Friday, August 28, 2015

Apathy is the Target

Something that bugs me about the identity politics and the debates around it is that the end goals of the movement are never really discussed. What are the ultimate goals of LGBT? Of #BlackLivesMatter? Of feminism? How are these ultimate goals articulated, and then how do we get there from here?

To me, apathy should be the final goal. Are you a woman? I don't care. Are you black? I don't care. Are you gay? I don't care. Some other identity? I don't care. That's not to say that people shouldn't care about those close to them, to a degree. An example would be if I'm trying to play matchmaker, knowing the sexual preferences of both matches is important, and shouldn't be ignored. In public life, however, it shouldn't matter. Someone I don't know and will probably never meet is gay? OMG STOP THE PRESSES! Actually, no, I just don't care, and neither should you.

One of the problems with current identity politics is that I think they loose sight of the goal. Instead of trying to make the identity of the class unimportant, they make it the ONLY important attribute. Arguments can hinge on whether the person making the argument is white, black, LGBT (and indeed which of the letters they identify with), man, or woman. The way I see it, the argument should not be based on the identity of the writer. We shouldn't care. If the argument is from personal experience, it may matter, but that is just an anecdote, so there is no way to evaluate it objectively anyway.

I think that a decent part of the population is getting to the apathy point. I would like to think that I'm more or less there. The problem for me is that social justice types tend to bring up these identity politics so that they can't be ignored. Why should I care more about the plight of women than men? Or blacks more than whites? Instead of trying to get people to care about other people, the social justice advocates will try to get us to care about blacks specifically, or women specifically, or gays, lesbians, bi, and trans. But not about people generally. Aren't blacks, women, LGBT people too? They aren't people any more or less than white men. In order to combat prejudice they end up espousing prejudice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Only Diversity that Matters

The only diversity that matters is diversity of thought. For all the talk about diversity, it is always about the diversity of the superficial. Racial diversity and gender diversity rather than diversity of opinion and diversity of thought. This leads to the appearance of diversity without any actual diversity.

Sure, there is a case that people of different races have different perspectives on issues from their different background. Women probably experience life at least somewhat differently from men and vice versa (I would be very surprised if men and women experienced life in the exact same way). Blacks have different experience than whites, and so on. But that doesn't mean that having some black people in a group makes it diverse. You also need diverse opinions from the black community, as well as diverse opinions from every other community. No racial group has uniform ideas, and to think that you can capture the true diversity of humanity by checking racial boxes is naive.

Just as an illustration, if you take Thomas Sowell and Milton Freidmen (black and white), you will have less diversity of thought than if you had Milton Freidman and Bernie Sanders (white and white). Similarly, you have less diversity of thought if you had Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders (black and white) than if you had Jesse Jackson and Thomas Sowell (black and black). To have true diversity, you need to have people from all backgrounds of both race and politics, because that more fully captures the different perspectives of the issue.

It could be argued that because there are a minority of, say, conservative blacks, that this is a perspective that should not be included. But that looses the point about diversity. We should examine the perspectives of the unusual, because they are perspectives that the majority hasn't had the chance to examine. Just because the majority thinks something, doesn't make them right. In fact, we should give minority opinions extra examination, because we are most likely to suffer from confirmation bias in favor of the majority opinion.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Minimum Wage: Common Arguments

With Bernie Sanders so popular on my Facebook feed, the $15 dollar/hour minimum wage has been floating around a lot, and there are a lot of arguments that I think need to be addressed.

A good starting point to refute is the Salon article about the myths of the minimum wage

Myth 1: The minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage. 
Liberal/Progressive Take: Everyone working a full time job should be able to support their family.

Okay, so I'm not going to argue intent of the policy. It may well have had the noble intention of having everyone living above the poverty line. Intentions, sadly, don't really matter. What matters is the effect of the policy and the means by which the policy is enacted. 

The problem with the argument about the minimum wage is the definition of 'living wage.' I have lived at $8/hour. It wasn't that bad. Adjusted for inflation, that is about $10/hour in today's dollars. In graduate school, my wage is officially ~$20/hour, but I only get paid for 20 hours/week. This would be full time at ~$10/hour. I have lived fairly well on that. One problem with having a single living wage across the nation is nonsensical. A living wage will be different in LA or NYC than it will be for some podunk town in the middle of nowhere. A national minimum wage would try to impose the living wage of NYC on a smaller town that has a lower cost of living.

Also, I often hear that a parent should be able to support their family on the minimum wage. This is a load of bull, with a very simple question. How big is the family? Should a single mom be able to support three kids? 4? 5? Where do we draw the line? What about a two parent household? Should they be able to support any number of kids on minimum wage? This notion of supporting a family is one that doesn't allow for the continuation of the logic. 

Myth 2: Minimum wage increase won't help anyone if other costs go up too
Liberal/Progressive Take: This won't make a difference in inflation because it will take people off other welfare programs, and will also stimulate the economy with additional spending.

This argument is basically that paying people more will take them off welfare, and allow them to get off food stamps and other welfare programs. The problem with this argument is that it is that it is also just as possible that because people on the welfare system know it so well that instead of earning more, they will try to cut back hours to stay on welfare because it is familiar. We can't be sure as to the response of people to this particular stimulus.

As to the argument about stimulating the economy, this is the standard broken window fallacy. The workers who are getting paid are spending more, sure. But you don't see the employees who were never hired and what they spend, or the other spending that the businesses would have made if they didn't have to pay workers the additional amount. 

Myth 3: An increase in the minimum wage is bad for employers
Liberal/Progressive Take: This will spur workers to be productive, and make business run more efficiently.

It will certainly spur employers to find ways to cut employees out. The way that wages actually rise is by individual workers becoming more productive on average. Raising the minimum wage will indeed force employers to do more with fewer workers, which goes against the progressive response to Myth 5. If we pay workers more, they have to work harder to compensate, or work with additional capital investments to make them more effective.

As to other arguments about paying more being a good business practice, that is something that individual business owners have to determine. For most industries, this is true, since according to the Salon piece, only 4.7% of workers are on minimum wage. This means that 95% of employers ALREADY KNOW that paying employees more is good for retention, and I think the reality is all employers know it, but they don't care about keeping the 4.7% that is on minimum wage, otherwise they would pay more. Duh.

Myth 4: $15 is a random number.
Liberal/Progressive Take: It is what is required to raise workers above the poverty line, while being feasible for businesses.

So that means if the poverty line changed, this number will change. So who defines the poverty line? Also, who determines what is feasible for businesses? The minimum wage would take the ability of employers to find what is feasible for them, if that number is below this proposed minimum. 

Myth 5: It will cost us jobs and raise unemployment
Liberal/Progressive Take: There is no evidence from analysis of 13 states, and these states had faster job growth.

This directly contradicts point 3. If workers become more productive, that means that you can do the same amount of work with fewer workers. Also, this is a causation is not equal to correlation. Just because these states had faster growth and increased the minimum wage, doesn't mean that they are directly related. These states may have grown even faster if the minimum wage was not raised. I would have to see a more careful analysis rather than the aggregation at the state level, and other confounding factors. 

Myth 6: Only teenagers and uneducated people work for the minimum wage.
Liberal/Progressive Take: 4.7% of the working population is at or below minimum wage, and 88% of those are above the age of 20, and 43% have attended college.

What kind of college education? There are many fields in the social sciences and humanities that don't really have economic value to most companies. Do they have value? Sure, but not to companies trying to serve consumers. So college education can be (though isn't always) irrelevant. Should I care about your dance major? Depends. Am I a dance company?

The 88% of people on minimum wage who are over the age of 20 don't have a whole lot of other opportunities. If they did, they would be working for more than minimum wage. But that is irrelevant. What is relevant is if we are then advocating for age discrimination? Should someone be entitled to higher pay just because they are older? I would say no. Why should it be okay to employ a highschooler at minimum wage, but not a 21 year old, or a 30 year old? To use another social justice bugbear, that would be unequal pay for equal work, and that is not right. So why are these 20 year old unable to do more complex jobs that pay better? Have they not learned on the job? Why should they be entitled to more just because they are older?

Myth 7: Seattle already has a minimum wage of $15 and it's terrible
Liberal/Progressive Take: Totally not terrible, and the $15 minimum hasn't been reached yet

This is hard to argue about since it is true, they haven't gotten the wage to $15/hour yet, because of a slow roll out. So we can't judge the effects. Also, the big companies with large profits that they cite, Starbucks and Howard Schultz, are not the companies that would be most affected. Those are companies that are operating marginally, and just scraping by. That what is meant by the marginal change. It is not going to change for companies that are doing well, but a company that is doing barely okay will not make it. 

Statesman vs Politician

There is a distinction that I think a lot of people miss in how a democratic government works. Most people combine evaluations of politicians as 'good' and 'bad' based on criteria which is not important to how they are selected. I make this distinction between statesmanship and politics.

Lets start with politics. I would consider a good politician someone who gets elected. The best politicians are the ones who get elected to the highest office as many times as allowed. Obama, George W Bush, Clinton, and Reagan were good politicians, Reagan was the best of those, from the electoral results. They all were elected to the highest office twice. My statement that these are all great politicians is usually challenged because people confuse 'politician' with 'statesman.'

A statesman is someone who is good at governance. These are the people who are able to make government function effectively. Good statesmen are NOT the same as good politicians. The key problem with the democratic process is that we want good statesman, but we select good politicians, and they are not the same. This is why things whether getting a beer with a candidate are political questions, even if they have nothing to do with making effective policy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#Transracial: Cognitive Dissonance in the Cultural Narrative

So Shaun King has been trending on twitter as the next public "Transracial" person after Rachel Dolezal. There have been articles attacking pointing out that he is white from the conservative side, and articles from the left saying rebutting that. At this point, I haven't seen any rebuttal about his father being white, only a rebuttal of the police reports and other secondary claims (car accidents and number of children). With Rachel Dolezal, there wasn't much room for refutation, since her biological parents came forward and said that she was white. The birth certificate on the Breitbart article is credible, then there is no other point that needs to be made about this case.

But there is something about the claim of transracialism that seems to have liberals in a bind. In my cultural anthropology course in college (or university if you are outside the US), we were told that race is a social construct, not a biological fact. But then there is a question of who gets to choose what race we are? Lets claim that society, in the aggregate, chooses for us. How does that change an individual's ancestry? It doesn't, and it can't. If we take race as purely a social construct, then transracialism is just someone adopting the social identity of another race. No big deal. Except that isn't what happens. The people who claim to be another race are somehow lying. They can't be transracial because they aren't 'actually' black/asian/whatever, because their parents weren't. 

There is some truth to the claim that race is a social construct, but it is clearly not purely a social construct. There has to be some basis for it. Bill Clinton and George Bush will not be considered African American. We can correct people who get our race wrong, and we back it up with the biological evidence: "My parents are from xyz, not uvw." If race is a social construct, the transracialism is not a big deal. But identity politics is so obsessed with race and gender that being transracial changes your status, and the fight becomes whether you are allowed to assume the label of an 'oppressed' group, or if you are more oppressed  for not being taken seriously about it. 

I personally think that we would be better off leaving the identity politics behind, and strive to treat everyone with respect. If race is a social construct, won't it go away if we start ignoring it? Then transracial will have no meaning.