Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thomas Sowell: Economic Facts and Fallacies

An excellent 5-part National Review Online interview with Thomas Sowell, based on his new book "Economic Facts and Fallacies":

Part 1: The conventional wisdom instructs that the rise of women in corporate America in the latter half of the 20th century was due to the implementation of anti-discrimination laws championed by the feminist movement. In reality, a greater proportion of American women held high-level occupations in the first half of the 20th century. Thomas Sowell sets the record straight on this and other male–female employment fallacies.

Part 2: It has been reported that the incomes of most American households have remained flat in recent decades. But Sowell says this is a misleading statistic, since “households” are a moving target — varying over time in size, among population groups, and from one income level to another. Says Sowell, “Whenever I see somebody quoting household income, he's trying to make things look bad.” The mainstream media, it turns out, works overtime to make most income data look bad.

Part 3: Sowell discusses the outrage that is faculty tenure. Tenured faculty members, he says, run universities for their own best interests — not the interests of students. They schedule classes on their own time, not students’ time. They wield tremendous influence, in particular into areas where they have no expertise. Why, asks Sowell, should someone who teaches French literature decide whether ROTC should be allowed on campus? The trouble with tenure extends far and wide.

Part 4: We’re programmed to think that if we want to make it big in life we need to attend the crème de la crème of colleges. Thomas Sowell says that’s not true at all. Higher-ed institutions also spread the notion that the price of tuition — though astronomically high — doesn’t even cover the full cost of educating each student. Another misleading statement, says Sowell. How can one separate higher-ed truth from fiction? Sowell has the answers.

Part 5: Fallacies about race run rampant through our culture. For instance, racial discrimination is often listed as a root cause of criminality among blacks, but Sowell points out that black crime was declining prior to the 1960s and the civil-rights and anti-poverty laws that emerged during that decade. What then is the source of black criminality in the post-1960s? Simple, says Sowell: “They stopped punishing criminals.”


At 3/09/2008 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What then is the source of black criminality in the post-1960s? Simple, says Sowell: “They stopped punishing criminals.”

You guys aren't academics you are groupies.

Which country has the highest per capita number of people on death row?

Which country has 1 in 100 of its citizens in jail or prison?

At 3/09/2008 10:39 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

Thomas Sowell is a national treasure.

At 3/09/2008 11:56 AM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

"Which country has the highest per capita number of people on death row?. Which country has 1 in 100 of its citizens in jail or prison?"

1) No, Sowell is on target. In the 1950, 750 perpetrators of violent crime were arrested and convicted. By the m-d1980s, that percentage had halved. It was then that the courts got tougher on likely suspects of those crimes.

The result?

By the mid-1990s, the percentage of violent perps imprisoned was around 550/1000 violent crimes. Still a long way from the 1950s, but a big improvement.

2) Another big improvement came on the arrest-side with the adoption in New York and other big cities of the "Broken-Windows" form of policing that James Wilson and George Kelling had worked out in the early 1980s.

3) What also helped was that the percentage of youths and young adults in the US population --- especially in the black inner cities --- had stabilized (and even shrunk in some cities).

All criminology in this regard finds three characteristics of violent criminals:

--- Men far more than women.

--- Young far more than older men (by middle-age, men for biological reasons just tend to be less violent on the average)

--- And, not just in the US, but in West Europe, ethnic/racial differences: non-whites are more violent on the average.

(Interestingly, this is also true of non-violent crimes that all come under the heading of "fraud". The one big exception until recently was in higher-financial manipulations ---stockbrokers, banking managers, corporate managers etc --- but even that has been changing has discriminatory barriers fell in these occupations.)

4) One further point, brought out in 4 different large-scale surveys of the victims of violent crime across dozens of countries starting in 1989.

The surveys, under UN auspices, were directed by a Dutch university team with academics around the world. They didn't look at "official crime stats" of the sort each police department in, say, the US tabulates, then sends on to the FBI for a global perspective in the US. They carried out surveys (of their own) of crime victims . . . which always yields a larger number of committed crimes, in this case violent crimes.

Violent crimes included homicide, armed robbery (including street muggings), assault, rape, and one or two other categories.

The outcome over 4 different surveys carried out from the late 1980s until the early part of this decade?

*In the industrial world, the US was ranked about 15th from the top in violent crime, among 21 or so industrial democracies (Japan, North America, Australia, West Europe).

No. 1 was Australia, no. 2 Britain. All the big countries on the Continent of West Europe and most of the smaller ones (under 16 million -- including Scandinavia) had higher rates of violent crime too. Japan ranked at the bottom (no. 21 or 22), and for some reason so did Catalonia in Spain (the only part of Spain surveyed!)

*The American population ranked highest of the 22 industrial countries in a) having the most confidence in our police, and b) having the most confidence in going out into public spaces.

*Of the 22 countries, the US alone experienced a steady decline in violent crime after the late 1980s.

* The US violent criminal rate exceeded all other countries' on one score: homicides.

Further analysis by criminologists like James Wilson found, though, that if you compare like-with-like in ethnicity/race, the US homicide rate among European-Americans was either slightly lower than the average in West Europe, about the same, or twice as high?

The problem in making sense of this large margin of error?

West European countries combine two things under the heading of homicides: actual homicides and attempted homicides. These are reported to Interpol. If attempted homicides in West Europe are a small percentage of these two violent crimes, then the European-American population is less homicidal or about the same as the average for West Europe. If the attempted homicide rate is much higher, than European-Americans are somewhere between 1.5 - 2.0 times more likely to carry out violent crimes.

5) For some reason, the UN and the Dutch university (Utrecht, I'm pretty sure) stopped the surveys after 2001. I'm not sure why, most likely financial. It's a shame. I haven't been able to find anything as useful for cross-country comparisons. (No, I'm not a criminologist, rather a retired UC Santa Barbara political scientist with a Ph.D. in economics too).

-- Michael Gordon, Aka, the buggy professor

At 3/09/2008 1:34 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

One important point needs to be added to the previous analysis about violent crime, in the US and elsewhere.

1) Better and more effective policing and sentencing of convicted criminals leaves out the "deep causes of crime". Until a significant work by Michael Gottfredsom and Travis Hirschi in the early 1990s --- A General Theory of Crime --- there were only inadequate, ideologically motivated claims about the "deeper causes", a point stressed repeatedly by James Wilson --- the most influential criminologist of the 1970s and 1980s.

2)Hirschi and Gottfredsom, as Wilson noted after reviewing their book, were --- and remain --- the one criminologists to come up with a thoroughly persuasive theory:

*criminality is defined as force or fraud;

*it takes a certain kind of personality type to engage in virtually all crime --- risk-taking, unable to restrain temptations based on long-term calculations of self-interest, usually a big drinker, reckless driver, big smoker (in the face of the contrary evidence since the 1950s), etc.

*targets of opportunity then enter the picture as temptations to commit the crime.

3) The one thing that changed since their path-breaking book is cumulative, irrefutable evidence that single-parent (especially single-mother) headed families produce children at far higher rates who fit the personality-portrait.

Hence the collapse of the two-parent black family --- which hardly differed at all at the start of the 1950s --- from whites (roughly 87% vs. 89%)goes a long way to explain the bursting violent crime in inner cities as the illegitimacy rate reached about 69% in the early 1990s. All this was aggravated by the flight of the black middle classes (including solid working class blacks, especially if they had religious leanings and acted on them) starting in the late 1970s.

4) Alas, a similar trend has been at work in the huge Hispanic influx into this country since 1965 --- legal or illegal. The immigrants themselves are hard-working and peaceful, but increasingly their children have been socialized into the pathologies of gangsta culture. One result: surging fatherless children too. Another: very violent gangs, filled increasingly (as in the black areas) with ever younger teen-agers . . . with drug-dealing and heavy-fire weaponry further incentives.

The drop-out rate in L.A. public schools among Hispanics is now higher (about 60%) than among African-Americans (about 55%). Alas, as the better educated, more middle class Hispanics and blacks escape the violent ghetto-areas, they leave behind ever larger percentages of single-parent families and children with personality types that, in ever larger numbers, fit the Hirshi-Gottfredsom portrait.

5) One pathological sign of this in L.A: the murder rate has been rising noticeably the last year or two after declining and then holding steadily over the earlier 10 years. Estimates show as many as 60-70,000 active or semi-active gang members in this vast city.

And with cars at their disposal, they are not confined to their local communities. They range widely. Gang warfare between blacks and Hispanics is especially vicious and murderous.

Michael Gordon, AKA the buggy professor:

At 3/09/2008 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A most interesting read, Buggy professor. Thank you

At 3/09/2008 5:12 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Hey Professor Mike, a most excellent precis on crime sir...

Thank you for posting that...

At 3/09/2008 8:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In the 1950, 750 perpetrators of violent crime were arrested and convicted. By the m-d1980s, that percentage had halved. It was then that the courts got tougher on likely suspects of those crimes.

The result?

By the mid-1990s, the percentage of violent perps imprisoned was around 550/1000 violent crimes. Still a long way from the 1950s, but a big improvement."

In 1940 the incarceration rate was 206/100,000 adults, then it dropped during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s only to rise in 1980 to 209/100,000 adults. It has continued to rise until today it is around 1,000/100,000 adults.

One in every 100 adults is in prison or jail--an all time record high for the US yet we are not seeing all time record lows for crime.

How come?

Are Americans so mentally deficient that they can imprison one in a hundred of their fellow citizens, not see a corresponding decrease in crime and think they are making progress in fighting crime?

At 3/09/2008 8:45 PM, Blogger randian said...

Europe's current crime problem can be laid almost exclusively on its Muslim immigrants. The crime rate by such is astronomical, and I'm not counting what's happening in France. Sweden's rape rate is now ~6x New York City's, thought lately they've stopped releasing crime statistics by race or nationality in order to hide who is actually committing the crimes. The disease of PC is strong with them.

At 3/12/2008 2:49 PM, Blogger spencer said...

Sowell syas they quit punishing criminals, obviously he did not look at the prison population data.


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