Originally posted June 16, 2010 on Open Salon
I'm a liberal. I make no secret about that, nor do I call myself a progressive, even though conservatives have managed to saddle the term "liberal" with a whole lot of baggage. I'll deal with the baggage, thanks.
There are things that drive me nuts about being a liberal, chief among them watching my allies fail dismally at talking to conservatives. I'm in sales for a living, and I can tell you that using a sales pitch developed for other liberals on conservatives is a supreme waste of time and, worse, makes more enemies than friends. You want to tell a conservative about how some people in our society are getting unequal treatment? You can try, but you're eventually going to hear an answer like this:
"Hey, I feel for these people but I'm putting kids through college and taking care of my elderly parents, I work hard for my money and always have, I've never oppressed anyone and I don't owe anyone a living."
Checkmate. If you're arguing about injustice, you just lost.
What's your alternative? Do what any decent salesperson would do: Tell the customer what's in it for them.
What's in it for them when it comes to Affirmative Action? Isn't the whole point that they're at a disadvantage?
Well, no. They get a richer, safer, less expensive, and more competitive country. There's nothing on that list that conservatives don't like.
Don't get me wrong: It's not that I can't make the case that there are certain deserving populations, particularly Blacks; in fact I have: Race Question from 1969. However, for my purposes here, this is beside the point. It's not about who deserves what, it's about what does America the most good. Let me repeat that in case you didn't get it: It's not about who deserves what, it's about what does America the most good. I'm not interested in finding fault here because that's irrelevant; all I want to do is fix a problem.
Let's make believe you're the CEO of a corporation. You have a division that's been losing money for an awfully long time but, for legal reasons, you don't have the option of either selling off or closing down this division. What do you do?
Assuming that you can't make your other divisions grow to the point where they more than make up for this red ink, you do what you have to to stop the bleeding and make this division productive. You research the problems. You allocate the necessary resources. You change the culture of your corporation as necessary.
Other divisions will complain because you're reallocating resources that they think of as theirs. However, one reason they've been more productive is that they've had access to more resources for longer, so the fairness argument doesn't wash. There is also the bigger issue that the fairness argument is beside the point because what really counts is the health of the overall corporation, not the health of any given division.
Now try and run the United States. You have populations, primarily minority populations, that are statistically underproducing. Is it worth allocating the resources necessary to bring their productivity up?
You better believe it. Having a permanent underclass is expensive. Horribly expensive. This is true both in terms of actual expenses and opportunity costs.
People who make more money use fewer social services, pay more taxes, spend more money with American businesses. Better educated people tend to make more money than worse educated people. A more educated population means a more valuable labor pool for American business and government. Better educated people typically have higher productivity than worse educated people. In short, the better educated and better employed our population is, the more prosperous our country will be, so a population that tends to stay worse educated and less employed over multiple generations costs us money.
In an earlier post entitled Regulation Is Good For Business, I talked about how crazily unproductive it was of American business to systematically ignore more than half of the available talent pool prior to Affirmative Action. That's true, but it's only a piece of the case, because there's a lot more at stake here than business productivity. There's also the national customer base and the national tax base, both of which are important, but even that's not everything.
There's also crime.
You're going to find more crime among poor urban minority populations than elsewhere for two reasons:
1. If your education and employment prospects are very limited, the most obvious and available ways to make a decent living are illegal, and
2. If you view the legal system as stacked against you (which it still is to a much greater extent than is generally acknowledged; the most obviously quantifiable evidence of this being continued racial disparities in sentencing), you won't view yourself as having a vested interest in supporting it.
Why am I concerned about crime? Because it's insanely expensive.
Let's look at the private sector costs of a typical crime: The victim will probably lose some work time, either getting something fixed or replaced or getting medical treatment. Insurance costs will rise. If enough crimes happen in a neighborhood, real estate values go down, local businesses do less business, and tourism drops if it existed to begin with. Then there's the grand jury that indicts our perp with up to twenty-four jurors, meaning there are up to twenty-four employers who lose their people for at least a day. If this case goes to jury trial, that's up to another dozen employers, and that's just for the jurors who are chosen - if you count all the jurors in the pool, you now have several times the number of employers missing people for at least a day.
We're already into serious money and we haven't even gotten to the public sector yet, which is where the real money is. So, let's look at the public sector costs of a typical crime:
We start with police. People, vehicles, buildings, training, weapons, ammo, vests, radios, administration, evidence labs, handcuffs, you get the drill. So our perp gets arrested and is put in jail, which is to say temporary incarceration. Jail facilities and staffing, room, board, medical, etc.
Then we get to the courts. How expensive are judges and lawyers? Let's put it this way: In America, it costs less to imprison a man for his entire life with all associated expenses than it does to execute him because of the court costs involved in automatic appeals. To answer the question: That expensive.
Time for prison, where our perp networks with other criminals and gets a criminal education. Here we've got room, board, the costs of incarceration within this facility (like guards and alarm systems), all medical, plus recreation and rehabilitation. Why recreation and rehab? Because we want to do absolutely everything we can to prevent recitivism. Remember, if our perp gets out and commits another crime, we incur EVERY expense I've just outlined AGAIN.
OK, on to probation and parole. This is less expensive than some of the previous steps and conservatives don't tend to like this step, but it serves three important functions:
1. It gives the perp incentive to behave in prison,
2. It gives the perp incentive not to commit another crime once he's out of prison (which is why we call it "probation"), and
3. It reduces the time we have to pay for the perp's room, board, incarceration, medical, recreation and rehab.
In short, crime costs a small fortune per perp. Maybe a large one. In the meantime, we have conservatives opposing Head Start for philosophical or, possibly even worse, fiscal reasons. The trouble with such a fiscal approach is this:
If you want to know the cost of something, you have to answer two questions:
1. What does it cost if I do this?
2. What does it cost if I don't?
An awful lot of people forget to ask the second question, and yet an intelligent decision cannot be made without it.
I can remember conservatives ragging unmercifully on Midnight Basketball, presumably because it was aimed at wht they'd consider the Undeserving Poor. As I said earlier, Forget "deserve." Let's look at this program:
If I remember correctly, it cost an average of $70,000 per year per site to run. For this it managed to target precisely the most active criminal population in America - inner city minority males in their late teens and twenties - at the hours when they were most likely to be criminally active. Now, given all the expenses I listed above, how many crimes would any site have to prevent to break even? At least of criminals who get caught, I can't imagine that number would be higher than half a dozen. Oh, and by the way, that's half a dozen per year. I'll take those odds, thanks.
As I said earlier, Having a permanent underclass is expensive. Given our fiscal problems, we should be addressing this as completely as possible and as immediately as possible. Whatever it takes, we can't afford the status quo.
There will be some who scream about Reverse Discrimination. Please keep this in mind: If someone who complains about Reverse Discrimination used to complain about Actual Discrimination, then they're probably concerned with justice. (By the way, I don't think I've ever seen this happen.) On the other hand, if someone who complains about Reverse Discrimination did not complain about Actual Discrimination, then they're almost guaranteed to be concerned with Turf. Standing up for only the Overdog takes neither guts nor conscience, neither does standing up for only yourself when you're an Overdog.
Sorry, that was a tangent about conscience. I'll try not to let it happen again. It could engender a question like this to me:
Don't you really favor Affirmative Action and related programs because you think they're right and that conservatives are wrong? Isn't this just really an underhanded way to shove guilt like every other liberal?
Here's an answer you probably haven't heard before:
Screw whether it's right or wrong. Let's do it because it's sane.
One last thing: If, as a result of Affirmative Action, you are in a position to face Reverse Discrimination when looking to get hired or to get into a school and you're inclined to object, I have the following to say to you:
During the Second World War, the Tuskegee Airmen put their lives on the line daily for a country that discriminated against them before they left for battle overseas and discriminated against them when they returned with chests full of medals. They just sucked it up and dealt. You , on the other hand, will not have to put your lives on the line, nor will you have to face anything like the scope of discrimination they faced. If they were patriotic enough to suck it up for their country, the least you could do under the circumstances is be patriotic enough to suck it up for yours.