Monday, March 20, 2006

This cultural difference thing - 2

There was a potential nice little debate with “Tom” on the matter of why Americans kill each other. First thing to do here is to thank him for referring me to this piece by Kevin Baker Which for a starter is a very well thought out and researched piece.

I do know that I do not concur with the conclusions reached – essentially that all of the US’s societal woes are due to the Welfare State system.

The other side of the debate is just as clearly and concisely put here.

Whichever of those two authors you want to say is right will depend, I suspect, not upon the worth of the arguments presented but on the politic of the reader. Once again confirmation bias will reign supreme.

There are two little sections that I want to highlight.

First up, from The Smallest Minority –

And here is where I start speculating, so those of you who want to accuse me of racism ought to be sharpening your barbs.

SayUncle considered Kim's argument and concluded:

And I realized that it made a sick sort of sense. The nation of immigrants factor is just about the only thing we don’t have in common with other comparable western nations.

No, it's not. The factor that America has that is different from other comparable Western nations is massive institutionalized slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, institutionalized and legally codified racism, the Civil Rights Movement, and finally the Great Society and the War on Poverty.

Now that I accept as irrefutable, and probably very germaine to the question. Whoever thinks that emancipation was completed with the passing of the Anti-Slavery legislation forgets the 1940’s, the 1950’s and 1960’s at their peril.

Baker continues -
Tgirsch (the author of the other piece I will quote) proposes that black-on-black violence is due to the "disproportionate poverty" of the black demographic. What is seldom asked, as I noted, was why American blacks remain largely poverty-stricken a century after emancipation, and nearly half a century after the Civil Rights movement and the establishment of the Welfare State.

And after a lengthy consideration of illegitimate birth rates, and the “problems”of the welfare state, Baker “comes back to earth” with this…

Tgirsch wrote,

I do think that more attention needs to be paid to racial differences and the underlying reasons for them. But I think what we’ll ultimately find is that race has no inherent effect at all, and that the difference that exist are socially driven.

I agree. Race isn't the reason, it's just a marker. Blacks were systematically discriminated against, held down, demeaned. The color of their skin marked them for this abuse. When things finally started to improve socially, the intellegentsia stepped in and threw a monkey wrench into an already damaged mechanism - with the best of (stated) intentions. If you want to define what happened as "poorly implementing" the welfare state, I suppose you're entitled. I for one see it as an inevitable outcome of a flawed idea.

Now it really is nice that Kevin Baker agrees, even if it is to then draw a non sequitur conclusion.

Turning to the points that Tgirsch makes, he (unfortunately) takes the following line –

There’s a lot going on here, mostly a highly misleading use of statistics, but it boils down to three incorrect underlying assumptions:
1. That poor Hispanics are concentrated in inner-city areas at roughly the same rate as poor African-Americans are.
2. That poverty is poverty, with no differences in degree of poverty.
3. That the relationship between poverty and violent crime ought to be linear.

and, just a bit further on comes –
Of course, my objective here is not to prove to anybody that the social safety net is working or that it presents no burden to those it purports to help — that’s for someone else to do some other time. Nor am I trying to argue that there aren’t cultural factors in play — often prevalent in very poor, predominantly African-American urban neighborhoods — that exacerbate the problem of violence. I merely wanted to demonstrate that Kevin’s case is not nearly so slam-dunk as he (and his commenters) seem to think it is, and to point out what I feel are critical errors he made in building that case. I would argue that if he wishes to do away with the status quo, the burden of proof is on him to show that the alternative (little or no social safety net) would indeed be better.

To that point, I submit one more thing. In the comments at Kevin’s site, there was an exchange that I think is exceptionally revealing in the lack of foresight behind doing away with the social safety net. A commenter was trying to make the case that people in general would be better off if they didn’t have to pay the taxes associated with supporting the social safety net, because they would have more money to invest in their future and the economy. I responded that history has shown us that most people would not invest it or save it or spend it wisely (and in so doing, I used some terminology which I frankly regret). Kevin’s response:

“So? It’s their money.”

The utter lack of attention to (or, equally likely, concern for) what happens next should speak for itself.

Now that really is something of a damp squib; not that I want to “prove” that the welfare state works or not either, or that lowering taxes would solve the problem. Both ideas are in my opinion dead end solutions with only political dogma to back them.

The point that Tgirsch missed and where I think Kevin Baker got it totally right is this –
So, after decades of knowing that education has no economic value, and further decades of lack of employment opportunity, what is the result? A population that is willfully ignorant, desperately poor, generally promiscuous, disillusioned and angry and willing to use whatever drugs are available to escape (however briefly) their reality…

That opening rationale is 100% correct but the conclusion that the poor are “…not willing to study or work to escape permanently, now that the opportunity actually exists…” is another political non-sequitur that exists solely to justify the argument that the welfare state has failed. What a pity that the perspicacity of Baker’s opening was left by the wayside.

Why is it that people have the idea that education has no economic value? It comes in part from the culture of succession. “My pappy was a steel worker, my grandpappy was a steel worker. They could not read nor write. Why do I need learn?”

It comes in part from generations of teachers telling their pupils that “…black people can not learn… blacks are dumb and waste of time educatin them…”, institutionalised degradation. I know this happens and it must be a near universal, because (to my shame) I have seen it happen, I have seen the consequences all too often in NZ. That is why Baker’s observation was so right.

I want to return now to the very opening of Baker’s post, to this quotation he pulls from othersideofkim –
The United States has always had a higher murder rate than other countries, not because there are more guns around, but because we are a nation of immigrants. When people have few or no ties to a community, their propensity towards lawlessness is much higher. (It’s why, for example, small-town sheriffs had a habit of telling strangers to leave town—they were playing the odds.)

It’s also why comparisons between Japan and the U.S. are pointless: a racially- and culturally-homogenous society will always have a lower rate of violence than a nation of immigrants because there are fewer points of friction between them. Add to that a culture of (to us) stifling conformity, and the circle becomes complete.

What Western Europe is quickly discovering is that it sounds good to become a nation of welcoming arms to strangers, but the reality is that this hospitality comes with a price tag. In Britain, for example, violent crime is committed by Jamaican street gangs, gypsies, and Eastern European- and Third World “refugees”. Add to that the more-recent Muslim fanaticism, and this witches’ brew likewise becomes complete.

Once again here we have an excellent premise, one which touches oh so briefly upon the question I originally posed. Once again, to my great disappointment, it has been transmogrified into a political non sequitur to justify the author’s particular political outlook.

If Kim du Toit’s contention were correct, then NZ would now be in very deep trouble. That were are not is due in large part to KdT overlooking a number of very important factors.

First up, many of the groups that he selects from the “British experience” (such as the Jamaicans) are third and fourth generation. They are not “new arrivals”. The London bombers were all British born (or had immigrated as small children) and educated. Truth of that matter is that England in particular has its own history and traditions of discrimination almost as pernicious as that of the US (if you still don’t get it, think “social class” instead of “race”.)

Second are the “third world refugees”. I can hear exactly where KdT is coming from here and it ain’t pretty. You hear the same “presentation” from extensive portions of the right wing in the US. At least there the illegal immigration problem is real and is having some impact. In Britain, as in Australia Canada and NZ refugee immigration is heavily and fairly easily controlled.

Third, that word “gypsies” – hmm. Germanic racism at its best.
But enough carping. That opening paragraph does require some consideration, and comparison alongside other truths.

NZ is a nation of immigrants. NZ has gun control laws. The murder rate in NZ is about 1/17 that of the US.

Australia is a nation of immigrants. Australia has gun control laws. The murder rate in Australia is about 1/12 that of the US.

Canada is a nation of immigrants. Canada has some gun control laws. The murder rate in Canada is about 1/3 that of the US.

South Africa WAS a nation of immigrants. I do not believe that there are gun control laws there. The murder rate in South Africa is several times higher than in the US.

Obviously, there is something quite wrong with KdT’s conclusion.

So, where does that leave us? SaysUncle gets close –
But what that doesn’t explain is why, in our country, the homicide rate is heavily comprised of murders of black people by other black people. After all, black people share a heritage and do have ties to the black community. I suppose another factor in that equation is the proximity to drug dealing and concentrated areas of poverty.

It’s very clear that America has a problem with black on black violence. But it will never be given the attention it deserves because examining the cause would be viewed as racist.

Nice little inference there Uncle. Please, Uncle, whose racism?

The other side of the cultural aspect to the debate comes from Tom himself...
The problems run much deeper, and the real answers (if any are to be had) will address the long run. However, my claim to the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (RKBA) is not dependent on crime, or the lack thereof. I claim the RKBA as God-Given and I will not yield it to any man

So, the RKBA is a "God-given" right?

Somehow that reminds me of the recent admonishment of a US politician with the classic that "he had sworn on the Bible to uphold the Constitution, not sworn on the Constitution to uphold the Bible".


Kevin said...

Nice piece. One quibble: I do know that I do not concur with the conclusions reached – essentially that all of the US’s societal woes are due to the Welfare State system.

Well, I wrote the piece. I don't think I claimed that "essentially all of the US's societal woes are due to the Welfare State system." I claimed that the Welfare State system contributed to keeping blacks in poverty because of their culture, and the culture of the rest of the country.

I have not continued the thread because Tom and I were talking past each other. As far as I can tell, our worldviews diverge so much we might as well not be living on the same planet. The way I see things is that much different from the way he sees things.

The concept of welfare is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. However (in my worldview), having the government administer it is a terrible mistake for a number of reasons. Completely aside from that position, though, welfare provided to a culture that (for whatever reason - even a justified one) considers itself a victim, the concept of welfare-as-assistance will morph into the concept of welfare-as-sustenance. When the welfare system is administered by people who depend on re-election to keep their jobs, welfare will grow to meet that welfare-as-sustenance expectation. Particularly if the administrators feel guilt for the original victimization.

It is my belief that, without government-run welfare (to the tune of billions of dollars since the 1960's) blacks in the U.S. would be in a much better economic (and social) position today - they'd have been forced to join the workforce to survive. They'd have been forced to leave the inner-city where there was no work. They'd have been forced to integrate, rather than segregate. Economic pressure would have guaranteed it. Welfare removed that economic pressure, and their culture did not provide an alternate pressure (as it appears to with, for example, Asians.)

One of the things I quoted in that piece said this: [Black homicide is] another social-psychological [deprivation that] resulted from black exclusion from the regimenting effects of industrial and bureaucratic work. These effects are shown in the relatively rapid decline in homicide rates among Irish and Italian immigrants, two other ethnic groups with high levels of preindustrial violence, as their integration into the industrial work force demanded unprecedented levels of sober, disciplined, orderly behavior, which carried over into their private lives.

The welfare state, the victim culture, racism, and the rise of intellectual feminism produced a witches-brew that resulted in inner-city segregation, poverty, illiteracy, innumeracy, promiscuity, and violence. The welfare state alone was not responsible, but it was, as Theodore Dalrymple stated, "a necessary condition for that rise: it made it possible, not inevitable."

As far as I'm concerned, it's the link in the chain that would have been the most easily broken. But it's far too late for that now. The damage is done.

Tom said...


The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is not just some abstract theory here in the US. That Right enshrined in the 2nd amendment is the very reason we exist as a country in the first place. Had the British Empire had their modern gun control laws in the 18th century (and had colonization of a wild continent been possible without guns), our ancestors would have been unable to break away in the first place. Whether or not you think that would have been more desirable than the actual situation we find today, that fact stands. If you can understand that, you might at least be able to comprehend why I, and many of my countrymen, hold some "truths to be self-evident".

As for more practical issues, I still think that comparisons between the US and NZ are less useful than comparisons among various places within the US. Can you explain to me why Washington DC has about 100-time higher murder/crime rate (specifically gun crime rates) compared to, say, Vermont, when the former has extremely strict laws (to the point of banning guns) while Vermont has the most lax in the country?

If you want to check out stats on this stuff try here:

Here’s the url for # of homicides in those two places:

And, percentage of homicides by gun:

Note that VT tends to have a lower percentage of homicides committed by gun (and the variability is likely due to the very low number of total homicides in VT).

And the population info, to save you the time:
Washington DC – 572,059
VT – 608,827

And remember, there are lots of legal guns in VT. There are absolutely zero legal guns owned by private citizens in DC (or near enough, anyway).

So, any ideas?

The probligo said...

Tom, I keep hearing an adage that I believe is the child of the NRA.

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people".

On that basis then the reason for that difference should have nothing whatsoever to do with guns, the number of guns, or whether there is gun control or not.

So I am thinking that the answer to your question lies in -

What is the difference between people in VT and DC?

Is it the fact that there are so many politicians in DC and not in VT?

Or is it that the two states are in fact in line with national statistics when racial and income factors are considered?

Tom said...

Did you just agree that gun control laws do not reduce crime?

The probligo said...

Tom, whether the US tries to take your gun off you has nothing to do with the question I asked in my original item or in this.

I can not help you with your fixation. Perhaps the giver of your God-given RKBA might be able to help.

The moot on the floor has NOTHING TO DO WITH GUN CONTROL!!!

The moot is "What is it in the American psyche that makes them kill each other - so many more than other developed countries on whichever measure you might use"

Bluntly -

Why is the murder rate ( ALL murders ) per population in the US some 17 times higher than NZ, some 12 times higher than Australia, about the same or slightly below Mexico?

THAT has nothing to do with whether someone wants to take your toys off you.

To answer your question -

I do not believe that increasing or decreasing gun control in the US would make the blindest bit of difference. People would still find ways to kill each other. Taking all the guns away might make it just a little bit harder... That is why I wanted to leave control out of the debate (I said that several times). That is why I asked "Why do Americans kill each other..."


In NZ, gun control focuses on the suitability of the person to own a gun, not the gun. It is not legal to own MSSA's. Pistols can be owned in very specific and controlled circumstances. It is not legal to carry any weapon in public, concealed or not. If you are taking a rifle in for repair, the bolt or firing mechanism must be removed and transported separately.

I could (with total justification) argue that gun control in NZ is the reason why the murder rate in NZ is 1/17 that of the US. To very little point...

Again, that is why the question of gun control was specifically EXCLUDED from my original moot.

Dave Justus said...

The United States has a homicide rate of 5.7 per 100,000. New Zealand has a homicide rate of 1.47 per 100,000. A signifigant difference, yes, but hardly 17 times.

What explains this difference? Probably there is no simple answer. The 'gun toting wild west' scenario that Probligo seems to favor doesn't fit with the facts that the biggest homocide problem is a in the inner cities. Population density is probably one factor, larger cities tend to have more trouble than smaller towns. The welfare state and related economic disengagement of blacks may play a part. Racism, both overt (don't police the inner cities, just let the blacks kill each other) and subtle (we white folks are guilty of slavery, we can't enforce or society rules on the blacks of the inner city) probably also plays a part.

A huge amount of the fuel for the continuation of violence is probably drug prohibition.

(source for murder rates: here)

The probligo said...

Dave, thanks for pointing that out..

ALL murders.

Rate per 1000 US .042
Rate per 1000 NZ .011

Murders with firearms

Rate per 1000 US .027
Rate per 1000 NZ .0017

Sources -

OK shoot me - it is 1/13 for murders with firearms, not all murders.

But having straightened that out, I go back to my question -

In NZ, the rate of all murders is about 1/4 of that of the US. Australia about 1/3 and Canada about 1/2.


The probligo said...

Dave, I have been reflecting upon two points that you made.

First the "wild west" scenario. I agree that thought ran through my mind, but as a progenitor to the present "culture" rather than a description of the present.

Second is "...The welfare state and related economic disengagement of blacks..."

There are so many interrelationships implied in that it is almost impossible to untangle them. It truly is chicken/egg territory. Is "A" poor because he is on welfare, or is "A" on welfare because he is poor? Experience in this country might tend to suggest that apart from a very small proportion of the population the latter is the more true.

Equally to the point, if you take a "statistical population" who were poor prior to the introduction of welfare, what proportion of that statistical group are poor and on welfare today?

Tom may have provided a clue though...

I took a look through the FBI statistics that Tom referred to, the most interesting (for me) are not there. I took a peek as well at US Census data for 2001 to see if there were sufficient to get correlative data together but there is not.

It would be really neat if it were possible to obtain (state by state) an idea of the murder rates by population for (say) 10 income bands. So, if we were to follow Tom's suggestion and look at the comparison between DC and Vermont we could do so in terms of comparing murder rates at each level of income BY RACE.

Without actual correlative data (not that I can lay my hands upon immediately) I would guess;

That the proportion of non-white population in VT is considerably less than that of DC. (Actually, that should be in the census data... somewhere)

That the median income of non-white in VT is higher than the median income of non-white in DC.

That the educational attainment level of non-white in VT is higher than that of DC.

Any and all of those three could explain the difference between VT and DC, in my view with considerably greater reliability than the local gun control laws.

Finally, Dave's comment "A huge amount of the fuel for the continuation of violence is probably drug prohibition. " really scares the turds out of me.

Dave, would the decriminalisation of "P" (crystal?) in any way reduce the number of killings in the US? Or are you thinking in terms of "solutions"?

Dave Justus said...

Just as alcohol prohibition fueled the rise of organized crime, drug prohibition fuels drug gangs.

The basic economics are something like this. In most businesses, operating outside the law (other than perhaps minor infractions that are rarely enforced) is not good business sense. It costs more than you get from it.

In an illegal industry (drug production and distribution) operating outside the law is required. Since it is already outside the law, engaging in further criminal acts, such a murder and intimidation to control territory, has relatively little marginal cost, and the benefits outweigh the costs, and indeed the additional illegality may be necessary for the business to thrive (I am less likely to be turned into the cops if people think I will kill anyone who turns me in.)

Illegal businesses also tend to be highly profitable, especially on limited time frames. This creates a huge drain of ambitious young people, especially in disadvanted circumstance (inner city blacks for example) from productive legal activities to illegal activities. However, you can't build a stable economy or culture on an illegal business and illegal activity tends to drive away legal activity (I don't want to own a convenience store in the middle of a drug war) so a self perpetuating spiral is caused.

These costs may be worth it for the benefits of making drugs illegal. I don't think they are, but to pretend that these costs don't exist is foolish.

The probligo said...

Dave, do you imply that unbanning hard drugs will in some way reduce crimes of violence?

Would there be an overall increase or decrease in hard drug use as a result?

So, should you not include the resulting increased health costs, particularly mental health, for treating the consequences of use of these drugs - consequences that include pyschosis and violence against others.

No, like I said, it is an idea that gives me the unrestrained runs...

Dave Justus said...

Yes, I think violence would go down. I advocate legalization of most drugs. I could perhaps be persuaded that some were not worthy of legalization. However, Marijuana and the various forms of Cocaine seem like the cost of illegalizing them outweighs any costs of legalizing them.

I imagine that drug use would go up slightly if legalized.

While there would be increased cost in some areas, I think that their would be reduced cost overall. Violent behavior (whether fueled by psychotic drugs or not) should of course be severely punished.