Monday, January 2, 2017

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

A fascinating comparison how one's worldview shapes the interpretation of new data.

The initiating event is Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans by Nathaniel G. Hilger.
Asian Americans are the only non-white US racial group to experience long-term, institutional discrimination yet today exhibit high income. I reexamine this puzzle in California, where most Asians settled historically. Asians achieved extraordinary upward mobility relative to blacks and whites for every cohort born in California since 1920. This mobility stemmed primarily from gains in earnings conditional on education, rather than unusual educational attainment. Historical test score and prejudice data suggest low initial earnings for Asians, unlike blacks, reflected prejudice rather than skills. Post-war declines in discrimination interacting with high initial skills can account for Asians’ extraordinary upward mobility.
Put a little more baldly, Hilger finds that both African-Americans and Asian Americans experienced high degrees of discrimination in California in the first half of the twentieth century and that this was reflected in lower income. However, by the second half of the century, Asian Americans had completely obliterated the income gap. Hilger makes two points. 1) Asian American success was not due to disproportionate education but to the removal of legal and social discrimination. 2) That the widening gap in the second half of the century between African-American and Asian American income achievements was due to differences in the cognitive abilities of the two groups.

Hilger's paper argues that outcomes are a function of IQ and the presence or absence of discrimination (private or state).

OK. Highly inflammatory but a quick scan seems to indicate a fairly robust empirical argument. Not necessarily true but not quackery either. A solid argument that has to be dealt with on its own terms.

What I found interesting though was how the paper was dealt with in other forums.

The Washington Post took up the research in The real reasons the U.S. became less racist toward Asian Americans by Jeff Guo. WaPo journalists are prone to Critical Race Theory, Postmodernism, Relativism, Critical Theory, etc.
Many people credit this upward mobility to investments in education. But according to a recent study by Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger, schooling rates among Asian Americans didn’t change all that significantly during those three decades. Instead, Hilger’s research suggests that Asian Americans started to earn more because their fellow Americans became less racist toward them.
Beyond that, Guo doesn't really delve into Helger's work much at all. Instead he interviews Ellen Wu. Their conversation doesn't much deal with Hilger's arguments about IQ and government legislation keeping Asian Americans back. Instead, it is full blown SJW - White Americans began to discriminate less against Asian Americans and that is why Asian Americans succeeded.

Hilger's explanation for disparate incomes is IQ and state and private discrimination.
Guo's explanation for disparate incomes is focused primarily on private discrimination.

The third interpretive contender is Upward Mobility and Discrimination: Asians and African Americans by Alex Tabarrok.
Despite this intense discrimination, Asian (primarily Japanese and Chinese) incomes converged to white incomes as early as 1960 and certainly by 1980. One argument is that Asians invested so heavily in education that convergence has been overstated but Hilger shows that convergence occurred conditional on education. Similarly, convergence was not a matter of immigration or changing demographics. Instead, Hilger argues that once institutional discrimination was eased in the 1940s, market forces enforced convergence. As I wrote earlier, profit maximization subverts discrimination by employers:
If the wages of X-type workers are 25% lower than those of Y-type workers, for example, then a greedy capitalist can increase profits by hiring more X workers. If Y workers cost $15 per hour and X workers cost $11.25 per hour then a firm with 100 workers could make an extra $750,000 a year. In fact, a greedy capitalist could earn more than this by pricing just below the discriminating firms, taking over the market, and driving the discriminating firms under.
Tabarrok focuses on IQ and market forces driving equalization once government discrimination was removed.

Hilger's explanation for disparate incomes is IQ and state and private discrimination.
Guo's explanation for disparate incomes is focused primarily on private discrimination.
Tabarrok's explanation for disparate incomes is focused primarily on IQ and government discrimination.

To each his own of course. I find it interesting though, that, from the same research, you can derive three different preferred explanations. There is certainly some overlap between the three but there is a lot of divergence in emphasis as well. Particularly from the Washington Post reporter who seems most committed to holding the social justice ideological line.

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