I am thankful for Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams

From Thomas Sowell’s latest Random Thoughts column:

Some Americans will never appreciate America, until after they have helped destroy it, and have then begun to suffer the consequences.

Racism is not dead. But it is on life-support, kept alive mainly by the people who use it for an excuse or to keep minority communities fearful or resentful enough to turn out as a voting bloc on election day.

From Walter Williams column, Education Disaster:

Many of these poorly performing youngsters gain college admission. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reports, “Every year in the United States, nearly 60 percent of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies.” That means colleges spend billions of dollars on remedial education. Many of the students who enroll in those classes never graduate from college. The fact that many students are not college-ready takes on even greater significance when we consider that many college courses have been dumbed down.

If their books and weekly columns are not a part of your reading list, they should be.

Entry-level college econ classes should be taught from Thomas Sowell’s book, Basic Economics.  It’s much cheaper than the Econ 101 course I took in college and worth more.

I’ve learned more economics from these two gentlemen than I did from my college econ professors and a lot about the world, too.

Over representation in some places causes under representation in others. That’s math.

In this article, fivethirtyeight.com claims blacks are “underrepresented at universities nationwide” and Mizzou’s racial gap is typical.

The article makes the following two claims that I think are worth more thought.

  1. Blacks are underrepresented in Mizzou’s undergraduate enrollment at 8.2%, while 15% of the state of Missouri’s college age education is black.
  2. Mizzou’s graduation rate among blacks is “significantly — though not dramatically — worse than trend” compared with other schools. Their conclusion:  “Top private colleges, though they enroll fewer black students, do a somewhat better job of helping them graduate.”

Here’s some more thought about #1.

The authors of the article state in regards to schools they looked at:

We excluded historically black universities and colleges (HBCUs), which have much higher black enrollment and skew the overall figures.

Columbia College is seven blocks from Mizzou. Lincoln University is a 34 minute drive from Mizzou.

Black undergraduate enrollment at both schools is higher than the state average 15% of college age population. At Lincoln University, for example, nearly 38% of undergraduates were black (in 2007, source: US Dept of Education).

I estimate that black enrollment for Mizzou, Columbia College and Lincoln University combined is about 12.6%, much closer to the the 15% state benchmark.

What does that tell me? While 538’s authors, I think, are implying that Mizzou’s underrepresented black enrollment may be due to systematic discrimination of some sort, I believe it’s plausible that black college age students are simply choosing other schools and that is what causes a good portion of the racial gap at the schools they looked at.

There’s only so many college age kids to go around.

More thoughts about #2.

The authors state that the schools like Mizzou aren’t doing as good a job of helping their black students graduate as top private schools.

Or, it’s possible that top private colleges are doing nothing more to help. They may simply be more selective in their admissions, only letting in students who are more prepared for the rigors and challenges of colleges.

This is called selection bias. An indicator of this would be in admission test scores. If students at the top private schools have higher scores, that’s a good sign they are simply selecting better students.

Another consideration is that the HBCU’s attract a good portion of the best students, leaving less qualified students for the other universities. Again, there are only so many college students out there. It’s tough to manufacture them.

Key point: The authors should have incorporated the dynamic of HBCUs.

What if we did the same analysis with barber shops? We looked at a few barber shops. We excluded barber shops with primarily black clientele. We found that black clientele is under represented in the shops we looked at. 

That wouldn’t be at all surprising. It’s primarily because they are over represented elsewhere.

Lacking imagination

A friend recommended the app, Waze, to me. It’s a ‘community-based mapping app’ that helps plot the fastest way from point A to B based on real-time, current traffic conditions that it collects from other users of Waze.

Yes, helicopter pilot traffic reporters, you should be concerned about your jobs. The app has already helped me avoid several traffic jams that I would have hit if I had to rely on your every, 10-minute radio updates.

I think this is an interesting example of the public vs private debate. Traffic congestion is a problem with many solutions. Public solutions include things like building more lanes, installing traffic meters to push backups from highways to on-ramps of highways, networks of traffic flow meters, cameras and signboards, congestion pricing and other things.

Radio traffic reports are an example of a private solution to ease congestion. Waze is another that few people could have imagined.

I think is a great example to file away for the classic Public vs Private debates. Those debates center around which ways best solve problems.

Supporters of public solutions simply can’t imagine private solutions that could possibly solve such problems.

They fail to consider the reason they can’t imagine it is that they simply lack imagination. Rather, they give their imaginations too much credit.

People allocate food to food banks differently than they did before

Interesting. Using markets for a solution in allocating food to food banks.

I found this quote from a quote in it even more interesting (emphasis mine):

Initially, there was plenty of resistance. As one food bank director told Canice Prendergast, an economist advising Feeding America, “I am a socialist. That’s why I run a food bank. I don’t believe in markets. I’m not saying I won’t listen, but I am against this.”

Don’t believe in markets?

It fascinates me how deeply offended some people are by markets. My guess is that they wouldn’t even be able to explain what a market is.

Markets are people making decisions. That’s it. Nothing else. It’s freedom.

I believe they are really saying that freedom does not allow them enough opportunity to override other peoples’ decisions to the extent they would like.

What’s really happening gets lost in words like ‘market’s and ‘socialism’. Let’s consider this food bank example.

Previously, some people decided how to allocate food to food banks. Now, other people do.

Because the first set of people sat at a place called HQ, far removed from where the food will end up without enough information to make the best decisions, we call that socialism, or central-planning.

They changed it so that the people on-site running the local food banks could make that decision. We call that markets.

In both cases, people make decisions. In one case, people with less information about what is needed make the decision. In the other, people with more information about what is needed make it.

When the food bank director says he doesn’t believe in markets, what he is really saying is that he’d rather have the people with less information make the decision.

The Daily Prophet

In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling did a masterful job of portraying a media that was not interested in facts when it made Harry Potter out to be a villain.

I was reminded of that with two stories circulating this week.

First, was the story that some media outlet checked with Ben Carson’s school mates and none could remember a story he has told about a potential stabbing incident when he was younger. Carson says they talked to the wrong ones. No matter. The media keeps referring to the allegedly flawed report as fact.

The second is the story erupting on the University of Missouri (one of my alma maters btw) campus. It seems to be emerging that media outlets have not substantiated the claims, have have left out some important facts about key instigators have had to retract false statements.

A question that should be asked more

Setting. A nice neighborhood in a city with a bad public school district. The residents of this neighborhood are angry that the local high school that sits in their neighborhood is an abomination, especially since their money goes to support to it. The typical property tax bill in that neighborhood is about $6k per year.


A caller to a local radio program raises a good point. It’s well-known that the residents of this area lean liberal. She asked, I wonder who they voted for mayor, city council and the school board?

I think that would be a great question for the reporters airing this story to ask.

You have a good point. Your money is going to a failing school that hurts your property values. May we ask, who did you vote for the last 5 or 6 elections? Folks who just want to give more money to failing schools in hopes of fixing it, or folks who would rather do more effective things like support school choice and break the behemoth school district into smaller, more manageable pieces?

Better yet. Do you support school choice? Why or why not?

The “Twinge of Fear” Parlor Trick

Walter Williams discusses this comment made by Hillary Clinton:

I mean, if we’re honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear.

I think that even Williams misses the point on this one.

This common misdirection reminds me of this brain teaser where you are instructed to count the number of passes made by basketball players wearing white shirts. You then intently focus on this task and pat yourself on the back for getting the correct answer: 15, but then it asks, Did you see the gorilla?  Huh???

You then re-watch the video and discover that during your intense concentration to complete the assigned task you missed that a person in a gorilla suit walked through the picture.

Clinton’s statement is similar. She leads with “white people”, just like the brain teaser’s instruction leads with watching people in the white shirts.

In the brain teaser, this causes you to focus on one set of players and ignore everything else. In Clinton’s statement, it instructs you to focus race out of the four identifying characteristics.

The four identifiers she uses are:

  1. Young
  2. Black
  3. Man
  4. Wearing hoodie

So, if the picture you get in your head from that description gives you a “twinge of fear,” then it’s because even you have deep-seated racial biases that you should feel guilty about, or at least that’s what Mrs. Clinton — using her parlor trick — would have you believe.

I had a similar conversation with a friend that I wrote about here. He used the same parlor trick.

You may get a “twinge of fear” after picturing that description, but race has little to do with it.

If the twinge of fear was primarily about race then Mrs. Clinton could have said, “the sight of a black person still evokes a twinge of fear,” or “the sight of a black woman still evokes fear” but she didn’t, for good reason, because those sights would not not evoke fear in many people and her parlor trick wouldn’t be nearly as effective into making you believe that you harbor racist tendencies, when you do not.

What evokes the fear is the sight of young man in a hoodie. That young man could be white, black or Latino and still evoke a “twinge of fear”. Why? Because we associate young men and hoodies with thug behavior. That’s not racism. Perhaps it’s thug-ism, but not racism.