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Right wing brain worms are a real thing

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This is a followup to Scott’s post about the fresh martyrdom of yet another academic right winger.

I’ve known Larry Alexander for 30 years. I used to talk to him quite a bit back in the day — we have overlapping interests in regard to the jurisprudence of textual interpretation — to the point that he was something of a mentor of mine in the early years of my legal academic career. I had dinner at his house when he was trying to get his law school to hire me, I would see him regularly at conferences etc. (I understand my experiences in this regard were far from unusual, and that he was a good mentor to many young academics).

Back in the 1990s he was, I got the impression, the kind of centrist Democrat that would never have considered voting for Ronald Reagan or Bush I — in fact his cousin was a very big deal in the Democratic party — but who was very skeptical of affirmative action, “political correctness,” and what was beginning to be talked about as “identity politics.”

I’ve pretty much lost touch with him over the past 15 years or so, and it’s painful for me to discover that he’s devolved into a standard issue right wing crank, spewing warmed over Fox News talking points in the form of pseudo-sociological musings about how the struggles of black Americans in the 21st century have nothing to do with structural racism, which is a fiction, and everything to do with our old friend “the breakdown of the black family.” Here’s a characteristic passage from the essay that the Emory law journal refused to publish because he wouldn’t revise it:

[R]eparations are definitely not a cure for problems faced by blacks today. In general, blacks as a group are doing better than ever before materially. And for those who are not doing well, the cause is not the effects of slavery or Jim Crow.

Nor is the cause racist bigotry, which, though some undoubtedly exists, is not a significant obstacle in blacks’ lives. Nor is it the vague culprit of “systemic racism.” Racism is not the cause of black poverty to the extent it exists. (If it were, African and West Indian blacks would not be doing as well as they are, or emigrating to the U.S. in great numbers.) Although racism could be a problem for blacks today, the reality is, thankfully, is that it isn’t.

The real impediment to the advancement of poor blacks – and everyone knows this, regardless of whether they admit it – is the cultural factors that have produced family disintegration, which in turn portends poor educational achievement, crime and poverty. And this problem will only be worsened by reparations, which sends the message that the predicament of poor blacks is others’ fault, that blacks are victims, and that they have no control over their fate. That is precisely the wrong message to send, a message that denies blacks’ agency. Reparations will not atone for chattel slavery but will instead foster the insidious psychological slavery of victimhood.

It’s almost not worth bothering incinerating this sort of garbage, but what the heck:

The proxy Alexander uses for “family disintegration” is the out of wedlock birth rate, which is a favorite hobby horse of his fellow right wing polemicists. Here we have a National Review hack:

For all racial and ethnic groups combined, 39.6 percent of births were out-of-wedlock (incidentally, isn’t that appalling?). And there was as always a tremendous range among groups (these never vary by more than a percentage point or two each year, by the way). For blacks, the number is 69.4 percent; for American Indians/Alaska Natives, 68.2 percent (Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders were at 50.4 percent); for Hispanics, 51.8 percent; for whites, 28.2 percent; and for Asian Americans, a paltry 11.7 percent.

So, we go from seven out of ten for African Americans, to one out of ten for Asian Americans; from a little less than three out of ten for whites, to a little more than five out of ten for Hispanics. As I say, a huge range, and one that more than anything else seems to fit quite precisely with how well the different groups are doing on whatever success metric you want to use. But rather than encourage people to wait until they are married before having children — which is perceived by the Left as too religious and patriarchal — it’s much easier to talk about “institutionalized racism” and “white privilege” and “mass incarceration” and “implicit bias” and 1619, isn’t it?

Alexander’s thesis is that poor blacks are doing terribly relative to poor whites not because of structural racism, which no longer exists, but because of family disintegration, as reflected in out of wedlock birth rates.

In fact poor blacks are doing terribly relative to poor whites. In the mid-1960s, before the War on Poverty sapped Individual Initiative by passing out all those T-bone steaks and Caddylack cars, black households at the 20th percentile of household income for black households had 60% of the income of white households at the same percentage of household income for white households. Today black households at that threshold have 55% of the income of white households at that threshold.

The reason, says Alexander, is the disintegration of the black family, which axiomatically has nothing to do with structural racism, which again no longer exists in America.

Here’s in the increase in the out of wedlock birth rate for blacks and whites between 1965 and today:

Blacks: 187.5%.

Whites: 809.7%

These figures would seem to create just a bit of a problem for Alexander’s thesis.

Here’s another stat for people who like to argue that out of wedlock birth rates are the best proxy for “how well the different groups are doing on whatever success metric you want to use.”

Age-adjusted mortality rates per 100,000, 2019:

White males: 868.8

Hispanic females: 430.7

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that “not dying” is about the most basic and critical “success metric” the individual members of any social group can have. Hispanic women are considerably poorer, fatter, less educationally credentialed, and far more likely to be born out of wedlock than white men. But they are literally less than half as likely to die at any given age!

What could explain this astonishing divergence? I guess it must be the bad culture and lousy individual initiative found among the whites, relative to all those lazy Mexicans who are taking our your jerbs while having massive litters of illegitimate little brown ones.

In all seriousness, the point here is that blaming individuals — or for that matter using the always mysterious term “culture” — for what are obviously structural outcomes is Conservatism 101, and it’s always nothing but reactionary garbage.

But it’s the kind of reactionary garbage that is intensely attractive to, in another great mystery, old white men, who are still the richest and most powerful people in America, despite all the socialism and the drag queen children’s story hours at the public library. And because of that, the market for it — and even more, for the meta-market for claims that such arguments are being “censored” — is essentially bottomless.

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