, I think conservatism is more than that: it's the Yankee ideal of taking responsibility for the commons, involvement in the many community organizations that de Tocqueville wrote so much about, and the idea that one has a moral duty to account for externalities. More on this in a future post.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Judicial Prejudice

MSM liberals are breathlessly talking about how ideological the Roberts Court is. Politico's top article today is headlined: "John Roberts Court on Trial". It teases, "critics will accuse the Roberts Court of rigging the game and covering their power play with constitutional doublespeak." Who exactly are these 'critics'? Might one be named 'Glenn Thrush'?

There is still some question as to which way the conservatives on the court - Roberts, Scalia, and especially Kennedy - will rule on the Obamacare case. But there's no doubt about the four liberal justices. They are simply taken as a given: of course they support the government's right to expand the tortured "Commerce Clause" to allow any action the government sees fit. In oral arguments yesterday, Justice Breyer said that the main "limiting principle" on the Commerce Clause is that "95% of United States law is State law" and that the "members of Congress are elected from States." That is, the only check needed on Congress is its own sensibility.

Of course, when Congress' sensibilities are conservative, Breyer and friends find that the Constitution gives them wide latitude to strike down Congressional laws.

There is no denying that the Supremes have political leanings and prejudices. Their principles certainly appear to be malleable and their politics rigid. But it's absurd to state that a conservative justice (e.g. Scalia) whose vote cannot be guessed ahead of all arguments is more ideological than a liberal justice whose vote is in absolutely no doubt at all.

As (ultra-liberal) Rachel Maddow blogged last night, "The liberal justices were far more effective than Verrilli in making compelling arguments in defense of the law."

Call the Court ideological, sure. But with four committed conservatives and four committed social-liberals, don't single out one side as doctrinaire.

Monday, March 26, 2012

George Zimmerman and Whiteness

The painful case of Trayvon Martin has elicited a great deal of thought and discussion about what it means to be black in America, including among non-blacks.

The case of George Zimmerman also bears consideration. With a British first name and a German last name, one would be forgiven for assuming Zimmerman is white - but his family assures us he's Hispanic, and his photo suggests ancestry other than Kraut-Mick. So who is he? Does he count as 'white' anyway - after all, he was a neighborhood watch captain in a gated community, with a prejudicial attitude against young black men in hoodies. The circumstances make him sound 'white'.

But what is meant by 'whiteness' in this context? The perspective from which much African-American scholarship is written, and from which the older generation speaks, is somewhat Marxian: a bourgeois white class maintains its privilege and alliance with the elite, and excludes a black proletariat. An Hispanic who has joined the bourgeois is as good as white. By contrast, poor Hispanic farmworkers get lumped into the 'minority' category of the binary taxonomy.

This binary view of race has been, in my experience, the primary approach to 'race in America' by those whose intellectual ancestry is from the Civil Rights movement. In a recent workshop on race & inequality in my neighborhood, this approach was on display - despite the fact that Hispanics outnumber blacks here, no Hispanics were represented, and their community was lumped together with blacks under "people of color". Likewise in college classrooms (including my own at times), high schools, and sometimes churches, I've seen this approach used. Some use the word "brown" instead of "black" now, as a more inclusive catch-all.

The binary approach was absolutely the right one for the Civil Rights movement itself. White America was using the convenient fiction of "separate but equal" to justify oppression, and blacks were uniquely singled out for mistreatment. And whites responded well to that set of ideas in the generation following Civil Rights; you would be hard-pressed to find a white today who would publicly defend Jim Crow as "equal".

However, the binary view has not aged well, and does not serve America, blacks, or minorities particularly well in the 21st century. In this post, I'll focus on just one aspect of the binary view of race relations: whiteness. Regardless of whether Hispanic or Hmong or Quechua agree with being lumped together as 'minorities' or 'brown', most whites don't think that they belong to the privileged bourgeois. This matters. If whites don't think of themselves as privileged, they won't be open to the idea that they need to make accommodation for those who are not privileged.

Approaching whites with a binary, Marxian view of race will fail to achieve minority objectives if the whites reject that narrative. Whether right or wrong, the view that was effective in breaking down legal racism will be ineffective in achieving 21st-century objectives.

The average American is a recent immigrant. Not many of us came over on the Mayflower. My white friends are proudly Polish, Irish, Italian, and Russian. Many of those with aristocratic-sounding names are actually 'ethnic', and had their names changed at Ellis Island or while running from the law. Few whites can trace their lineage back to the Civil War. They are willing to accept that there is a privileged Anglo-Saxon (or Norman?) upper class, but they know they aren't part of it. After all, their grandparents came to the U.S. with nothing; they migrated to California during the dust bowl; they faced "Irish Need Not Apply" in the 1800's or Sacco & Venzetti during the 1920's.

The places where white racism is the strongest - the neighborhoods famous for 'white flight' in the 60's, or race riots in the 70's - are 'ethnic' white neighborhoods. High-status whites feel a certain noblesse oblige and embarrassment about their ancestors' Princeton & Yale pedigrees. They may be racist, but they are at least ashamed of it. But an urban white whose name ends in a vowel is less likely to have sympathy when another group asks for special accommodation, or claims that its situation is unique and can't be understood by outsiders.

'White guilt' only works with whites who are a few generations deep in privilege. I'm keenly aware that I was born several rungs up the ladder - but my Jewish grandfather had to flee through five countries just to get to America. And my Lebanese great-grandfather came here in 1905 to work in mills. The Yankee last name they were given doesn't preclude a strong ethnic identity in the family today. Jewish & Lebanese are only "white" today because those groups have achieved parity with Anglo-Saxon-Norman Americans. Of my two truly white grandmothers, one was a bona fide elite and the other was from an impoverished fishing village in Maine, where her ancestors had come after being forcibly resettled from Scotland to Ireland by the English crown. Guess which of them took a vow of poverty and marched with Dr. King?

George Zimmerman probably doesn't think of himself as a white-privileged individual. He has probably been racially profiled before. He would dispute the notion that he's any more privileged than Trayvon Martin's family - after all, Martin's new stepmom lived in Zimmerman's own community.

Because people like Zimmerman with diverse and not-very-privileged backgrounds make up the majority of Americans - and even a large share of elites - today, appeals for change based on notions of white privilege are less and less effective. Arguments against inequalities in 21st-century America will have to be much more nuanced and reflect the diversity of the elite and of the aspirational middle class.

Friday, March 23, 2012

France Uber Alles?

Writing in Slate, Rachel Levy recounts the difficulties of living as a Jewish-American in France - and the greater difficulties facing those who think of themselves as Jewish-French:
In the end, the trouble stems from the idea that "French" means you follow the values of the state—in this case, secularism. What Americans often believe to be the mere French version of "separation of church and state" is actually diametrically opposed to Americanized freedom of religion. In short, while Americans value freedom of religion, the French value freedom from religion. In practice, French secularism, or laïcité, means that you don't express your religious beliefs in public: That means in public schools, Muslim girls can’t wear their veils, Jewish boys can't wear their kippot, and Christians can't draw attention to their crosses. It also means that when a state exam falls on your religious holiday, well, tant pis, because laïcité means you’re supposed to be French before anything else.
She stretches her experience further to lay some blame for the killing of Israeli-French Jews last week by an Algerian-French Muslim at the feet of the French state.
And after those four years living among the French, I concluded that the country's nearly religious devotion to secularism is a least a partial explanation for the country's latent racism and anti-Semitism. It also fosters an ignorance that likely contributed to the perverted mindset of the suspected Toulouse gunman. Mohammed Merah might have been a radical Islamist of Algerian background, but he's also a French national who grew up in Toulouse.
This seems like a bit of a reach to me, but it is certainly true that two centuries of radical secularism have done less to eradicate racism and religious bigotry in France than two centuries of growing religious tolerance have done in England, or expanding religious inclusion have done in the U.S.

Hat tip to Carol.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When do Democrats oppose progressivity?

When it's proposed by Paul Ryan (R-WI)!

Just like Republicans opposing President Obama's (ill-advised) tax holiday, Democrats in Washington are playing against type on Paul Ryan's revised Medicare plan. The cuts he's proposing come from means-testing the program, so that wealthier families get less from the government. The poor would be unaffected. But hey, it's a Republican idea, so it must be wrong.

Update: But Dana Milbank makes Ryan's plan sound so evil! A key to reading opinion pieces: most writers won't outright lie, but they will use the fine print. So when Milbank wants to make Ryan's plan look Scroogelike, he compares it not to current law, but to President Obama's budget-election document, which even the President never intends to make into law. Milbank's trope about tax cuts for the very rich refers to the fact that Ryan's budget would make the Bush tax cuts permanent instead of allowing them to expire. One may certainly disagree with this idea, but Milbank wants it to sound like Ryan is proposing tax cuts relative to current conditions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scholarship Factory

Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim has one objective: get college scholarships for his football players. His charter school doesn't have a locker room, or a practice field. But he made a splash with 19 (!!!!) college signings this year. Check out Grantland's excellent piece on the Anacostia coach and his program.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

"I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

"And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

"Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.

"For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name."

From the Confessio of Patrick.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Required Reading

College juniors & seniors, today's NYT opinion piece, "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" should be required reading. It directly impacts those who are considering careers as investment bankers... but it indirectly speaks to everyone: corporate culture matters. Corporate culture changes you more often than you (as a young employee) can change it. Clients matter. Trading off the long run for short-run gains is malpractice*.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gentrification: Trading Towns.

Following up on the previous posts on Rochester, NY, and Chicago, I expound on a new hypothesis about gentrification. To restate it: young, affluent professionals are moving into inner cities, eschewing the suburbs where they grew up. The centrifugal price pressure pushes urban racial minorities further from the city center, out to the near suburbs. Working-class whites leave the near suburbs for further suburbs or warmer climes.

Data & maps are from the 2010 Census, via NYTimes.

In Chicago, we saw that while the Hispanic population grew rapidly, the black population of the whole Chicago area shrank - with many blacks moving out of state to the Sun Belt. Massachusetts is a little different: the state is heavily white (74%), with a strong Hispanic minority (10%) and about equal numbers of blacks (6%) and Asians(5%). With overall state growth of 3.1% in the 00's, only the white population shrank (-4%), and the black (+23%), Hispanic (+46%), and Asian (+47%) all grew rapidly.

As can be seen in Figure 5, Boston is less segregated (and much smaller) than Chicago. It's also broken up by rivers, parks, and hills, tightly defining many city neighborhoods.

In Boston, the last decade continued the strong urbanization and gentrification trends of the 1990's. Boston's Fenway, Lower Roxbury, Seaport, Leather District, and Downtown neighborhoods have all seen population growth of more than 20% in ten years, with whites accounting for most of the growth. In previously non-white neighborhoods stretching from Dudley Town Common to the Southwest Corridor, the white population more than doubled - although whites remain a small minority there. The only group of census blocks in Eastern Massachusetts with falling vacancy rates in the 00's was centered around these dynamic areas, as seen in Figure 6.

More powerfully, whites (including your humble blogger) gentrified neighborhoods like the South End, Mission Hill, and Jamaica Plain - all of which were a bit above or below 50% white in 2010. In these places, the large growth in whites was accompanied by a drop in the Hispanic or black population. At the same time that they were leaving the South End and JP - some 25% of Hispanics left JP between 2000 and 2010 - the Hispanic population of Boston's large black neighborhoods exploded. Figure 7 tells the story. Now, Roxbury, Grove Hall, and northwestern Dorchester are at least 20% Hispanic. Even Mattapan, the remaining "monolithic" black neighborhood in Boston, has about 10% Hispanics in every census tract.

The growing Hispanic population has also moved southwest from Jamaica Plain to Hyde Park and West Roxbury. Both have small, but rapidly growing, Hispanic minorities.

What happened to black Roxbury & Dorchester as Hispanics have moved in? In the middle-class neighborhood along Seaver Street, vacancies have decreased and more housing has been built. South of Dudley Square, by contrast, a modest decline in the black population has made room for the new Hispanic residences. As in Chicago, we want to know where the blacks have gone. Unlike in Illinois, we won't conclude migration out of state - the black population grew 23% in 10 years. In Boston's Suffolk county, the black population dropped by 1%. Counterbalancing the population losses in Roxbury and Mattapan were gains in almost every other area in the city. Blacks (perhaps originating as out-of-state college students, like most migrants to Boston) have increased their share of young, hip areas such as the North End and Allston. More likely destinations for local blacks leaving Roxbury are predominantly white and Vietnamese neighborhoods in eastern Dorchester, and multiracial Hyde Park and West Roxbury neighborhoods.

Blacks are also leaving Boston for the suburbs. The other counties of Eastern Mass have seen their black populations grow between 36% (Essex) and 80% (Norfolk). In particular, Figure 8 highlights the town of Randolph, a middle-class suburb which is rapidly becoming black and Asian. (One third of Randolph's white residents departed between 2000 and 2010.) The city of Brockton, a bit further south, doubled its black population in the decade as well, with large Cape Verdean and Angolan populations.

As in Chicago, the old working-class white city districts are hemorrhaging population. People who moved to Port Norfolk (lost 16% of whites) or Readville (-34%) in the 1970's are retiring to Florida or Arizona; young white singles don't want to live in a boring community miles from the city, and young white families won't replace them until the schools improve.

In conclusion, Boston's southwest quadrant is a poster child for my hypothesis: a yuppy who grew up in Milton moves in to Jamaica Plain; Dominicans move from Jamaica Plain to Grove Hall; an unemployed black moves from Grove Hall to Mattapan; an upwardly mobile black family moves from Mattapan to Milton.

To my many Bostonian readers: I'm interested in your perspectives or experiences.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sandra Fluke

Sandra Fluke has one set of values. The Jesuits who founded, fund, and run Georgetown University have another set of values. The Jesuits are celibate. Sandra might not be. The Jesuits care a lot about religious freedom. Sandra cares a lot about sexual freedom. The Jesuits wear black. Sandra wears... also black.

None of these values, freedoms, or choices are in conflict with each other.* When Sandra chooses her attire, she doesn't consult the Jesuits. When the Jesuits chose theirs, Sandra can't object. So why the big argument over health care?

Because health care is, bizarrely, chosen by the employer on behalf of an employee! Of course there are conflicts over health care. If the Jesuits had to buy Sandra's clothing for her (or if she had to write their prayers), they'd probably do a miserable job at it.

Religious liberty and sexual liberty are only at conflict in a deformed healthcare system which requires employers to choose health insurance on behalf of their employees. In sensible systems such as the ones discussed here, Sandra wouldn't be forced to outsource her health provision to a bunch of old men wearing black. And life-loving people, galled by the Stupak Surrender to Obamacare, would be free to buy healthcare without subsidizing abortion.