Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to deal with indigenous minorities

"Indigenous" populations worldwide seem to offer similar challenges. What is true of Canadian "first nations" seems very similar to what is true of Australian Aborigines, for instance. The problems they pose may therefore have similar solutions.

Christopher Pearson gives a good survey below of the two main Australian approaches to Aboriginal welfare: The assimilationist and the multicultural. Both approaches have had a thorough workout and both are generally regarded as having failed in the past. So the debate seems to me a sterile one. A new and less judgmental approach is needed.

One fallacy that seems common is to regard Aborigines as living in poverty. That is not at all true. Aborigines get quite a lot of money from various welfare payments, particularly if they have children. But the state in which they live remains troubling to the donor community.

Like many conservatives, I see welfare payments as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I think that Aborigines should simply be left alone to live as they please. But the money should stop so that they can find their own solutions to their own problems. Soup kitchens or the like should be set up to ensure that they do not starve but that is all. With the money cut off, the incentive to work towards their own betterment in their own way would be greater

As well as the poverty fallacy, another huge fallacy is that Aboriginal problems are cultural. The largest part of the Aboriginal difference is in fact inborn. They have brilliant mental skills in some respects (they observe without effort minutiae that escape white men and have amazing visual memory -- skills much needed in their original state as hunter gatherers) but very poor mental skills (generalized problem-solving ability or IQ) for dealing with the demands of white culture. So whatever Aborigines arrive at of their own volition will always be different from the ideals of white society. And we should accept that. It's futile to do otherwise -- JR

REGULAR readers of this newspaper will be familiar with the work of Gary Johns. He was Paul Keating's special minister of state during the native title negotiations, a convener of the Bennelong Society and a columnist with considerable insight into indigenous issues.

I received an advance copy of his new book, Aboriginal Self-Determination: The Whiteman's Dream (ConnorCourt), from which The Australian will be running excerpts next week. The book covers a lot of ground and I can't do it justice in a single column.

Instead I want to concentrate on Johns's approach to Aboriginal culture, compared with that of Noel Pearson. It seems to me the cutting edge of the debate on indigenous policy, now that the defenders of Coombsian policy have all but abandoned the field.

In common with most members of the Bennelong Society, Johns is unsentimental about what he sees, at best, as a serviceable culture for the Stone Age.

"There is a gap between modern and pre-modern societies, once called civilised and uncivilised. Denying its existence and the considerable efforts required on the part of individuals to bridge it has been very harmful." He asks: "What are Aborigines fighting for, what is there to preserve? Each step to preserve culture is a step away from the innovation that commenced 200 years ago.

"What survives of Aboriginal Australia is nothing like 200 years ago, so what culture is it, and whose is it? The 'it' is a dream, a fantasy that something special remains, or has evolved, worthy of reclaiming. But what has actually evolved is ruin and despair. The 'it' belongs only to those who could not adapt to change."

Johns says of Pearson that his goal "seems to be to integrate Aborigines into the modern economy, but to use and preserve culture where possible. His principle means to achieve the goal is to stabilise communities and families by re-missionising his people.

"In this regard, the [Queensland Family Responsibilities Commission] is like a mobile mission, dispensing justice and passing judgment on behaviour and imposing penalties on incomes. By contrast, the Bennelong Society view is pessimistic about the efficacy of 'culture', which it regards as often antipathetic to the open society, or illegal, or simply an excuse for bad behaviour."

In a Quarterly Essay entitled Radical Hope, Pearson has outlined a very ambitious program to educate a rising generation able to deal comfortably with modernity and as fully apprised of its own languages and culture as possible.

He predicts it will involve an extended school day, with kids taught the mainstream curriculum and the demanding "high" forms of their tribal languages rather than "kindergarten" versions.

Perhaps the most engaging element in Pearson's project is his frequent invocation of the example of the Jews, with their genius for maintaining language and culture. He says: "Their ancient commitment to education and high learning is of course fundamental to their success."

As well, he thinks: "They offer some lessons about how a culturally distinct people might hold their own and succeed in a world that is often without pity. First, there are lessons in the way they deal with the past.

"They have never forgotten history and they never allow anybody else to forget history; they fight staunchly in defence of the truths of history, but they never make their history a burden for the future. They have worked out how to deal with the past without cultivating and nurturing victimhood among themselves . . . Secondly, there are lessons in the way they deal with racism.

"They staunchly defend themselves against racism, but avoid making racism their problem. Properly understood, racism should be the problem of the racialists, not the burden of those against whom it is directed."

Pearson has a more than merely rhetorical point when he cites the Jewish triumph of cultural transmission in the face of persecution and against the odds. However, part of the genius of the monotheistic Jews has been to remain adaptive to modernity, to reach often very sophisticated accommodations with their communities and to hang on to both their religion and its ethos.

Judaism has proved to be very versatile in some respects and remarkably unbending in others, but can the same be said for any Aboriginal culture?

I'm reluctantly inclined to the conclusion that the answer is negative. However, that doesn't mean the prescription in Radical Hope doesn't deserve serious funding and moral support. Plainly, Pearson has to work with the cultural materials to hand and it makes sense for him to accentuate the positive. If a significant proportion of Aboriginal youth on Cape York were to become accomplished speakers of local languages and well-schooled in the stories, songs and ceremonies of their ancestors, they'd be much better off than their counterparts anywhere else.

They'd also be in the position to make individual, informed decisions about the extent that they wanted to buy in to their culture and traditional religion; surely something Johns wouldn't begrudge them, provided they also had a solid grounding in the current curriculum as well.

In the 1960s, leading American sociologists tended to the pessimistic view that Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy couldn't hope to survive for long their adherents' encounters with modernity.

Nonetheless the evidence suggests that these days substantial numbers of the young are unscathed by the ravages of rampant secularism and seem to draw great strength from an attachment to traditional religion and observing its customs.

Ought white intellectuals, who as a class have for so long been besotted with their own fantasy versions of traditional Aboriginal religions and customs, deny young Aborigines access to local versions of the numinous experience?


Was Detroit News Editor Forced Out for Negative Chrysler Review?

Chrysler has high hopes for its newest model, the Chrysler 200. After spending millions of dollars on a new “Imported from Detroit” Super Bowl advertising campaign and recruiting the help of Detroit-native rapper Eminem, the automaker is betting on consumers to respond positively. Some speculate that it was these expectations and pressure from advertisers, however, that forced the resignation of Detroit News auto critic Scott Burgess Wednesday after he penned a negative review.

So how bad was the review?

“[T]he Chrysler 200 makes me angry,” Burgess wrote. “No one is prouder of the Motor City, and I want every carmaker, foreign and domestic, to produce world-class cars and trucks. When that happens, consumers win. Regrettably, the 200 is still a dog. And I get mad as hell when anyone pumps out a car that forces me to recommend the Toyota Camry over it.”

Gawker’s Jalopnik reports:

"Scott Burgess, who up until today was the auto critic at The Detroit News, called [the Chrysler 200] out for what it was in a review that ran in this past Thursday’s paper. We agreed so much with his assessment, we linked to it Thursday morning in our Morning Shift.

Apparently not everyone enjoyed it. Two sources at The Detroit News tell us that after receiving a phone call from an advertiser, changes were made to the online version of Burgess’ review. We still don’t know whether the advertiser in question was a Chrysler dealer or Chrysler itself. What we do know is that although the changes don’t go so far as to turn a negative review into a positive one, it was certainly enough to water it down. We called Sue Carney, the business editor for The Detroit News, but have not received a call back yet. Burgess, for his part, is unwilling to talk about why he left the newspaper but our assumption is this was it. Other editors at the 138-year-old newspaper only agreed to speak with us off the record."

A side-by-side comparison of Burgess‘ print review and the newspaper’s online version shows striking differences where editors “took out his criticism of the 200's styling altogether and made it far softer than it was,” Jalopnik concludes.

“Yes, I resigned from The Detroit News as of today and I have been sending notes to carmakers announcing such,” Burgess told the blog site. “It’s the best job I ever held. The resignation was not planned. I choose not to answer the reasons for the resignation.”


Squatting is to be a crime in Britain: Police will be able to turf out intruders

About time!

The era of squatters’ rights is to end, the Daily Mail can reveal. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke is to scrap existing ‘soft touch’ laws and make occupying a private property illegally a criminal offence. It will mean the police can enter a property by force and evict the occupants within days.

Offenders will face prosecution and even a jail term if found guilty. In Scotland, where squatting is already illegal, they can be jailed for 21 days.

Thousands of properties every year are ‘taken hostage’ by gangs of aggressive squatters, but homeowners and landlords complain they are powerless to take them back. Astonishingly, property owners can even face criminal prosecution themselves simply for forcing their way back into their own homes.

Landlords’ groups and MPs have long called for a change to the practically non-existent squatting laws. A senior Whitehall source said making the changes was now an ‘urgent priority’, as Mr Clarke seeks to end the nightmare of homeowners being locked out of their own properties.

The source said: ‘Ken has had enough of seeing homeowners battle to get squatters out. ‘He is determined to use the full force of the law to save people from the nightmare of having to fight to get their houses back. The days of squatters’ rights will be over.’

It is thought there may be up to 10,000 active squatters in England and Wales, who often move between properties with impunity. As the law stands, staying in the house is not a criminal offence but a breach of the civil law, meaning a court order is required to remove them. Getting one can cost thousands of pounds, and take months. Even if squatters break in, it is notoriously difficult to prove an offence has been committed.

By making squatting a crime, as it is in Scotland, ministers hope removals will become swift and effective. North of the border, the problem is much less prevalent. It could also allow the police to track ‘lifestyle squatters’ who hop between houses. Often the squatters move in to take advantage of multi-million pound properties which are empty while being renovated.

A Mail investigation earlier this month found an ‘estate agency for squatters’ listing empty properties across London. The Advisory Service for Squatters operates out of the third floor of a building in East London and advertises the details of scores of empty homes. It also publishes the Squatters Handbook which details how to take advantage of the law and even how to take apart a lock.

The dozens of websites for squatters advise using Section 6 (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which was designed to protect tenants from aggressive and unscrupulous landlords but has become a ‘squatters’ charter’. Squatters can also obtain legal aid to help them fight their battles, while homeowners can be crippled by legal costs.

Often squatters post notices on the door warning of the action they will take if anyone tries to get in. Astonishingly, if they manage to resist attempts to evict them for ten years, they can claim ownership.

Legal figures suggest squatting court cases are becoming more commonplace, but most cases never even make it to court, because the intruders move on at the 11th hour.

Businesswoman Dy Maurice, 51, lost her savings of £50,000 in a 15-month battle to evict a squatter from her home in Macclesfield, Cheshire. She rented out the mews property after moving abroad to run a beauty salon, but it was sub-let by the tenant to a squatter who refused to pay rent. Her life then fell apart as she tried to evict him. She finally won a court order in August 2008 to have the man evicted, but he refused and it took another month to send in bailiffs.


Markets and the Gender Wage Gap: Are employers sexist?

The recently released White House report on Women in America (pdf) covers a great deal of interesting statistical data on the status of women in the United States. It also includes data indicating that in 2009 women on average earned about 75 cents for every dollar men earned. Some critics of markets claim this figure shows that markets discriminate against women, and they call for more regulation.

I will argue that the 25-cent difference does not necessarily show that markets discriminate. Rather, markets tend to pay people based on their anticipated productivity, and the differences between men’s and women’s pay largely derives from different choices that lead to differences in productivity. However, I will also argue that the differences in their productivity might result from sexism in other parts of society that cause men and women to be prepared differently for the job market, leading to a wage differential.

That 75-cent figure usually comes from comparing the average hourly salary of all women currently employed (sometimes restricted to full-time employment) to that of all men employed. What that figure does not represent is a pay difference between women and men in the same jobs and/or with the same level of experience, and so on.

Other Factors

When we economists look for evidence of wage discrimination, we first try to explain the differential by whatever other factors might be relevant. Whatever cannot be explained by those factors is then contingently assumed to be due to discrimination (or limitations of the data). In the case of the gender wage gap, the two major categories of “other factors” that account for most of the difference are human capital and preferences.

Human capital refers to the skills, knowledge, and experience people have that make them productive. The amount and type of such human capital is central to determining the wage one is likely to be paid. Compared to women, men tend to have more of the sort human capital that earns higher wages. For example, until recently men were more likely to be college educated, and they still tend to have more-on-the-job training and job experience than women.

Men who go to college are more likely to have majors that generate higher pay (such as computer science and engineering), while women tend toward psychology and education, which do not pay as well. Women are more likely than men to interrupt their careers to care for children. Women (and men) who do so tend to fall behind their cohort in job experience and in keeping current in their profession. Their wages thereby fall behind their cohort’s and are lower than they would have been had they not cared for the kids. All choices that affect human capital also affect wages, so discrimination in the marketplace is not required to explain pay differentials.

Moreover, because women are more likely to have primary child-care responsibilities, they tend to have different work preferences from men. For example, women tend to prefer jobs with flexible hours and fewer travel demands. Such jobs tend to pay less than ones with less flexible hours and more travel. Women more than men also tend to prefer part-time work, which pays less, and are less likely to work overtime than men.

Gap Nearly Disappears

When economists hold all these factors constant, they find that the gender wage gap largely disappears. Imagine two employees who are equal regarding human capital and preferences and who differ only by gender – what, if any, pay gap is present? In a study of people 27 to 33 who had never been married and who had no kids, the gap was only 2 cents. The strong implication is that if women want to earn as much as men, they need to adjust their human capital and preferences accordingly.

If we see the gap as a problem and the source isn’t the labor market, what might we do to correct the situation? Perhaps our expectations for girls and boys are different and thus we prepare them differently for the world of work. Rather than passing more laws, we could try harder to encourage boys and girls to pursue the same kinds of courses, majors, and jobs. We could encourage more men to see child raising as their responsibility as well, so that couples won’t blindly assume the woman will be the primary caregiver. If more women majored in computer science and more men majored in education — and if more men thought it was okay to work flexible hours so that they could care for the kids — we would make progress in reducing the gender wage gap. Markets will pay people for the value they produce, whatever the source of that value. Narrow the differences between men and women, and markets will narrow the wage gap.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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