You Just Think that Because You’re White

The not-so-serious academic crowds aren’t big on data, reason, or arguments. But they’re fond of accusations. One of their favorite rhetorical tools is to say, “Oh, you just think that because you’re white, or a male, or whatnot.”

Introductory critical reasoning textbooks might call that an ad hominem fallacy. And no doubt many in the not-so-serious disciplines haven’t learned elementary critical reasoning. (Indeed, it’s rumored that Copi, Cohen, and McMahan’s textbook  burns postmodernists’ skin the same way holy water burns vampires.)

But, not so fast. It’s at least possible that such claims–e.g., “You’re into free markets because you’re white”–are true. If we’re serious people, we’d want to test such claims, using proper social scientific methods.

How might we do that? Well, looking at one individual person, we can’t know what causes what. I’m from New England and I like heavy metal. Do I like heavy metal because I’m from New England? Too little data: there’s no statistically significant regression line to be drawn here.

But suppose we have lots of data. Suppose we collect the following bits of information for tens of thousands of individuals:
1. Who they are (i.e., their demographic data)
2. What they want (e.g., what political policies they advocate or prefer, or what political and economic theories they believe)
3. What they know (e.g., what empirically verifiable political knowledge they have)

Once we do that, we can use statistics to determine how demographic factors influence political preferences, while controlling for the effects of information. Similarly, we can use statistics to determine how information affects their political preferences, while controlling for the effects of demographics. Indeed, we can even statistically simulate what people would prefer if their demographics stayed the same, but they were perfectly informed or perfectly uninformed.

In fact, many researchers have done just that. See, e.g., Scott Althaus, Bryan Caplan, and, to a lesser extent, Martin Gilens, among others. I summarize some of these findings Compulsory Voting: For and Against:

Well-informed and badly informed citizens also have systematically different policy preferences. As people (regardless of their race, income, gender, or other demographic factors) become more informed, they favor less government intervention and control of the economy. They are more in favor of free trade and less in favor of protectionism. They are more pro-choice. They favor using tax increases to offset the deficit and debt. They favor less punitive and harsh measures on crime. They are less hawkish on military policy, though they favor other forms of intervention. They are more accepting of affirmative action. They are less supportive of prayer in public schools. They are more supportive of market solutions to health care problems. They are less moralistic in law; they don’t want government to impose morality on the population. And so on. In contrast, as people become less informed, they become more in favor of protectionism, abortion restrictions, harsh penalties on crime, doing nothing to fix the debt, more hawkish intervention, and so on. (Remember: these effects are not due to differing demographics between low and high information voters.)

Further, this holds even inside single political parties:

Democrats are not united in their moral and political outlooks. High information Democrats have systematically different policy preferences from low information Democrats. Rich and poor Democrats have systematically different policy preferences. Compulsory voting gets more poor Democrats to the polls. But poor Democrats tend to be low information, while affluent Democrats tend to be high information voters. The poor more approved more strongly of invading Iraq in 2003. They more strongly favor the Patriot Act, invasions of civil liberty,  torture, protectionism, and of restricting abortion rights and access to birth control. They are less tolerant of homosexuals and more opposed to gay rights. In general, compared to the rich, the poor—including poor Democrats—are intolerant, economically innumerate, hawkish bigots.

So, suppose someone claims that support for free markets is nothing more than a reflection of whiteness or maleness. A person making such assertions intends to undermine or debunk pro-market attitudes. But, oops, that doesn’t work, because science! These assertions–“You think that because you’re white and male”–are not only testable, but have been tested, and falsified.

  • TheBrett

    Heh, if anyone says that “you’re just pro-capitalism because you’re white”, just point them to polling on the matter. It’s the “white” countries – western European, Argentina – that are the least enthusiastic about free markets and capitalism.

    • TracyW

      Good data, thanks!

    • Sean II

      The numbers look a bit…optimistic. There’s just no way that 67% of Venezuelans support free markets with any serious grasp of what that means (hating one’s present circumstances does not to that equate).

      No doubt, another pollster could follow the first one around and get very similar agreements numbers for a proposition like “basic needs are too important to be left in the hands of the market”.

      That said, I’ll bet the relationships in that chart hold up pretty well. Vietnam and South Korean probably do lead their groups in pro-market sentiment. The Palestinian territories are probably dead last in their category.

      In other words, I think that chart is very useful for working out the relative, but not the absolute, popularity of markets around the world.

      Hell, if those numbers were right, we’d all be too busy building the world revolution to have this little chat.

  • Even if the data shows a correlation, that does not prove causation. And the correlation doesn’t say anything about one particular person. Statistics provides probabilities, not certainties.

    • nospam

      I think that’s misinterpreting the point entirely, which is not to prove causation, but specifically to disprove it.

      The statement made is even stronger: not only that there’s no causation, but there’s not even correlation.

      If there is no correlation between being white and “thinking like that” (i.e. believing that free markets work better than the government etc) – and the research proves there isn’t such a correlation, which it does – then arguing causation is nonsensical.

      • I wasn’t misinterpreting the point. I was trying to say that even if the data did show a correlation, that it wouldn’t support the claim about the reason a particular person held a belief. But as you say, since there is no strong correlation, then it is less likely the claim is true.

    • Gabe Atthouse

      Data are plural, the data show.

  • jdkolassa

    Love the tags. I’ll have to get that book.

  • Theresa Klein

    One of their favorite rhetorical tools is to say, “Oh, you just think that because you’re white, or a male, or whatnot.”
    I think you’re failing to take note of how identity politics has taken over progressivism and the Democratic party. I don’t think anyone is saying this because they believe that whiteness causally implies support for free markets. I think they are saying this because they believe that society is divided into identity groups along racial and ethnic lines and that “free markets” are “white” thing. Either because they think that whites disproportionately benefit from free markets, and they want racial redistribution, or because they think the white people are just more culturally markety and blacks/hispanics (or whatever) are naturally more communitarian/socialist.
    We could get into a lengthy argument about how perversely racist this kind of thinking is. But my point is just that I think your explanation for why they say those things misses the larger identity politics picture. They’re saying it because they think people’s interests and personalities are defined by their racial or ethnic identity group.

    • Sean II

      “We could get into a lengthy argument about how perversely racist this kind of thinking is.”

      You know that thing were supposed to not do – i.e., denounce an idea as perversely racist prior to any consideration of its merits?

      I think you just did that.

      • Theresa Klein

        Yes, I tihnk we’re all aware of your beliefs about the innate differences between blacks and whites. I didn’t know you were also in the “blacks are naturally more communist” camp too, though.

        • Sean II

          Theresa,

          You’re being terribly unfair. So instead of doing my usual thing where I toy with an antagonist and make wisecracks here and there, I’m just gonna ask you to please stop.

          If you think I’m wrong, say where. If you think I believe something false on this subject, show me why.

          If there is good ground for your objections, you should be able to express them without inventing things I didn’t say – “blacks are naturally more communist”.

          If there is not good ground for your objections, if you merely dislike what I say without having any evidence that it’s wrong, then maybe…I dunno…you could ease up a bit.

    • j r

      I think you’re failing to take note of how identity politics has taken over progressivism and the Democratic party.

      Identity politics took over the Democratic party a long time ago. Ever heard of Tammany Hall or the Solid South?

      The novel development of the last 20 years or so is the extent to which identity politics has taken center stage in the conservative movement and in the GOP.

      In the present political landscape, if you find yourself as a brown person with some modicum of understanding of economics and policy, you are stuck between one group of people who claim to be your friend, but whose idea of friendship is to make you the guinea pig in every new half-cocked social engineering scheme that they can devise. And on the other side, you see a group that tends to have the right ideas about wealth creation, but who largely view you as the other.

      • Sean II

        The only people I view as the other are people who say “the other”, unironically.

        Anyway it just doesn’t hold up empirically. Most major libertarian organizations preach diversity. Most conservative ones too, with roughly the same sincerity* as progressives, in any case.

        Atheists and LGBT people, now they have a no-joke claim to being othered by the conservative movement.

        But at this point if a black guy wanders into an Ayn Rand study group or a College Republicans meeting, his reception would look like something out of Jesus Christ Superstar: “Heal our image we can hardly be seen…”

        The fact is: that doesn’t happen very often, because there aren’t many black people trapped in between the factions. 95% are squarely to one side. It is THE safest bet in American politics.

        • j r

          I know you like to cherry pick, but come on. Where did I say anything about libertarians?

          Also, there is a pretty big disconnect between the refusal to acknowledge the utility of a concept like the other and the failure to understand why a black person might not be so excited about the prospect of providing intellectual cover to Republicans. On second thought, those two things make perfect sense when taken together.

          • Sean II

            Funny how the opposition can’t get its story straight.

            One comment up, Theresa is saying there are plenty of prominent black Republicans.

            Here you are, explaining why there of course aren’t.

          • j r

            Right. So the way for you to wiggle out of this one is to decide that Theresa and I are part of “the opposition,” whatever that means, and instead of responding to what either of us are saying individually, you can simply pretend that we’re speaking with one voice and that voice is contradictory.

            I guess it is a common enough rhetorical trick. It’s not very effective though, because I can point out easy enough that nowhere have I said that there are no prominent black Republicans.

            There are plenty of black Republicans and there would likely be plenty more if the current incarnation of the party and them movement were not so fully vested in identity politics.

          • Sean II

            Naw, man…you just haven’t said anything worth a serious response in a while now.

            Most of what you’re doing just looks like signaling. You’re getting it across clear enough that you don’t like what I’m saying, but you haven’t thrown down a challenge to any specific thing.

            Exactly what do you disagree with? You’ve never said.

            Your most interesting claim – that there’d be plenty more black libertarians if the movement weren’t steeped in identify politics – is also your weakest.

            One, you don’t know that. The relative paucity of blacks on in the movement could have some other cause, or many other causes. Two, the conservative/libertarian movement is not steeped in identity politics. Or rather, you’ve supplied no evidence to think that it is. Do you have any?

          • Sean II

            No? Nothing? Silence? You can’t actually name some specific thing you disagree with?

            Maybe it would help if we switched to multiple choice. Here are my beliefs on the subject. All you have to do is pick from the list:

            1) Lots of human traits are substantially heritable, including some very important traits.

            2) Lewontin’s Fallacy IS a fallacy – i.e. race exists as a useful category in biology, genetics, medicine, etc.

            3) There are robustly established statistical gaps between groups, including things like crime rates, test scores, etc.

            4) Those gaps probably have something to do with heritable traits, which differ both between individuals and between groups. Why probably? Because every attempt to explain them otherwise has failed.

            There you go. Just pick one or more of those and say you disagree. Shit, you don’t even have to say WHY, and I won’t argue the point. Just hit reply, and type a number (or numbers) into the little box when it opens.

          • j r

            No? Nothing? Silence? You can’t actually

            Dude, some people like to go outside on the weekends.

            Your most interesting claim – that there’d be plenty more black libertarians if the movement weren’t steeped in identify politics – is also your weakest.

            Perhaps it is my weakest claim, because it is a claim that I never made. Do you read comments or just skim opportunistically?

            Most of what you’re doing just looks like signaling.

            See, this right here is where you are talking out of your backside. What I am saying here is the opposite of signalling. This whole racialism thing is spectacularly boring. One one side you’ve got a bunch of left-leaning people committed to the idea that race is an entirely a social construct, and on the other, a bunch of people convinced that the taxonomy race is an incredibly meaningful and robust and has tremendous explanatory power. If I’m trying to signal anything, it’s that I find neither side persuasive. Both sides are wrong for the simple reason that the truth lies in between.

            How useful a category race is depends entirely to what use you put the category. You don’t answer research questions in the abstract. You answer specific questions.

            Outside of a precise question, this conversation is spectacularly boring.

          • Sean II

            Right. I thought so. You got nothing.

          • j r

            You got nothing.

            Were you imagining that you were on a playground when you wrote that?

          • Sean II

            A little bit, actually. I remember when guys would punk out of a fight back on the old playground, they usually did say something lame like “it’s not even worth it, man”. Not that this fooled anyone, of course. It just sounded a tiny bit better than saying nothing at all.

            Your feeble little pretense that the reason why you can’t either state a position or state a specific objection to mine is because you find this conversation “spectacularly boring”… kinda reminds me of that. What a bullshit cop-out.

            So like I said: you got nothing…of substance to say here.

            It’s clear you have a desire not to be seen in public with certain disreputable ideas, but you haven’t even bothered to build a decent story about why not.

          • j r

            Your feeble little pretense that the reason why you can’t either state a position or state a specific objection to mine is because you find this conversation “spectacularly boring”… kinda reminds me of that. What a bullshit cop-out.

            Right, that is exactly what’s happened here. Except that I’ve stated multiple positions and multiple objections, but you’ve just chosen to ignore them.

            If you want to treat this like a professional wrestling match, be my guest. The alternative is to actually respond to what I’ve said and not to what you imaging the impetus behind what I said might have been.

            By the way, the whole idea of not wanting to be seen with disreputable ideas would be really funny to anyone who knows me in real life. But I guess this is the internet and not real life.

          • Sean II

            “Except that I’ve stated multiple positions and multiple objections, but you’ve just chosen to ignore them”

            Okay, show me where.

            A few comments ago I gave you a numbered list showing my position. Just specify which item or items you disagree with.

            Or…if for some reason you don’t want to do that, give me your own list and we’ll work from it instead.

          • j r

            OK.

            Here is the first thing that I said:

            The novel development of the last 20 years or so is the extent to which identity politics has taken center stage in the conservative movement and in the GOP.

            And here is what you said about it:

            Your most interesting claim – that there’d be plenty more black libertarians if the movement weren’t steeped in identify politics – is also your weakest.

            Notice how what I said doesn’t match up to what you claimed that I said?

            And I also said this in response to your numbered list:

            This whole racialism thing is spectacularly boring. One one side you’ve got a bunch of left-leaning people committed to the idea that race is an entirely a social construct, and on the other, a bunch of people convinced that the taxonomy race is an incredibly meaningful and robust and has tremendous explanatory power. If I’m trying to signal anything, it’s that I find neither side persuasive. Both sides are wrong for the simple reason that the truth lies in between.

            To which you did not reply.

          • Sean II

            1) You keep saying that identity politics has taken center stage on the right, but you’ve supplied no evidence. Do you have any?

            2) If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that race is not 100% social constructed and also not “incredibly meaningful” nor a source of “tremendous explanatory power” because “the truth lies somewhere in between”.

            JR…what would you say if a man asked to state his political philosophy merely said “I believe the truth is somewhere between an absolute version of the Non-Agression Principle and the policies of Chairman Mao.”

            You’d ask for a little more detail, right?

            So, yeah…I’m asking for that here. And a great place to start would be by responding to my numbered list from a couple comments ago.

        • Theresa Klein

          But at this point if a black guy wanders into an Ayn Rand study group or a College Republicans meeting, his reception would look like something out of Jesus Christ Superstar

          I don’t think that would actually be the case at all. There are all sorts of prominent black Republicans, most of them college educated. People would just assume this guy was the next Thomas Sowell.

          • David Harrell

            Black conservatives or libertarians were rare in 1995. (Try being the black, populist-conservative, Pat Buchanan voter interning at a liberal establishment newspaper in Al Gore’s town back in 1996… Especially when the editorial page runs a false and libelous smear of Buchanan in its Sunday edition and you are the sole person to do the research and correct them openly via a snarky takedown on the newsroom BBS.) But not in 2015.
            I do think, however, that there are a lot more Republican partisans and operatives than principled conservatives. And of course, more conservatives than libertarians.

  • Sean II

    Point taken…up to a point. One must be careful not to create a Poly Sci version of the Lewontin fallacy here. Yes, it’s true there is a large intra-group variance among white voters. Yes, it’s also true this predictably tracks a split between the informed and the ignorant. But that DOES NOT mean there are no inter-group differences, nor does it mean those inter-group differences are insignificant.

    Indeed, the whole reason why shouting “white privilege” or “that’s racist” works in political discourse is because there ARE highly significant differences, visible to anyone paying attention.

    Take the debate over the ACA. A common talking point then was that most of the opposition came from people who just couldn’t abide the thought of a strong black president getting things done.

    But why did that trope work? It worked because while not all whites opposed the law, nearly everyone who opposed it was white.

    I realize most people can’t quite pull it off, but there is a way to notice things like that without running afoul of either statistics or critical thinking.

    • Jason Brennan

      Sean, it may turn out that only or mostly white people support something, and yet it’s not their whiteness that’s explanatory. Rather, it’s a conjunction of other things that happen to be more common in whites rather than non-whites. Whether this debunks the support or not depends on what that is.

      So, for instance, it’s true that whites in the US are more supportive of free trade than non-whites overall. But in this case it’s because whites tend to be better informed than non-whites about politics. (E.g., on tests of basic political knowledge, high-income white males score about 3 times higher than low-income black women. See Keeter and Delli-Carpini’s 1996 book for that data on that.)

      • Sean II

        Sure, but that only puts us back one remove. Next we must ask why one cohort is more informed than another? And does that relationship hold over time? And does it hold across a range of issues? And does it hold in different places? And, to borrow the old bedside diagnostic question, does anything make it better or worse?

        If we keep going – and we really should – we may eventually get to a point when the answer is “Shit. I don’t know the answer. I just know it’s not any of the things, a…b…n, we’ve tried so far.”

        It’s definitely not “degree of political information”. It can’t be that, because that is all too obviously a dependent variable of some other thing. “Degree of overall information” seems a good next step. But where does that come from? “Level of education” is worth pursuing, but we already know from other conversations that’ll lead us right to “intelligence”. Okay, but where does that come from?

        You get idea.

        • Jason Brennan

          Yes, but this has been studied, too. I don’t think it’s a puzzle why the average upper income white male is more informed about basic political information than an average lower income black woman. Compare what it’s like to grow up in Fairfax to Baltimore and you get the picture.

          As for education, that’s often a factor, but often it’s IQ. As Caplan finds in his 2001 paper, better educated tend to think more like economists, but once we control for IQ, the effect disappears more or less. It’s probably an IQ effect rather than an education effect.

          • Sean II

            Growing up in Baltimore doesn’t help. We can definitely agree on that.

            But how much it actually hurts is still an open question.

            As Caplan himself admits, the strongest data we have is what you get when babies from Baltimore are adopted into Fairfax. That’s the most extreme form of intervention by environment we have.

            The results in such cases are not negligible, they’re just not what anyone would hope.

          • j_m_h

            Except it seems that outside the academic theory world the well informed, upper income groups (largely business senior and executive management) don’t really support free trade or reduced government interference. This whole discussion (informed voters…) seems to fly in the face of all the Public Choice literature on the subject of voters driving public policy.

            At the end of the day one needs to confront the problem of specific interests when specific policies are to be defined and implemented. In principle just about everyone will support free markets when presented with all their welfare enhancing, wealth creating results that society will enjoy. But very few will fall on the sword for society when it comes to their job, their industry, their profits….

        • j r

          If we keep going – and we really should – we may eventually get to a point when the answer is “Shit. I don’t know the answer. I just know it’s not any of the things, a…b…n, we’ve tried so far.”
          … but we already know from other conversations that’ll lead us right to “intelligence”.

          That is an awful long causal chain that you’re following. Good thing you already knew where you were going before you began the journey.

          • Sean II

            Yes, well, shame on me for having considered this very important question before today.

          • j r

            Yes, racialism is very important questions.

          • Daniel Fallon

            You have read nothing on the subject of racialism yet still pontificate like a medieval peasant believing the rooster makes the sun rise. Yet your conclusion is not the appalling part– speculation and bold hypothesis are massive ingredients in good science. It’s your lack of sophisticated reasoning to go with the ‘evidence’ you present (as cherry-picked as it is) that compels one to call you out.

      • Farstrider

        “Rather, it’s a conjunction of other things that happen to be more common in whites rather than non-whites.”

        People use race and gender as a proxy for other things, typically the things that are the result of opportunities more open to certain races and genders than others. As your quote above seems to indicate, this kind of metonymy is both rational and fairly accurate. Even though white people are not more X because of their whiteness, they are more likely to be more X because of opportunities made available to them because of their whiteness. So what’s the problem, other than semantics?

        • Jason Brennan

          Fastrider, yes and no. As I said above, it depends on what you’re doing with the “because they’re white” comment. If you mean it to be debunking, then the whiteness better stand-in for the conjunction of traits that cast suspicion on the beliefs. In this case, it stands in for the conjunction of traits that suggest the belief is reliable.

          Some recent visitors to this blog have been using whiteness as a debunking trait, but in this case, whiteness is a stand-in for political information.

          • Farstrider

            Sure, context matters. But I don’t think many people use “whiteness” to “debunk” in the sense I think you mean, which is to denigrate. In other words, I don’t run across many people who say “your belief in X comes from your whiteness and therefore is suspect or bad.” Maybe some do, and I’ll agree with you that it is wrong. Ideas stand or fall on their own merit, not the merits of their holder.

            I do think many people offer “whiteness” as a neutral explanation of the origin of some beliefs. That’s literally what you wrote above: ““Oh, you just think that because you’re white, or a male, or whatnot.” There is nothing wrong with highlighting the unconscious influence our circumstances have on our supposedly well-reasoned viewpoints. If nothing else, it reminds us that we are all prone to various biases. Having them highlighted can only help the conversation – provided, as I think you are saying, they are highlighted in aid of the conversation, and not as a means to end it.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I disagree. “Check you privilege” is just a way of saying, “your views are wrong because you’re not a minority.

          • Farstrider

            I suppose some people mean it that way. I think even more mean to say “your views are explained, in part, by your privileged position in society.” The former is ad hominem, as Jason says. The latter is undoubtedly true and important.

          • TracyW

            The meaning you give may be true and important, but it’s also quite useless. If I’m blind, saying to me: “Look out, there’s a trap near you!” is quite different to saying “there’s an open pit 2 metres to your left”. The first, by its lack of specificity, is aimed at immobilising me, the second is aimed at allowing me to keep moving.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            This is not worth a big argument, but I disagree with the idea that any “explanation” yielded by knowing the racial/ethnic/religious identity of the speaker is usually “important” in any way. So, when a scientist claims a novel discovery, or a mathematician claims a new proof, what is the value of knowing their demographic identity. These claims are either true or false, and that is what’s important. Closer to home, are Nozick’s arguments “explained” in some valuable way by the fact that he was Jewish. Sorry, but I don’t see it.

          • Sean II

            Nozick’s particular arguments aren’t explained by his Jewishness, but his ability to make those arguments IS a function of his intelligence. Which in turn is not unrelated to his coming from a population where the mean IQ is 115, and thus the fraction of geniuses is higher than in any other group.

          • Farstrider

            Sure, when we are talking about science or math, where there are at least some clearly right and clearly wrong answers, the identity of the speaker is irrelevant. But we are talking about politics and philosophy, where things are murkier, and where there is more of a risk that people hold views that they think are objectively right or correct, but are actually motivated by unconscious biases.

          • Theresa Klein

            your views are explained, in part, by your privileged position in society

            Which doesn’t make them wrong. To say that white people are more likely to support X, because X theoretically confers some advantage on them is not the same as saying that X is a bad policy. Policies are not good or bad depending on which racial identity group benefits from them or on whether some racial identity groups benefit more or less from them.
            This is exactly the kind of identity politics I was commenting about earlier.

            “You just think that because you are white” isn’t just causally incorrect, it smuggles in all sorts of assumptions about how we should judge the policy merits of an idea. It’s an effort to dismiss an idea as bad policy purely based on the assumption that it must be beneficial to priviledged white people.

          • Sean II

            Fars’ – forgive me for staining your good name with my agreement.

            Once a view has been shown or strongly suspected to be false, it does become interesting and important to examine why anyone persists in holding such a view.

            Before an argument has been considered on its merits, shouting “white privilege” is just Bulverism.

            But AFTER the argument has been heard and judged, it can indeed be useful to talk about “white privilege” or any other Bulveristic thing you like.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            “There is nothing wrong with highlighting the unconscious influence our
            circumstances have on our supposedly well-reasoned viewpoints.” The problem I have with this is simply that in my own case, and in the case of many other people I know, My beliefs have changed nearly 180 degrees over time. So forgive me If I think I have used reason and am not merely a product of my environment.

          • Farstrider

            Why do you assume it is all or nothing (i.e., “merely” a product of environment). As your beliefs have changed so too have your circumstances, right?

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            The one may have followed the other, or vice versa, it matters not. The point is that our beliefs are not predestined by our ethnicity, sex, or place in society.

          • Farstrider

            Who said anything predestination? You are arguing against a strawman.

  • TracyW

    Applause!

  • Andrew Lister

    Jason, I get that information has effects on opinion controlling for race and other demographic factors. So race isn’t the ONLY thing that influences opinion. But that’s not to say that race doesn’t have an effect on opinion too – not unless controlling for information the effect of race disappears entirely, which I don’t think is the case. It’s odd to cite Gilens on this point, because from my understanding he shows that race does have an impact on opinion on welfare policies, for example. To my mind, the only view that has been falsified by science here is a view I don’t think anyone holds (that race is the sole causal factor in play).

    • Jason Brennan

      I don’t have Gilens in front of me (I’m in an airport), but every study I’ve seen that tests for the effects of race while controlling for confounding variables finds the effects small. One caveat, if it’s even that: ethnic diversity reduces support for welfare programs. Not quite the same as saying being of a particular race reduces support, but rather being around people of other races reduces support. Also, it’s worth noting here, self-interest is not even a weak predictor of political preferences.

      • j_m_h

        Is “political preferences” shifting somewhat here? Are we talking about preferences for political parties, general political philosophy (e.g., free market oriented), general legislative initiatives, or specific policy agenda?

        I’ve seen arguments that is the case when the action is at the constitutional/general principles level (where it’s arguably less easy to assess the direct impact to one’s personal interests).

    • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

      Blacks have statistically significant differences with whites with respect to IQ. And, blacks commit more crimes per capita than whites on a statistically significant basis. But I strongly suspect that you think that once you control for all confounding factors–early education, SES, quality of parenting, etc.–race has no explanatory value with respect to IQ and crime, right? But it does with respect to white attitudes re free markets, capitalism, etc. Are these positions consistent?

      • Theresa Klein

        For a second there I thought you were supporting the case that blacks are innately less intelligent, but then I realized you were just comparing that argument to the one that “You only think that because you’re white”. A good and subtle point.

        • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

          Thanks. I had a long discussion with Sean II about this on this site a while ago. Bottom line, I’m no expert on genetics, and I don’t claim to have a well-informed opinion. At the risk of disappointing you, however, I won’t automatically label anyone who holds this view as a racist. I believe the astonishing out-performance of Ashkenazi Jews in every intellectual field at least slightly suggests that there is an inheritable genetic advantage held by some groups over others.

          • Theresa Klein

            To me “racist” means “one who believes in inherent differences between races”*, so that view would be by definition racist, according to my definition. (There seem to be at least three operative definitions of racism out there.)

            *To be more accurate – someone who believes that races exist as something other than a social construct. 500 years ago, the English considered the Irish a different race.

          • Sean II

            I see now the error you’re making, and it’s serious.

            For example, there really IS a difference in average height between sub-saharans and east asians.

            Your response to that seems to be: “No! There can’t be, because that would be an innate difference between races, and thus by definition, racist.”

            But that’s not an answer to the argument. It’s just a naked appeal to consequences fallacy.

            And it doesn’t make anyone taller.

          • Theresa Klein

            You guy’s are assuming that being racist somehow makes you “culpable”. For what, I’m not sure.
            Someone could be a racist in the sense of believing that races meaningfully exist, and sitll not hate black people.
            Also, Norwegians are taller than Frenchmen. Does that make them a different race? Genetic variations exist all over the world. The question ought to be are there distinct clusters of genetic similarity among sub-groups that are identifiable in DNA, or is it just an accident that we happen to be looking at the genes that create visible differences in things like skin tone and categorizing people based on visual markers that do not actually correlate with inteligence or personality.
            For all we know, there could be a “race” of people who are musically inclined that we’re just not aware of because musical talent isn’t a visible marker like hair and skin color.

          • Kass Belaire

            And its a completely reasonable assumption given the common usage of the word. You have a personal definition of racism that is likely to cause trouble every time you use it. So troublesome that I’m not even sure you’ve been consistent with its usage in this thread.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            There is a “race” of people who are musically inclined, who don;t have distinctly different hair and skin color. They are called “Jews.” Here is the Wiki entry for the “Great American Songbook”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_Songbook. If you examine the songs on this list, you will see that the majority (or damn close) were written by Jews. This is a preposterous result. If you compiled a list of the most famous classical violinists and pianists over the last century, you would find the same thing. I can’t see that anything hangs on whether we call Jews a distinct “race,” but unless you can explain away ALL of this variance with environmental factors, then genetics emerges as a plausible variable. While it is possible that Jewish moms really, really, really encourage their kids to be musical, I can tell you from personal experience that that will not make you into an Emmanuel Ax.

          • Theresa Klein

            I think it’s actually more like the original definition the word.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            A racist, by the modern common definition, means a person motivated by animus toward one or more ethnic peoples. That is why it carries such baggage.

          • Sean II

            Missed this comment the other day, but I see now you’re taking the “race doesn’t exist” position.

            Or rather, since no one actually takes a position that ridiculous, you’re saying that race exists but tracks no differences except the ones which are impossible to deny – like skin color, eye color, etc.

            If that’s true, Theresa, try to answer a couple questions – not for me, but for your own due diligence:

            1) Why did they bother to build the HapMap using samples of African, European, Japanese, and Han ancestry. If race doesn’t exist apart from a tiny set of known traits, why didn’t they just grab samples from the first 270 people they met? If you’re right, that would have worked just as well. If you’re right, the project would gain no advantage by seeking samples from different continents. So why did they do that?

            2) Why do doctors include race in medical case presentations? If race does not exist apart from skin color and eye color, then why do doctors outside of ophthalmology & derm bother with it?

            3) If race does not exists – or in your words, if there are “no distinct clusters of genetic similarity among sub-groups”, then how does 23andMe work? How comes it that scientists can take a small piece of tissue – completely removed from any social context – and tell you the continental race of its donor? According to you, that shouldn’t be possible. Yet it is.

            If you’re going to talk about this stuff, you should be able to answer those very basic questions. And if you can’t, it’s time to change your views.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            It cannot possibly be culpable to believe something, however distasteful, if that something is true. It’s only racist to believe in inherited intelligence if this thesis is obviously false. So I await your evidence. BTW, being Jewish is not a social construct, and even if it were, this would not defeat my example, because you would still need to explain why people whose parents or grandparents went to shul on Yom Kippur, or spoke Yiddish, win all the Nobel prizes.

          • TracyW

            To be more accurate – someone who believes that races exist as something other than a social construct.

            But there are at least two different definitions of “social construct”. There are things that are purely socially constructed, eg who is President of the United States, eg we can easily imagine that the USA under a different voting system could have elected a different person, or it could be a monarchy, or the American Revolution could have never happened and there would be no USA at all. Social construction through and through.

            Then there are things which exist in reality but the exact borders, when needed, are socially constructed. Eg children versus adults. It’s hard to imagine a society that gives 3 year olds and 33 year olds the same decision-making powers functioning. But the exact boundary between childhood and adulthood isn’t obvious, and different societies construct it differently for different tasks and the same tasks (eg voting age, driving age, etc).

            Most of the claims that things like sex, or a disease are socially-constructed are, on closer examination, like the age case but not the President of the USA case.

            So one can believe that races are a social construct in the second sense, but not in the first.

            Incidentally, when I was having my first baby in the UK, the midwife had a full questionnaire, which included normal questions about health problems in my and the father’s family histories, but also quite separately, our ethnic backgrounds, which in my case gets quite involved. She did note my Irish ancestry separate to my English ancestry.

          • Theresa Klein

            No, one can believe that races are a social construct in the first sense, if one thinks that visual markers such as hair color and skin tone are not meaningful ways of categorizing people.

          • TracyW

            Socially constructed does not mean meaningless by either definition. The President of the USA is a meaningful thing. People can attach meaning to visual markers such as hair colour and skin tone. And often do.

      • Sean II

        “But I strongly suspect that you think that once you control for all confounding factors–early education, SES, quality of parenting, etc.–race has no explanatory value with respect to IQ and crime, right?”

        In fact that is not true. Controlling for SES as the true explanatory factor was the first thing everyone tied, for the same reason you suggest it now: it’s highly intuitive, and absolutely worth checking out.

        It just didn’t turn out to be true. The IQ gap holds after controlling for SES. The crime gap too.

        • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

          But to vindicate your theory you would need to control for and rule out ALL other possible non-racial variables, and there are probably hundreds. Good luck with that.

          • Sean II

            No, it’s perfectly acceptable to start with a plausible list and ignore the obvious noise. All of science does that. It wouldn’t get anywhere if it didn’t.

            For example, I’ve never seen a study of tuberculosis that controlled for “patient held his breath a lot as a kid”.

            That doesn’t mean we get to run around being radical skeptics about the causes of consumption. We know what they are. And our knowledge includes making allowances for what we don’t yet know.

            Though TB is caused by a known pathogen, we know it’s plausible there might be some hitherto unseen genetic susceptibility which causes some people to go active while others do not.

            But that doesn’t mean we get to hold our breaths for the possibility that childhood breath-holding is the real culprit.
            Some variables aren’t worth the trouble of controlling for.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I agree with your last para, but the history of science shows that the solution to a particular puzzle was often not on the list of “plausible variables” until some renegade insisted on including it. See, e.g. H. Pylori as the cause of ulcers. Thus, you can have no assurance that as of this moment you have identified all the plausible variables.

          • Sean II

            H pylori is a good example, but for my purpose, not yours. Here’s why:

            The fact that they didn’t find that particular pathogen until relatively late does not mean they discovered a new category of disease causes, ruled out by some earlier bit of excessive narrowing in the search pattern. They knew about pathogens in general, just not that one. Which is of course how they eventually found it. Indeed, the reason they found H pylori is because THEY NARROWED THEIR SEARCH to things which plausibly cause disease. If they followed your approach of “everything stays on the table”, they’d probably still be trying to figure out which moon of Saturn governs proton pump activity.

            No, what you’re saying is more analogous to: “because they didn’t find H pylori, that means we can’t rule out witchcraft as the yet undiscovered cause of some other condition.” Which is of course wrong.

            Switching out of analogy mode…we know the main causes of major trait development in humans. One is heredity. The other is everything else. The first one is KNOWN to be extremely powerful, and we already understand its basic rules. Just about every big move in our understanding for the last 20 years has come at the expense of environment, by discovering a larger-than-previously-thought role for heredity. And yes, that is absolutely relevant when we talk about where to look first, and where to look hardest.

            As for the category of everything else – i.e. environment – we have lots of trial and error going on all the time. If there was some non-hereditary factor OF SUFFICIENT SCALE to inhibit human intelligence by a whole standard deviation, it would be hard for that thing to escape notice. Especially when we’ve been desperately looking for it these past 50 years.

            The list of non-heritable things that plausibly could knock IQ down by 1sd ACROSS A VERY LARGE POPULATION is not terribly long. Most of the possibilities have already been all but ruled out. We know it’s not parenting, because of adoption studies. We know it’s not schooling, because of so many failed interventions in that area. We know it’s not tetraethyllead, because that wouldn’t have been group selective. And so on.

            Oddly enough, given your choice of example above, one of the only plausible non-hereditary candidates left is an undiscovered pathogen that somehow strikes one population, while ignoring another right next to it. That’s not likely (and getting less so all the time) but it’s not totally ridiculous either.

            Other than that I’m pretty much empty. And so are you. And so is everyone. It’s not that people have any new ideas in this area. They just hate the one that’s left.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Yeah, I’m completely unconvinced. From the Wikipedia entry on H. Pylori:

            H. pylori was first discovered in the stomachs of patients with gastritis and ulcers in 1982 by Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren of Perth, Australia. At the time, the conventional thinking was that no bacterium could live in the acid environment of the human stomach. In recognition of their discovery, Marshall and Warren were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

            Not many Nobels get awarded to scientists who select from the known set of “plausible alternatives.” Which is another way of saying that the science of something is never “settled,” including genetics.

            So, and no offense intended, when some anonymous internet guy with no known expertise in population genetics tells me that the possible non-racial variables are x, y, and z, and they don’t explain squat, I’m going to be a little skeptical, okay. Unless, of course, your real name is David Baltimore or Wally Gilbert, in which case you should have come out of the closet long ago.

          • Sean II

            Okay. You do that, and I’ll pretend not to notice that this radical skepticism is something you only apply to one subject.

            It’s what the wonks call a “civic compromise”.

      • Andrew Lister

        I wasn’t meaning to defend the claim that libertarians only support the market because white privilege. Can someone provide a link to a statement of that point of view? I can see how that would be irksome, given the long history of state efforts to enforce / sustain racial hierarchy. The ad hominem that would worry me more would be about the state, and rule of law (e.g. “It’s easy for you to believe in rules and to encourage other people to follow the rules, Lister, because you’ve never ever had to doubt that the rule-enforcers were on your side, there to protect you, etc.”) My main point was that the evidence of information effects on opinions controlling for race etc. is consistent with the possibility of racial effects on opinion controlling for information etc.. The fact that opinions on various topics differ by race within subgroups with similar demographics doesn’t have any necessary consequence for the validity of the opinions. It’s probably true, though, that people have a tendency to apply different methodological standards depending on the political flavour of the results (e.g. bring out the heavy statistical guns against Murray but not against Gilens).

        • Jason Brennan

          Andrew, we’ve had some visitors to the blog making this claim recently, but I’d prefer not to link to them because they’re very angry people.

  • Joseph R. Stromberg

    Political scientist John E. Mueller’s *War, Presidents, and Public Opinion* (1973) provides good evidence that with respect to the Korean and Indo-China wars, the less educated were disillusioned earlier and that over time their support fell with ever-greater speed. College-educated people supported those wars more, and longer, and even in retrospect, owing to their being more “informed” — i.e. prisoners of the prevailing conventional wisdom. How people are “informed” and the content of that information can’t be dodged, or not entirely. The information that got through to the poor, uneducated masses was that they, and not other people, were supplying most of the cannon fodder. That sort of information was worth more in its context than stacks of textbooks written by technicians of the trivial.

    • Sean II

      None are perfect of course, but there are ways to measure the extent of someone’s political information without getting into disputed content.

      The temptation to cheat is definitely there, though. I remember one poll conducted during the early-going ACA debate (when “public option” was still part of the plan) asking: “True or False — This bill provides for the establishment of death panels…”

      Now this was meant to be a baseline question. Anyone who answered “true” got marked down as not knowing the content of the bill.

      Unfair. There are in fact two kinds of people who would have answered “true” in that case. The first are listeners of Alex Jones, and they really are uninformed. But the second group includes lots of highly informed people: those who understand the difference between pricing and queueing, those who understand the revealed behavior of bureaucracies, anyone who’s ever worked in a VA hospital, or for that matter in a health insurance company, etc. They knew the bill would never be so crass as to use the words “death panel”, but they also know that sooner or later a panel really would have to be established to set limits, and that these limits would sometimes mean death for patients.

      Which means some of the people giving the “wrong” answer were not wrong, while in an important sense most of the people giving the “right” answer were economically illiterate fools.

      All of which is to say, the problem you’re worrying about here is worth worrying about.

    • Sean II

      To give a shorter example: one might also be tempted to measure political information by sticking to plain facts. “Who is the current Secretary of State?” and all that.

      Problem: here again there are two kinds of people who won’t know the answer.

      The first are not-so-smart people, who don’t know this because they don’t know much. The second are people much too smart to imagine it matters who the damn cabinet ministers are.

      So there’s also danger of creating something that just tests positive or negative for “subject is an English-speaking middlebrow with internet access”. Not the same thing as “politically informed”.

      • Jason Brennan

        Sean, that’s right. This kind of easily verifiable information isn’t all that important. However, people who tend to know this stuff also tend to know other stuff that is important. Also, despite the cost of political information going down dramatically with the Internet, political ignorance remains stable.

        Here’s an excerpt from a paper of mine on this:

        1.
        Everyone admits that much of the basic,
        objective political knowledge tested by political scientists such as Althaus is
        not itself (for the most part), strictly speaking, necessary or relevant to
        make good political decisions or to form sound, justified political beliefs.
        So, for instance, you don’t need to be able to name the President of Georgia to
        be a good voter in the United States.

        2.
        However,
        certain social-scientific knowledge is necessary and relevant to make good
        political decisions and to form sound, justified political beliefs. If you
        don’t understand basic economics, your opinions about economic policy are
        probably unjustified.

        3.
        It turns out, empirically, that high scores on
        tests of political knowledge are correlated with systematically different
        political beliefs than low scores, and this difference is not explained by
        demographics. This presents a puzzle that demands explanation.

        4.
        If 1-3,
        the best explanation is that political knowledge of the sort tested by Althaus,
        while for the most part not itself relevant to hard political questions, is positively correlated with the kind of
        social scientific knowledge that is relevant and necessary to form sound and
        justified political beliefs.

        5.
        If 4, then the country’s enlightened
        preferences, as Althaus measures them, are more
        likely to be correct than the country’s actual, unenlightened preferences.

        6.
        Therefore, the electorate’s enlightened preferences
        are more likely to be correct than the country’s actual, unenlightened
        preferences.

        • j_m_h

          Valid arguments are simply that — valid based on the rules of logic and of themselves do little to establish the correctness or factuality of the conclusion.

          It doesn’t follow that merely having sound, justified political beliefs get us to any “correct” policy (I really don’t know exactly how one defines the correct policy when we have a large collection of preferences that are unlikely to be single peaked).

          Moreover, it’s not the voters who are making policy. They choose representatives with very little knowledge of what the actual policy alternatives those representatives will voting on. In addition all the policies that are put forth and finally enacted are those constructed by well informed, generally politically astute people.

          The best trait voters can have is ability to assess personal character of the representative they will be electing. Not sure the more educated do that better than someone who lives on the street.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I think the War on Drugs is similar. Anecdotally I see more support for this failed policy among the better educated than among the “working class”.

  • urstoff

    The most important question: what kind of heavy metal?

  • Interesting data. The “problem” (from the non-serious view) is that statistics are much more racist than anecdotes and a priori conclusions. For example, what counts as “information” to be better informed? (That’s actually a serious question I had, too.)

    • Jason Brennan

      In this case, they’re using easily-verifiable facts, such as who the current president is. Check out the National Election Studies to see what sorts of questions they ask.

  • FedUp

    This is the kind of rhetorical bullshit that I get so sick of on this site. You act like you’re the reasonable one by saying, “my opponents don’t believe in science, but I’m willing to take their claims seriously and subject them to rational analysis.” But then you just wave your hand at some statistics that have to do with something else and act like the matter is clearly settled.

    Look, you could answer an interesting question by looking at correlations between policy preferences and race while controlling for information. But in the quotations you cite from yourself you’re doing something completely different: looking at the correlation between information and policy preferences while controlling for race. That’s like if I said smoking can’t cause lung cancer because men are more likely to get lung cancer than women when you control for whether they smoke or not.

    It might turn out that after doing the correct analysis of the data, your conclusion follows. I’d be kind pretty surprised if blacks and whites were equally supportive of affirmative action after controlling for information, but I don’t really know, because I haven’t done the studies.

    But as far as I can tell from what you said here, neither have you and neither has anyone. Because instead of looking for the evidence that actually supports your conclusion, you decided to set up a straw man to make it look like you’re the one who cares about rational discourse, and then shout “SCIENCE” really loud and hope no one noticed that you completely ignored how statistical inference works.

    I want to believe that this blog is an attempt to inject rational thinking into the shouting match that is political discourse in this country, which is something I really think I could get behind even though I disagree with you. But when I read crap like this it’s hard not to think that actually all you’re interested in doing is feeding your readers’ Randian delusions about how they’re the few persecuted free-thinkers in a world of sheeple blinded by political correctness.

    • Theresa Klein

      Question: Why does it matter whether whites are less likely to support affirmative action than blacks? How does that make affirmative action (or any other policy) more or less just? Why should we care?

      • FedUp

        Is that question directed at me? If there was a racial difference in support for a particular policy that was robust to differences in information if would be (some) evidence that your race has an effect on what policies you support. I don’t think it has much to do with how just it is, but I guess that might depend on what your theory of justice is.

        In response to the last question, I don’t really care, and that’s why I haven’t tried to do a study of it myself. But I didn’t bring this up. My point was that you can’t bring up a subject, call people who disagree with you stupid, and then make a stupid argument in support of your position on that subject. That’s wrong epistemically and morally, no matter what the topic is.

    • Jason Brennan

      If you think this way of testing for the effects of race on belief is defective, then you should write up a critique and get an article at APSR out of it,

    • Michael Zenz

      There is tons of research showing that race is significantly correlated with support more leftist economic policy, even when considered separately from a measure of political information. Political information typically has the effect of making individuals’ opinions conform more closely with their party affiliation. Because blacks, for instance, overwhelmingly self-identify with the Democratic Party, this will make them have more leftist economic views.

      Part of the problem I think is that the people Jason cites (Althaus and Caplan) are not really central theorists in public opinion research. Their analyses have received a great deal of attention from philosophers but less from the political scientists who study public opinion. And at least Caplan’s work is rather tangential to main-stream public opinion research (he is concerned with a constrained set of problems in the public understanding of some economic policies).

      The canonical recent books in this area are:

      John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, 1992.
      Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro, The Rational Public, 1992.

      And all of this follows in the tradition of Converse’s famous work about public opinion at Michigan in the ’60s. So yes, there is tons that has been written about this and lots of people working on these issues.

      • Sean II

        I didn’t have it on my forbidden list before now, but the fact that blacks have the highest party loyalty and lowest political diversity of any major American group is apparently one of those things you’re not supposed to say flat-out.

        It’s acceptable to mention the fact IF you follow up immediately with an explanation that locates the causes for it outside of the black community itself.

        For instance, you CAN say “because of the Southern Strategy, blacks almost never vote Republican” (even though that’s a lousy explanation since blacks started voting Democrat back when the South was still Solid). You CAN say “because of people like Strom Thurmond, blacks distrust Republicans” (even though that’s a lousy explanation since Robert Byrd didn’t stop blacks from voting for his party). And so on.

        Anyway this is a bad thing. It’s important that facts should be mentionable independent of their explanations. Otherwise you get these thought-terminating packages, where Fact X can NEVER be discussed apart from Explanation Y, and you end up with theories that have never stood for cross-examination.

        • Harry Heller

          What do you think the entire phenomenon of PC is? An attempt by the [inexplicably, because so patently idiotic] hegemonic Left to silence debate on all the REAL issues of our time, most of which involve some form of intergroup generalizations which happen to hold for the groups under examination (ie, most illegal aliens are Mexicans; most terrorists are Muslims; most violent street criminals are black; a disproportionate number of paedophile rapists are homosexuals; most welfare recipients are low-IQ, etc).

          • Harry Heller

            Oh, let me add: in my experience by far the largest number of free market supporters are in fact white. This does not obviously imply that one who is white necessarily does or must support free markets; or that only whites support free markets; or that free markets are not objectively superior to other forms of economic arrangements (by “objective” we mean “more conducive to wealth maximization”, though I would also argue “more [deontologically] just”).

  • Sauron Swanson

    Well, there certainly isn’t a Pacific Northwest Metal and Hardcore Festival. So who knows?

  • Harry Heller

    Have you considered that race is a bigger factor in perceptions of public policies the more psychologically homogeneous the race under consideration is? The (real) problem with whites, and perhaps the main reason our race is facing extinction, as I think we can all objectively agree (we might disagree in our concern re this outcome), is that our race is so very psychologically heterogeneous. Some might relate this to intelligence; others, to the same forces which gave rise to Western individualism originally. I have no preferred theory; I just recognize that whites are by far the least racist race, the least “groupish” or “tribalistic” race, and that race per se is rarely an explanatory variable wrt whites’ thinking about anything (except perhaps race itself). One cannot say the same about other races, especially when applied to public policies that intersect with group self-interest (or perceptions of such).

    This psychological heterogeneity is reflected in white voting patterns, which tend to be all over the place, though that is changing precisely as a result of the unhappy experience of living in increasingly, needlessly diversified societies where all that “new diversity” [imposed on us through totalitarian population replacement policies, ie, mass immigration invasions] votes in ways which are disproportionately racist or racial nationalist, and which conflict with ordinary white interests.

    Of course, few think what they do solely as a function of race. The more reasonable way of seeing things is that races are different in ways far beyond (and more important than) “skin color”, and that these statistically significant innate mental differences between races account to some extent for why they tend to have differing perceptions of events, and different policy preferences. And, moreover, that races also differ in the relative level of psychological homogeneity, with whites seemingly the least homogeneous.

    Thus, I would answer Prof Brennan’s post by saying that whites do not support free markets solely because they are white, but that whites as a group are indeed more likely to support free markets than nonwhites, and that a more accurate way of assessing race and its impact of voter preference is to say that “nonwhites are more likely to hold opinions because they are nonwhite than whites are to hold opinions because they are white”.

  • Harry Heller

    The comparison Prof Brennan makes between “well-informed” and “poorly informed” voters in the highlighted passages above may be true in accordance with some middling criteria for what passes as “well-informed”, but I call “BS” wrt to what might be called “super-informed” persons. In a sense all Brennan is saying is that “the college-educated tend to be more liberal” (which I would say is a function of their modal, mediocre IQs – ie, they’re more susceptible to the universally leftist professoriat’s liberal brainwashing than the non-educated, who haven’t been exposed to 4 years’ worth of PC garbage, and thus are actually far sociopolitically wiser than their more “educated” peers).

    In other words, what Brennan’s passage really is saying is that the more “educated”, nay, “schooled”, have been the more greatly indoctrinated or socialized into that self-reproducing segment of society which holds fashionably liberal views. Most “well-informed persons” are not, in fact, well informed at all. If anything, they have been inundated with false knowledge. Speaking of free markets, the classic example here is the false “knowledge” of Keynesian economics. I recall Rothbard in person once averring that the typical non-economist had more real economics knowledge (as a function of mere worldly commonsense) than the standard economist. Is a Keynesian or Marxist “economist” better informed about economics than a successful businessman who has never studied economics at all? Is that an unreasonable question?

    Persons who are truly well-informed tend to be somewhere between conservative and libertarian. Russell Kirk and WF Buckley, following Burke, used to speak of “right reason”, which sounds circular to analytic philosophers, but is true nonetheless. It is difficult to establish anything about human society definitively (though I think Austrian praxeology has done so in some areas of economics); on most questions, either ones “gets it”, as conservatives do, or one doesn’t. For example, the notion that we need to spend yet more tax dollars trying to “cure poverty” (after the 22 TRILLION spent since the Great Society) cannot be definitely disproven (at least as far I know). Maybe “this next program” will be the one finally to make a real and permanent dent in intractable poverty … But conservatives simply “know” that that isn’t going to work, that the real problems for the poor are low IQ; unemployable behaviors; and insufficient jobs (and often insufficient skills for those jobs which are available), and thus that merely enacting another anti-poverty program is unlikely to make any real difference. Again, we simply “know” this; but how can we prove it?

  • Bob

    “economically innumerate,”
    ??
    What does this mean?

  • David Harrell

    I don’t find people making the argument that the free market just isn’t for blacks. They most often seem to be arguing, or implying, that the free market is evil or unworkable, and that blacks have gotten the worst of that evil or unworkable system.
    Pro-choicers, “more informed”? Or just informed according to acceptable, politically correct doctrine? This is where the theory fails. I have found that people outside the baby skull crushing/spare parts industry either do not wish to think about the actual process or, when they do become informed and think about it, become ambivalent or less pro-choice. Informed people would not have been shocked by the latest Planned Eugenics expose.

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  • Hugh Manaty

    Are you conflating (1) There is a diversity of political opinion among people of different races and (2) people of different races may converge on the same beliefs such that there is no statistically significant difference between races, once confounding factors are controlled for.

    with (3) People of a one race are more likely to hold a particular belief about something (especially when it comes to interests relevant to their race than people of another race and (4) Racial membership can influence what people are likely to believe even when confounding factors are controlled for.

    What you say about only shows that on a particular set of issues, race might not matter.

    (1) and (2) are obvious.

    You imply that you actually disproved (3) and (4) but from what you say, you’ve only proved (1) and (2). However, your post isn’t that clear or detailed so it is hard to tell.

    Your post implies that economists, political scientists, and philosophers are scientists full stop. Perhaps you should amend your post to say ‘But, oops, that doesn’t work, because *social* science!’