Arnold Kling  

Race and Institutions

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Gary Becker writes,

Yet it may be possible to overcome to a considerable degree this intergenerational transmission of low status. The most promising approaches in my opinion involve self-help programs that encourage better choices in black communities, the legalization of drugs, personalized medicine that recognizes differences in vulnerabilities to disease between blacks and whites, head start type school programs, and school vouchers and charter schools that widen school choice and stimulate education innovations, On the whole, I am optimistic that some of these changes will be made...

What he is saying is that the white-black gap reflects a capitalism-socialism gap. Too many blacks are caught in a socialist trap of government schools without choice, drug laws that create economic opportunities for criminals, and so on. He believes that if blacks were brought into the capitalist system, then the gaps between blacks and whites in terms of education and income would decline.

This is a more classical economic point of view than is the view that blacks are stuck with lower average IQ.

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CATEGORIES: IQ in Economics

COMMENTS (23 to date)
Dennis Mangan writes:

The two views aren't necessarily incompatible. If blacks are in a socialist system and become more capitalist, the white-black gap could lessen without ever disappearing altogether.

Troy Camplin writes:

This is one of those things that was so obvious I'm surprised I didn't think of it. Especially since I already knew about the problems of Native Americans on the communistic reservations (the federal government prohibits NA's from buying or selling land on the reservations, and the land must be communally owned by the tribe -- thus the abject poverty, at least up to the point where they started building casinos, anyway).

BGC writes:

I think we - in modernizing societies - should stop thinking in terms of reducing inequalities between groups - especially statistical differentials.

Policy should instead focus on improving average and whole population outcomes; and as far as possible treating people as individuals rather than as members of groups.

At present the US policy is hopelessly confused between the old tradition of individualism (eg every individual should be employed and payed according to the ability), and the more recent tradition of group-preferences where some groups should be employed and paid differently because of their group membership.

Maybe this is most obvious for Native Americans, where they seem to be exempt from certain laws (eg gambling restrictions) purely on the basis of group membership - which is a weird kind of reverse fascism.

The problems of a particular groups should first be assumed to be the problems of individuals, and only if this doesn't work should group explanations be employed. At present, the evidence is that many of the problems of groups are simply the sum of problems of individuals, with no need for special group-level explanations.

For example, it is almost always possible to explain income differentials on the basis of education, personal attributes (eg. reliability, conscientiousness), IQ and other individual measures. Group membership seldom has anything to add to the explanatory models.

Matt writes:

Drug laws are a tough nut to liberate because with respect to methamphetamine, the fastest route to survival remains jail, at least here in California. My stats on this are personal observation of 20 meth users in a medium size town, and women almost always fail to get off the stuff until the cops get involved.

Libertarians, like me, have trouble with drug laws because some drugs make one so incompetent they become psychotic. What we need, for the worse two drugs is a free market for kidnapping and forced intervention.

dearieme writes:

"personalized medicine that recognizes differences in vulnerabilities to disease between blacks and whites": once you admit that the idea of "race" has some descriptive power, where do you stop?

spencer writes:

Study after study has found that when you adjust for the socio-economic status of the student body private schools do no better then public schools.

Moreover, in the US there is a very large body of private schools. Yet there is absolutely zero evidence that private schools have found any improvements in the technology of teaching that is an improvement over the age old method of a student on one end of a log and the teacher on the other end. This is usually expressed as a measure of the student-teacher ratio.

Yet libertarian-conservatives continue to act as if their "assumption" that private schools are superior is sufficient to win any argument.

Why do you expect to convince any objective person with such irrational arguments?

I guess the truth is that you do not really expect to win your argument. Rather you just enjoy preaching to the choir.

Troy Camplin writes:

Actually, neither kind of school has any pressure to improve because universities no longer have any standards, meaning anybody can get in anymore, no matter how little they know. If universities had standards once again, the schools would have to step it up so that students could get in. This occurred because the federal government decided that universities were supposed to be places for social experiments rather than places to educate. With the takeover of the universities by the Marxist postmodernists, egalitarianism rules, meaning more dumbing down to make it so everyone can succeed. We even had departments, like interdisciplinary studies, which should be the hardest major, being used to keep the dumbest of the dumb in college by not requiring students to know anything at all to graduate.

Alex writes:

While I agree with Becker on many points (such as the implementing of self help programs) i do not think that legalizing drugs will help the black community in the slightest. Instead of decreasing "economic opportunities for criminals", leagalizing drugs will only make it easier to sell drugs, therefore increasing these opportunities. And instead of helping the socio-economic group in question get themselves out of the socialistic trap, leagalizing drugs will only make it easier to get drugs so they will spend more time strung out on drugs instead of getting a job. Legalizing drugs only enables the socialistic behavior

TGGP writes:

Mangan made the same point I was going to. It is a mistake to think there must only be one factor rather than two or more.

Matt, you are pointing to problems under our current regime of illegal drugs and laying them at the feet of drug legalization. Under alcohol prohibition, there was tons of "bathtub gin" that was horribly dangerous. After legalization booze became much safer.

Dr. T writes:

Mr. Becker gets several points wrong. Head Start has never worked, but he thinks it will help. He also favors self-help programs as a way of changing a pathologic culture, but self-help programs work only with highly motivated persons. He uses the term 'personalized medicine' when he actually means race-based, probabilistic medicine, that most doctors already practice. (We know that black Americans are more prone to hypertension and kidney disease and less prone to many autoimmune diseases, and that knowledge shapes our differential diagnoses.)

I laud Mr. Becker for proposing solutions, but I believe most of his proposals would fail.

Carter writes:

I agree with Spencer: these kids don't need private schools, they need the business end of a log.

Gary Rogers writes:

Although blacks may be caught in this trap somewhat more than other races, it is by no means a uniquely black problem. Trying to implement the solution by "self-help programs ... in black communities" misses a big piece of the problem. I agree that the underlying issue is the socialist trap, as you describe it, and wonder if it may be responsible for the much publicized widening gap between rich and poor? We need better education for everyone!

Jim writes:

Seems to me that a real 'socialist' (more like social democratic, but some of y'all seem to think they're equivalent) approach would have involved allocating more funding to schools serving deprived communities (not less), properly funded public transport to improve access to jobs and services, land use and transportation policies that encouraged inner city regeneration rather than flight to the suburbs, better funding of training opportunities to reduce long-term unemployment, more generous benefits to reduce the attractiveness of crime, and gun control to crack down on the violence trade that accompanies the drugs trade.

Overall, these policies have been pursued far more in Western Europe than in the US and - surprise surprise! - there's less grinding urban poverty over here and, it seems in the UK anyway (which is probably the best comparator), higher Black IQ and less of a black-white gap in educational attainment.

So blaming it all on 'socialism' is not only lazy in several ways, but probably completely wrong to boot. If you're going to talk in those terms, then the problem is too little socialism rather than too much.

Troy Camplin writes:

Jim, the more money we spend on schools, the worse they get.

The problem with schools is that they are socialistic -- but in a different way than we typically think. They promote socialistic, egalitarianistic ideals, saying everyone is the same. When they treat everyone as the same, we should not be surprised when schools aim for the lowest common denominator. Further, the Left's elitism made them reform the schools in the direction of being nothing but college prep. We have eliminated any and all classes that would and could prepare students not going to college for life in the real world. If to some degree schools are supposed to prepare one for getting a good job, then our schools fail miserably. If they are supposed to teach us how to read and do basic math, we are done by 8th grade -- and could be done by 5th. The elimination of the practical from the schools has made most kids see school as pointless, while at the same time it has severely dumbed down the college prep courses. Not all students can learn, not all students can learn in the same way, not all students are interested in getting an education, and not all students are going to college. Only when we accept these facts will we get our schools back on the right track. In other words, we have to eliminate the Left's view of human nature, which is wrong in practically every way.

Jim writes:

"Jim, the more money we spend on schools, the worse they get."

You say that like you have some strong empirical data to back it up. I look forward to seeing it.

Tom writes:

Study after study has found that when you adjust for the socio-economic status of the student body private schools do no better then public schools. Why do you expect to convince any objective person with such irrational arguments?

Spencer, have you considered that at the University level public schools do well because of the competition from private schools?

For your proof, compare the k-12 grades. Many fewer private schools and the public schools fail to produce.

Floccina writes:

Spencer wrote:

Study after study has found that when you adjust for the socio-economic status of the student body private schools do no better then public schools.

I agree and I would say that the goals seem to be unachievable. Private schools do not do better but neither do better funded public schools do much better than less funded public schools. (If schooling is more about signaling qualification than it is about educating, which I think it is, is it possible to change the outcome enough to affect students future prospects. We cannot all be above average.)

If we cannot school children much better through privatizing schools can we school children more efficiently through privatizing? For example can we reduce the student to teacher ration for less money if we privatize?

Another question would be can we narrow the gap between the worst and best schools though privatization?

What is the correct level of school funding? I think that if we must pay for the schools together then the right amount of funding per child should be what the average median income family would spend if they had to pay for it directly.

Dennis Mangan writes:
"Jim, the more money we spend on schools, the worse they get."

You say that like you have some strong empirical data to back it up. I look forward to seeing it.

Washington D.C. school system is a good data point.
Troy Camplin writes:

Well, let's see, Washington D.C. spends the most per student -- $13,993 in 2001-2, and yet is ranked 51st out of 51. New York spends the second most, and that gets it #21 on the list. North Dakota spends the least per pupil, yet it is ranked #4. Utah is second least, and gets a ranking of 23, only right below New York (actually, they are tied non reading and math averages). New York spends $11,023 per student and Utah spends $4674 per student and receive exactly the same results. And the place that spends the most money gets the worst results, while the state spending the least money is getting one of the best results.

The U.S. is in fact tied with Switzerland on spending the most per student, but the U.S. ranks at the bottom in math and science scores compared to all other developed -- and even does worse compared to a few developing -- countries. Adjusted for inflation, spending per students went up 212% from 1960-1995. And what did we get for that money? OUr 12th graders rank 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in math, were 16th in science, and dead last in physics. The more money we have spent, the less we have taught them. Having taught at the college level, I can attest that new students know less and less with each passing year.

Jim writes:

Troy, you don't provide a reference or link, but taking your word for the accuracy of your stats, I wouldn't put quite so much weight on comparisons between state averages. Obviously costs of living are much higher in New York and Washington than Utah and North Dakota, so straight dollar for dollar comparisons are misleading. And then there's inequalities within states - after all, both DC and New York include some pretty wealthy areas. According to this, from the Brookings Institution, "the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent", so we're talking about some big inequalities. It also reports findings that "on every tangible measure—from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings—schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students."

If you insist on international comparisons, I'd direct you to the OECD's Education At A Glance 2007, data chart B7.2 which finds that per-pupil expenditure (PPP-adjusted) is positively correlated with student performance in mathematics.

Troy Camplin writes:

The same Brookings report says that, "Over the past 30 years, a large body of research has shown that four factors consistently influence student achievement: all else equal, students perform better if they are educated in smaller schools where they are well known (300 to 500 students is optimal), have smaller class sizes (especially at the elementary level), receive a challenging curriculum, and have more highly qualified teachers." Oddly, with the possible exception of the last one, none of this has anything to do with money. It has been liberals who have pushed for larger schools with more students and for dumbing down the curriculum, all of which are compatible with the Left's view of people as essentially the same and easily molded.

I personally don't buy that more money results in better math scores. I would have to see the details of that. You can teach math with chalk and a chalkboard and some light to see by and desks to write on. In the U.S. the problem with math is that our math books are full of pointless, brightly-colored pictures. Look at a Japanese math book -- no pictures. Instead, they have equations! I'm guessing the fact that there is more math in a Japanese math book than there is in an American math book does far more to explain the huge difference in math scores than does money.

Incidentally, we would have better teachers if the teacher's union wasn't around to keep those without education degrees out of teaching. Of course, if they didn't, nobody with a degree in education would be able to get a job doing anything, since education majors don't actually teach anything.

Finally, there is no evidence that the districts spending 10x the money are getting 10x the results. Quite the contrary. Our best schools are still providing some of the worst education in the world. And until we address the actual problems with education rather than suggesting we continue to throw money at a failing system, we're going to continue to have terrible results. If you give money to a failing system, you are rewarding that failure. We shouldn't be surprised when we continue to see failure in such a situation.

Jim writes:

"Finally, there is no evidence that the districts spending 10x the money are getting 10x the results"

True, but I never said there was. I think resources have an impact, but not necessarily one for one, because there are other factors too.

"Quite the contrary."

Not true, as far as I can see. But if you have evidence that schools who spend more - taking into account local cost of living and pupil intake with differing levels of special needs, etc - deliver significantly worse results, then please, produce it.

Troy Camplin writes:

I already presented you the data from Washington, D.C. and you chose to brush it off. SInce you don't like my facts, you supply me with some actual facts that actually prove that more money = better outcome. I see no correlation between money and outcome. If there is any trend line, it's in the opposite direction -- at least in this country. This suggests that the problem isn't money. Materialism isn't the answer to everything. And I'm still waiting for you to address the other points I've made.

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