Prejudiced attitudes vs prejudiced behaviour

Andrew Leigh has released interesting research he and co-authors have been doing on ethnic prejudice and discrimination, using several tests: sending employers CVs that are identical except for the ethnicity of names and seeing how many applicants get a call back, seeing whether there are differences in how many mis-addressed letters are returned to sender depending on the ethnicity of the sender’s name, and the implicit association test which I encouraged people to take last year.

Compared to an Anglo control group, Chinese and Middle Eastern names particularly were received less favourably in all three tests. Italian and Indigenous names generally did better. Here is the The Age‘s write-up of the research.

While I think this research is valuable, I differ slightly with Andrew L in how I look at the issue. For example, in discussing the various methods of examining ‘racism and discrimination’ Andrew and his co-authors Alison Booth and Elena Varganova say:
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Inevitable gay marriage?

The latest gay marriage public opinion survey confirms earlier research that this issue is now on a near-inevitable path. There are large majorities of younger voters in favour: 74% of 16-24 year olds, 71% of 25-34 year olds, and 68% of 35-49 year olds. Only the 50+ age group are opposed, by a small plurality: 49% against to 45% in favour.

This opinon has arisen with surprisingly little debate compared to other countries, suggesting that is evolving out of general changed views on homosexuality rather than issue-specific campaigning. The downside of this is that there isn’t much pressure on the government to actually alter the law. Rudd’s personal conservatism is probably an obstacle to the law changing, and so it is not likely to occur without significant pressure.

Do people mistakenly prioritise money-making in their lives? #2

Commenter Russell isn’t convinced by my survey evidence that the vast majority of people don’t rate making money as a top life priority. He argues that people may not tell the truth when asked questions in a survey. Maybe they don’t; maybe they don’t even recognise the truth about themselves.

But I still think my hypothesis is by far the more plausible one, and that the Schwartz/Eckersley/Russell [SER] hypothesis has no evidence beyond inferring attitudes from the consumer behaviour of other people.

Even if we start at this theoretical level, the SER thesis seems to me to be immediately in trouble. It requires that the desire for material things over-rides some hardwired aspects of human nature, such as the desires for intimacy, love, and companionship. While I imagine this is possible in some small number of individuals, it is hard to see how the ephemeral pleasures of shopping could cause a mass over-ride of the kind required.

Consistent with this theory, the behavioural evidence does not support the SER thesis. Continue reading “Do people mistakenly prioritise money-making in their lives? #2”

Do people mistakenly prioritise money-making in their lives?

Happiness researchers are convinced that people in Western societies place too much emphasis on material goods and economic growth. There is the (ill-founded) claim, repeated in Schwartz’s Foreign Policy piece, that we believe GDP to be a proxy for broader well-being. The micro version of this claim, also made by Schwartz, is that we personally place too much emphasis on material goods:

But, consistent with a substantial body of research showing that we generally don’t know what’s good for us, when the money was flowing we substituted risk for security. We sacrificed time with friends and family to spend more time at work accumulating wealth and more time after work figuring out how to spend it. (emphasis added)

Richard Eckersley makes similar arguments in the local context:

The evidence shows material progress does not straightforwardly make us richer by giving us the freedom to live as we wish. Rather, it comes with an array of cultural and moral prerequisites and consequences, such as prioritising money and the things it buys. This affects how we think of the world and ourselves, and the choices we make. These choices are not optimising human health, wellbeing and potential

Of course, people make mistakes in their lives. But do most people really think that money is the route to happiness?
Continue reading “Do people mistakenly prioritise money-making in their lives?”

Will the US recession change views on happiness?

The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine has a series of short articles under the title The Next Big Thing: Why Bad Times Lead to Good Ideas.

Under the heading ‘Happiness’, Barry Schwartz offers us the cliches of the happiness research movement: that economists don’t know much about happiness, that we don’t know what’s good for us and pursue more work instead of more time with friends and family, and that GDP is ‘our principal yardstick of social welfare and social progress’.

From these propositions, Schwartz decides to advance this theory:

Financial necessity may give us the opportunity to discover that time spent with loved ones is much more satisfying than time spent with your 76-inch HDTV. Once the crisis lifts, we may not be tempted to go back to living the way we did before, if that’s even an option for those millions who are now losing their jobs, homes, and retirement accounts.

But it is more likely that the US recession will provide evidence against Schwartz’s theory.
Continue reading “Will the US recession change views on happiness?”

The politics of crime and race

Today Victorian police chief Simon Overland, with Premier John Brumby, announced further measures to crackdown on crime against Indian students.

This issue has been an interesting one, and is yet to fully play out.

The politics of crime 1

Mixing crime and race has brought the cultural left into the crime debate in a way that would have been unlikely otherwise. Though there is nothing intrinsically right-wing about being tough on crime, the propensity of right-of-centre parties to pursue ‘law and order’ politics pushes the cultural left into an oppositional stance: that fear of crime is exaggerated, that punishment doesn’t do much to rehabilitate, etc. Would Guy Rundle and David Marr have leapt into print if there was a crime wave without a racial angle?

The politics of crime 2

Even without an expressly racial element, this issue is interesting because a group has firmly, persistently, and successfully demanded that more be done to enforce the law. Usually, being a victim of crime is a lonely experience: people will sympathise with you, but they won’t mobilise for you. They don’t see your victimhood as a substantial risk to themselves. By targeting Indian students, the thugs picked on a group for whom a common identity is still strong, which provided the basis for political action.
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More weak conflict of interest claims

Andrew Leigh was one of 21 economist signatories to an apparently Nick Gruen-iniatiated open letter (open op-ed?) defending government debt as an appropriate policy response to the GFC. In broad terms, it supports the orthodox pro-debt view being advanced by the government and most though not all commentators.

But when he blogged on the subject, two commenters used conflict of interest arguments in a way they are regularly used in public debate – to cast doubt on the person making the argument rather than directly tackle the argument itself. One alluded to Andrew’s recent but now completed secondment to Treasury to suggest that he was ‘conflicted’. Another suggested that Nick may be ‘less than disinterested’ because he had received consulting fees from the government.

Perhaps the open letter/open ed genre invites this kind of claim. Presumably the point of having 21 economist signatories/authors is to use their general professional standing to give the conclusions more weight than the argument as stated can provide, and so their professional standing is a legitimate target.

But as with many conflict of interest claims, this attack is an appeal to readers’ cynicism rather than providing any substantive reason to doubt the conclusions reached. If the argument is so flimsy it needs past government employment to explain why it is appearing, how come 19 other economists put their names to it? Isn’t it more likely that these 21 economists are among the many economists who support this general line of reasoning, and the precise signatories depend on social and professional networks rather than past financial interests?
Continue reading “More weak conflict of interest claims”

Are 5,000 kids a day injured in serious accidents?

I received my 2009-10 White Pages this week, and on the back there is an ad from the Kids Foundation, a charity aimed at reducing preventable injury to children. The ad says:

On an average day 5,000 kids are injured in serious accidents.

This sounded like a lot, so I went to the Foundation’s website looking for a source. None is to be found, though they offer another statistic saying that this results in 100 hospitalisations.

At the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website I found statistics on hospitalisations but not all injuries. This suggests the hospitalisations figure is conservative – I calculate for 2004-05 an average of 158 hospital admissions a day for 0-14 year olds for injuries or poisonings (though this includes deliberate as well as accidental injuries and poisonings).

But even with this higher number, how serious could the injuries be if only 3% require hospital treatment?

The ABS reports all injuries whether requiring hospital treatment or not, with a quarter of 0-14 year olds reporting an injury in the previous 4 weeks. That’s around a million a month, which would certainly get us to 5,000 a day. On the other hand, a lot of these injuries are minor such as cuts, falls below one metre, and stings – things that are painful at the time but usually do no lasting or major harm. They are a normal part of growing up, not ‘serious accidents’.

The Kids Foundation sounds like a worthy cause, and certainly the super-protective parenting since I was growing up is paying off in greatly reduced death rates for kids. But when I read shock! horror! numbers with no source I get the feeling I am being subject to spin, and become less inclined to support the organisation involved.

If someone can point me to the source of this number, I will of course happily acknowledge it and remove the ‘factoid’ category from the post.

Could hate crime legislation increase risks for others?

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls is introducing hate crime provisions for sentencing laws:

Mr Hulls said the laws would apply to hate crimes motivated by race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

I’m not sure how the ‘hate’ element is determined in law, but in the media the racist element of attacks on Indian students has usually been inferred from the racial abuse handed out during the assault or robbery.

As yet, however, there is no evidence that the offenders have any particular racist ideology. Indeed, the Indians seem like odd targets for Anglo racists (Andrew Bolt claims that many of the attackers are Africans). English-speaking cricket lovers have more in common with the majority population than do many other migrant groups.

Because there is little history of anti-Indian racism in Australia the surveys on ethnic views don’t have much on Indians, but what polling there is suggests they barely register on the racist radar. For example, in a 2004 Saulwick poll conducted for the federal election that year, just 0.6% of respondents nominated India as a country from which we should not receive migrants. In the 2007 Mapping Social Cohesion survey, just 1.9% nominated India as a country from which we should receive fewer migrants.

The racist abuse Indian victims have received may have more to do with verbal intimidation than with actual racist views, an added element of picking on victims unlikely to fight back.

But assuming criminals have some basic level of rationality, could the prospect of a harsher sentence for picking on a ‘victim’ group make them more likely to pick targets with little chance of providing the prosecution with a ‘hate’ angle? With the Australian-born already at greater risk from criminals, ‘hate crime’ laws could add to their woes.

What can politicians do about crimes against Indian students?

Sunday’s protest by Indian students certainly drew plenty of attention, with Rudd and Turnbull both making statements on the issue in Parliament the following day. That’s what Age online subeditor Sam Varghese, of ‘distinctly sub-continental’ appearance, had called for on the paper’s opinion page:

My biggest fear is that, if nothing is done to stop this scourge, if the authorities do not stand up and shout with one voice, then the violence will start to bear fruit. (emphasis added)

Though it is sensible for political leaders to make reassuring statements when a group in the community is feeling anxious, will this affect the underlying problem? I seriously doubt that this would be the case. Despite decades of denunciation, a smallish minority in the community are still self-confessed racists, and a much larger group will admit to some prejudice.

Add to this that the people responsible for these attacks are flouting not just widely-held norms of tolerance but near universally-held norms and tough laws (passed by politicians) against assault, and we are clearly dealing with a group of people with little regard for the moral or legal authority of politicians.

Certainly the norms in favour of tolerance are worth reinforcing as a general principle, but they are not the solution to this particular problem, which is a sub-set of a much larger law and order problem. While no doubt there are things the Indian students can do to reduce the risks they face, ultimately additional policing and punishment of offenders will be needed to return crimes against Indian students to isolated incidents.