All posts filed under: Economics

Silicon Valley’s Cynical Treatment of Asian Engineers

Silicon Valley runs on Asians. This is a well-known aspect of the tech world in general, but it’s especially apparent in elite sub-sectors. Even by 2010, Asian Americans already had become a majority (50.1 percent) of all tech workers in the Bay Area: software engineers, data engineers, programmers, systems analysts, admins, and developers. Census Bureau statistics from the same year put white tech workers at 40.1 percent. Other races made up, in total, slightly less than 10 percent. I interviewed a Facebook product manager fresh out of university. He interacts daily with teams of software engineers at Facebook, coordinating and leading projects, and getting them in line. Among the four teams of five or so software engineers he works with on a daily basis, he told me, 15 out of the 20 are Chinese. “I don’t mean Chinese-American,” he clarified. “I mean Chinese-Chinese, like from China.” These Chinese engineers largely speak Mandarin during work, making the company billions as they write code with machine-gun efficiency. Or, as he puts it: “We’re at an American social …

The Accomplishments of Black Conservative Thought

The line between moral and empirical claims is a tricky one for debaters. In his thoughtful Quillette essay, “The Limitations of Black Conservative Thought,” Aaron Hanna—like me, a professor of Political Science—critiques some of the more sweeping theoretical claims of America’s intellectual tradition of black conservatism. However, he does not rebut (or necessarily attempt to rebut) many more empirical points made recently by scholars like Thomas Sowell, Glenn Loury, and indeed myself. To a large extent, Hanna’s essay is a critical analysis of imperfect visions. He notes that the US black conservative tradition is often defined by two primary paradigms: Shelby Steele’s idea that an attraction to the idea of “victimhood” is thwarting black progress and Sowell’s idea that there are problems in “black culture” that limit competitiveness. Both men advocate personal responsibility and choice as the most reliable path to black advancement. In contrast to these visions, Hanna accurately notes, the dominant paradigm on the progressive Left is that oppression, or “systemic racism,” limits African American performance. Hanna’s essay identifies several flaws in all …

Historical Racism Is Not the Singular Cause of Racial Disparity

Even before the crescendo of Black Lives Matter last summer, the operative view among progressives was that historical racism is the overriding cause of racial disparities between black and white Americans today. The progressive ethos on race is neatly conveyed by the novelist William Faulkner’s remark: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If the wide socio-economic gaps between whites and blacks in terms of income, wealth, health, incarceration, and education outcomes speak to the enduring legacy of slavery and segregation, large-scale efforts to improve the conditions of the country without regard for race seem insufficient to many. First, Americans must come to terms with the moral and political implications of living in a country that oppressed an entire class of citizens for hundreds of years on the arbitrary basis of ancestry, while flaunting democratic ideals of freedom and equality it was failing to uphold. Those who respond by pointing to the decline of anti-black racism since the civil rights movement or the subsequent success of other minority groups in the country are …

Surplus to Society

Workers are scarce and wages are rising. “The relationship between American businesses and their employees,” reports the New York Times, “is undergoing a profound shift: for the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.” In the Guardian, John Harris writes that, “As consumer demand surges, hospitality businesses don’t have the staff to keep pace, and shortages are also mounting in construction, road haulage, food processing and fruit and vegetable picking.” Both papers wonder if we are entering “a new economic era.” We should be so lucky, but it’s possible—though more than rising wages will be needed to confirm it. The good part of this is that employers will be dealing with workers who have more power than before, many fortified by the reflection that, during lockdowns, they kept—and still keep—the medical systems working, the care homes and schools open, the public transport networks moving, the home deliveries arriving, and the social services serving. Britain’s labour shortages are exacerbated by the post-Brexit loss of labour from the European Union, but even that will spur …

Understanding the Return of Socialism

How are we to understand the apparently paradoxical attitudes of Generation Z (the cohort born between 1997 and 2012) towards socialism? In its fifth annual report, the Victims of Communism Memorial (VOC) found that 49 percent of Gen Z view the term “socialism” favorably, compared to 40 percent in 2019. On the other hand, the report found that an abysmal six percent of Gen Z trusts the government to take care of their interests. A Pew Research Center report also found that young people are much less trusting of elected officials than older age groups. So, although most of Gen Z has little faith in the government to effectively act on their behalf, many of them support an economic system which gives more power to the state. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to Zoomers’ evolving views. While over 80 million Americans have become unemployed since March 2020, the billionaires of the United States have increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion. However, the growing popularity of socialism among the young cannot solely be attributed to …

The Bias Narrative versus the Development Narrative: Thinking About Persistent Racial Inequality in the United States

Quillette invited author and Brown University professor of economics Glenn Loury to respond to Aaron Hanna’s recent critique of black conservatives. He replied: I read Hanna’s long piece. It is very thoughtful and provocative. You are to be commended for publishing it. [Thomas] Sowell and [Shelby] Steele can speak for themselves. I hope one or both elects to do so. As for my part (as a fellow-traveller with those black conservatives) here is my answer. Attached was a transcript of a talk Professor Loury delivered at Pepperdine University on June 5th, 2021. It is not a direct reply to Hanna’s essay but we are reprinting Loury’s remarks below to further discussion of this important and timely topic. A video of the talk is embedded for those who prefer to watch the speech rather than read it. The text has been lightly edited. *     *     * The power of the narrative Let me be as provocative as I can. I want to talk about the power of narratives to shape racial politics in this …

One ‘Maverick’ Documents Another—Jason Riley’s Biography of Thomas Sowell

A review of Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell, by Jason Riley. Basic Books, 240 pages (May, 2021). Thomas Sowell is an icon. And, now, he has a biographer. While Sowell himself has written, by my count, 43 books, Jason Riley’s 2021 Maverick seems remarkably to be the first-ever major press biography of the heterodox African-American giant. Riley’s book sums up most of the key themes of Sowell’s thought, including the Anointed and Constrained visions of human behavior, the fact that the plain existence of racism does not explain most differences in group performance, and the idea of quantitative culturalism as an alternative to both “critical race theory” and genetic determinism. Sowell’s biographer also sums up two factual story-lines critical to an understanding of the man: how growing up outside the national elite allowed Sowell to become a truly innovative thinker, and how he (no doubt aided by revenues from all those books) remained a genuinely independent voice throughout his career—a conservative who never ran for office, rarely endorsed mainstream GOP candidates, and openly detested …

Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world economy in ways that will be debated by pundits and future historians for decades to come. Yet, as hard as it is to predict a disrupted future accurately, the pandemic (not to mention its probable successors) looks likely to produce clear economic winners and losers. The top digital companies—Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Ant, Netflix, and Hulu—have thrived during quarantines and the ongoing dispersion of work. These are the most obvious winners in what leftist author Naomi Klein has called a “Screen New Deal” that seeks to create a “permanent and profitable no-touch future.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added over two-and-a-half trillion dollars to their combined valuation, and all enjoyed record breaking profits in 2020. But it’s not just the tech oligarchs who have benefited from the pandemic disruption. Companies that keep the basic economy functioning—firms dealing in logistics, for example, or critical metals or food processing—have become, if anything, even more important. With the shipping supply chain disrupted due to the …

Thomas Sowell’s Harlem Years

Thomas Sowell was born in rural North Carolina in 1930 to a family with no electricity or running hot water. His father died before he was born and his mother, a maid, passed away giving birth to his younger brother a few years later. The orphaned Sowell was taken in by a great aunt, who raised him as her son and hid from him the fact that he was adopted and had a sister and four brothers. The family relocated, first to Charlotte, North Carolina, and later, when Sowell was eight years old, to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, where he was raised thereafter. A bright student with a tumultuous home life, Sowell was admitted to one of New York’s most competitive high schools but dropped out at age 16. He left home a year later, after a magistrate labeled him a “wayward minor,” and moved into a shelter in the Bronx for homeless boys, where he kept a knife under his pillow at night for protection. He took whatever jobs were available at the …

The Geography of COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic is reshaping the geography of our planet, helping some areas and hurting others. In the West, the clear winners have been the sprawling suburbs and exurbs, while dense cores have been dealt a powerful blow. The pandemic also has accelerated class differences and inequality, with poor and working class people around the world paying the dearest price. These conclusions are based on data we have repeatedly updated. Despite some variations, our earlier conclusions hold up: the virus wreaked the most havoc in areas of high urban density. This first became evident in the alarming pre-lockdown fatalities that occurred in New York City and the suburban commuting shed from which many of the employees in the huge Manhattan business district are drawn. Similar patterns have been seen in Europe and Asia as well. The problem is not density per se but rather the severe overcrowding associated with poverty in high density areas. Overcrowded physical proximity often includes insufficiently ventilated spaces such as crowded public transit, elevators, and employment locations, especially high-rise buildings, which often …