It’s, perhaps, not race

The President and First Lady seem to jump to conclusion that being mistaken for a valet or asked to get something off the shelf had to do with race.

I have news for them. Those types of things happen to me, too.

I’ve been asked to get coffee. I’ve been asked by fellow patrons of stores “Do you work here?” I’ve been mistaken for servers at restaurants. I’ve been asked by others for help.

I’ve noticed such things happen when my clothes reasonably matches with what the employees of the establishment are wearing. When I’ve been asked for help, I always assumed it’s because I looked like a nice, approachable guy who would be more than willing to help.

Maybe the First Lady was asked to take something off the shelf because she is taller than the person who was asking and looks like a nice person that would help someone out.

Perhaps the President was mistaken for a valet because what he was wearing more closely resembled what the valets were wearing than what guests were wearing.

It’s silly when we look at these events and see race as a factor.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend. We were discussing profiling, I believe, and I had made a similar comment as above that race was probably not even one of the key factors in such cases, maybe not even in the top 5 or 10.

Him: Oh? So, are you telling me if you were walking down a dark alley and ran into two black dudes you wouldn’t be concerned?

Me: Actually, that has happened to me on occasion and sometimes I was concerned and sometimes not.

Him: What do you mean?

Me: First, let me ask you something.

Him: Okay.

Me: Why did you ask me about ‘dudes’? Why didn’t you just say ‘people’? If it was just about race, ‘people’ would have been good. But, even you are admitting that there’s more at play than race.

Him: Huh?

Me: You’re saying that gender has something to do with it, too. Otherwise, you could have just said ‘people’.

Him: Okay.

Me: So, now back to your question. My answer is, it depends.

Him: On what?

Me: What are they wearing? How are they behaving?

Him: What do you mean?

Me: In fact, I have walked down lonely streets and encountered ‘black dudes’ on quite a few occasions and only on a few of those I have had concerns.

When they were dressed professionally or casually and behaving politely, I didn’t have any concerns. When they were dressed like bums and behaving politely, no concerns. Would you?

Him: Oh. I guess I can see that.

Me: I’ve walked down lonely streets before and have encountered people of all races who were dressed like thugs and behaving aggressively, like they were looking for trouble. I had concerns then.

Come to think of I’ve encountered such people who were dressed like thugs, but behaving politely and I was less concerned. So, maybe it wasn’t even the clothes, but the behavior.

So, while ‘what would you do on a lonely street’ is a popular example people like to use because they think it gets at one’s true racial biases, that example typically fails in the asking, but few people recognize that.

Him: I was following. Now you lost me.

Me: Again, you asked me about dudes. Not people. Not ladies. So, in the asking, you admitted — without knowing it (or maybe knowing it and you were just trying to bait me into an answer hoping I wouldn’t notice it) — that gender was a key factor. In fact, probably more of a factor than race. Because if race were the main factor, you wouldn’t have to specify dudes, at all.

I honestly can’t remember if I made any headway. But, he seemed to consider the train of thought.

Time machine? Sadly, no.

The news reported recently that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac plan to offer programs to allow young home buyers to buy a home with as little as 3% down to make it easier to buy a home.

Hmm…I thought for sure this was a headline from 1995, but no. It’s from December 2014.

Do they not remember how this ended last time?

Why not start a program that teaches financially responsible behavior young home buyers can use to save up a sizable down payment so they can truly be homeowners and not just renters with a deed.

I know why. That doesn’t sound as good.

That’s what highly improbable events are

Ezra Klein thinks Darren Wilson’s account of the events leading up to Michael Brown’s death is unbelievable.

Klein could benefit from a basic lesson in statistics.

Highly improbable events usually appear unbelievable because they don’t happen often and don’t follow the norms. That’s what makes them highly improbable events.

Trying to make sense of highly improbable event by applying the norms of probable events is a common mistake.

It’s also an unfortunate consequence of a highly connected world that allows us to focus a great deal on highly improbable events. We see the highly improbable events so easily that we are deceived into believing that they are ordinary. We don’t often stop to consider what percentage of similar situations did not end as poorly as this one.

Nassim Taleb writes about this in his book, The Black Swan. He points out that people often delude themselves into believing that they could have predicted what turned out to be a highly improbable event, like a financial crisis, when we look back on it using 20/20 hindsight.

“Government employees produce nothing”

Kansas Congressman, Ray Merrick, is catching some flak for saying those words. He also said “They are a net consumer.”

Salon.com typifies the criticism of Merrick’s comments in the subtitle of its piece:

Kansas Republican Ray Merrick shows off his breathtaking ignorance.

Brandon O’Dell, commenting on this Merrick piece in Kansas City’s alternative newspaper, The KC Pitch, gets it. He wrote:

You don’t have [to have] the most basic understanding of economics to even comprehend that what Merrick said is factually accurate. The government does not “produce” anything, unless we all woke up this morning to a communist takeover whereas the government now owns the means of production? What he said is 100% true. The government does not take raw materials and labor and combine them to create goods or services that have a net value greater than the cost of making them. That is “production”. Unless you are in the business of making goods or services that can be sold for a profit, you are not a “producer”. Not a tough concept.

What he DIDN’T say is anything derogatory about government employees. It wasn’t a criticism, it was a statement of a basic economic fact, that government consumes. It doesn’t produce. Some government services are absolutely necessary. That doesn’t change the fact that they are expenses though, and should be managed Ina responsible manner, and yes, even cut when possible. Not something government is good at.

I agree. Merrick’s comments reminded me of posts I wrote in 2011, Government is Overhead and Government is overhead’ follow-up.

Criticism I’ve heard of Merrick’s comments falls mostly into two categories “Merrick is a jerk or idiot” which is then coupled with “but government workers are valuable” or “Merrick is a hypocrite since he’s a government employee.”

I take this as another example of the sad state of discourse in our country. These critics don’t have the capability or desire to try to understand what Merrick said. They will just shame him for saying what they thought he said. He is a politician, so he will roll over and apologize instead of taking the opportunity to educate his critics.

Yes. Some government employees do valuable work. Government workers are paid for by taxes. Where do taxes come from?

Just as in my burritos company example in the Government is Overhead post, the burritos company’s accounting department does valuable work for the burritos company, but they aren’t producers. Take away the burritos operations and what happens to the accountants? They lose their jobs. Their jobs are paid for by the production and selling of burritos.

Capitalism? Nah

Bryan Caplan’s EconLog post, Diseases of Poverty: Neglecting the Obvious is worth a read. He points out that solutions proposed on the Wikipedia entry for diseases of poverty focus on redistribution, rather than best proven solution:

It’s almost like the last two centuries never happened.  Quick recap: During the last two hundred years, living standards exploded even though the distribution of income remained quite unequal.  How is such a thing possible?  Because total production per person drastically increased.  During this era, no country escaped dire poverty via redistribution, but many escaped dire poverty via increased production.  And while the effect of moderate redistributive policies on growth is unclear, there is no doubt that populist and socialist movements determined to “tackle the inequitable distribution of money, power and resources” and “change the way that society is organized” sharply retard growth.

Why is football so popular?

From Marginal Revolution blog: Why is football more popular than ever?

I’ve wondered this myself. Lots of interesting theories on that post. I love a good cause-and-effect discussion.

I think there’s something to the fantasy football-scarcity-timing explanation.

Fantasy Football and football pools draw people together and cause people to be more interested in the results of not just their home team but of their team. I know personally when I’ve been involved in this way, I paid more attention. But, that can’t be all of it. As some pointed out at Marginal Revolution, other sports have fantasy leagues and pools, as well.

Scarcity: With fewer games and a more regular schedule than other sports, it’s easier to plan social events around games. Each game also carries more weight.

Timing: Football has timed itself well to have little competition. Sunday afternoons in the fall and early winter aren’t usually that busy. Not like Sunday afternoons in summer that can be filled with vacations, lawn work and home improvement projects.

I think these things, at least, don’t hurt football’s popularity.

But, I think there’s only one real explanation. Just cuz. Why was Angry Birds popular? Why were baggy clothes replaced with more form fitting clothes? Why do we say, “hashtag”?

Trends.

Speaking of Politically Correct Brainwashing

The last two videos in this Video Saturday post on Mark Perry’s Carpe Diem blog are good examples of people correctly going against the politically correct brainwashing and are worth a watch.