Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory.

The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make much sense in the context of medieval Europe. Indeed, for much of human history, the right to bear arms was a defining capacity of a free person. And even the notion of a state requiring to have a monopoly of organised coercion fails the medieval test. Though, as post-medieval states increasingly aspired to a monopoly of organised violence, there was a long-term decline in (pdf) private lethal violence.*

The OED definition of a state used by Wikipedia of:
an organized political community living under a single system of government
is both too abstract and assumes too much; a political community, according to Wikipedia is:
a geographic region accepted to be in the jurisdiction of a particular governmental entity
which constitutes a community, being
a social unit of any size that shares common values.
This is way too touchy-feely. And inaccurate--how many empires were social units sharing common values? These definitions are too modern, too nation state, too Westphalian

What do I mean by institutionalised? Wikipedia uses political scientist Samuel Huntingdon's definition of an institution as:
stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour.
Which is a good short definition, though "valued" bothers me (valued by whom, how much?). Economist Douglass North defined institutions as:
the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, are the humanly devised constraints that shape human action (p.3).
Which, in the formal version, somewhat misses the stable, recurring element. Economist John Powellson defined institutions as:
an accepted mode of behaviour protected by the culture (p.9).
which also implies a bit too much social coherence. States only conform to ethnic or similar boundaries if the trade-offs of coercion, expropriation and dominance lead them to do so. 

The key features institutionalised is trying to get at is persistent structure. That is, providing continuing and specific constraints on human behaviour. A street or criminal gang might be organised expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory, but it lacks the persistent structure of a state. Besides, such gangs are generally only dominant in a very narrow sense; much more narrowly than the persistent structure of a state provides.

Underlying these various definitions cited above tends to be some idea of states as epiphenomena of societies, as products of societies. That is fundamentally mistaken: societies with states are at least as much products of states as the other way around. Hence my first principle for thinking about states.

(1) State societies are significantly different from stateless societies.

State societies are larger in scale in almost every sense: including in population and production. They have less retail violence, but their organised violence is on a (typically much) larger scale. Their constructions are larger and more enduring. They are far more urbanised. They are more stably hierarchical. To have a state profoundly shapes and changes a society: in simplest terms, the state acts as a social multiplier compared to not having one.

(2) States depend crucially on the capacity to expropriate.

As this paper (pdf) by Mayshar et al points out, the notion that farming automatically produces a social surplus is fundamentally mistaken. All farming produces is more babies and somewhat more specialisation. The only way to produce a continuing social surplus is by expropriation. Which farming (specifically cereals farming, as cereals are less perishable) permits because then food is stored across seasons and so can be expropriated. But that creates a "chicken-and-egg" problem: the social surplus requires expropriation, the apparatus of expropriation requires a social surplus to support itself. This is a "chicken-and-egg" problem which the mere existence of cereals farming does not solve.

Which is why it took thousands of years for farming to produce states. Solving the "chicken-and-egg" problem requires a multi-generational authority with increasing coercive specialisation. The most likely way to produce that is by conflict, especially across an ecological frontier (pdf) (classically, river valley farmers versus oasis, savanna or steppe pastoralists). What historical demographer Peter Turchin calls (pdf) multilevel selection.

While priesthoods can provide multi-generational authority, coercive specialisation is also required to create and maintain a state. Hence hereditary autocracy is the simplest (and historically most common) form of the state--if a multi-generational authority has enough coercive dominance to establish and maintain state, then it will likely have enough coercive dominance to centralise power.

(3) The scale of state activity is primarily driven by its capacity to extract revenue.

The state is a structure of coercion, expropriation and dominance. The more revenue it can extract, the more it can do. It will tend to do so extract up to the level at which the trade-offs of capacity and consequence balance out for state agents. Remembering that all rulers confront principal-agent problems: indeed, these were plausibly central to dynastic cycles, particularly in China (pdf).

So, it matters how transparent production is to the state, because the more transparent, the easier it is to expropriate. Thus irrigation makes extraction easier because production is more transparent.

As the paper by Mayshar et al points out, Karl Wittfogel got it the wrong way around: irrigation favours state dominance not because the state provides irrigation (that is normally done locally and typically pre-dates the state, though the state may well expand its ambit) but because it makes production more transparent and so more able to be expropriated. Thus, given that production on the Nile was highly transparent (revenue could be predicted by how much the Nile flooded), Egypt was an early developer of a centralised autocratic state, despite being a relatively late adopter of farming.

Who said production was transparent to made a difference. In lower Mesopotamia, farming production was more transparent to local elites than any higher ruler. Moreover, unlike much of the Nile, everywhere in Mesopotamia was subject to pastoralist raids, requiring walled cities. The combination meant that the lower Mesopotamia was an early centre for urbanisation, yet its centralised (i.e. multi-city) states were more unstable than Egypt's as production was less transparent to any regional ruler and resistance to such rule was easier.

Rainfall farmland is less transparent again, given that rainfall is more idiosyncratic than irrigation. So, in areas of rainfall farming, farmer-owners tend to be the pattern as the state does not know enough to reliably extract without providing the farmer with more incentive--such as owning their land. Egyptian and lower Mesopotamian farmers did not own the land they tilled: as the state in the first instance, and the local elites in the second, could reliably extract revenue without having to provide that much incentive. That Europe is overwhelmingly a place of rainfall agriculture was an important factor in its history.
In the modern world, the Industrial Revolution hugely increased the power of the state to tax. In the words of Mayshar et al:
We prefer to describe this increased efficiency of the tax technology as resulting from the increased transparency of production. The latter was due in part to the shift to mass production by hired labor in large corporations — a shift that was accompanied by a massive accounting paper trail (see Kleven, Kreinerand, Saez 2009). This paper trail exposed productive activity to the state and transformed the state’s ability to tax, among others by turning private companies into efficient tax collection agencies, and by facilitating the taxation of income (p.45).
(4) Level of social friction involved in the appropriation process is a major constraint.

A factor in the evolution of states evolve is responding to various forms of social friction the appropriation process has to deal with. Thus, Parliaments reduce social friction in revenue extraction: hence Parliamentary states tended to have higher tax rates than non-Parliamentary states. Which is a reason for rulers to have Parliaments. Indeed, that seems to be precisely why Alfonso IX (r.1188-1230) of Leon engaged in his experiment (1188) of asking merchants to send representatives to his court to discuss matters fiscal. It worked so well for him, he kept doing it. This was well before Simon de Montfort's exercise of 1265, which had continuing historical significance because Edward I (r.1272-1307) repeated and institutionalised the arrangement.

While the notion of Parliaments being imposed on tyrannical monarchs makes for stirring historical narrative, monarchs were very actively involved in the development of Parliaments because it made the process of expropriation easier. It did so by:
(1) providing more information on the monarch's own agents;
(2) alerting monarchs to potential problems; and
(3) allowing trade-off bargains which enabled more expropriation to occur.
Parliaments comprehensively reduced social frictions while making the political nation more transparent to the monarch. (Of course, whether the monarch made good use of that was another matter.)

Cultural homogeneity also reduces social friction in extraction (and state action generally) and it does so the more empowered folk are. Thus, the relatively culturally homogeneous Scandinavian states can manage a higher tax/spend equilibrium than more culturally diverse settler societies such as Australia or the US.

The Industrial Revolution's explosion in technology (which only really took off in the 1820s with railways and steamships) increased the capacity of states, but also increased the capacity of organisations and individuals. Hence the Industrial Revolution resulted in much more pressure from upwards (nationalist agitation) and downwards (national identification and homogenisation) for states to conform to national boundaries. This was also an interactive process, as the power of states often determined the ethnic boundaries--if necessary, by massive processes of population shifts (some of which were population exchanges, some not: the Israel-Palestine conflict can be reasonably characterised as largely driven by an unresolved population exchange as the Jewish state integrated its refugees and the Arab states refuse to integrate theirs).

Strong kin networks increase social friction in extraction, as they provide ways for folk to organise to resist state power. Hence states in societies with strong kin networks (i.e. highly clannish societies) often make implicit or explicit trade-offs--they accept the clans's internal authority in return for acceptance of the over-arching authority of state and ruler. Indeed, use of clan patronage networks can result in substitution of such patronage for the development of state institutions (as in Palestine under Arafat), as well as of more (pdf) general institutions of formal (non-kin) cooperation.

The anti-kin-network family rules of Christianity (monogamy, no divorce, no adoption, no concubines, no cousin marriage) tended to undermine clan networks, encouraging more formal arrangements for social cooperation.** In economist Avner Greif's words (pdf):
The practices the church advocated, such as monogamy, are still the norm in Europe. Consanguineous marriages in contemporary Europe account for less than one percent of the total number of marriages. In contrast, the percentage of such marriages in Muslim, Middle Eastern countries, where we also have particularly good data, is much higher - between twenty to fifty percent. (Alan H. Bittles 1994.) Among the anthropologically defined 356 contemporary societies of Euro-Asia and Africa, there is a large and significant negative correlation between Christianization (for at least 500 years) and the absence of clans and lineages; the level of commercialization, class stratification, and state formation are insignificant. (Andrey V. Korotayev 2003.) (p.309).
The strong family networks of East Asia substituting for welfare provision likely has much to do with why East Asian states have a lower tax-spend equilibrium than other developed economies.

What might be called "the borough deal" was another way of increasing extractive capacity--in this case, over the longer term--by reducing social friction (specifically, fear of expropriation). A land-holding magnate wishes to encourage (taxable) commercial activity, so seeks to establish a local permanent market (fair or town). In the case of a town, it involves significant amounts of fixed capital, so increased risk of expropriation by said magnate. Thus the magnate grants a charter which allows the merchants of the town to make their own local laws, including regarding property rights, and build a wall around their town. That alleviates fears of expropriation and encourages local commercial activity, increasing the revenue of the magnate (including providing a local market for the products of his land). 

(5) Social bargaining can increase or stabilise coercive capacity.

Mounted armoured warriors are expensive (the horse--i.e. war charger--alone could cost half the annual income of a large village), there are no significant economies of scale in their equipment or training (both of which are also very expensive), it is ideal for one generation to train the next and such a warrior can dominate local peasants. So, while having them extract their income directly from local peasants (by way of land-ownership or tax-collection grant) economises on extraction effort, it also leaves them significantly self-sufficient. So, some sort of implicit or explicit social bargain between ruler and warrior can usefully structure their relationship, providing the ruler more coercive capacity while economising on extraction cost. A franchising arrangement, if you like.

Suppose you have a large number of small city states in intense competition competition with each other. The geography is not very suitable for large-scale horse raising, so armies are dominated by (expensive to equip) heavy infantry which do have economies of scale in equipment and training. But the states are small and lack the coercive capacity to expropriate enough funds to equip large numbers of such folk. They are in a region of rainfall farming, and thus have lots of owner-farmers. So, how do you get said farmers and others to equip themselves and turn up for training? Give them a say in the running of the polity: or, more precisely, the polis. This allows you to have a larger and tougher army than your ordinary taxing capacity would provide: important in an intensely state-competitive environment. This would be the citizenship deal. 

It does require a certain social stability to make work: hence the more socially unstable--yet highly commercial--cities of Sicily tended to end up with tyrants. But versions of the citizenship deal recur with the self-government cities of medieval Europe. Particularly (but not only) in Northern Italy and the Low Countries; both regions with lots of cities in intense competition, with each other and with landed magnates.

(6) Persistent constraints matter.

States may be central to the evolution of state societies, but that does not mean they do not face serious constraints. One is geography: until the technology of coercion and dominance developed sufficiently, it was difficult to stably project state power across ecological frontiers. As discussed above, whether the state operated in an area of rainfall farming or of mass irrigation also mattered.

As we saw in the matter of clans and Christianity, religion could also matter (both as constraint and as opportunity). That Islam, and India after the Brahmin resurgence, both operated on the basis of divine law (Sharia in the case of Islam, Manusmrti, the laws of Manu, in the case of Brahmin India) mattered because it foreclosed a great deal of social bargaining.

Parliaments, the borough deal, the citizenship deal, all required folk getting together and making laws, laws that entrenched various social bargains. If human law making (in practice, ruler decree issuing) was limited to the silences of divine law, then it simply was not enough to sustain that sort of social bargaining. Hence no more Kshatriya republics in India once Brahmin dominance of law provision was established.

An issue that very much still resonates in Islam (though not in India; given the demands of modern commercial society, bringing back Mansumrti is not even in the interests of Brahmins). Nowadays, opinion polls show Muslims as in favour of democracy; in some Muslim countries as much as Westerners (the logic of belief is not necessarily the logic of believers). But central to the Salafi movement is re-establishing the primacy of Sharia. The movement comes in quietist (withdraw from corrupt world), activist (seek to expand the social reach of correct action) and jihadi (kill folk until they accept our version of Sharia rule) variants. Muhammad Nasir-ud-Din al-Albani (1914-1999) was widely regarded as the most important Salafi scholar of the C20th. An advocate of quietist Salafism, he had this to say about democracy:
Elections according to democracy are unlawful, and parliaments that do not govern in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunna [orally transmitted traditions of Muhammad], but rather on the basis of the majority’s arbitrariness, are tyrannical. Parliaments cannot be recognized and Muslims can neither seek nor cooperate to found them, for they contend (combat) God’s revelation. And they are a Western technique made by the Jews and the Christians, who cannot be legally emulated.
By unlawful and legally emulated, he means by the laws of Allah, the only true legislator. When the jihadis say they are fighting tyranny and injustice, tyranny includes any democracy (since it is illegitimate authority) and injustice means anywhere not under Sharia rule, because Sharia is the only justice. Remembering that, in mainstream Islam, ever since al Ghazali (1058-1111), revelation has been taken to be the limits of morality (a consequence of the defeat of Aristotelianism in the Islamic world). Moreover, since Allah is the sovereign of the universe, Allah's law applies everywhere and to everyone. 

Which is why Parliamentarianism and democracy struggle somewhat in the Islamic world. They are clearly outside imports (problematic in itself) and exist in a level of tension with religion that simply does not apply anywhere else. (Only the Islamic world, for example, felt a need to issue its own, adjusted, declaration of human rights.) There are functioning (even stable) Muslim democracies, but still the attraction of anti-democratic religious totalitarianism is enduring. 

So, whether a civilisation accepted law as man made (as Christianity does) or not (as Islam and Brahmin India did not) was an enduring constraint that affected the evolution of states in the respective civilisations. Just as Christian doctrines undermining clan networks both encouraged and enabled the development of more formal institutions of social cooperation, affecting the evolution of states.
 
About the state
States--persistent structures of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory--are not dependent products of their societies. The combination of coercive dominance and extractive-and-spending power makes them the most powerful element in their society--otherwise, you have a very weak state or no effective state at all.

States are not "instruments of the ruling class": indeed, in historically typical autocracy, the "ruling class" (a deeply problematic term at the best of times) owed their social position to their position as superior agents of the state, they were not superior agents of the state because of their social position.

The central role of states in history is why the technology of coercion is such an important factor in history in its own right. Neither the hand mill nor the water wheel produces the knight; the technology of armoured horsed combat does. But how the knight's--the armoured mounted warrior's--social role was structured had a great deal to do with how widespread mills became.

States create societies (or at least social orders) at least as much as societies create states. This is blindingly obvious in the case of Leninist states, which literally created the social orders that (functionally) suited them. But even without that level of brutally socially pulverising social dominance, states are fundamental to the structuring and evolution of their societies. If we do not see that, we miss some fundamental historical dynamics. As well as much of the why of the passions politics can engender.


* Economic theory does predict that monopolisation tends to lower output: though that is better described as its developing monopoly of violence increasing the capacity of the state to pursue its interest in not having its taxpayers kill each other.

** The persistence of clan in the Celtic fringe (Scotland--particularly highland Scotland-- and Ireland) is likely a result of the Celtic requirement for kin loyalty--in contrast to the Germanic idea of freely chosen personal loyalty--somewhat exacerbated by the lack of urbanisation. One can see the tension between Celtic kin loyalty (the whole Mordred/Lot's kin debacle) and Germanic freely chosen loyalty (embodied in the Round Table) in the Arthurian tales. 


[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Monday, June 29, 2015

American homicide

Using US Census data and FBI homicide statistics to look at US homicide rates by race is problematic, because the race of offender (and of victim) statistics apparently do not cover non-negligent manslaughter. One is forced to multiply such statistics by the ratio of the total homicides counted on that basis to the total including non-negligent manslaughter to get figures that are internationally comparable.

Doing so, and if one excludes African-Americans, the US homicide rate is 2.6 per 100,000--in other words, about the rate of Turkey or the UAE or around 71st or 72nd of the 218 jurisdictions listed by Wikipedia: rather high by the standards of developed countries. (Claims that the non-African-American homicide rate is normal for high income countries appears to come from taking the FBI homicide-by-race statistics as covering all intentional homicides, which they do not: a mistake I made with the first version of this post. Which points to the need to be careful about statistical sources, especially administrative statistics.)

The homicide rate for African-Americans is 15.2 per 100,000. That is around 186th out of the 218 aforementioned jurisdictions and very high by developed country standards: it is about the rate of Myanmar and well above the global average of 6.2 per 100,000.

(When looking at country statistics, the offenders and victims come from the same group so homicide and victimisation rates are the same; when looking at intra-country statistics, that does not follow. So the intra-US statistics I cite are based on race of offender, not victim.)

Region and homicide
The African-American homicide rate is high by Sub-Saharan African standards: only 9 out of 41 jurisdictions have higher rates. It is around the middle by Caribbean standards, with 11 jurisdictions out of 21 having lower homicide rates, and by Latin American standards, with 13 jurisdictions out of 23 jurisdictions having lower homicide rates: some of the Caribbean and Latin American homicide rates are astonishing. 

The African-American homicide rate is high by Greater Middle East standards (North Africa-Middle East-Islamic Central Asia) by European standards and by Oceania standards, as no jurisdictions in those regions have higher homicide rates. In Asia (outside the Greater Middle East) only Myanmar 15.2 has an equal or  higher homicide rates. 

Income and homicide
According to US census data (pdf), African-Americans had a per capita income 68% of the overall US per capita income (for non-Hispanic whites 116%, Asian-Americans 112%, Hispanics 58%). Applying that percentage to World Bank data, that gives African-Americans about the same per capita income as Japan--or around 26th of the 185 jurisdictions covered by the World Bank data--and more than that of Italy, Spain, South Korea and Israel. For that level of per capita income, the African-American homicide rate is strikingly high. All the jurisdictions with equal or higher per capita income have homicide rates in the range of 0.2 per 100,000 (Singapore) to 2.6 per 100,000 (UAE) with the exception of Bermuda (7.7 per 100,000). The excluding-African-Americans-US homicide rate of 2.6 per 100,000 is high for high income societies. Adding in African-Americans raises it to 4.7, which is even more so.

The FBI homicide figures for ethnicity (including Hispanic) are not anywhere near as complete (there are lots of "ethnicity unknown" in the FBI figures). If we apply an estimate of Hispanic American's victimisation rate (pdf) (5.7 per 100,000, which will very likely be an overestimate for the Hispanic offender-homicide-rate), that is lower than the homicide rate for any Latin American country apart from Chile (3.1), Cuba (4.2) and Argentina (5.5).

Applying Hispanic Americans average income as a percentage of overall US per capita income (58%) as above, gives them a per capita income above Malta's but below Israel's, with Puerto Rico being the only Latin American country/dependency with a higher per capita income. So, for Latin Americans, the US is the land of opportunity: hence the continuing attempts to enter the US.

Given that the African-American homicide rate is above that of most sub-Saharan countries and countries with populations with majority sub-Saharan African descent, African-Americans are not getting the reduced-homicide benefit of their (much higher) average income.

This is so even if we look at jurisdictions were a majority of the population are of African slave descent. The other thing Bermuda has in common with African-Americans--other than strikingly high homicide rates for their level of income--is being descended from African slaves: a majority of Bermudans are of African descent.  Countries such as Jamaica (39.3) and various small island jurisdictions--Montserrat (20.4), Dominica (21.1)*, Saint Lucia (21.6), Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (25.6), Bahamas (29.8), Saint Kitts & Nevis (33.6), US Virgin Islands (52.6)--have rather higher homicide rates than African-Americans. Yet Martinique (2.7),  Turcos & Caicos (6.6), Barbados (7.4), Anguila (7.5), Bermuda (7.7), Guadaloupe (7.9), British Virgin Islands (8.4), Haiti (10.2 per 100,000), Antigua & Barbuda (11.2), Grenada (13.3) are all majority Afro-Caribbean jurisdiction with lower homicide rates. Many of these jurisdictions have small populations, so it does not take many murders to push up the homicide rate, but the pattern of African-Americans being roughly in the middle, despite their much higher average income, is sufficiently clear that the generally small populations of these jurisdictions do not invalidate the comparison.

Regarding guns
By the standards of developed countries, the US does have something of a general homicide problem.  Excluding African-Americans, the 2.6 per 100,000 homicide rate is elevated, especially compared to countries of similar population and institutional origins (Canada 1.6, Australia 1.1, New Zealand 0.9: weighted average of three 1.4). While the proportion of homicides caused by guns marches with the general trends, there is prima facie evidence that the level of gun possession elevates the overall homicide rate. Guns make homicide easier and, other things being equal, if it is easier to do, it will be done more often.

With gun deaths more broadly, the US also has something of a suicide and gun-accident problem. (To which the same point applies.) Nevertheless, the US non-African-American homicide rate is not nearly as high as the national figures suggest. Even with mass shootings, cases where armed civilians stopped or curtailed mass shootings tend not to get much media coverage.

There is, however, even more clearly an African-American homicide problem: given the level of economic development. Indeed, using the weighted average of the other Anglo-originated neo-European states as a guide, about 37% of the elevated homicide rate is likely about gun prevalence (the difference between 1.4 and 2.6) and about 63% is due to the highly elevated African-American homicide rate (the difference between 2.6 and 4.7).

Comparatively low social capital (including the legacy of slavery) and dysfunctional metropolitan governance (particularly due to the prevalence of one-Party government; somewhat exacerbated by a lack of urban voices in the overwhelmingly rural-and-suburban Republican Party) are likely factors in the latter. The extent of gun possession hardly explains the striking difference in homicide rates between African-Americans and other Americans.  

Attitudes to gun control have a strong urban-rural divide, expressed thusly by Steve Sailer:
The endless gun-control brouhaha, which on the surface appears to be a bitter battle between liberal and conservative whites, also features a cryptic racial angle. What blue-region white liberals actually want is for the government to disarm the dangerous urban minorities that threaten their children’s safety. Red-region white conservatives, insulated by distance from the Crips and the Bloods, don’t care that white liberals’ kids are in peril. Besides, in sparsely populated Republican areas, where police response times are slow and the chances of drilling an innocent bystander are slim, guns make more sense for self-defense than in the cities and suburbs.
White liberals, angered by white conservatives’ lack of racial solidarity with them, yet bereft of any vocabulary for expressing such a verboten concept, pretend that they need gun control to protect them from gun-crazy rural rednecks, such as the ones Michael Moore demonized in “Bowling for Columbine,” thus further enraging red-region Republicans.
In the US, race (as so often) entangles the patterns: contra Sailer's framing, plenty of African-Americans are keen on gun control--such as the middle class Americans Alan Wolfe starts off his One Nation, After All by quoting, voicing discontent about urban life and its dangers (before telling you they are all comments from African-Americans). Indeed, African-Americans tend to be keener on gun control than white Americans (pdf): unsurprising, since they are much more at risk from homicide and gun violence than white Americans.

Though Hispanics are even keener--66% of blacks give gun control priority according to the 2011 Pew poll but 75% of Hispanics do. Wanting the state to disarm those other folk may have something to do with the greater Hispanic enthusiasm for gun control, given that they are notably keener on gun control than African-Americans, yet are considerably less likely to be the victims of gun violence; the African-American homicide victimisation rate is 15.2 per 100,000 compared to 5.7 for Hispanic Americans.

Both groups are also much more concentrated in inner cities than white Americans: according to the 2011 Pew poll, 57% of urban dwellers give priority to gun control compared to 33% of rural dwellers. One sees the same urban-rural divide in Australia without a comparable racial element. Folk in cities, with quick police reaction times and lots of highly diverse anonymous strangers, tend to want all those unknowns to be disarmed. Folk in rural areas, with slow police reaction times, fare fewer unknowns yet dangerous (or just pesky) critters, tend to want access to guns. There is no great mystery to it, if you understand the different social perspectives. 

But being against guns is easy. Improving social capital and city governance is hard: though the decline of gangs in Los Angeles points to what can be achieved if folk try. In the US, the easy can also be an evasion, which does not help people living in communities with low social capital, dysfunctional city government, inappropriate federal and state policies and homicide rates much higher than they should be, given their income levels. 


*Dominica was the first British Caribbean colony to have a majority black legislature (1838). For countries with majority Afro-Caribbean population (and so electorates), racism is not likely to be a major factor in explaining their homicide rates. (Remembering that enslaving Africans generated racism, slavery was not caused by racism.)

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cause and context

In the postwar period, the Democratic candidate for President has received a majority of votes cast in precisely four elections: Johnson 1964 (53.4%), Carter 1976 (50.1%), Obama 2008 (52.9%), Obama 2012 (51.1%). Which makes the first African-American President the only Democratic candidate to get a majority of the votes cast twice in the postwar period. (It is entirely possible to win US Presidential elections without getting a majority of votes cast, as was managed by Truman in 1948, Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and Bush II in 2000--in the last case, the Electoral College winner infamously did not even get a plurality of votes cast.)

Obama's election results were in line with economist Douglas Hibbs's "peace and bread" (pdf) model of US elections: bang on in the case of 2008, a bit above in 2012. (Indeed, Obama's 2012 performance in bettering the line of best fit is roughly equal to Nixon's 1972 win and only clearly beaten by Clinton's 1996 win.) An even simpler model based on growth in per capita national income also puts his 2008 vote as bang on what was predicted, a bit above in 2012.

So, the evidence suggests that Obama has been electorally a strong candidate for the Democratic Party. Yet, it has been argued, using regression analysis on survey evidence (pdf), that race denied Obama the landslide he would otherwise have had in 2008: reducing his vote by 5 % points. A study using Google searches as an indicator of racism (pdf), and comparing to 2004 results by county, suggested that race reduced Obama's votes by a net 4% points in 2008 and 2012.

Now, in tight races, a 4 or 5% point disadvantage is a big deal. I am a little sceptical, simply because it would have moved Obama into being even more of a standout electoral success for the Democratic Party than he already was--given that he already achieved half the winning-a-majority Presidential elections that the Democrats have managed in the postwar era. Indeed, adding 5% points to Obama's 2008 total would have made him the most successful non-incumbent Presidential candidate in the postwar period--beating ideologically moderate war hero Eisenhower's 57.1% result in 1952 after 20 years of Democratic Presidents. It would even have beaten FDR's 57.4% in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. I am particularly sceptical of the Google-search paper, because it suggests that the experience of 4 years of Obama as President had no effect, when continuing knowledge of a particular person tends to increase their salience as an individual and reduce their salience as a member of a category.

The stunning retreat of US racism
But let us accept that 5% points (since the Google study found that Obama received a 1% point advantage from being African-American and a 5% point disadvantage, giving a net 4% point effect) was the "won't vote for him because he is black" effect. That means 95% of the US electorate did not vote (negatively) on the basis of his race--at least in the sense that other considerations were more important to them. Even if we just assume that 5% were all whites, an overwhelming majority of white voters judged other considerations as more important. That is, in the context of the US's long and vicious history of racism, remarkable. (Clearly, what was by far most important to US voters was which Party he belonged to, followed by the state of the economy.)

Obama's electoral success is hardly the only indicator of massive change on this front. In 1958, 4% of Americans polled approved of interracial marriage. By 2013, 86% of Americans polled approved of interracial marriage. That includes 84% of white Americans (96% of black Americans).

It is notable that interracial marriage only achieved majority support in polling in the mid 1990s. So, about 20 years ago: around 30 years after the US Supreme Court ruled bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional in Loving v Virginia (1967). But polling support has continued to climb to the extent that approval of interracial marriage is way into the social consensus area. Support is lower among older Americans, but reaches 96% among 18-29 year olds, 93% among 30-49 year olds. Even in the South, overall support reaches 83% support, while in the West 93%. Inter-marriage rates are also rising.

None of this means that anti-black racism has vanished: it does mean that it is a pale shadow of its former self. One suspects largely confined to the malice of low status whites: for whom the effortless status of racism is a compensation for lack of social significance. Malice that is mostly petty but sometimes very much not. (The perpetrator of the Charleston massacre seems to fall into the category of being homicidally frustrated not to be a member of a master race.)

By contrast, antipathy to queer folk is still much more widespread (particularly among African-Americans): in significant part because there are mainstream institutions (in the form of many Churches, synagogues and mosques) still pushing denial of equal protection of the law: something that is absent in the case of racism. Indeed, one of the most respected institutions in US life, the US military, is particularly strongly committed to racial integration and has been for decades.

All of which means the long campaign against racism has been a stunning success: not an absolute success, but a stunning success nevertheless.

So, the question is, why?

Losing functionality
A major reason I would suggest is: racism lost a lot of its functionality--particularly its institutional functionality. Once the civil rights campaigns had led to the abolition of Jim Crow, anti-black racism lost a lot of its point. Moral exclusion such as racism is often about creating social cartels, denying out-groups access to social goods: and Jim Crow set up a series of massive social cartels that were very much about denying blacks access to social goods. Without legal enforcement, the racial social cartels broke down and so racism lost a lot of its point.

Moreover, the aura of social heroism was captured by the civil rights movement, not its opponents. Opposition to racism was heroic (people literally risked, and lost, their lives); support of racism brutal and reactionary. These factors are far from the full story (why did the civil rights movement win in the first place?), but I would suggest they are a lot of the story. The wider story being part of social psychologist Steven Pinker's identification of shifting moral perspectives: the civilising process as moralising process.

Creating social cartels
A classic example of racism being driven by creation of social cartels were the Iberian "cleanliness of the blood" laws, where Jewish converts to Christianity were excluded from various offices across generations. As far as I am aware, they were the first European laws which blocked legal rights on the basis of descent. A massive step in the direction of being Jewish not being merely a religious category (which could be left by conversion) but becoming an inherent category, regardless of religion.

Slavery was a somewhat similar case. Racism did not cause slavery. Slavery way predates anything that might reasonably be called racism. Slavery was, however, massively involved in the development of racism. Specifically, the enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans. The earliest significant anti-black racism developed in Muslim North Africa, to justify not converting black Africans to Islam, so they could continue to be subject to mass enslaving. In ibn Khaldun's (1332-1406) words:
the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [Negroes] have little [that is essentially] human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated.
Even now, many Arabic speakers use the word 'abd, "slave", to refer to people of sub-Saharan African descent. Anti-black racism lingers on in the Arab world.

With the development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the same logic applied in the Christian colonies of the Americas. Since all slaves in the Americas were black (something that had never been true in any other civilisation), why was it OK to have black slaves? Clearly, because they were "inferior" beings, suitable to being treated as mere property.

The Enlightenment made things worse for enslaved Africans in the Americas, particularly the new United States. If the Thirteen Colonies declared independence in the name of:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Then how could they hold slaves? Well, clearly because they did not count because they were ... black. Which the US Supreme Court decided was literally the case in Dredd Scott v Sandford (1857). Short of simple extermination, there is no more pervasive or vicious social cartel than owning other people as property. Doing so along a colour line naturally generates racism: indeed, a particularly virulent form of the same. 

Along comes the US Civil War (which a reading of the Confederate Constitution demonstrates was most emphatically about slavery) and the Thirteenth Amendment. Slavery was abolished, but most Southern whites did not want political or economic competition from the freed former slaves (all blacks). So, using brutality and violence, Jim Crow was established. A new set of social cartels, both political and economic, enforced in part by simple mob homicide (i.e. lynchings). 

Then, decades later, comes the aforementioned civil rights campaigns, and Jim Crow is abolished. The racial social cartels lose their state backing. Such social cartels do not immediately all disappear (and were not all in the South), but begin to be regularly overturned by civil rights suits and prosecutions. Racism loses much of its functionality, so begins to fade.

In large part by simple generational change. As people grew up in a world where the civil rights movements are seen as heroic, and the racial social cartels had lost their state backing and faded away, racism lost its social function and social power. There is still the residual appeal of effortless status--particularly among those otherwise lacking in social status--but that is simply nowhere near enough on its own for racism to be anything more than a pale shadow of its former self. (Though its consequences linger on.)

Complexities and cartels
Yet, American society has become, if anything, ever more hyper-concerned about racism. Partly, that is the fervour of the convert. Partly because, as racism fades, the role of low social capital in the problems of African-American communities becomes ever more salient, and that is a way more difficult and complex issue than being against racism. Thus diagnosing racism--when confronted with negative disproportions by race--is simple and therefore comforting: all the easier a path as the effects of low social capital and the effects of racism present in very similar ways (notably, various negative disproportions) and the former shades into the lingering shadows of racism.

Just to add to the complexity, there is unconscious discrimination: often a matter of familiarity preference (which is likely general among human populations), but it still leads to racial bias in decision-making and so social opportunities. (Though whether one can usefully call it racism is another issue.) That sort of unconscious discrimination is certainly worth identifying and drawing attention to.

But the hypersensitivity about race is also partly because anti-racism has become the basis of a new set of social cartels.

Anti-racism is reaching social consensus levels. In many social milieus, it is de rigueur. In social milieus were anti-racism is de rigueur, there is no moral heroism in being against racism: but anti-racism can wrap itself in a patina of moral heroism lingering on from the civil rights struggles. While a successful accusation of racism can destroy a career. Which makes anti-racism a potential enforcement mechanism.


Moreover, in social milieus were moralised discourse (and anti-racism in particular) is compulsory, there arises the problem of how to signal Virtue, and particularly anti-racist Virtue. The answer is--ever more hyper-sensitivity about racism. Such making a big moral deal about the difference between coloured people and people of colour, or identifying "micro-aggressions". The University of California has provided a revealing set (pdf) of "micro aggressions". The phrases may not be formally banned, but that is a distinction without much difference. Particularly in an age of adjuncts and casual academic employment. There is surely going to be a "chilling effect" on free speech on campus.

Especially given that even tenured professors can be targeted for dissenting. The use of civil rights legislation to prosecute a feminist professor, since disagreement is apparently "harassment", is precisely the operation of a new belief-based social cartel, backed up by state power, with its very own Inquisition. (Presumably not if it gets to the US Supreme Court; though the US Department of Education apparently believes it is above such petty details as Supreme Court decisions.)

None of which should be read to say there is no racism in the US or it is not a worthy subject. The history of anti-black racism in the US is a vile one: embarrassing to those who take a positive or heroic view of American history. Denial of the extent and significance of racism can shade uneasily into racism itself or attitudes which are functionally not much different. The low social capital of African-American communities did not just happen. There is also a lot of hypocrisy in conservative complaints about political correctness, as many conservatives were just fine with a sexual-and-gender correctness which was much more vicious and pervasive: progressives did not invent Virtue signalling.

Nevertheless, the contemporary hyper-sensitivity Virtue-signalling is noxious at various levels. Starting with making that much more difficult to have a productive public discourse about the problems of low social capital in African-American communities. Or about police violence: the notion that too many US police are over-ready to use deadly violence because of poor training, discipline and inadequate legal constraints does not fit into either the "Racism! Racism!" progressive discourse or the "Soft on Crime!" conservative discourse; making it apparently impossible to have a productive public debate on the issue of feral law enforcement. Otherwise folk might notice more how police building social capital with local communities can greatly improve policing outcomes.

Progressivist Ascendancy
Then there is the term Social Justice Warrior: the term is clearly meant ironically, particularly on the (lack of) any moral heroism involved in what those labelled as SJW's do. The term is also counter-productive, because it allows folk to completely evade the issue that has driven such things as the Sad Puppies campaign in the SF Hugo Awards. Use of the term provides cover for folk go off and talk about social justice concerns, using one of the basic techniques of Virtuous social cartelisation: "Folk like me are against X; you are disagreeing with folk like me: therefore you are against X".  Which, of course, does not remotely follow.

But such systemic untruth is used again and again and does demonstrate anti-racism (and similar) as enforcement mechanisms. Which is precisely what sparked Sad Puppies in the first place--the notion that writers were not worthy of Hugo Awards because of their opinions or occupations (such as owning a gun shop). That only the Virtuous are entitled to literary awards, grants etc is an idea that has been around for decades now, but is a classic form of social cartel--denying social goods to outgroups. And part of what the term Social Justice Warrior is getting at is precisely the apparently endless ambition of such opinion enforcement--attempting to police people's hobbies, fiction, etc. In other words, being Virtuous Wowsers. With all the you-are-not-listening-to-yourself puritanical earnestness Wowsers have: which includes proving the point when called on the same.

Hyper-sensitivity about racism leads to some remarkable convergences. Both racism and anti-racism can end up endorsing segregation and moral caste systems based on race (I am sorry, "privilege"). A convergence occurring not only because they both obsess with race, though from different moral directions, but because they both seek to set up social cartels--one based on race, the other on belief.

Blogger Scott Alexander also notes a Fearful Symmetry where both the social-justice folk and their critics end up making remarkably similar claims and arguments. Because both groups are worried about exclusions. Though the Virtuous or Progressivist Ascendancy currently seems to have more organs of the state on its side, extending as it does through education systems, the literary and artistic world, much of the mainstream media and into government bureaucracies.

But one of the Progressivist Ascendancy's conceits is that it is "subversive" and not any sort of establishment: which, of course, also means they never having to take responsibility for anything awkward. The Protestant Ascendancy at least knew it was an establishment, though it was not without its own deep fears. 

If, as is clear, racism in the US is in massive and continuing decline, but hyper-sensitivity about racism is used as a social-cartel enforcement device, then public debate about matters racial in the US will get more and more divergent from realities on the ground, encouraging policy to diverge from realities on the ground, making the Seeing Like A State problems even worse. Even wrestling with familiarity preference and unconscious discrimination becomes more difficult, since it conflates very different issues (overtly pushing the inferiority of group X versus having an unreflective preference for folk like oneself). Nor is making racial identity (and so racial difference) even more salient limey to be a helpful way to try and ameliorate such patterns.

The folk who will suffer most from this social cartelisation based on Virtue-markers are the most vulnerable: groups with low social capital. The anti-racism obsessors claim, of course, to be the friends of African-Americans: no, that is precisely what they are not. They are, instead, much more a manifestation of an classic analytical principle: in the race of life, back self-interest, it's the only horse that's trying. Which will, of course, infuriate Virtuous types: because one of their common games is to demand absolute respect for their own moral perspectives while on insisting on contempt for other people's. It is not an unconscious familiarity preference but something much more overt and self-serving.


[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lies, damned lies and statistics on "racism"

African-Americans are about 13% of the US population. African-Americans commit roughly half the homicides in the US. That means African-Americans commit unlawful homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans (5.8 times higher than whites in 2013). Which means that we can expect African-Americans to be arrested and convicted for homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans. So, the mere fact that African-Americans are arrested and convicted for homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans is not an indicator of racism by police, prosecutors, judges or juries.

African-Americans are also far more likely to be victims of homicide (4.9 times higher than whites in 2013). In 2013, 3,005 white Americans were murdered, while 2,491 African-Americans were murdered. Of whom 2,245, or 90% of murdered African-Americans, were murdered by an African-American. If we are going to say blacklivesmatter, then by far the biggest violent death risk to African-Americans comes from other African-Americans.

Homicide is, statistically, a "good" crime because the definition is pretty clear and the reporting can be expected to be reliably high and consistent. Since it is also an extreme crime, one can expect that African-Americans will also disproportionately commit other crimes and disruptive behaviour. (Obviously, only a tiny proportion of African-Americans commit murder, it is just a significantly higher tiny proportion than for other Americans: and that can be expected to follow for other crimes and disruptive behaviour.)

Mere disproportion is not enough
So, any study which (pdf) merely points out that, for example, a police force arrests African-Americans for various crimes at a higher rate than white Americans is not proof of racism by said police force. Without some measure of the comparative rate of actually committing said crimes, it is not even, in any strong sense, evidence of racism. Especially not when what is done to arrested African-Americans matches what is done to white Americans arrested for the same crimes.

Nor are statistics which (pdf) show that African-American students are suspended at about 3 times the rate of white students and 10 times the rate of Asian students. Indeed, these statistics are completely compatible with teachers being biased in favour of black students and against Asian ones if, for example, African-American students are, say, 5 times more likely than white students to be seriously disruptive while Asian students are only half as disruptive as their suspension rate suggests.

In other words, without statistics on how often students in various categories are actually disruptive, or people in various racial categories commit specific crimes, we cannot tell whether there is any racial bias whatsoever in the decisions to suspend or arrest. Merely telling us the rates of suspension or proportion of arrests tells us nothing about whether there is any racial bias.

Not wanting to see
Anyone with any basic statistical knowledge should understand that. So, why bother publishing such statistics on their own? Because a lot of people do not have such basic statistical knowledge, or else refuse to apply it. The background assumption that rates of committing categories of crime, or being seriously disruptive in class, are evenly distributed among racial groups (which we have good reason to think is not the case) is allowed to frame the debate.

Which is a classic example of how signalling Virtue corrupts public debate. Supporting a study which purports to demonstrate racism--no matter how statistically inadequate--is Virtuous. Criticising a study which purports to demonstrate racism--no matter how statistically inadequate--is Not Virtuous: indeed it is condoning, expressing or whitewashing racism. Facts and statistical competence do not matter, only signalling Virtue matters.

What folk so obsessed with their own sense of Virtue demonstrably do not care about is the consequences of getting it wrong. If US public school teachers are systematically racist (a dramatically implausible claim, given the politics of teacher unions), then that is a very different problem than if African-American students are disproportionately disruptive. If the latter is true but the former is blamed, then that will make things systematically worse, since it will be that much harder to deal with disruptive student behaviour.

Similarly, if police in a particular jurisdiction are systematically racist, then that is a very different problem than African-Americans being much more likely to break the law. Once again, if the latter is true, but the former is blamed, then that will also make things systematically worse, since it will be much harder to arrest or cite African-Americans for breaking the law.

Police killings
The sharp end of this, and the focus of blacklivesmatter, is police killings of African-Americans. Though police kill more white Americans than African-Americans, African-Americans are killed by police at a much higher rate than their share of the population, as is pointed out here and here. But they are killed in proportion to the rate that African-Americans commit homicide. Which does not mean there is not a problem with the willingness of US police to use deadly force (fairly clearly there is), but it is not merely a problem of racism: likely not even mostly a problem of racism.

That US politics is so dominated by competing narratives--different languages of politics--does not help. Racism fits neatly into the oppressed/oppressor dichotomy of progressive discourse. Conversely, focusing on much higher crime rates among African-Americans fits neatly into the civilisation/barbarism dichotomy of conservative discourse. Each discourse-community thinks what is the "real" underlying problem is obvious and despises the other for not accepting the "obvious". (A problem which extends to other political issues, but is particularly destructive on the matter of racism and race relations.)

Conversation across the politicised discourse communities is difficult and sadly rare. Constance Rice, an African-American civil rights lawyer engaged by a new LAPD police chief who talked to lots of LA police officers, reported a pervasive fear of black men among police. Given that African-Americans are apparently, according to Peter Moskos, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former Baltimore cop, five times more likely to kill police than white Americans (a very plausible claim, given the differential homicide rates), police fear of black men has a statistical basis. Which makes the problem that much more tangled and difficult. A merely irrational fear would be easier to deal with.

Comparing Asian-Americans
If African-Americans acted more like Asian-Americans (or Jewish-Americans), the issue of racism and race relations in the US would become much less tangled. After all, it is not as if Asian-Americans were not historically subject to vicious racism in the US. Now, they are clearly treated as functionally indistinguishable from white folk. Indeed, a dark-skinned person of South Asian descent can apparently be a very politically successful good ole boy in deepest Louisiana. Merely being physically not-white is clearly not the problem.

Which also points out how much racism is socially constructed. This gif set, from this BBC documentary, provides another excellent example of that. As well as a reminder of how vicious white American racism against African-Americans was in the 1940s: lynchings were the homicidal end of a pervasive racism. Racism which manifested--as this essay by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates spells out--in manifold different ways well into our time.

Though I am deeply sceptical that reparations are a useful answer, even without the very messy mechanics of who is supposed to owe whom and why would not the benchmark be a comparison between the current situations of African-Americans and West Africans? I am sceptical because the political structures of the US rather preclude the German Holocaust reparations example Ta-Nehisi Coates cites from being followed.  (It is much harder for the US political class to impose resisted outcomes on the US electorate than it is in Germany.) But, more to the point, a community that waits for someone else to redeem them will wait forever.

Why don't African-Americans collectively behave more like Asian-Americans? Because they do not have the same internal trust networks, the same deeply ingrained reverence for education, the same deeply ingrained traditions of courtesy, the same strong families and kin networks. Nor, unlike Asian-Americans, did the way African-Americans came to the US select for initiative. (It is indicative that Colin Powell was the son of Jamaican immigrants, Barack Obama a university educated East African.) The levels of social capital are vastly different.

Weak social capital
It may be 150 years in the past, but the socially and culturally pulverising legacy of slavery clearly has much to do with that. As the same legacy has much to do with white racism: justifying treating African-Americans as property, and the poisonous human relations slavery creates, was the original poison-pill of anti-black racism. Which Jim Crow then reinvigorated.

There were heroic efforts to rebuild, with the black Churches being at the centre of that. But public policy kept being wielded in ways that undermined those attempts--(re)read Ta-Nehisi Coates's essay with trying to build social capital within African-American communities from a weak base in mind. Add in the use of zoning and highway construction to disrupt African-American communities (particularly in the American South).

Then add in the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty [both of which suffer from Seeing Like A State problems]. Pervasive illegal markets offering potentially high returns for illegal behaviour and property rights defended by private violence are potentially immensely destructive in communities with low social capital. While welfare can also be deeply disruptive in communities with low social capital, as it offers income without effort or social connection. This without considering where public resources went within African-American communities (basically, to those with more social capital).

But folk focused on the conservative civilisation-versus-barbarism language of politics don't want to be told that the war on drugs might have been incredibly, and unevenly, destructive. While folk focused on the progressive oppressors-versus-oppression language of politics don't want to be told that redistribution policies might be seriously counter-productive.

Automatically diagnosing racism offers a corrupting combination of comforting simplicity and effortless virtue. As, of course, does racism itself. Which are just some of the reasons I deeply disliked race analysis--taking folk's racial identity as some sort of ur-identity. It is so very revealing that both mentalities end up endorsing segregation and moral caste systems based on race (I am sorry, "privilege"). They both obsess with race, just from different moral directions.

And thereby avoid difficult questions and complexities. In African-American civil rights activist Robert L. Woodson Sr.'s words:
If race were the primary culprit in injustice and poverty, why are poor blacks no better off in institutions run by their own people, including city governments and public schools? If government safety net programs were the answer, why has $20 trillion spent on the programs over 50 years failed to improve the lot of the poor?
About correlation
On the matter of statistical literacy, I have noticed a tendency for folk, when someone cites correlations they do not like, to parrot off "correlation is not proof of causation" as if that means that correlations have no evidential value at all. Yes, it is true: lung cancer does not cause smoking. But, the correlation between smoking and lung cancer is evidence of a connection (in the sense of being statistically indicative). Not proof, but evidence; and the stronger the correlation, the stronger the evidence.

Correlations are, of course, only evidence, not proof. (And evidence can, indeed, be misleading.) Typically, folk have some model of what is going on and a correlation which points in the direction the model suggests provides evidence (not proof, but evidence) that the model is onto something.  The stronger the correlation, the more reason it provides to have confidence that the underlying model is onto something.

So, no correlations are not proof of causation. But that does not mean they have no evidentiary power at all. Otherwise, folk would never bother with the things in the first place.

It would be nice if people did not sacrifice statistical literacy to Signalling Virtue. But sanctimonious self-righteousness has a lot more emotional power, and cognitively corrupting simplicity, than open-minded concern for facts and evidence and the messy complexities such reveals.


[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]