Police Killings and Race: Afterthoughts

The verdict on former officer Chauvin seems extreme to me. I think manslaughter would have been enough. Of course, it’s possible that I don’t understand the legal subtleties. Also, I did not receive all the information the jurors had access to. Also, I didn’t have to make up my mind under the pressure of fearing to trigger a riot in my own city.

As usual, I react to what did not happen. In the sad Floyd case, a bell weather for a new anti-racist movement in the US, the prosecution did not allege anything of a racial nature. Let me say this again: for some reason, the prosecutor did not claim that the victim’s race played a part in his death. Strange abstention because such a claim would have almost automatically brought to bear the enormous weight and power of the Federal Government. (The Feds are explicitly in charge of dealing with suspected violations of civil rights.)

Personally, I think we have a general problem of police brutality in this country. I mean that American cops are entirely too prompt to shoot. I also believe this is largely a result of permissive training on the matter. American police doctrine gives cops too much leeway about when to shoot a suspect. It does not do enough to support alternatives, including less than lethal means of incapacitation. Here is a small piece of supporting evidence: An American is about ten times more likely to be killed by the police than a French person. One can try to claim that French criminals and French suspects are ten times less dangerous than their American counterparts. Read this aloud and think it through. (Of course, there is always the possibility that your average French suspect, with his funny beret and a baguette tucked under his arm, is in a bad position to shoot at police at all.)

As for the widespread claim that American police killings of civilians are racially motivated, a proof of racism- systemic or otherwise – this case has simply not been made. Here are a handful of relevant numbers: In the USA, a black person interacting with the police has no greater chance of being killed than a white person. A black person interacting with a black police officer has the same chance of being killed as one interacting with a white officer. It’s true that a black person, on the average is more likely to be interacting with police than a white person. If racism plays a role in the killing of black people by police, that is where it is lodged. Police, white and black, are more likely to stop blacks than whites. Can you guess any reason why? Can the reason be other than racism? Below is a link to a wider essay on the topic:

Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take

Awareness of Racism and Singing to the Choir

In the past few months, I have been exposed to more works by African Americans and to more documents about the black condition in America than usual. So far, I haven’t learned anything really new, perhaps because I am a sociologist by trade with an interest in slavery going back fifty years. All the same, I appreciate the refresher. This is a good point to warn that I am at odds with many of my fellow conservatives about the debt, if any the US, owes in connection with slavery and in connection with Jim Crow. (See: Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take; and also, my shorter: The Great American Racial Awakening: A Conservative Approach (Part One).) I also insist that mine – insisting on the recognition of some sort of debt – is the true conservative position. This position in no way entails accepting passively everything the woke movement is telling us about current racism in America.

Recently, I watched almost all of the good PBS documentary “Driving while Black.” The first part illustrates well, with both many historical documents and the memories of older people, how African Americans used to travel with the help of special guidebooks designed to ensure they did not inadvertently find themselves in hostile territory. It was worse than traveling in a foreign country whose language you don’t know, it seems. (I did this myself in Croatia, in 1962, before mass tourism spread far and wide some knowledge of English.) It was a concerted collective effort to escape the consequences of explicit deliberate racist policies (as well as of widespread racist sentiment).

Then, the emphasis of the documentary shifts to the creation of the Interstate Freeway system. The narration comments on the fact that the development of the freeways involved the clearing out, the destruction of many local black communities, including their many Mom-and-Pop businesses. I am guessing there is no doubt it did. But the commentator keeps the topic closed as if the last had been said thus giving the impression that black communities were targeted for destruction out of racial prejudice (in thematic continuity with the first part of the documentary). Some may have been so targeted, or even all, but there is another explanation that makes racial prejudice a superfluous explanation.

One of the considerable, but variable costs of public way construction (roads and railways) is the expropriation of the land on which the public way is to stand. In many cases – that, I think, have rational technical explanations – the land to be expropriated is occupied by structures with commercial value. It’s common practice, and I would argue, good practice, to try as much as is possible to find a path that minimizes the cost of the relevant expropriations. (In the US, in the past 80 years, public pathways have been financed by the taxpayers. As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t want planners to deviate from this practice.) An unintended consequence of this rational practice is that black-owned and black-leased building are over-represented among those destroyed on the occasion of freeway building. No racism has to be involved though it may be.

This is just a prominent instance of a general, diffuse problem: Authors, journalists, politicians impute authoritatively a racist cause to inferior black outcomes where racism may or may not be involved. There is often not even a pretense of causal analysis, not even of merely mental analysis. The simply plausible magically becomes reality. Yet, it’s true that African Americans, more often than whites, often end up with the some of the worst jobs, some the worst commercial services, and as of lately (2021), even with some of the worst health outcomes.

It should be obvious that any of the above, and many other noxious outcomes, may be the pure products of mere poverty or of inferior education, or of both. African Americans are, in fact, poorer than average. So, before claiming that racism, or a systemically racist policy is at work, it would be logical to figure out if the bad outcomes may not be entirely explained by poverty. Saying the same thing in a different way: If whites in similar economic circumstances experience the same bad outcomes, or worse ones, the racial explanations are superfluous. Incidentally, racism could still be at work but it would appear much less self-evident to the general sympathetic public. It would happen like this: African Americans have the same high rate of diabetes as whites at the same education and economic level but, for the latter, diabetes is a product of poverty and ignorance, and for African Americans, it comes from poverty, ignorance, plus something else. See how credible such a statement would be. Or this: Poor whites lag in vaccinations because they also tend to be uneducated but equally poor and equally uneducated African Americans lag in vaccinations because of the racist treatment to which they are subjected.

Exploring this kind of issue, the relative weight of self evident factors in determining bad outcomes is comparatively easy. Such quest would rely on fairly available public data and on methods (multivariate analysis with econometric evaluation) that were already not new when I was pursuing a doctorate in the 1970s. There must be hundreds of sociologists and of economists equipped to conduct this kind of research in the USA. I am following multiple media in a haphazard manner, it’s true, though with a conservative bias, from the Wall Street Journal to internet trash. I do this every day for hours. Yet, I never bump into the fruits of such reasonably principled research. Of course, Stanford and Hoover Institution black economist Thomas Sowell has conducted just such analysis for many years but he is never cited by anyone to the left of dead center. Instead, his existence is sometimes acknowledged as that of beloved but slightly screwy old uncle who may even have passed on. In my book, the seeming absence in the public arena of reasoning guided or influenced by such obvious research should be enough to make one suspicious. I think this stream of public reasoning is being suppressed. (Please, go ahead and show me that it’s abundantly represented, via any media, contrary to my impression.)

Technical note: I hate to break the hearts of my possible liberal – and even progressive – readers but the following is correct: If proper analysis demonstrated that income level, level of wealth, and educational status together are not sufficient to account for inferior black outcomes, that would not be enough to pin the blame on racism, be it of a personal or systemic nature. This is another issue that’s being kept in the dark as far as I know.

The end of the documentary, “Driving While Black,” mentions briefly the possibility that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also destroyed thriving black communities. It did so by suddenly giving black shoppers attractive alternatives such as (then) Safeway. I am not sure how I would bet about this right now, as I write, but it’s possible to imagine that the Civil Rights Act was more destructive in this respect than the construction of the Interstate Freeway system. The documentary had the opportunity to raise the question. It did not. This good document would have gained immeasurably in intellectual credibility if it had. My impression is that currently, there are few critics of any race that would have the intestinal fortitude to do so. (Again, please, show me that my impression is wrong.)

I am concurrently reading a novel by a prolific African American author: The Son of Mr. Suleman, by Eric Jerome Dikey. First, it’s delightful novel and I enjoy every minute of it. The writing is effervescent even if it often verges on being in a language I don’t quite understand. (For me, it’s a bit like reading Portuguese, a language I have not studied but that is close enough to my own native French and to the Spanish that I have studied that I can usually make it out.) The reading is also a bit jarring for one strange, specific reason. The novel accomplishes with ease what good novels do: through action, dialogues, monologues, and disquisitions, they transport the reader into a world that he would otherwise likely not discover. In this case, the hero is a vigorous black man in his thirties plying his ill-defined trade in the second-rate academic venues of Memphis, Tennessee. Except for the academic setting, this is pretty far from this California old white man’s experience.

The jarring starts in the first few pages with a Trumpdetestation statement that appears utterly unrelated to anything beginning in the story. Thereafter, every so many pages, appears a politically, cliched affirmation about racism that ads nothing to the story. It’s as if the author felt like – or had been ordered to – assert with an imposed frequency, his membership in the mainstream of conventional African American struggle against racism. These interruptions are all the more ludicrous because, again, the normal course of the novel does a talented job of describing racism from the inside, so to speak. Bizarrely, the hero is being periodically sexually exploited by a rich, powerful, attractive, white, and, you guessed it, blonde woman. And, as one might almost expect, the hero blames his troubles mainly on racism. But the fact that he is an adjunct professor would be enough to explain his misery. Let me explain for my overseas readers: That’s a category of university faculty members who carry full course loads but are slated to never get tenure. (Yes, in American universities, tenure, “titularisation” is neither automatic nor a function of years taught. It’s competitive. It’s an “up-or-out” process. A teacher who does not win tenure has to find a job somewhere else.) In the last school were I taught, there were dozens of such adjunct personnel. They were all white. At any rate, in spite of all this, I warmly recommend this book.

At this point in the year, I am pleased to have been exposed to material on race relations that would normally not have been on my menu; nevertheless, I am struck by the many failures to take advantage of the situation to gain intellectual heft with other than whining and guilt-devoured white liberals. I suspect there is a convergent attempt, a cultural movement of the left, to remain vague in order to avoid revealing or admitting the obvious: that the past 60 years have seen enormous progress toward racial equality and justice in America. There was a chance to sing to other than the choir and it’s being largely wasted.

My Pick-Up Truck and the Quality of Global Warming Reports

The struggle against climate change is making fast policy progress in the civilized world. It’s got to the point where I can foresee the authorities confiscating my good Toyota pick-up truck that has given me good service for eight years and continues to act just right. In California, they make no mystery of their intent to force me to replace it with a small electric sedan I won’t be able to afford. In the meantime, the same California is not able to guarantee enough electric power to keep my light bulbs lit 24/7; another story, obviously, a good one.

My problem is that I have not changed my stance on the credibility of the climate change narrative since I bought the truck. So, I feel tyrannized.

Recently, there was a long lasting, intense heat wave in the western United States where several people died of heat stroke. As I write, severe flooding seems to be ending in Germany, in Belgium, and in France. In the first country, at least one hundred people drowned.

Being a retired old guy, I listen to the media, or watch it, or read from it a good portion of the day. I do this daily, in at least two languages, English and French. There isn’t a day in my life when I don’t hear heat waves, or floods, or this and that blamed on “climate change.” The media personalities and journalists who assert those links all have one thing in common: None possesses the credentials to judge whether such a link exists at all. Climate change ideology has spread so successfully that every Dick, Tom, and Harry with a B.A. in Communications (or less) feels free to pronounce on such causal relationships as if they were simply mentioning that the sun rises in the east. Well, it’s not like this at all, not by a long shot.

Before I go on, we need a reminder: I mean by “climate change”: the narrative that includes all three statements below:

1 the climate is changing significantly in ways that affect people adversely;

2 this change is due to human activity and specifically the release of so-called “greenhouse gases,” (Human activity includes such things as manufacturing, reliance internal combustion engines, including in cars, cattle raising);

3 the adverse effects are such that we, collectively, need to address them right now.

Baselines Climate Change Advocates endlessly publicize: hottest year in 37 years, or most hurricanes in a period of two years since 1920, or highest tide since 1882. All such announcements are worthless and therefore misleading. There is no evidence of change without a baseline and the baseline has to make sense. It cannot be picked opportunistically, of course (as was done on the occasion of the “hockey stick” scandal; look it up). It cannot be selected mindlessly. Let me give you areal example. It may well be that the Greenland glaciers are melting unusually fast. And, of course, it could be a result of human caused global warming (oops, climate change). But, we know – because a noted environmentalist told us (Jared Diamond) – that the Norse inhabitants of Greenland were raising cattle there around 1100. You can’t do this today in Greenland because it’s too cold. So, if it was warmer there a thousand years ago, what’s left of the inference that it’s what happened in only the past 150 years of Industrial Revolution, etc (make it 160, 200, no matter) that produces the heat that melts glaciers? My point here is that what you infer from change observed from a bad baseline is not only a little off; it’s simply wrong. Climate Change enthusiasts and passive believers alike do this all the time. They also don’t accept corrections based on a more reasonable baseline.

Measurements The Climate Change narrative is chronically plagued with measurement issues and downright falsehoods. If you want to tell me anything about the condition of my house and you begin with a statement to the effect that one wall has sunk by 240 inches without my noticing, you are done; I have no reason to listen to anything else you have to say. Be gone!

I don’t normally read scholarly research supporting the climate change narrative. I shouldn’t have to. I am just a citizen. If you want me to alter my life drastically, it’s up to you to give me good reasons in a language I can grasp without two or three doctorates (additional doctorates, in my case). I do read the reports made of it by non-scholarly sources that I think intellectually respectable. The Wall Street Journal is one. (More on this below.)

Here, there are two nested problems with ways to assess climate events commonly found in the media. People have a tendency to confirm what they hear by saying, Yes, it’s never been so hot, ever. The first problem is that when this is said, the reference is almost always to the person’s personal experience. That can seldom exceed 90 years, a period insufficient to cover anything blamed on the 150-plus years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The second problem is that, obviously, almost everyone has bad memory and forgets events at random. Here is an example: When I was a small child, I remember distinctly newspaper photographs of the sea frozen in the English channel, together with one radio comment to the same effect. My siblings living at the same time in the same place, remember no such thing. They have forgotten or I have produced a fabricated memory. Either way….

This past weekend’s Wall Street Journal takes apart a more sophisticated kind of measurement fallacy, one committed by a fairly respected federal agency. (Roger Pielke Jr, WSJ; 7/17-18/21; p. C4.) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that natural disasters causing one billion dollars of damage or more were seven times more numerous in 2020 than they were in 1980. The NOAA adjusted for inflation, of course. It did not compare 1980 dollars with 2020 dollar. Good enough, right? Not so. How much damage a given disaster causes depends on its severity but it also depends on how much is available to be damaged. There is incomparably more value to be obliterated today in America than there was in 1980. The same tornado occurring on the same day in the middle of the Sonora desert will cause much less damage than it would in Time Square, perhaps a million times less. That’s not a small error. The NOAA mistake is monumentally misleading. If you corrected for the amount available to be damaged, you might find that there was actually seven times more destruction in 1980 than in 2020. (I am not accusing anyone, except of gross incompetence. It’s not all bad faith.)

To aggravate again the severity of my judgment is the fact that real scientists with real credentials almost never step out of the ivory tower to condemn publicly the thousands of false statements made in their name every day.

Things have not changed much in eight years with respect to credibility. I don’t have any reason to change my mind and to consider the narrative favorably because it has not improved in rigor or in accuracy. They may be able to tear me off the seat of my pick-up truck but that will not alter my judgment that the repression is based on snake oil merchandising and on primitive superstitions. Yes, you can quote me.

A Lot Better than Others

The 1776 Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787 were all flawed. The first ten Amendments that followed quickly (around 1789) hardly began to fix them.

It’s idle to pretend that the group of highly educated, very cultured men who composed and promulgated them only allowed slavery because it sounded like the right idea at the time. In fact, there was never any moment in pre-American history when abolitionism was not a doctrine vigorously and clearly enunciated – by the Quakers among others.

The writers of the Declaration and the writers of the Constitution (two much overlapping groups) were all, if not Christian themselves, close descendants of Christians living in a Christian society. Of course, they knew that slavery was wrong. Of course, they spent a lot of intellectual energy minimizing in their own minds how dreadful it was in practice.

So, yes, slavery on a large scale tarnished the founding of the American Republic. The Founding Fathers were not saints in any way, shape of form. Few men are saints, by the way (or women, for that matter!) That’s why they need constitutions. The Founding Fathers were just way ahead of everyone else. The institutions they devised lasted us largely for nearly 250 years. They were copied more or less everywhere. They still are.

The Harem Pants

It was market day. If you are a serious traveler, you never miss open air markets. They are invariably pleasurable as well as educational. All the female merchants there in that Turkish market, all from the interior of the country, were wearing broad, long, flowing, so-called “harem pants.” An older lady with gray hair showing crossed our path wearing such pants, silky ones, with a black on gray subtle motif my wife immediately liked. You know what to do, I told my wife. (A long time earlier, I had demonstrated to her that it was possible to buy a woman’ clothes off of her ten minutes after meeting her. That story is told elsewhere.) At first, she demurred.

I saluted the gray-haired lady and I expressed to her with gestures that my wife admired her pants. She took us to a stall that sold an inferior version of the same item. No, I insisted with a smile, she wants yours. To tell all, I was a little concerned that she might misunderstand me to be proposing to her that the three of us perform exotic acts together. But what we wanted soon seemed to dawn on her. I guessed she was a bit shocked but also intrigued. Soon, several other market women joined us, plus a little girl who had a bit of school English. When the female passel disappeared behind a truck, I discreetly walked away.

I walked around the market; I bought a brass pepper grinder to waste time. Then, I guessed to myself that my wife understood men well enough to find me, eventually. I made my way to the tea stall in the middle of the market. Soon, several wide-eyed boys surrounded me. Then, one at a time, older men joined me on the benches set out in the open. Each one of them offered me a cigarette and each tried to buy me a glass of tea. Seeing no toilet anywhere, I declined the tea each time with a big smile and a hand on my heart.

Are you married? One asked. How many children? Do you have pictures? Here are mine. And, finally: How old are you? I told the truth, as usual. One by one, they felt my biceps, then my thighs. I asked each politely one by one how old he was. As it happens, older Turkish men are all terrific liars, no exception. Men obviously in their early sixties would announce on their fingers: I am 83. I am 86. One said, I will be 95 next year. Then, they took turns blustering, I thought, I guessed, I imagined, about how good they looked for their age. It took all my willpower to refrain from challenging each and every one of the old bastards to an arm-wrestling match to teach them a little humility.

Subsequently, for the remainder of my stay, every mature Turkish man I met who was not trying to sell me a rug displayed precisely the same kind of loud vanity. I am suppose it keeps them young. It certainly beats the despicable Western custom of old geezers casually competing with each other about who has the worse health problems. Give me a braggart every time over a whiner!

Anyway, at some point, we got into the meat of things: American, yes? Yes, I confirmed. Bush? The oldest man asked with a raised eyebrow. I lifted my conservative thumb up. He replied immediately: Bush, good! Saddam… He drew his hand across his throat. Exactly! I confirmed eagerly. The American intervention in Iraq was about three months old then. Saddam Hussein was hiding in a dirt hole at the time. There were smiles all around.

The market was in a pretty seaside town. There were no American tourists in sight in the Near-East that summer. One old guy said to me, Tell the Americans to come back, please; these fucking European come here with three hundred Euros and they think they are kings. No, I don’t know any Turkish but I certainly caught the words “Americans,” “Europeans,” “Euros,” and,”sultan.” How do I know he used the expletive? Well, I can read faces.

An hour had passed pleasantly but I was vaguely, and only very slightly, worried about my wife. I did not think there was any danger, but was not like her to stay away because she is the kind of woman who gets periodically lost between our house, where we have lived for ten years, and the grocery store where she shops every week. I called over a couple of twelve year-olds (who may have been really twenty-five, according to Turkish males’ general apprehension of temporal reality).

I borrowed a gold-plated fountain pen from one of the old men. On a paper bag, I drew a chesty female silhouette and pounded my own (flat) chest. Wife of mine, I said. My wife is from India. Hindi! I added. Everyone murmured favorably about my artistic talent.

One of many wonders of globalization is that all around the less-developed world many people know and love Bollywood movies. “Hindi” struck a chord. I gave the boys one million liras each and sent them searching, paper bag drawing in hand. (What with inflation, a million liras does not buy nearly as much as it used to!) I wished them well in my heart, hoping they would not get into trouble inspecting too closely the bosoms of all and every woman at the market.

I located my wife, eventually. She had traded the old lady’s used but beautiful harem pants against two new ones, plus one for each of three other women present at the negotiation, plus a whole outfit for the little girl who had acted as an interpreter. But the pants she had acquired were truly magnificent! (My wife has many wonderful qualities and enormous artistic talent but a wily bargainer, she is not.)

The transaction completed at last, she had failed to find me, she said. This, although I was right in the middle of the market, surrounded by a small but loud crowd. Instead, guided by some obscure female atavism, something probably hard-wired, against all precedents in her life, she had decided to walk back to the hotel by herself. She was in her fifties at the time. She has luxuriant gray hair but she was tall and thin, yet curvy. With the gray and black, silky harem pants streaming around her long legs and her narrow hips, she must have cut a striking figure in the eyes of dozens of appreciative Turkish male spectators on the way. If this was her last huzzah, she could not have chosen a better venue; bless her occasionally exhibitionist little heart!

This is just a story; there is no deep meaning to it (as far as I now).

Three Astonishing Women

I leave my newspaper on the table outside as I dart inside the coffee shop to get more sugar. When I return, four or five seconds later, a middle-aged woman is walking briskly across the street holding my newspaper in her hand.

Hey, I shout fairly amicably, I was not finished with my paper!

She turns around and throws the paper on the table near me. I don’t want your stupid paper, she says. What would I do with it? I am legally blind.

Fact is that she is wearing unusually thick glasses. Point well taken. What do I know?


I drive into an unevenly paved parking lot behind a woman in a big van. As she makes a right-hand turn, I spot a blue handicapped placard hanging from her rear-view mirror. Just as she is about to position her van in the reserved handicapped space, its engine stops. After several useless attempts to re-start it, she steps out of the vehicle and begins pushing.

I am a real sweetheart and also an old-fashioned guy so, my first reflex is to get out and give her a hand. I abstain because I soon judge her efforts to be useless. She is pushing that heavy van up a significant bump. I think there is no way the two of us can vanquish gravity and place the van in its right spot.

Then, the woman braces herself; the back of her dress rises and her big calves become like hard river stones; she harrumphs once and the van ends up perfectly parked in the handicapped space. I learned another lesson: Don’t judge a book by its cover.


Speaking of parking makes me think of the last time I went to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I just wanted a copy of a trailer permit. I had duly paid for the original when I had obtained it. As is normal, I was in a foul mood much before I reached there. Less logically, my irritation grew as I advanced up the line, as I got nearer the end of my ordeal.

The employee to whose window I am directed is a plump young Latina with thick eyelashes and a pleasant yet officious face. I explain my request. She goes tick, tick, tick on her computer and, quickly enough, she hands me the copy I want.

It’s $16.75, she says.

That’s ridiculous, I explode. That fee for a simple copy is an abuse of power. I changed my mind; I don’t want it anymore. Keep it!

Well, I will just have to give it to you, says the DMV employee with a big smile.

I practically fall on my butt in the midst of dozens of still pissed-off but unbelieving customers. I guess I don’t know everything about women, as I often think, just many things.

This is just a story; it has no deeper meaning, as far as I know.

The Great American Racial Awakening (Part Three): “It Wasn’t Me!” and Something to be Done.

American society, American whites, non-black minorities, and even some African Americans, have not fully absorbed the fact that American slavery was a long story of atrocities. It was also an endeavor of mass rape, as the light skin color of many African Americans demonstrates. (It was rape by definition; human “property” does not have the ability to give consent.) Soon after the abolition of slavery, incapacitating legally defined inferior treatment of black Americans descended on much of the country. In the South – the historical home of slavery – extra-judicial murder was frequent enough to keep many blacks timid and in partial subjection; sometimes, the resort to intimidation rose to mass murder. Incidentally, this forgetfulness is why I am glad that National Geographic, first, and Pres. Biden second, recently chose to showcase the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Whatever the latter’s real motivation, that may be the first good thing he did.

Of course, the question should arise, must arise, of responsibility regarding both slavery and segregation. This for two reasons. First, long lasting acts of inhumanity should not go un-described lest ignorance do harm in the next generations. Second, the treatment of African Americans was, for centuries so spectacularly at variance with long standing Anglo-American tradition that some sort of explanation is required. But there can be no explanation, of course without a recognition of who the actors were, of their identification. In fact, there are voices among the pushers of Wokeness claiming that all whites are guilty by definition. (I choose my words with here care.) “It wasn’t me; I wasn’t even here,” reply many white conservatives. Below is an examination of the white case I know best, mine,

I am immigrant. I landed in the US as an adult for good in 1963. It was too late to contribute much to racial segregation. If one of my approximately 30 family antecedents since 1865 had made it to American shores before me, I think the news would have reached me through family lore. So, I am almost certainly innocent on the account of aiding segregation, including trans-generationally innocent. Slavery is another issue.

Assessing my antecedents’ possible contributions to slavery is more dicey because of the greater remoteness in time but, especially, because of the multiplicity of family lines one would have to follow. (I think that to arrive even at 1800, one would have to research up to 64 linkages.) It seems that both sides of my family going back to my great-great-grandparents at least come from eastern and northern France, hundreds of mile from the western coast slaving ports. This does not exclude the possibility that one young man or other among those who sired me found his way there and signed up for a slaving voyage or two without leaving a record worthy of notice. There is also no obvious record of anyone with my last name, or my mother’s maiden name being a slave owner in America. This leaves open the possibility that some of the other branches with different surnames reached here and held slaves. As they say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Still, on the whole, my antecedents are less likely to have profited from slavery than many, many people of coastal African descent, for example. Late into the 19th century, for example, the economy of the west African kingdom of Benin was centered on slave trading, including feeding the remaining cross-Atlantic trade. It would be surprising if some descendants of American slaves or some recent Nigerian immigrants were not also descendants of Benin slavers. Also, take the Kenyan Obamas, for example, with their Arabized first names… (“Barack” means “blessed,” in Arabic, a pious way to say “luck,” or “lucky;” and the aunt the president would not acknowledge was named “Zeituna,” Arabic for “Olive.” No olives grow in Kenya, I am sure. So, why “Olive”?) How did these names happen given that they are not Muslims? Could it be that the older Obamas were involved with the Arab slave traders of Africa’s east coast (who plied their trade much longer than anyone based in America)?

This mindless genealogical excursion is coming to an end, finally. There was a point to it though. It is this: It’s easy enough for many, possibly for most white Americans to argue that they should not be held to account either for slavery or for racial segregation because they were not here, in America, when those happened. What’s more, it’s likely that none of their ancestors were. The immigrant (legal, I hope) who landed yesterday from Russia certainly can make that claim, same as I do. It seems to me that the claim is largely irrelevant. In fact, and thinking realistically and cynically, if we looked for culpability through blood lines, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the average African American of today is more related to slave owners of the past than is the average white American. (This speculation is based on the pretty good assumption that most of today’s white Americans trace all their American ancestry to post-1863 immigration.)

Thus my point here is not that American conservatives should wallow forever in useless guilt (like a liberal wimpette) because of some supposed culpability based on race. Neither do I think that they should help feed – by supporting this claim – a sense of impunity among black criminals preying mostly on innocent African Americans. Nor do I suggest that my fellow conservatives should yield to any of the endless, diffuse race-based blackmails filling our media today (in 2021). My point rather is that we, Americans, including, and especially American conservatives, should fix what we can. I explain the ethical reason why we must do so below.

Yesterday’s immigrant, and I, and most Americans probably, live, exist, some thrive, in part thanks to the existence of a federal state that guarantees our safety from exterior threats. It’s the same federal state that makes possible a certain peacefulness, a degree of predictability of daily life without which we couldn’t even contemplate the pursuit of happiness. The fact that it does so with a heavy hand and at a high cost that I often deplore, does not change the basic fact that it does. If your libertarian beliefs make it difficult to think of this, look at Nigeria for the past ten years and at Mexico during its current elections (June 2021). However, the same federal state, in a straight historical line again, the very same federal state, engaged without discontinuity, in slave catching for fifty or one hundred years. It went on until the very eve of the Civil War. I don’t mean that the Federal Government went hunting for slaves in Africa but that it cooperated in returning runaway slaves to their owners. The practice was thunderously re-affirmed as late as 1857 in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision. For all, we know, slavery as a regional economic system might have collapsed early if the long boundary between free and slave states had been one great big open door devoid of federal interference.

It seems to me that there is no way to affirm honestly: Yes, I am appreciative for the benefits I derive from the Federal Government but I am in no way responsible for any of its past actions. Rather, I think, the following conservative principle must prevail:

The Federal Government is my servant; I am responsible to repair what my servant damaged.

I hasten to say that I don’t know how to compensate anyone for the great physical and emotional damage slavery and then, segregation inflicted on their ancestors. I confess this while noting that financial compensation for pain and suffering stands right in the middle of the mainstream of Anglo-American legal tradition. I want to focus instead on something more tangible: income.

Money often comes down through the generations. It also often fails to so come down, it’s true. This is a complicated matter. What is sure is that if the ancestor has not money, the descendant will not inherit his money. If the ancestor has no money to transmit because he is lazy, a drunkard, a whore-monger, or even simply handicapped, it’s not really any of my business as a citizen of this federal state. If, on the other hand, the descendant inherits nothing because of something my servant did to his ancestor, it’s clearly my responsibility to try and do something about it.

An unresolved concrete matter from both slavery and segregation is one of unpaid wages, and of income that could not be realized in part because of the actions of the Federal Government. I mean, my Federal Government, yesterday’s immigrant’s Federal Government, and also my Hispanic neighbors’ Federal Government. I think we all owe some compensation to our fellow citizens who have slave ancestors. (I am also ignoring here the possibility that segregation adversely affected black immigrants, people with no US slave background, because, I think, there were hardly any until recently. In general, I am skeptical of immigrants’ claims, as I indicated earlier.)

Forty-five years ago, economists Fogel and Engerman showed in Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery that slavery could fairly rigorously be subjected to conventional quantitative economic analysis, including if memory is correct, that of wage equivalencies. (The fact that the book soon became controversial only means to me that many readers don’t know how to read figures, or don’t care to.) It shouldn’t be beyond the power of modern economists to give us a rough estimate of the wages slaves would have been paid if they had not been slaves. The figure might seem surprisingly low, incidentally, because slaves were housed and fed, after a fashion, and housing and food constituted the two main recurring expenses of unskilled free workers.

Whatever the case may be, Americans in general, or just conservatives, could announce an overall amount of wages owed to slaves and, separately, of potential income black citizens lost to segregation, both augmented by accumulated interest. Proposals for discharging this collective debt should be submitted to broad public discussion. Ideally, personally, I would prefer a single payment or partial payments spread over how long it would take all made to those contemporary citizens who can show slave ancestry in the US. Since I have no illusion that any method of direct payment to individuals would have any chance of being accepted because of ambient puritanism, my fallback position would be educational/ training grants awarded to any descendant of slaves upon reaching legal maturity. I like this solution because there is good evidence that education is a reliable income and wealth multiplier. Enhanced education/training thus creates -however slight – the possibility that American society might leave that particular portion of a more general problem behind forever. Help with down payment on real estate would also probably be favored by many and for the same reason. (It seems that owning a house is the main mean of saving for most Americans.) There are many other possibilities.

Ideally, the funds for this historical compensation would come from a voluntary levy, from a subscription (a method for financing public goods not tried often enough in my view). African Americans with slave ancestors and ancestors hurt by segregation number no more than 45 million. My back-of-the envelop suggests that if everyone else reserved 1 % of his income for slavery and segregation reparation that particular debt might be extinguished in less than a lifetime. (Just a general idea; my calculations are not to be trusted literally, of course) Failing a voluntary levy, a new dedicated federal tax could accomplish the same end, of course.

Do I hope that this kind of limited compensation to the descendants of slaves could be managed in a fair, organized, decent way? Not really. I think though that it could put a damper on the present liberal temptation to replay the whole long, disastrous War on Poverty of Pres. Johnson. It would point to another way to deal with a festering wound. In any case, the inability to describe how a mission ought to be conducted should never stop us from admitting openly, even announcing, that the mission is necessary. The main virtue of this proposal would be to free to some extent those who contribute from the moral servitude resulting form our having servitude imposed on others with the help of our servant, the federal state. Acting in good faith toward other individuals is its own reward. It may even inspire others.

Beyond this, I think the Woke culture is going to collapse soon under the weight of its own ridiculousness. In the meantime, it will have ruined the careers of a few important people, including highly visible liberals who did not have sufficient alertness to duck in good time and to offer proof of their virtuousness without being asked. Even academia will regain its senses eventually though it will take some time because it’s so well protected from reality. I am betting that what will be left of this (2020-2021) societal frisson of righteousness will be the empty and therefore poisonous word “equity.” It will no doubt be used and used again until it ends exhibited in the pantheon where the Left keeps the equally empty and equally poisonous terms: the “rich,” and “fair share.” We may not prevent this but we, conservatives can keep the voice of sanity alive.

I conclude by affirming to my possibly scandalized conservative friends that nothing in this three-part essay alters my view of the broader American political context of today (2021). Pres. Biden’s administration is the worst in my long lifetime. Like everything that dampens economic growth, its policies will turn out to be especially noxious for African Americans. And liberals and progressives will blame our “selfishness,” of course.

The Great American Racial Awakening (Part Two): “Get over it!”

For most of my fifty-plus years living in this country, I have thought that white Americans have not digested the facts of slavery beyond the most basic level. I think they have avoided emoting about them and also about the much nearer-in-time ninety years of segregation in some of the country, at least. (Reading the memoirs of traveling black Jazz musicians led me to believe that segregation was not just in the South. They tell how on arriving in a new town anywhere in the country, the first thing they did was inquire about lodging accepting blacks if arrangements had done been made in advance.)

It’s hard to tell what liberals know and feel about the country’s racial history broadly defined. First, since most of them vote Democrat, they have an internal conflict of interest that must stand in the way of both clarity of mind and of sincerity of expression. Historically, their party is the party of unfailing support for slavery and then, it morphed into the party of racial segregation. I don’t know how you deal with this on an individual level. Second, I find it personally hard to tell what really moves liberals because many are the kind of people who tear up at the violent spectacle of three puppies wrestling in their containment basket.

I am pretty familiar however with my fellow conservatives’ expressed views of the whole matter. (Of course, I don’t know what they feel their hearts of hearts.) Three responses keep coming up. The first is a reference to the hundreds of thousand dead of the Civil War, implying it was payment enough for the evils of slavery. No, I am sorry, the Civil War only stopped the evil of slavery. It did not make up for it. It did not stop the transmission of its perverse effects through the generations. I does not help that some conservatives include the Confederate dead who gave their lives in defense of slavery even if it was not always clear to them.

The second common response is a nonchalant: “Get over it; it was long time ago.” That’s not a reasonable response, I believe, as a conservative, specifically. I think many good things, and many bad things, come down through families, even from ancestors way back. My own narrow experience tells me that it’s so. My paternal grandfather was killed in WWI, in 1916, exactly, twenty-six years before I was born. That’s more than one hundred years ago. My mother was thus brought up in an all-female family. Had that not been the case, she would have raised her own children differently, I think. Note that I don’t say, “better” because, I don’t know. It’s just that she would have been a different person herself, a different woman. Again, I am only trying to make the point that family experiences reach far forward in time.

I knew my maternal grandmother well. Though there were merrier aspects to her personality (as I recount in my book, I Used to be French…..) she was a mostly silent presence for all the time I knew her. I don’t know that she may have a had a wealth of experience, or simply stories, she would otherwise have shared with me. I was brought up without a grandfather. (There was an other one but alcoholism had made him dysfunctional.) Had I had a grandpa, I am certain I would have been a different man, a nicer one. Incidentally, I only came to realize this clearly when I became a grandfather myself, a very distinctive and nurturing role. If the repercussions of the simple and common fact of not having a grandfather can be carried across a hundred-plus years, I tell myself, imagine the cumulative, tenacious effect of having had all slave predecessors for hundreds years. In my book, it’s not that consequences of slavery might live on today among African Americans, it’s that they surely do. It seems to me that this is hardly open for discussion. (Though w you should feel free to argue with me on this point.)

Another detour is in order here. I am only discussing the burden of the majority of black Americans who do have slave ancestors. The implied moral calculus is not relevant to the large and growing minority of black Americans who are immigrants and children of immigrants. (The fact that their numbers are increasing fast, in itself, speaks volumes.) Don’t like it here for whatever reason? Go back to Jamaica; go back to Nigeria; go back to Haiti. This calculus also does not concern the invented category “Hispanics.” Except for the special case of Puerto Ricans, they are also practically all immigrants and descendants of immigrants. They have no right to complain just because heir parents or other ancestors had the good sense to cross the border, often at great cost and at great risk, so they could enjoy a standard of living and a freedom vastly superior to those they left behind. In most cases, such American Hispanics are entitled to citizenship in their ancestral land or, they can regain it easily. Even Puerto Ricans, whose country the US annexed without consultation, have the latitude to go home where they are unlikely to be exposed to racism. All those so-called minorities can thus easily avoid current alleged white American racism and, to the extent that they carry a special burden, it’s because of choices their own antecedents made. It seems to me none has any right to blame America nor to expect favored treatment on this account.

Expecting the descendants of slaves to “get over it,” is not reasonable, as I said. The likelihood is quite high that the adverse consequences of slavery have followed their ancestors, their parents through the years like a pig moving through a python. There is not particular ground to believe that these negative effects must automatically become diluted over time. This assessment is possible (and, I think, only fair) irrespective of whether we know what to to about it. Recognizing that a problem exists does not require that one know its solution.

In the next and last installments of this three-part essay, I will look at resolutions after introducing the third common attitude of conservatives: “It wasn’t me.”

The Great American Racial Awakening: A Conservative Approach (Part One)

When the so-called progressive forces opened America wide to everything black after the police murder of George Floyd, I feared the worst. I thought I would be daily embarrassed by an endless parade of black affirmative action wonders. I was thinking of mediocre or frankly bad African American actors, would-be pundits, pseudo-intellectuals, and demagogues promoted solely because of their race in an act of mendacious collective contrition. (And it’s true that the Democratic Party, the current home of “progressives,” has a lot to be contrite about, going back to its foundation.) I had learned that fear from thirty years in academia, of course, as well as from the continuing demonstration of lack of acumen of the media in staging again and again Al (“Honest”) Sharpton and the seemingly immortal Reverend Jackson.

Here, a detour is in order. What I saw in academia was not the admission, or hiring or promotion of wholly incompetent individuals because of their race (except one time). What I witnessed instead was the fact that people who were qualified overall, were given a solid bump up because of their race. In the last academic hiring in which I was involved, for example, the favored job candidate was more than qualified, rather overqualified for my department, in fact. At 28, she was hired at the same salary I had achieved after twenty years. She was black, of course. Not good for race relations! End of detour.

To my great and pleasant surprise, this obvious orgy of promotion of the embarrassingly incompetent but racially endowed is not most of what happened in the past year. Instead, I began seeing more black faces and hearing more black voices in the English language media I normally follow. This happened without any loss of average quality. In the inside “culture and lifestyle” pages of my daily Wall Street Journal, for example, plays and movies by black authors and directors were reviewed instead of the usual whites’. I found nothing shameful there; in fact, it was a little bit refreshing. Whether this speaks to the quality of black culture producers or to the ordinary mediocrity of the WSJ inside pages, I am not sure. My point is that the descent into the intolerable I had feared and expected did not happen.

On the other hand, and as might be expected, National Public Radio crawled forward and backward to be ahead of the game and to do more for black authors, and black everything, and black everywhere, than anyone else. But in doing so, NPR fulfills all my usual expectation rather than my specific post-Floyd killing expectations. NPR is often unbearable because of its piousness, both sincere and contrived. And, I am well informed about this because I listen to NPR every weekend, have for years. First, it’s good for my moral character, like a cold shower upon getting up in the morning. Second, I want to be well informed about my enemies’ thinking and NPR gives me this in the most concentrated, efficient form possible. In addition, I frankly like a few of its weekly narrative offerings, such as “How I Built It” and the “Moth Radio Hour.”

To my mind, the Great American Racial Awakening is all pretty superficial. I think (I intuit) that few deep transformations will afflict it. My mind says, “Don’t panic!”

My optimism is rooted in the belief that the more grotesques forms of the new consciousness are going to be sloughed off naturally. For example, I am betting what within a short time, a combination of state actions, school board reactions, and quiet teachers’ rejections is going to push into oblivion the delirious statement that mathematics is “racist.” “Critical Race Theory,” that the schools are supposedly forced to teach, does not worry me much because no one knows what it is, not even those who are cramming it down our throats. (Perhaps two dozens academics really know what it is. They don’t matter.) I think it’s only a fancy word standing for a certain brand of historical revisionism. It seems to me it’s an attempt to make Americans re-focus and look at their history from a different angle. I will address this re-focusing in my next installment. I will do it explicitly as a conservative.

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 11 of 11)

Unanswered Questions

Large questions whose answers would guide immigration reform are left unanswered, I think. Below are four.

First: The Republican Party, and many Republican elected officials, seem terrified that any immigrants, legal, but especially illegal immigrants, would automatically swell the ranks of the Democratic Party, perhaps ushering a permanent Democratic majority at the national level. If this is correct, it’s difficult to understand why the Republicans have hardly even begun discussions of the possibility of legal US residency with not link to citizenship (and thus to voting). The European Union has done this for thirty years or more and it’s not one of its problems.

Two: Republicans in general are shy to discuss the obvious burden influxes of immigrants (legal or illegal) from across the border impose on local services, and especially on schools. They seem to be entirely too fearful of incurring contrived accusations of racism. Yet, even solidly Democratic voters are affected. In my area of California, it’s probable that about 40% of the population is composed of immigrants from Mexico, their children and their grandchildren. In some elementary classes, half the students are children who speak no or little English. It’s obvious that teaching how to read and write, or teaching anything, to such classes is problematic. I would guess that all the children are held back by this situation, the non-English speakers as well as the English speakers. Pointing this out constitutes common sense, not racism. There are well tried solutions to this problem but conservatives show no enthusiasm for them.**

Three: At the risk of exposing here my ignorance, I must say that I am not aware of any serious research on the following proposition: It might be cheaper, more lasting and less destructive of our social fabric to repair the three nearby countries that are flooding us with poor people than to try to handle humanely their fleeing population at the border and inside the US. I refer, of course to the so-called “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala which has a total population of about 32 million. GDP/capita in those countries are about $ 4,200, $2,700, and $4,000. An investment of $1,000 for each citizen of those God-forsaken countries would cost about 32 billion US dollars. Such investment is almost certainly beyond these countries inhabitants’ present capacity to save.

Two comments about this idea: First I don’t know how much the current reception and care of immigrants from these countries actually cost (but see below). My nose says it will reach this order of magnitude by accumulation fairly soon in 2021. Second, I am well aware of the fact that such investment may do little lasting good absent a deep institutional change in those countries, as concerns the rule of law, in particular. This is another topic, of course and it could easily undermine the credibility of any reasoning along the lines I propose here. So I pose the question: Would the American taxpayer be better off or worse off if the federal government, perhaps guided by select NGOs, orchestrated investment in the Northern Triangle equivalent to $1,000 for each of its inhabitants. Order of magnitude check: According to Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal of 4/21/21, the small federal bureaucracy in charge of sheltering immigrant minors alone had spent all of its annual budget by mid-April. The budget was $1.3 billion (billion). The question above does not require a yes or no answer to be useful. It could simply be the beginning of a fruitful discussion in the same general direction.

The example of the neighbors of the Northern Triangle suggest that such a rough proposal is not merely pie-in-the-sky. As always, I pay attention to what might be expected to happen but does not happen. Note the absence of Panama and of Costa Rica in the current horror narrative of alleged refugee flooding. Granted, Panama has a considerable resource in the Canal. But Costa Rica has nothing but good government. Even perennially troubled, leftist-run Nicaragua makes almost no news in connection with refugee immigration into the US. I am only emphasizing here that in this matter as in others, geography is not necessarily destiny. Yet, ultimately, each of the countries in the Northern Triangle, is different, of course.

Four: There is a perverse hidden obstacle to taking vigorous measures against illegal immigration that is seldom discussed, I think. In areas where many illegal immigrants can be presumed to live, almost everyone who favors a firm hand against illegal immigration, has in mind an exception or two. Yes, they say, throw the whole lot out tomorrow – except Luis, Luis is a hell of a car mechanic! No, not Elena, who cleans my house; she is a pearl! This suggests that the lack of political will to deal with immigration issues I mention elsewhere does not reign only in the political class. Instead, it penetrates far and deep into the general population. Relate this punctual exceptionalism to the mild penalties for crossing the border illegally; relate to the infrequency of actions against big employers of illegal aliens.

I propose no solution to this particular problem. Instead, I consider it a proxy for the general idea that Americans may profess to hate illegal immigration in general and in the abstract but that many realize that our society needs immigrants. (As I showed above, the forceful distinction between legal and illegal immigrants is largely illusory because many excellent potential immigrants have no legal way to move to the US legally.) In my completely subjective observation, many Anglo-Americans actually like immigrants. As I said though, numbers matter.

One final thought. I wonder if it would be practical to limit both the quality and the quantity of immigration though a vast sponsorship program? I imagine that every single immigrant would have to be sponsored by a US organization, including a non-profit organization, or by a US citizen. Sturdy strings would be attached to sponsorship.


**So-called “Spanish immersion” elementary school classes are widely considered successful in my area of central California. They attempt to teach both Hispanic and Anglo children alternatively in both Spanish and English each week. This is a slow process. Something else does not get done, probably. Given the low productivity of teaching in the lower grades though, I wouldn’t worry about what does not get done. The attractiveness of immersion programs for Anglo parents is that their children do learn some Spanish, much less than they think but enough to impress a skeptic like me. (While I was writing this piece, I heard a blue-eyed blonde at the pharmacy explain something fairly complicated in Spanish to a customer and it worked fine. She told me she was a product of local elementary Spanish immersion classes. Yes, I know Spanish well.) The more conventional approach everywhere but in the US and in a handful of other countries is to alphabetize first the children in their own language and to switch them gradually to the dominant language if it’s not the same, including for reading and writing. (I did learn to read and write in English as a child in France, after all.)

[Editor’s note: this is the final of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 10 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 10 of 11)

The Family Multiplier: a Large, Not Well Known Issue

Here is an important consideration that I have never heard discussed although nearly everyone understands in principle that numbers matter. The doctrine of family re-unification underlying all our immigration laws guarantees that a multiplier is built into every single legal immigration (legal): When you bring in one, you nearly always bring in more than one. Take my own case. Sometimes around 1975, I received a Department of Labor Certification, that is, I was officially deemed useful to American society because of some rare skills I possessed. Even before I could become a US citizen, I was able to turn my also foreign-born wife into a legal immigrant. Five years later, right after I became a US citizen, my wife and I adopted two foreign children who became automatically legal immigrants then, US citizens. That’s four legal immigrants for one initial admission. I have little doubt that both my wife and I could have brought in our parents as legal immigrants although that may have taken some time. Had we done so, my initial single admission on the basis of a variant of American need, would have recruited seven additional immigrants, none of them obviously needed for their skills or competence. (My two children were a few months old when we adopted them. I will let you imagine what their few skills were!)

I am not in favor of changing the doctrine of family reunification nor of reducing its scope. Doing so would likely result in a substantial increase in the proportion of legal immigrants who are young, single and male. Those are highly mobile people whose chance of acculturation to American society is generally not great. In every society, they are also the main substrate of criminality. (They consume little by way of maternity costs though!) Let me say again that this multiplier is not a form of abuse of proper form; it’s written into the current law.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 10 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 9 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 9 of 11)

American Sub-Consulates in Mexico

To avoid falling again into the same swamp of ineptness, the US might approach Mexico with a request to open twenty or so sub- consulates whose sole function would be to examine refugee applications, most of which – again – we know to be phony. Such establishments might be acceptable to Mexican authorities because they would not need to be under ultimate US sovereignty, unlike traditional consulates and embassies. By the way, the US has only two consulates in Mexico while Mexico has about forty consulates in the US. Perhaps, a Mexican administration could be induced to believe that a partial evening out would be only fair. The new sub-consulates would have to be placed fairly far south of the US-Mexico border, for two reasons. First, the Mexican side contiguous to the border is notoriously dangerous, not a good location to make innocent people and their families wait their turn. Second, the closer to the border the first examination of refugee claims, the greater the temptation to try and jump into the US. The further from being valid theses refugee claims,also the greater the temptation to jump in.

Such a new disposition by itself would have a big dissuasive effect on would-be refugees from the Northern Triangle without a serious claim. I mean that it would help expedite the backlog, avoid the release of large numbers into the general US population but, more importantly, it would also cut down on the large numbers now eager to gamble on being eventually admitted because of the vagueness, not in the relevant laws, but in the manner of their application.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 9 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 8 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 8 of 11)

A Different Way to Process Refugees

The current policy for would-be refugees consists in inviting them to apply inside or very near the country followed by catch-and-release with an honor-based request to appear for final legal disposition, at a distant and undefined date, or never. It’s as if designed for failure. It’s not really part of an immigration policy because it predictably manufactures illegal immigrants.

The policy ignores the obvious fact that would-be illegal immigrants and their carriers and facilitators are continuously alert to American immigration related events and policies. This is difficult for many Americans to believe because they are habitually uninterested in and indifferent to happenings beyond our borders but there are whole subcultures nearby that are vitally concerned about what goes on in the US. They are well equipped to stay informed thanks to the internet and to cellphones. Every anodyne comment on immigration by a high level American politician or public servant is immediately interpreted – and over-interpreted – as the forerunner of a policy change (as we saw in the first three months of the Biden administration with respect to child refugees). In brief, immigration controls begins much before anyone reaches the border. Even loose words often appear as de facto policies. They may signal that doors into the US will be more or less open, or at least ajar.

The current official policy combined with its soft application must unavoidably act as a powerful attractant for very poor people living under conditions of chronic insecurity and within traveling distance of the southern US border. Look at it from the standpoint of a parent of a 14-year-old, say a Honduran: Bad schools leading to unemployment or to very poorly paid employment; lives lived in constant fear of gangs; no expectation of any sort of happy future.

You are told by people whose knowledge you trust the nearly incredible news that if you can manage to move your child to the US-Mexico border, there is a better than even chance that he will end up inside the US. There, he will be allowed to attend school, (no questions asked) and he will be given at no cost better health care than he has ever had in his life or, that he has any right to expect in Honduras. As soon as he is eighteen or, likely sixteen (no one really checks), he will be able to earn more in two hours than skilled adult men earn back home in one day. You are aware that the endeavor is both dangerous and a little complicated. You probably underestimate both danger and complexity because your main sources though well informed have no interest in emphasizing them. (I wonder about charitable organizations with no financial interest in the process. I don’t know if they publish warnings nor how frequently.)

The true news is that your son or even you if traveling with him, may apply for refugee status calmly at many designated points on the border with little fear of anything. Failing this, they say, you will be able simply to surrender to any member of the Border Patrol and be taken care of. I can’t see how such information can help but act like a powerful advertisement enticing you to begin moving north. Finally, and, repeating myself, the fact that most of those who say that they are seeking refuge status, when caught, or surrendered, are shortly released inside the US, probably sounds too good to be true. But, even the very poor have cellphones and the whole happy truth gets around quickly.

Under the current system, the authorities are forced to practice catch- and-release with would-be refugees who have little chance of being formally accepted in the end. That is because there is a huge backlog, a backlog of several years, in finally disposing of refugee applications. This is difficult to understand in light of the seeming broad consensus that only a small percentage of those who apply have a valid case that would eventually gain them official refugee status if their case were examined properly. I am also told that laws pertaining to refugee or asylum status are not especially difficult or complicated. If that is correct, the federal government should be able to recall hundreds of retired judges, and to draft many attorneys to act as pro tem judges to adjudicate thousands of cases within a short time. One the backlog is removed in this manner, the original small contingent of professional judges could finalize positive decisions.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 8 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 7 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 7 of 11)

Open the Southern Border to Mexican Citizens

A high degree of flexibility would follow a measure that I advocated in 2009 : “If Mexicans and Americans could cross the border freely” (pdf). (Formerly: “Thinking the unthinkable: illegal immigration; The bold remedy.” ), with Sergey Nikiforov, The Independent Review, 14-1: 101-133 (Summer)). That is, to allow Mexicans (and Americans, of course) to come and go across the southern border at will. Such a policy might do little to relieve worker shortages in high tech fields in the short run. Yet, it would probably be enough for lower skilled labor to transport itself where needed entirely according to demand. Of course, no implied promise of citizenship would be attached to this free border policy. Before the new open border policy is implemented a strong, loud announcement should be made to the effect that no change toward citizenship and no “amnesty” will take place. There would still be some leakage, of course, in particular because Mexican citizens would marry American citizens they would encounter in the course of their daily lives working in the US. A black market in phony marriages might also develop. That would probably be managed easily.

There are two big objections to such a policy of free movement. First, incoming Mexicans would be competing with Americans and effectively place a ceiling on the wages of the least skilled among them. Of course, I understand this Econ 101 argument but I believe it mostly does not apply here for the simple reason that the stereotypical comment is correct and there are jobs Americans just won’t do. There are crops rotting in the fields three miles from where I live in central California, for example. Yet, the downtown retail employees laid off by COVID and who used to earn $11 an hour are not rushing to try and earn $18 or more picking Brussels sprouts. Most Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) come from rural agricultural areas and they are used to hard, dirtying physical labor. We simply don’t have a reservoir of such population in the US anymore.

To understand why Mexican citizens performing any work they like in the US would probably not undermine much the native born’s wages requires a small dose of cynicism. Coming from rural areas as most do, those people have little opportunity to study English. Working more or less full time, it takes most of them many years to reach a level where they are more or less functional in English. Accordingly, it takes them many years really to compete realistically with the native born. If my hypothesis is correct, many would have saved enough and gone home before they reached that stage.

Incidentally, and contrary to a belief widespread among my fellow conservatives, Mexican immigrants and other temporaries are well aware of the fact that their earning capacity would shoot up if they knew English well. Accordingly, none resists learning English. The reverse fairy tale that they do originates in an American collective belief about learning languages that verges on mental illness. I wrote about this phenomenon in: “Foreign Languages and Self-Delusion in America.”

I think that few Mexicans really want to move to the US permanently. Many are trapped here because we make coming and going so difficult and so dangerous. Instead, most of them just want a chance to earn five or six times more than they earn back home, take their savings and go home there to buy a farm or to open a restaurant, or to set up a car repair shop. I realize this is merely anecdotal evidence, but I have met enough Mexican returnees in Mexico who explain with clarity that they like Mexico more than they like the US and that they wish to live among their relatives. This is not absurd, of course. It’s at least plausible.

The second main collective argument in favor of the establishment of such free circulation zones is this: The existence of so many economic hostages in the US would give any Mexican government an additional motivation to guard its southern border more carefully. The obvious is not said often enough: Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan pretend-refugees and potential illegal immigrants into the US have no practical way to try their luck without first entering Mexican territory and crossing a large portion of it with immunity.

More objections to such partial but permanent border opening are predictable. Some will argue that it would give free rein to numerous different kinds bandit enterprises based in Mexico, including drug cartels. I think the reverse is true. If a level of funding broadly commensurate to the present were still dedicated to the southern border, many more resources could be diverted from checking on innocent Mexican manual workers seeking honest employment to diverse varieties of gangsters. Furthermore, any Mexican administration, however corrupt, would understand that the free roaming policy could be rescinded any time, causing much disturbance inside Mexico. This would encourage it to try and keep a better lid on trans-border illegal activities, including terrorism. Lastly and, I think, most importantly, the policy would turn many of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of border crossing Mexicans eager to keep the policy alive into law enforcement informers.

In passing, of course, if an international agreement existed to permit such free movement some Americans would go and try their luck in Mexico. Many are already there, working on commission, selling real estate and part-time rentals. More would follow. It makes sense to think of this as a good thing for both Mexico and the US. This happens, in spite of significant bureaucratic barriers that such an agreement would tend to lessen or eliminate under the international principle of reciprocity.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 7 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 6 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 6 of 11)

Work Targeted Immigration

Of the roughly 1,2 million admitted in 2016, only a little more than 10%, 140,000 were granted admission on the basis of some occupational qualification or other work-related fact. This is a small number for a mostly prosperous population of 320,000,000. The possibility that this small number outstrips either our economic capacities or our economic needs is difficult to consider.

One important problem is which workers to admit. The federal government cannot, in principle, determine by itself what categories of foreign workers are required. The current system, under which industry associations and sometimes single companies lobby the government for foreign visas is probably the best we can do. I mean that every other system imaginable is liable to be worse in some respect or other. It’s liable to be worse, in particular because it could induce the creation and/or growth of even more eternal government bureaucracies. Congress can help by quickly enlarging the number of such work visas available in any given year. (As it has done recently, in late 2020.) Greater flexibility than is current, trying to map quickly changes in real labor markets are desirable. I have not thought about how to achieve such flexibility. I don’t think though that the federal government should indirectly, through targeted visas predict winning and losing economic sectors.

We do know from experience that loosely defined “high tech” fields as well as agriculture are perennially short of workers. There must be others. The most efficient and least expensive way to provide such would be a system that is not a system in a government sort of way but a situation where foreigners find and walk to waiting jobs as needed. This non-system violates some of the strictest requirements of sovereignty, of course. Yet, it may be preferable to the current situation. A single inventive alteration in our immigration policies would go a long way toward helping fill low-skilled labor skills, including agricultural ones.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 6 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 5 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]