Liberty Matters

Diverse Backgrounds, Common Threads

These five essays by people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives share common threads. Their definitions of systemic racism vary, but I doubt that many people will be too upset. Definitions are sufficiently close that discussion can proceed without too much confusion.
One key insight is that different outcomes among races is not itself evidence of racism. This is obvious to most readers of these essays, but not to distressingly large portions of the population. If it were obvious to them, then popular narratives purporting to establish systemic racism would not survive. Professor Reilly most strongly voices his disdain for the intellectual laziness of such narratives. Other factors besides racism could explain the disparities.
Narratives based on lazy, cursory, or even intentionally misleading analysis are dangerous. First, they divide the nation, pitting groups against one another. Second, by missing the cause of the disparate outcomes, proposed solutions often fail to help, and often hurt. In many cases, no solution is even necessary, because the differences among groups are perfectly reasonable. How could anyone rationally expect groups with a modal age of 27 to have comparable incomes or wealth as a group with a modal age of 58? Most would not -- until reports frame this as simply, “Blacks have lower incomes and wealth than Whites.”
These five essays dig deeper than that. They recognize that any systemic behavior, including racism, can’t persist unless it is driven by a very strong cultural norm or is supported by government rules that, whether intentional or not, lead to disparate outcomes. To the extent these essays find systemic racism -- and they do find it -- its source is misguided government policy.
Professors Black and Richardson make a persuasive case that the federal government’s Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation had been significant sources of explicit discrimination against Blacks until the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Segregated neighborhoods were the norm. Even the widely hailed G.I. Bill required mortgages to be FHA Insured. Although this itself did not discriminate, FHA loans explicitly barred large numbers of Blacks from the program without any economic justification. The result of these two laws is that only a vanishingly small number of Blacks qualified.
Competition in mortgage lending is much stronger now than in the 60s and 70s, when savings and loan institutions were the prime mortgage lenders, and regulators today are much more diligent. Concerning homeownership rates, Professor Black writes that, “…much of the [remaining] difference can be attributed to income, marital status and credit scores.”
Professor Richardson writes that the Dodd-Frank Act capped mortgage fees, thus wrecking the supply of small mortgages. Because Blacks and hispanics tend to seek smaller mortgages, this lack of credit hurts them more than Whites. The simplest and most direct way to fix the problem is to eliminate the cap on mortgage fees.
Professor Williamson Kramer and I reach similar conclusions regarding crime. Differences in crime rates and incarceration rates among races do exist, and they are distressingly persistent. We argue that this persistence traces to laws and regulations implemented by ostensibly well-meaning governments. For example, minimum wage laws prevent low-skilled workers from getting a toehold in the workplace. Occupational licensing serves as a barrier to entry into trades ranging from hair stylists to electricians. Dysfunctional public schools handicap protected minorities more than Whites, and the relative dearth of school choice programs shields these schools from competition by providing a captive audience.
By showing that crime is a choice, Professor Williamson Kramer highlights the need to study problems at the individual level. I view the breakdown of the family as fundamental. Professor Reilly sees the necessary first step as dispelling false narratives. For example, the idea that racism tends to lock Blacks and Hispanics out of the labor force is better viewed as selection based on class. He writes, “Jamarrian’ might have a harder time getting on-boarded than ‘Billy,’ but there is little evidence that ‘Marcus Blackman’ or ‘John Lopez’ would.”
The overriding message of these essays is, “Let’s stop dividing people over false narratives and focus on the real issues.” Yes, let’s do that.