Monday, April 18, 2016

Race, class, reporting and measurement

A trio of data from Gallup supports my contention that in America we have a class issue masquerading as a race issue and that things will not get better until we examine real root causes rather than politically expedient but false root causes.

Post Ferguson there is plenty of headline wailing that would make one think that suddenly police and the court systems are treating all blacks very badly. The usual caveat applies: averages don't excuse individual incidents of miscarriages of justice. However, averages can put things into relative perspective.

Despite Unrest, Blacks Do Not Feel More Mistreated by Police by Frank Newport. One set of data comes from this Gallup question:
Can you think of any occasion in the last 30 days when you felt you were treated unfairly in the following places because you were black? How about in dealings with the police, such as traffic incidents?
The answer is that 80% of blacks think they are treated fairly and that number is nearly the same as twenty years ago.

That's interesting right off the bat. It suggests that all the noise is arising from some mix of the aggrieved 20% and/or some portion who think they are themselves treated fairly but assume that others are being treated unfairly. This concern for others, while possibly well motivated, also underpins both virtue signalling and pathological altruism. There is a long and sorry history of people seeking to make the lives of others better and instead, making them worse.

Well, maybe people feel like things are much the same but that race relations is moving up in the list of priorities of things to be concerned about?

Nope. From Worry About Terror Attacks in U.S. High, but Not Top Concern by Justin McCarthy. In a list of thirteen problems facing America, Race Relations doesn't crack the top ten. It is number eleven in the list. Race Relations, Climate Change and the Availability of Affordable Energy are the three bottom concerns. You wouldn't think that to be the case from reading the mainstream media. Race Relations and Climate Change are important for academics, ideologues and policy pundits, but not of great interest to the non-elite.

You can see why policy pundits, ideologues and academics might not want to talk about the things most people are concerned about. For virtually all of the top ten concerns there is good data supporting worsening of trends despite government efforts: Healthcare, the economy, crime and violence, terrorism, hunger and homelessness, the Social Security system, drug use, quality of the environment (one of the few where there is objective data supporting continued improvement), unemployment and illegal immigration. Most of these are getting worse, in most cases despite government action, and in some cases because of government action.

So people are not reporting more unfairness and there is no change in the level of concern about race relations in the past twenty years. What could be driving the increased media coverage?

From the same report there is some insight though. For a dozen years from 2002 till Ferguson in 2014, concern about race relations held reasonably steady at about 22% being very concerned. In 2014 it was only 17%. Then, in the two years since Ferguson, concern has nearly doubled to 35%, but incident rates have not changed. What's the explanation? If there is no increase in individual level incidents and no change in perception of unfairness and that being very low, and there is no change in overall concerns, then the increase cannot be explained by reality but only by the proffered perception of reality. I.e. this is mainstream media reporting and not reality.

Or, at least, that's one interpretation that fits the facts.

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