hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Friday, June 14, 2002
I have nothing against your racial profiling article.
But i wished you had picked a harder target. And I
especially wished you had made the super-important
point that the fuss over racial profiling is
inseparable from the obtuse injustice that is our Drug

The simplest way to show this is a numerical example.

Suppose blacks commit 50% of all murders and
robberies, possess 20% of all drugs (for consumption &
dealing purposes), and are 10% of the population.
Lets further suppose .1% of whites are
murderers/robbers, 20% possess drugs (absolute realism
is not the point here). That means, to make the
numbers come out approximately right, 1% of blacks are
murderers/robbers, and 45% possess drugs.

So then, the conservatives trumpet: Random stops of
blacks are *10 times* more likely to be
murderers/robbers than whites. Obviously racial
profiling is a good thing, else we will have more
murders/robberies. So let's say the police stop
blacks 5 times more than they stop whites.

Two problems: 1) most murders/robberies are not
solved by random stops of the general population.
Instead, the predominant types of crimes dealt with
random stops are drugs, resisting arrest, driving
without a license, etc.. 2) Something very strange has
happened. Blacks are only twice as likely to possess
drugs as whites, but because they are stopped five
times more, they are *ten* times more likely to be
arrested on drug charges.

Blacks are not inherently unfair people, and neither
are cops. If the only consequences of racial profiling
was 1) increased inconvenience for law-abiding
minorities 2) caching more bad guys
(robbers/murderers), they would accept profiling.
Perhaps not cheerfully, but they would accept it.

The problem is that blacks view the stated goal of
catching more bad guys as a pretext to incarcerate
more and more blacks for non-violent (i.e. drug)
offences, thus improving police statistics and their
revenue, the prison-industrial complex, etc. And
largely, they are right.

I'm not saying police are bad people. They are merely
following the incentives set by shameless politicians
of the Ashcroft variety (and cowardly politicians of
the Clinton-Gore variety), which equates the
unpleasant practice of drug dealing not with selling
tobacco or alcohol or pornography or sweet, sweet can
. .dy, but with murder, rape, and pillage (gang
warfare arising out of drug-dealing is another

The racial profiling debate is actually very similar
to the affirmative action debate in college
admissions, in that minorites cling to the dubious,
certainly very small advantages, of affirmative
action, as a small recompense for the huge
disadvantages of lousy public schools and lack of
social capital.

And most conservatives make a mountain out of the tiny
molehill of an issue that is affirmative action, while
keeping mum about the real gaping sources of
inequality. Frankly, whites get much more benefit
from bitching about affirmative action than they would
if AA was completely abolished and the few slots on
the margin that now go to minorities went instead to
their racial brethren.

(I am aware of the sincere desire of many
conservatives to improve minority schooling, though
it was precisely this issue - of taking an active,
non-fatalistic, interest in improving social capital,
without gratuitous, counter-productive, not to mention
innacurrate, scapegoating and stigmatizing - that
caused Glenn Loury to quit the conservative movement
-. However, even on vouchers/ school choice there is a
lot more talk than action. Bush spent precisely none
of his political capital trying to pass vouchers - or
elect the "loser" Schundler)