Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Some interesting experiments on "racism"

In the 1950's and 60s there was a concerted Marxist-led effort by psychologists to prove that people with "racist" attitudes were psychologically maladjusted.  The fact that the whole world had been racist up until the war didn't seem to hold them up any. 

Reality triumphed eventually however and psychology textbooks  these days routinely concede that some form of "in group favoritism" is normal, natural and essentially universal.  We all tend to like best people similar to ourselves.  In Freudian terms it is an extension of self-love.

It seems, however, that economists have been reinventing the wheel by demonstrating in-group favoritism yet again.  There is a description below.  The authors found that bus drivers were less likely to give a free ride to dark-skinned people. 

As with all such experiments, however, the problem of generalizability arises.  What generalizations, if any, can we extract from the findings?  The authors of the study offer a fairly expansive interpretation of their findings but a simpler explanation might be that dark skin is in all the English-speaking countries associated with a high crime rate, so the drivers may have been more likely to suspect dark-skinned requests for a free ride of being dishonest.  The principle of parsimony would favour that explanation.

But in reality it is all speculative.  NOTHING firm can be concluded from the data.  And the authors themselves show how weak generalizations in that field are.  They show that what the drivers said they would do and what they actually did were roughly opposite.  As LaPiere showed in the 1930s, you cannot infer behaviour from expressed behavioural intention.  But if you cannot predict behaviour even from behavioural intention, what can you predict?  Again the answer is nothing.

So these little experiments are fun but are no cause for any heartburn.  We are all "racists" to a degree but what implications that has for behaviour will vary with both the individual and the situation.  Only a Leftist could deny that.

Of course, part of the problem is how racism is defined.  To the hysterical Left any mention of race is racism and any mention of racial differences is doubly so.  Such reactions are irrational however so the most expansive definition I would support is "preference for one group over another".  And that is the sense in which I have used it above. 

Even that usage, however tends to associate too much with racism.  It associates probably harmless attitudes with some of the great evils of history.  A more historically-grounded definition would be:  "Advocating or practicing harm or disadvantage to other people solely on account of their race".  Racism of that sort is exceedingly rare today outside Muslim countries.

Two economists from the University of Queensland, Redzo Mujcic and Professor Paul Frijters, will publish the results of a natural field experiment on Thursday in which trained "testers" of different ethnic appearance got on buses in Brisbane, discovered their travel card wouldn't work, but then asked the driver to let them to make the trip anyway.

Various testers did this more than 1500 times. Overall, the driver agreed in almost two-thirds of cases.

But whereas the success rate for testers of white appearance was 72 per cent, for testers of black appearance it was just 36 per cent.

Testers of Indian appearance were let on 51 per cent of the time, whereas those of Chinese, Japanese or Malaysian appearance were allowed to travel about as much as Caucasians were.

On average, bus drivers were 6 percentage points more likely to favour someone of the same race. Black drivers tended to be the most generous, accepting in 72 per cent of cases, compared with 54 per cent by Indian drivers and 64 per cent by Asian and white bus drivers.

If you think that's interesting, try this: to test the importance of how people were clothed, the testers were then dressed in business suits with briefcases. The success rate of whites rose by 21 percentage points and the combined rate for blacks and Indians rose to 75 per cent.

Next, the testers were dressed in military clothes. The success rate of whites rose by 25 percentage points while the combined rate for blacks and Indians rose to 85 per cent.

As a follow-up, the researchers then conducted a random survey of bus drivers at selected resting stations in Brisbane, presenting them with pictures of the same test subjects and asking the bus drivers whether they would let them on or not with an empty travel card.

Some 80 per cent of the bus drivers at resting stations indicated they would give free rides to Indian and black test subjects, even though in reality less than 50 per cent were let on.

Indeed, bus drivers said they would let on white subjects 5 percentage points less often than black subjects, whilst in reality white test subjects were favoured at least 40 percentage points more than black testers.

The main reason given for not letting someone on was it was against the rules, while the main reason to let someone on was it was no burden to do so.

It's all a bit disturbing - if not so surprising - but how do we make sense of it? And what's it got to do with economics?

Frijters, perhaps Australia's leading exponent of "behavioural" economics, is developing an economic theory of groups: the different types of groups and how and why they form. All of us feel an affinity with a range of groups. Businesses and government agencies are groups, but there can be groups within those groups; working teams as well as sporting teams. Mixed in with all this are in-groups and out-groups - people we want to associate with and people we don't.

Often we form groups so as to co-operate in achieving some goal. And groups often involve reciprocation - I do you a favour in the expectation that, when my need arises, you'll do me one.

So Frijters explains the results of his experiment in terms of group behaviour. "People with Indian or black complexions are more likely to be treated as an out-group and less worthy of help compared to Caucasians and Asians," he says.

"The reason bus drivers were more reluctant to give black and Indian help-seekers a free ride was that they did not personally relate to them."

When testers were sent to bus stops in military clothes this made them appear to be patriots, defending the same community as the bus driver. So the drivers' original out-group reaction could be overcome by in-group clothing.

The more favourable treatment of testers in business dress suggests the "aspirational groups" of the bus drivers include people richer than themselves, people with more desirable visual characteristics. That is, people the drivers regard as part of their in-group.

If all this sounds more sociological or to do with social psychology than with economics, it is. But that's the point of behavioural economics: to incorporate insights from other social sciences into economics.

And what have groups got to do with economics? That's simple: the objective of many groups is to give their members greater control over economic resources.

Frijter's new book, An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks, written with Gigi Foster, will be published this month.



The research described above is still unpublished in its original form so I am not entirely sure what is in it but the authors would appear to be reinventing the work of Hechter as in:

Hechter, M. (1986) Rational choice theory and the study of race and ethnic relations. Ch. 12 in J. Rex & D. Mason (Eds.) "Theories of race and ethnic relations", Cambridge: U.P.          
Hechter, M. (1987) Nationalism as group solidarity.  "Ethnic & Racial Studies" 10,  415-426.                          
Hechter, M., Friedman, D. & Appelbaum, M. (1982) A theory of ethnic collective action.  "International Migration Review" 16, 412-434.

Govt reportedly drops discrimination bill

THE federal government's decision to put its proposed anti-discrimination laws on hold has been welcomed by the Institute of Public Affairs.

The conservative think tank heralded the move, reported in The Australian on Wednesday, as a victory for free speech.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was reported as saying the government could not proceed with plans introduced by his predecessor Nicola Roxon to draw five existing statutes under a single piece of legislation.

The statutes covering age, disability, race, sex and other forms of discrimination were to be consolidated, with the most controversial change relating to the onus of proof.

The government could not proceed with the draft bill at this time and would be sending it back to the attorney-general's department for more work, Mr Dreyfus told The Australian.

The IPA said it was "outrageous" the government would make it illegal to offend someone because of their political opinion.

The think tank said reversing the onus of proof was another "fundamental problem" and the decision to withdraw the legislation entirely instead of attempting to amend it was the right move.

Under the proposed changes, after the complainant established a prima facie case of discrimination, the respondent would then have to show the action was justified or didn't amount to discrimination.

The IPA has argued the onus of proof should remain on the person making the accusation as it was often very difficult to prove innocence.


Victorian government caves in to teachers

HALF-day stop-work action is still planned for Victorian schools in term two despite a major backdown by the Napthine Government in the bitter teacher pay dispute.

But parents and teachers are optimistic a deal can be reached quickly to avert the industrial action after the Government scrapped its insistence that pay be linked to performance.

Premier Denis Napthine said the removal of the key sticking point in the ugly battle showed his "real commitment" to resolving the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement stalemate.

"The Government can announce today that it has decided to take discussions on performance pay off the table, and deal with this issue ... outside the current EBA processes," he said.

Dr Napthine said the Government was still committed to a merit-based pay system in the long run.

The head of the Australian Education Union in Victoria, Meredith Peace, said the backdown by the Government wouldn't mean an end to the industrial action.

This includes rolling half-day regional stoppages, set to hit schools in May and June, and a ban on teacher overtime, which has forced the cancellation of school camps, productions, sports and excursions outside school hours.

"We will stop campaigning when we get an agreement with the Government," Ms Peace said. "This doesn't resolve the dispute.

"There are a number of outstanding issues ... salaries is one of those, workload, class sizes, the high level of contract employment."

The union and Government will meet again today to discuss the issues.

The AEU in November reduced its pay claim to 12.6 per cent over three years, while the Government offered 2.5 per cent a year plus performance pay.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said industrial action was hurting parents and small businesses that ran camps and other extra-curricular activities.

He said the Premier should get personally involved in the dispute to achieve a quick outcome.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she hoped the dispute could be resolved in time for the end of term one next week.  "Common sense has prevailed. Let's get on with educating these kids," she said.

Institute of Public Affairs policy director Tim Wilson said the Government must push ahead with performance pay.

"We should be making sure there are incentives so that teachers deliver the best outcome for kids and can be judged against that," Mr Wilson said.


More glories of multiculturalism

Muslim thugs at work

A jury has been told how a woman witnessed four men kill her son with machetes and meat cleavers in their Sydney home three years ago.

Mohammed Karimi, John Khoury and Mahdi Mir have pleaded not guilty to the murder of Kesley Burgess, who was killed in his Lurnea home in 2010.

Prosecutors say they were part of a gang trying to steal "turf" off drug dealers in Sydney's south-west.

The men sat side by side in the NSW Supreme Court today as Ken McKay outlined the prosecution's case.

He said Karimi and Khoury recruited men for the attack while Mir was allegedly one of four men who carried out the killing.

The jury was told they armed themselves with machetes and meat cleavers and demanded cash and drugs.

The court heard Mr Burgess's mother Tracey Burgess watched them attack her son with the weapons as he lay on the ground.

She pleaded with the men to kill her instead, before running into the kitchen and finding some cannabis to give them.

Mr Burgess, 25, died in hospital two days later.

The family told police they did not know their attackers or why they had been targeted.

The jury has also heard from Maxine Rogers, who police say the group accidentally targeted in a home invasion at Warwick Farm on the same night.

She said her attackers - who prosecutors say are linked to the accused - held a knife to her throat in front of her daughters.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"The IPA said it was "outrageous" the government would make it illegal to offend someone because of their political opinion."

Won't Vic Adelhef be upset. More so that it was Dreyfus that dropped this.