Kevin Drum uses a Paul Krugman column on Glen Loury to illustrate an idea with which I’m in basic agreement.


On one hand, we all believe that individuals deserve to be judged on their own merits, not by who their parents were or what group they belong to. On the other hand, anyone who imagines that a child growing up in the South Bronx has the same chance to make it as an equally talented child growing up in Scarsdale is living in a fantasy world. So merely eliminating current racial discrimination might very well fail to eliminate the effects of past discrimination.

To which Kevin responds,

This is typical of the polarization of political debate today: there is seldom any recognition that there can be more than one answer to a question.

True. While “Scardale” and “the South Bronx” correlate very strongly with race, they’re not race. Under most affirmative action programs, an African American M.D.’s son in Scarsdale gets preferential treatment while a poor white kid in the South Bronx is considered priviledged.

Programs that, for example, grant the top 5% of the graduates of any public high school in the state admission to the state’s elite universities are far less controversial than those that are thinly-veiled racial quota systems, even though they both have very similar effects and intentions.

Kevin extends his point beyond race:

Phonics or whole language? More prisons or inner city social programs? Kill the terrorists or work on improving their economies?

For almost any problem serious enought to deserve our attention, there are both short term and long term solutions. In the case of racism, for example, affirmative action is a short term solution that’s needed to fix an immediate problem–but is entirely rejected by the right. Pursuing answers to “the internal social problems of the black community” (Krugman’s paraphrase) is a longer term solution–but one that is entirely rejected by the left.

I think the right reacts so strongly to affirmative action partly because of the sense that it is not a “short term solution.” I graduated high school 19 years ago, attending seven schools along the way, mostly in the Deep South. It never occured to me, other than during various Black History lessons, that blacks wouldn’t go to school with whites. My parents, now 60, were 11 when Brown ended legal segregation (although it took another decade to fully go away). At some point, we have to quit focusing on race per se as the cause of inequality and focus instead on poverty, poor public schools and rampant crime in the inner cities, and similar issues. Indeed, I’d argue that the Republican party has been trying to deal with these issues for the better part of 30 years.

I would agree that the right, myself included, have been reticent over the years to do much in the way of non-military foreign aid. Frankly, I remain skeptical of our ability to do much good, as aid packages tend to be diverted to the use of political elites in the LDCs rather than actually helping much. Ironically, the exceptions that come to mind are almost always follow-ons to military interventions, as in the cases of South Korea and Mozambique. Indeed, it appears we will have ample opportunity to help Afghanistan, Iraq, and others to “reform their economies.”

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kevin Drum says:

    The problem, though, is that the Republican party *hasn’t* been trying to solve the problems of poverty, poor public schools, and rampant crime. Rather, they’ve been trying to do away with welfare, marginalize the public school system, and throw lots of drug users in jail, all the while claiming that they’re trying to solve the problems mentioned above.

    By an amazing coincidence, every problem in American society, it turns out, can be solved by recourse to something Republicans want to do anyway: vouchers, relaxing corporate regulations, lowering taxes, etc. It’s exactly the problem I was talking about.

    Democrats have their own sacred cows, of course, but it’s just laughable to say that the movement conservatives in charge of the Republican party are honestly trying to solve these problems. As Loury put it:

    “When I told one gathering of conservatives that their seeming hostility to every social program smacks of indifference to the poor, I was told that a surgeon cannot properly be said to have no concern for a terminally ill patient simply because he had moved on to the next case.”

    If I truly thought that Republicans were looking for genuine solutions to these problems, I’d be halfway to becoming a Republican myself. But they aren’t.

  2. James Joyner says:


    I’d argue that, for the most part, the reason Republicans support these ideas is they actually think they’re good for society. Ditto most Democrats, for that matter. Outside the fringe elements, both sides basically look toward the same goals.

    While some Republicans support vouchers because they’re trying to help the religious schools or their rich buddies send their kids to private schools, most do it because they think competition will improve the schools across the board.

    Ditto corporate regulations, low taxes, and the like. The rationale behind these is straight out of Adam Smith: individuals working toward the interest of themselves and their families are going to be motivated to make good decisions. That helps everybody.

  3. Rick DeMent says:

    But Adam Smith was hounded by the same problem as Karl Marx, the gulf between the theoretical and the practical. It’s one thing to believe in the theories of libertarian economics, it’s another thing to turn a blind eye to their many limitations. I’m a big fan of free markets, but the problem is finding one. The last one I can put my finger on was the parking lot of a Grateful Dead Show. There are also some inherent problems with assumptions that people make in their belief in the power of their ideology to bring about change.

    For instance Libertarianism seems to me to be founded on a paradox. It is precisely because of government inefficiency that government can not be trusted in it’s attempts to bring about egalitarian equity to free markets therefor must be minimized. But in order to minimize government, maintain social cohesion and the efficient functioning of free markets there must be a rule of law. But the only institution that is capable of establishing and maintaining the rule of law is the government that is too inefficient to be trusted in the first place.

    The point is that Ideology is fine as a high level framework, but proposals need to address current problems. Tax cuts while fighting two wars in a row might not be the best idea right now. Do we get rid of corporate regulation for regulations sake? Or do we judiciously prune it? Relaxing pollution standards might improve profitability but if it creates 200,000 more cases of asthma then the costs are a wash.

    I see the same thing to on the other side of the isle but I think Kevin’s point is that we need to see solutions not thought a ideological prism but rather a pragmatic one. Idology and partisanship be damned.

  4. Paul says:

    The problem, though, is that the Republican party *hasn’t* been trying to solve the problems of poverty, poor public schools, and rampant crime. Rather, they’ve been trying to do away with welfare, marginalize the public school system, and throw lots of drug users in jail, all the while claiming that they’re trying to solve the problems mentioned above.

    Kevin you are quite simply, full of shit.

    You moronically state that because another group does not use the same methodology you would that they have not tried to fix problems.

    The liberals have pissed away trillions of dollars on public education and we still have valedictorians that can not pass a 9th grade math test when they try 5 times!!! (too lazy to link, search this blog)

    Tell me how well public education is working.

    A few years ago Kansas City was spending over 40,000 dollars per kid per year on education and getting jack for it.

    NOW– Give the same black underprivileged parents a voucher for 30,000 a year and see what kind of education the parents can buy!

    Mary Landrieu, the all caring Democrat, does not want black children in class with her children so she blocks vouchers in D.C. If a republican did that you would call him racist.

    Just because you choose the same methodologies that have failed for years and others choose a methodology you apparently are not smart enough to understand, PLEASE DO NOT impugn the intentions of the other side.

    If the liberal war on poverty worked so fucking well, why do we still have poor people? We have transfered over 4 trillion dollars from the producers to the non producers and they are still poor!!

    Are you MAYBE, JUST MAYBE smart enough to figure out it did not work?????


  5. JohnC says:

    Paul, I shudder to think about what industry you work in.

  6. Paul says:

    John I shudder that you might breed.

  7. James Joyner says:

    All right, all right. Play nice now.