Blame Disorder

Jason Riley writes in the Wall Street Journal today:

The Obama administration is waving around a new study showing that black school kids are “suspended, expelled, and arrested in school” at higher rates than white kids. According to the report, which looked at 72,000 schools, black students comprise just 18% of those enrolled yet account for 46% of those suspended more than once and 39% of all expulsions.

The reaction to studies like this reveals disturbing sensibilities on the left when it comes to education in general and black education in particular. The data were compiled by the Education Department’s civil rights office, which probably thinks that it’s doing black people a favor by highlighting these racial disparities and pressuring schools to reduce black suspension rates. No thought, it seems, was given to whether this course of action helps or harms those black kids who are in school to learn and not act up.

Long ago I dubbed (in conversations with friends and family) the disturbing sensibilities that Riley highlights about the left as Blame Disorder. That means they have a dysfunction when it comes to assigning blame to problems and that leads them to support solutions that happen to make those problems worse.

The left seems especially attracted to supposed “root cause” explanations that appear to be clever and sophisticated and happen to shift the blame from the true culprits to more abstract ideas like systems of poverty and systemic discrimination.

Thomas Sowell recently wrote about the late James Q. Wilson. Mr. Wilson did not succumb to Blame Disorder and fought against it. Sowell credits this for saving countless lives. Here, Sowell summarizes the Blame Disorder that led to higher crime rates:

The murder rate in 1960 was just under half of what it had been in 1934.

But that was not good enough for the intelligentsia, with their theories on how to “solve” our “problems.” First of all, they claimed, we had to stop focusing on punishment and get at the “root causes” of crime. In other words, we had to solve the criminals’ problems, in order to solve the problem of crime.

This approach was not new in the 1960s. In fact, it went back at least as far as the 18th century. But what was new in the 1960s was the widespread acceptance of such notions in the legal system, including the Supreme Court of the United States.

The crusade against punishment, and especially capital punishment, spread through all three branches of the federal government and into state governments as well. Even a murderer caught in the act had so many new “rights,” created out of thin air by judges, that executing him could require a decade or more of additional litigation, even after he was found guilty.

The best-known product of this 1960s revolution in the criminal law was the famous Miranda warning, “You have the right to remain silent,” etc. It is as if we are engaged in some kind of sporting contest with the criminal, and must give him a chance to beat the rap, even when he is guilty.

In the aftermath of this revolution in the criminal law, promoted by the intelligentsia in academia and in the media, the long downward trend in murder suddenly reversed. By 1974, the murder rate was more than twice what it had been in 1961. Between 1960 and 1976, a citizen’s chances of becoming a victim of a major violent crime tripled. So did the murder of policemen.

People clever with words sought all sorts of ways of denying the obvious fact that the fancy new developments in the criminal law were catastrophically counterproductive. That was when James Q. Wilson’s writings on crime burst upon the scene, cutting through all the fancy evasions with hard facts and hard logic.

Sowell then writes about a couple of the Blame Disorders that Wilson fought against:

The idea that crime results from poverty, or can be reduced by alleviating poverty, Professor Wilson shot down by pointing out that “crime rose the fastest in this country at a time when the number of persons living in poverty or squalor was declining.” He said, “I have yet to see a ‘root cause’ or to encounter a government program that has successfully attacked it.”

Nor did Wilson buy the argument that unemployment drove people to crime or welfare. He noted that “the work force was at an all-time high at the same time as were the welfare rolls.” Nor were minorities frozen out of this economy. By 1969, “the nonwhite unemployment rate had fallen to 6.5 percent,” he pointed out.

Sowell concludes with the debt we owe Wilson:

By systematically confronting the prevailing notions and rhetoric with undeniable facts to the contrary, James Q. Wilson began to wear away the prevailing social dogmas of intellectuals behind the counterproductive changes in law and society. It was much like water wearing away rock — slowly but continually.

The common sense that had once produced and sustained declining crime rates began to reappear, here and there, in the criminal justice system and sometimes prevailed. Murder rates began to decline again. James Q. Wilson was the leader in this fight. He said, “We have trifled with the wicked.”

There is no way to know which ones of us are alive today because of his work. But we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Rather than imply racial discrimination, Obama should reinforce that disruptive behavior will not be tolerated in public schools no matter who it is from.

He should entertain the possibility that the statistics are not only a result of discrimination, but rather behavior may also contribute and one way to solve the problem is to expect those who are misbehaving to be good.

Riley borrows a tactic that Sowell often uses by pointing out another racial difference in the statistics:

Of course, if racial animus toward blacks explains higher black discipline rates, what explains the fact that white kids are disciplined at higher rates than Asian kids? Is the school system anti-white, too?

Or pro-Asian? Nah. I doubt many people would believe that. More likely, actual misbehavior is the biggest cause of the statistics.

5 thoughts on “Blame Disorder

  1. Let there be no mistake about it – Obama does not MISTAKE correlation for causation. Rather he USES correlation to define causation. But what else could be expected from a political group who use “disparate impact” to define discrimination? The Left has no qualms in arguing that the rich should be taxed at rates higher than the poor arguing that it’s simply because they make more money. Yet they can’t understand that those who misbehave more often should be punished at higher rates than those who don’t……. or perhaps they are so intent on twisting the statistics to support their agenda that they are unable or unwilling to look at alternative explanations.

  2. “The Left has no qualms in arguing that the rich should be taxed at rates higher than the poor arguing that it’s simply because they make more money.”

    That’s another great example of blame disorder. It can’t be that rich folks earned their money by producing something their fellow members of society valued (though they each make such value judgments daily). They became rich became of some unfairness in the system.

    Granted…I do think biases and unfairness exist in the system, but mainly because we’ve let a lot of things get in the way of normal market operations trying to prevent that. So, yet another example where the left’s solutions make the problems they’re trying to solve worse.

  3. Good points, Seth.

    In regards to the value judgements we make each day that are reflected in the prices of goods and services, it’s evident that a certain segment (or faction) of the population either doesn’t understand or refuses to admit that we live in a world of scare resources and, as a consequence, we cannot have everything and, therefore we must make choices (hopefully rational ones) which necessitates that we place relative values on the multitude of goods and services from which we can choose. Indeed, the contraceptive mandate (as well as ObamaCare itself) is an example of the fallacy that supposes that choices don’t have to be made.

    In regards to your point about the things that we have done to get in the way of normal market operations that perpetuate the problems of unfairness and bias that persist, I think this has much to do with the Left’s misguided attempts at social engineering. There is no doubt that certain racial inequities and prejudices have existed as a result of the era of slavery. However, the Left’s purported solutions have not improved either the relationships between blacks and whites or the socioeconomic advancement of blacks.

    Any kindergarten child knows that trying to force people to like each other not only does not work, it’s counterproductive, and trying to ensure equality of outcome (rather than equality of opportunity) through affirmative action programs, i.e. reverse discrimination, fosters the hatred that the government alleges it wants to stop. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, Jackie Robinson and the baseball owners demonstrated that the most important color is green and that discrimination based upon skin color gives way to discrimination based upon abilities.

    By altering the normal incentives that exist in the market, affirmative action programs have the effect of discouraging blacks from improving their human capital. Why actually improve your ability to jump over the bar when the government will lower it for you. Giving blacks fish doesn’t teach them to fish. It teaches them to avoid learning to fish.

  4. Pingback: Blame Disorder II | Our Dinner Table

  5. Pingback: The stories that we are about to report on were inspired by actual events | Our Dinner Table


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