Friday, February 12, 2010

What Does German Beer Have to Do with Fairness?

All the leading brands of beer in the United States were created by people of German ancestry and so is the leading beer in China, not to mention breweries created by Germans in Australia, Argentina and elsewhere. Germans were producing beer in the days of the Roman Empire.

This does not mean that beer brewing skill is genetic but it also does not mean that this skill-- or any other skill-- is randomly distributed among peoples, so that a failure to have equal "representation" of groups in a given institution can be presumed to be due to discrimination by that institution.

Fairness as equal treatment does not produce fairness as equal outcomes. The confusion between the two meanings of the same word has created enormous mischief, much of it at the expense of lagging groups, who have been distracted from the things that would enable them to catch up. And whole societies have been kept in a turmoil pursuing a will o' the wisp in the name of "fairness."

~Thomas Sowell


At 2/12/2010 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like Sowell has been drinking too much beer.

His argument is simply incomprehensible.

And, his example proves the opposite point: that technology diffuses and is adopted by others.

Personally, I like Belgian beers and Irish beers.


At 2/12/2010 10:02 AM, Blogger Free2Choose said...


I don't get your response. Sowell is pointing to "breweries created by Germans" in Australia, Argentina and elsewhere. He isn't talking about know-how or processes being adopted by other cultures. He's talking about a single group of people (the Germans) taking their skills to other places and implementing brewing operations there.

At 2/12/2010 10:56 AM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

"Fairness as equal treatment does not produce fairness as equal outcomes."

That brilliant yet simple concept will not stop the formation of commissions and laws to overcome its truth.

At 2/12/2010 11:01 AM, Blogger Evil Red Scandi said...

Few things have disappointed me as much as finally drinking German beer in Germany. American microbrews are generally superior (IMHO).

At 2/12/2010 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My response is that technical diffusion is independent of, as you would say, "breweries created by Germans" in Australia, Argentina and elsewhere."

The fact that diffusion occurs without the transplanted flag of a German brewery makes the point.

It has nothing to do with fairness, but it does have something to do with the ability of other cultures to accept and incorporate technology from other cultures.

You don't need to be a German to make great beer.

At 2/12/2010 11:18 AM, Blogger Free2Choose said...

"You don't need to be a German to make great beer."

Thanks for the elaboration on your initial response. I wouldn't argue against your does make a lot of sense. However, I think what Sowell was pointing to is the source of that initial technical know-how - that it seems Germans have built a base of knowledge that stems from the history/culture, which is unique. One does NOT have to be German to brew a good beer, that I agree. But Sowell's point is that Chinese, Indians, Australians, etc., are not exporting this technical know-how; at least not in the same way that the Germans have. Is it fair, that these other cultures haven't come by that knowledge naturally and that they have relied on the skill sets/knowledge shared with them from another culture. I think that's the point Sowell is trying to make.

At 2/12/2010 11:35 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"You don't need to be a German to make great beer"...

No but for a lot of countries it help start great beers...

Almost any country (except maybe Japan maybe) seems able to make a great beer but they all needed some sort of seed to start with and it seems the Germans tended to predominate in that area...

At 2/12/2010 12:22 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...


the point is not that other people can't make great beer. the point is that a great many of the most successful breweries have been started by germans. this is not a sign or racism, but rather just a sign of know how and specific knowledge.

there are lots more Chinese restaurants it he US than lithuanian ones (and as a lithuanian i can attest to this with much certainty). again, this is not a sign of racism or discrimination. it's a sign that more people like chinese cooking (me included).

the restaurant market is fair. lithuaninas are welcome to open them. but the outcome varies because of some basic ethnic traits (cooking style).

that's the point MP is trying to make.

At 2/12/2010 12:35 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Morganovich: Thanks for your comments about restaurants. In fact, from the NY Times "There are now close to 36,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, according to Chinese Restaurant News, a trade publication, more than the number of McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King franchises combined."

At 2/12/2010 12:38 PM, Blogger Free2Choose said...

"the restaurant market is fair. lithuaninas are welcome to open them. but the outcome varies because of some basic ethnic traits (cooking style)."

@Morganovich - thanks for putting a finer point on it. I was trying to get at the same thing, but couldn't express it with the same clarity with which you have.

At 2/12/2010 12:57 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Funny thing about Chinese resturants in the US, the food is far more palatable in MY opinion than the Chinese food I experienced in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam...

At 2/12/2010 5:20 PM, Blogger Milton Recht said...

"Fairness as equal treatment does not produce fairness as equal outcomes." Thomas Sowell.

I do not think three people could agree on what "fairness" means.

In golf and horseracing, there is handicapping, which is an attempt to remove beginning advantages to give all an equal chance of winning.

In the US, philosophically, we want to believe that all groups are capable of the same results, i.e. the same percentage of doctors, lawyers, police officers, firefighters, millionaires, successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, college graduates, homeowners, etc.

If one believes handicapping is "fair" to undo socio-economic or competitive disadvantages, then group outcomes should be statistically equal. For these believers, unequal outcomes at the group level indicate ineffective handicapping. It indicates a need to improve the "fairness" of the handicapping process to produce equal outcomes.

If one believes, "equal treatment" does not allow for handicapping, does not include school admission preferences, affirmative job action, remedial help, extra time on tests, etc., then equal outcomes will not occur because family socio-economic status predicts many of the outcomes and groups sort by socio-economic status in the US.

Different people can disagree whether "fairness" of equal treatment includes "handicapping".

There is also often a failure to distinguish the characteristics of the subgroup at the hiring or acceptance level from the characteristics of the whole group, and we often focus on subgroup "fairness" in place of group "fairness".

For example, suppose two groups, A and B, are very similar, except the top ten percent of Group A want to become lawyers and the top ten percent of Group B want to become doctors. What is a fair outcome at the top medical schools and top law schools?

By measurements of skills, test scores, grades, etc, we should expect more Group A's to be admitted to top law schools than Group B's. Additionally, we should expect more Group B's to be admitted to top medical schools than Group A's. Should medical and law schools allow the disparate outcome or should they equalize their admission rates for Groups A and B?

Different religions, race, country of origin, socio-economic status etc. groups rank careers and other aspirations differently and those rankings within the groups will sort each group differently. If one group ranks firefighting as a career over retail store management and the other group ranks retail store management higher, is it fair to want each job category to contain the same percentage of each group? Are the gate keeping tests and hiring processes that result in different outcomes "unfair" when group career preferences differ? Is it "unfair" if different career choices have different total life earnings effects?

At 2/12/2010 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Morganovich and Perry,

I would assert that you may be mixing diffusion of knowledge and technical knowhow with diffusion of culture and recipes.

Harvard economist Mike Scherer and business guru Michael Porter have done excellent work on how centers of technical excellence and the supporting infrastructure that builds around it (specialized vendors, skilled and specialized labor forces) are responsible for textile development in Italy, high end printing equipment in Germany, and computers and chip making in the US.

But, this is not the cultural spirit of Germany, Italy or the US. Chip making equipment, medical device manufacturing, computer assembly have moved to other countries as technology difuses, communication technologies improve and as supply chains develop in other countries. As for a German brewer going to another country, that is no different than Intel opening a plant in Israel.

As to Chinese restaurants, I must confess, you use the sign of Chinese management and ownership as a signal of Chinese food quality. But, what does that mean when you move outside the sphere of recipes and cultural signalling?

Personally, I once like Lee Ann Chinn, one time owned by General Mills. And, I am sure the Colonel at KFC was designed to convince me that he was responsible for the food.

In both cases, it was an acned 17 year old in the kitchen who was responsible.

Let's face it: Sowell is so old fashioned. You don't have to defend everything he says, even when it is not supported by the facts.


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