Get Off My Lawn

One of the most interesting things about the Sanders/Clinton race is the age divide. Young people really like Sanders. Old people really like Clinton. Sanders has especially been a hit with young women who favor him by even larger margins than young men do.

This age divide has also materialized in the pundit class. Clinton’s biggest boosters are older folks, while her biggest critics are younger folks. Of course, the old pundits who like Clinton aren’t particularly happy with this divide. Nobody wants to be the old out of touch person screaming for the youths to get off their lawns. But that’s what it has come to.

Consider today’s piece from the Nation’s Joan Walsh, best known for her endorsement of cutting cash assistance to poor women with children, in peak get-off-my-lawn form:

It came when a young white man—entitled, pleased with himself, barely shaving yet—broke the news to Clinton that his generation is with Bernie Sanders. “I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest. But I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

I’m not sure I can unpack all the condescension in that question. I heard a disturbing echo of the infamous 2008 New Hampshire debate moment when a moderator asked Clinton: “What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight, who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue?” Yes, the “likability” issue. I found myself thinking: Not again. Why the hell does she have to put up with this again?

My problem wasn’t merely with the insulting personal tone of the question. It was also the way the young man anointed himself the voice of his generation, and declared it the Sanders generation. Now, I know Bernie is leading among millennials by a lot right now in the polls. Nonetheless, millions of millennials, including millions of young women, are supporting Hillary Clinton.

Walsh tries to give this generational divide a gender gloss, as all the older pundits have done (recall Marcotte’s failed attempt to say Sanders had more young male support than young female support even though the very data she relied upon showed no such thing). But you’d have to be blind not to see an old person mad at a rude, “barely shaving,” teen for not properly respecting his elder.

As a factual matter, everything the rude teen said was correct. Young people are not enthusiastic about Clinton. They love Sanders, especially young women. And his friends are right that Clinton is very dishonest. Even Joan Walsh would probably admit that Clinton’s attacks on Bernie’s single-payer plan a couple of weeks ago were deeply dishonest.

What she’s mad about, then, is not the facts in the question but that this damn rude teen spoke to Clinton as if he was her equal and as if he was vetting her for a job as his representative. She said as much in her elaboration on the point on Twitter:

The “most admired woman” line is, of course, meaningless. Walsh is relying upon a Gallup poll that asks this question every year and gets rather unenlightening responses. The most admired man is basically whoever the US President is with the most admired woman typically being a present or former First Lady with a few notable exceptions like Margaret Thatcher and Mother Theresa:


But putting aside the throwaway “most admired woman” line, this has got to be the most “get off my lawn” tweet I have ever seen in my life. How dare this young person come into here and speak this way to the queen herself. Has he no respeto? Does he think he can speak such sass to Hillary Clinton, his better?

What’s so interesting about this particular brand of complaint is that it implicitly relies upon the claim that Clinton is the strongest person in the interaction. Her and Bill have $100 million and she’s been at the levers of state power for decades. This is a rude teen with far less power, fame, and money. Normally, the egalitarian impulse is to cheer for the scrappy rude moneyless teen over the wealthy political scion, but in the world of Clinton adoration, this gets flipped on its head. He shouldn’t be so rude to Clinton precisely because she’s his superior. It’s an anti-egalitarian impulse urging deference by the weaker to the stronger.

For as long as the age demographic divide persists, I expect this kind of get-off-my-lawnism to intensify. “Shut up them rude kids,” old pundits who are simply reflecting the candidate preferences of their age demographic will say. It will always come obscured in other hand-waving because the last thing you want to do is come off so lame. But it’ll be there. And it’ll be fun to watch.

Jacobinghazi Part Deux

I’ve been asked by a number of people to take this down just to cool things off. I wrote the post because there was a lot of confusion swirling around specifically about me. The stuff I saw in the immediate aftermath of the initial post makes me pretty confident that those confusions have cleared up. Since I don’t particularly care that much about this or have any significant involvement in it beside a single tweet (one of the things now cleared up), I don’t see much value in keeping the post up when others insist it is crucial that it be taken down.

On to more election prognosticating with the best team in town.

What Makes Police Reform Racial Justice?

The punditry consensus appears to be that proposals aimed at cutting down on police violence definitely fall under the racial justice umbrella but proposals aimed at cutting down on poverty do not. I’ve eagerly consumed these kinds of arguments for the last six months, but I still cannot figure out why anyone thinks they make sense.

Race Neutrality
One argument against categorizing poverty reduction as racial justice is that poverty reduction is a race-neutral policy that merely indirectly helps people of color. It’s not targeted at uplifting people of color even if it happens to have that effect.

The problem with this argument is that it equally applies to police reform stuff. When you look at police reform platforms (such as Campaign Zero), you don’t see any race-specific stuff except possibly platform planks pertaining to altering the racial composition of police officers. Other than that, it’s just a big slate of race-neutral proposals that merely indirectly helps people of color. Body cameras will help all police victims, not just people of color. Demilitarization will help all police victims, not just people of color. And so on.

If race neutrality disqualifies something as racial justice, then both poverty reduction and police reform are disqualified.

Another argument that shows up in this debate concerns disproportionality. The fact that police violence disproportionately affects people of color is held out as evidence that police violence is a racial justice issue. But, of course, under this logic so too is poverty.

According to the Washington Post police shooting database, last year 514 White people were shot by police and 264 Black people were shot by police. Thus, for every Black person shot by police, 1.95 White people were shot by police.

This ratio exactly matches the official poverty figures. In the last year, 19.652 million White people were in poverty and 10.058 million Black people were in poverty. Thus, for every Black person in poverty, 1.95 White people were in poverty.

Of course, the 1.95 ratio is based on raw levels of poverty and police killings. When you adjust for differences in overall population sizes, you find that there are 2.6 Black people killed by police for every White person killed by police. The same is true for poverty: 2.6 Black people for every White person.

However you want to represent it, the underlying point remains the same: the disproportionality is present in both. If disproportionality is enough to make something a racial justice issue, then both poverty and police reform are racial justice issues. If it’s not, then neither are.

Other Stuff
The equivalence between poverty reduction and police reform expands to basically everything I’ve read on the two topics. Is police violence and the criminal justice system racialized? Absolutely. So is poverty. Is there a reluctance to fix glaring criminal injustices because of the racial composition of those involved? Absolutely. So too with poverty. I could go on and on.

The reason I bring this up is not to stir debate about which of the two issues is more important. Rather, it’s because I am completely bemused by the degree to which uplifting the bottom of the economic hierarchy has been shafted as some kind of aloof All Lives Matter thing, without any coherent justification.

The police reform movement thus far has put together race-neutral policies that would help all victims of police violence, which is disproportionately people of color. Likewise, poverty reduction involves race-neutral policies that would help all victims of poverty, which is disproportionately people of color. There is no difference in the basic form of these two policy agendas. Yet one is somehow the true substance of racial justice while the other is cast as almost offensively ignorant of true racial justice.


More Notes on Reparations

I wrote a post last week about the political valence of reparations. In it, I discussed the ways in which reparations fits into different philosophies of political economy. I am not going to rehash that piece here, but I recommend you read it before pushing on below. Here, I want to add a few other notes that I think are worth bringing in, given the current state of the internet debate.

1. Can Reparations Be Race Neutral?
For both political and practical reasons, the most prominent reparations plans are somewhat oddly race-neutral. For instance, the Darity-Hamilton Baby Bonds plan involves transferring wealth to all children born into the bottom half of the wealth distribution. Because Blacks are overrepresented in the bottom half of the wealth distribution (even more so than they are overrepresented in the bottom half of the income distribution), this is seen as having a reparative effect in that it would close the overall racial wealth gap considerably.

But does this actually count as reparations? It’s really a race-neutral generalized leveling of wealth across the entire society. If race-neutral programs that disproportionately benefit Blacks count as reparations (a principle these kinds of plans implicitly endorse), then basically any egalitarian program can be said to have reparative effects. If you allow race-neutral programs to count as reparations, then it becomes difficult to see how reparations necessarily differs from egalitarianism except in its branding.

2. Must It Go Beyond Your Typical Policy Preferences?
On its face, it seems to me like a reparations policy must go beyond your normal policy preferences. If you believe that everyone is fundamentally owed public health care, then you cannot say public health care counts as reparations, even if it disproportionately benefits Blacks. Similarly, if you think everyone is owed public education, then you cannot say public education counts as reparations. If you think everyone is owed the protection of a robust welfare state, then a robust welfare state also cannot be reparations.

The reason these things cannot be reparations is that they are owed to people simply as members of society (assuming you believe that). They are not owed to them for special reasons related to slavery and Jim Crow (or whatever else). Reparations thus needs to be something extra you provide to Blacks (or other relevant groups) beyond what you think everyone in society is entitled to.

This seems like a simple enough formulation, but it’s actually the source of great problems depending upon your own economic justice philosophy. If you are a libertarian and believe (roughly) that people are only owed whatever they receive through “voluntary” transactions within capitalist institutions, then it is easy enough to say simple income and wealth transfers can constitute reparations. And indeed, many libertarians do say that.

But if you are an egalitarian and believe that people are already owed distributive equality, then identifying special actions that can count as reparations becomes very difficult. For an egalitarian, the wealth gap is a problem regardless of how it came about. Even if there never was any racial discrimination or slavery or Jim Crow or whatever, an egalitarian would look at the wealth gap and say there is an injustice that must be remedied by reordering the distribution of resources. So, if you think that such reordering is already required, then you cannot say such reordering is reparations. Reparations must be something special above and beyond your normal policy preferences.

Given the egalitarian’s preexisting desire to level out distributions, it actually becomes somewhat difficult to identify a reparations policy that egalitarians wouldn’t already support as part of their normal ideal political economy. And if it would already be supported as part of their normal ideal political economy, it is not in fact reparations.

3. Would Intuitions on Reparations Change if the Distribution Were Different?
The most generic way of thinking about reparations is to analogize it to compensating workers who are victims of wage theft or to analogize it to compensating victims of other kinds of civil harms like battery. In these cases, the commission of wage theft or battery creates a certain legal liability that is discharged when the offending party pays a certain sum of money to the aggrieved party.

In the legal situations, the obligations to pay the aggrieved party the sum of money obtains no matter what the parties’ background resources are. So, even if the offending party is way poorer than the aggrieved party, they still have to pay the lost wages or the civil damages.

But would anyone actually insist upon reparations if the wealth inequality was flipped? For instance, imagine that, due to slavery and Jim Crow and the like, Black wealth is a certain fixed amount lower than it would “otherwise” be. But despite this drag on Black wealth accumulation, Blacks were actually 5x wealthier than Whites (but would have been 6x wealthier in the counterfactual). In this situation, would we really say that, for justice to be served, we would need to enact reparative transfers from Whites to Blacks? That we need to increase wealth inequality by transferring from a group that is 1/5th as wealthy as the group being transferred to?

This is what would be necessary to right the wrong in the same sense as a civil harm, but I suspect people wouldn’t think about it the same way in this scenario.

If flipping the inequalities actually flips your view on whether reparative transfers should happen (i.e. you wouldn’t call for reparations if it were Blacks with the wealth advantage even if their wealth advantage was less than it would otherwise be), then what you seem to actually have are pro-egalitarian intuitions not pro-reparations intuitions. That is, you are troubled by the wealth gap regardless of how it came about and even if it came about in the most pristine of capitalist situations. That would still make you an advocate of leveling for its own sake, but would re-raise the difficulties in (2) about cogently fitting reparations into a radical egalitarian philosophy that already wants to level for reasons unrelated to any history.

Like I noted in my initial post on this, reparations serves the practical political ends of egalitarianism given the contingent wealth distribution that actually obtains. And so there is no reason an egalitarian or socialist or similar shouldn’t come out for it (including Sanders). But if we are talking about the philosophy of reparations, it is (perhaps unexpectedly) a much more confounding topic for left-egalitarians than it is for right-wingers, and libertarians especially. Because the right leans more heavily on process (“voluntary transactions”) and desert (“get what you produce”) to define distributive entitlement, it’s a lot easier for them to endorse a one-off reordering of the existing distributive outcome to correct for prior deviations from process and desert. Because the left’s theory of distributive entitlement already focuses so heavily on distributive outcomes, it’s a lot harder to distinguish a special reparative reordering from the normal ongoing reordering that is already endorsed as a permanent feature of an ideal political economy.