December 4, 2010

Lack of fortifications

Regions with lack of fortifications are one of those dogs that didn't bark conundrums that are hard to research. It's obvious that Europeans built fortresses and other defensive structures like crazy, while there are also forts in South Asia, and of course the Great Wall of China. But Africa, outside of Ethiopia, seems to be relatively lacking in defensive structures. Great Zimbabwe is by far the the largest pieces of construction south of Ethiopia, according to John Reader's Africa: Biography of a Continent says (319-320):
The outer wall of the Great Enclosure is certainly the largest single structure of comparable age in sub-Saharan Africa, but in terms of age and architectural significance the most striking feature of Great Zimbabwe is simply the fact that it is Africa. ... In terms of what drystone construction can achieve, Great Zimbabwe is not well built: the stones were not selected and laid with consideration for their relative sizes ... Even the amount of labour required was not excessive. Presented with detailed plans of the site, a modern drystone building contractor estimated that work force of 84 men on a six-day week could build the entire complex in two years.

The walls look in danger of being pushed over by any attackers. So, what was the point? In general, I have a hard time seeing why you wouldn't build defensive structures, but, apparently, large swathes of the Earth didn't see the point.

December 2, 2010

Africa's traditional lack of a Malthusian Trap

The concept of a Malthusian Trap, in which the finite amount of land limits food supply and thus population, is a highly stylized but still useful concept for thinking about much of human history before the Industrial Revolution. The major exception to the idea of a land-based Malthusian Trap was sub-Saharan Africa. As John Reader wrote in Africa: Biography of a Continent,  (p. 249):
The human population of Africa has never approached the size that the continent seems capable of supporting. ... An FAO survey published in 1991 reported that only 22 percent of land in Africa suitable for agriculture was actually in production (the comparable figure for south-east Asia is 92 per cent).

Reader offers a long list of discouraging factors, such as disease burden, poor soil, and wild beasts, especially elephants. We think elephants are cute, but they're huge and thus quite capable of eating a farmer's crop. Africa tended to be populated in a patchwork fashion. In some regions, enough people could be concentrated to drive off elephants, while other areas were conceded to elephants until enough human numbers could be assembled. Somewhat similarly, stronger herding tribes would tend to drive farming tribes (who use less land per person) into refuges in the mountains or islands. 

So, intensive agricultural use of land was rare, which meant that men didn't have to work terribly hard at farm work as long as they had women hoeing weeds for them. 

Reader writes:
From the time that Europeans first set foot in Africa, travelers have commented upon what they saw as an excessive interest in sex among Africans.

Think of this from the perspective of the Malthusian Trap. Europeans already tended to voluntarily keep their populations below Malthusian limits by practicing the moral restraint that the Rev. Malthus famously advised in 1798. From 1200-1800, the average age of first marriage for an Englishwoman was 24-26. Rich women tended to marry at younger ages, poor women at older. Illegitimacy rates were in the lower single digits. 

Thus, due to this sexual restraint, Europeans tended to be in a less Malthusian situation than, say, the Chinese, who tended to marry younger. Consequently, Europeans tended to be richer while working less hard than the Chinese. If the European population didn't grow as fast during good times as the Chinese population did, they didn't experience quite as many vast die-offs from famine during times when good government broke down (e.g., as recently as the early 1960s during Mao's crazy Great Leap Forward). England, for example, hasn't had a major famine in over 600 years.

So, Europeans developed cultural forms that attempted to sublimate sexual urges in more restrained and refined directions. Traditional Europeans dances like the minuet didn't feature a lot of pelvic thrusting, for example.

In Africa, however, conditions of life were such that the Malthusian Trap was not an active worry. More people were needed, so African culture -- dance, song, and so forth -- tended to encourage mating now rather than to encourage delay. Listening to Top 40 radio today, this pattern seems to have carried over from Africa.

Of particular interest as an exception that supports the general rule is an island in Lake Victoria, Ukara Island, now in Tanzania, where the Malthusian Trap seemed to operate. The population has been around 16,000 for a century, with about one percent of the population annually moving to the mainland, a rate of increase unusual in Africa until recently.

Ukara has a few major advantages over the surrounding mainland of Africa: no tsetse flies to spread sleeping sickness. No lions and no elephants, either, to compete with humans. Life (and death) is presumably less random than on the African mainland, so hard work and investment pay off more reliably.

Life on Ukara sounds rather like life in a poor Southeast Asian peasant society rather than in most of Africa. A 1968 aerial survey showed that 98.6 percent of the land on the island was in use. In contrast to the typical pattern of land use rights in Africa, almost every resource on the island, including each tree, is privately owned, which has prevented deforestation. (Here's a description of Ukara from a libertarian perspective.) People on Ukara practice much more intensive and sophisticated agriculture than elsewhere in Tanzania, supposedly working ten hours per day, every day.

I spent some time looking for accounts by recent tourists visiting Ukara Island, but it became apparent that very few people go there, which is not surprising since people on holiday generally visit big cities or go to less crowded places to relax. We tend to think of islands as being less crowded (and thus more relaxing) than mainlands because they are less convenient to get to, but in Africa, apparently, things work the opposite. Being inconveniently far out in Lake Victoria makes life healthier and less risky than being on the mainland.

Has the Ukaran culture spread with the steady flow of Ukarans to the mainland of Africa? Evidently, no. Phil Raikes wrote in 1986:
This provides a very clear example of Esther Boserup's contention that necessity in the form of population pressure is the mother of agricultural innovation. Further evidence for this comes from the fact that Ukara Islanders who migrate to the mainland, where population density is far lower, promptly drop their labour-intensive methods (over ten hours per day throughout the year) for the much easier methods practised on the mainland.

I'm not sure what the ultimate lessons are from Ukara Island, but the place is worth thinking about.

December 1, 2010

GOP sellout in offing?

In Newsweek, Mickey Kaus blogs:
When I worried that the Obama White House might have a plan to enact the so-called DREAM Act in "some sort of insidiuous tax-cuts-for-amnesty grand bargain," I figured it was just paranoid speculation. That's what bloggers are for, right? Unfortunately, the possibility of a lame-duck grand bargain that would include a big immigration amnesty has become more realistic since then.

Two things have happened: (1) The White House, Hill Republicans, and Hill Democrats have appointed a special negotiating group to hash out lame-duck issues, especially what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts, and (2) 42 Senate Republicans have signed a letter pledging to vote against cloture "on any legislative item [including, presumably, the DREAM Act] until the Senate has agreed" on a plan to extend the tax cuts and also to fund the government.

That second development might seem to preclude consideration of the DREAM Act, but it doesn't. DREAM would just have to follow a broader tax deal—or maybe be part of it.

What, GOP politicians might sell out on immigration in return for tax cuts for the rich? I'm shocked, shocked to learn this.

Plow Cultures v. Hoe Cultures

From a new paper, The Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough (Preliminary) by Alberto Alesina, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn, we find an ethnographic map of cultures as of, say, 1491, that farmed with plows (red dots) versus those that did not (green dots, which lumps together hunter gatherers, herders, and farmers who used hoes or other means to weed). From Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas (click graph to enlarge):

The subject of the paper is gender roles in the modern world: today, all else being equal, women from old plow cultures are less likely to be employed outside the house than women from hoe cultures, just as women do most of the agricultural work in hoe cultures like sub-Saharan Africa and New Guinea. The authors don't mention this but one example is that in the inner city neighborhoods depicted on The Wire, women hold most of the paying jobs, just as their foremothers did most of the farm work in West Africa.

But the obvious thing that jumps out at you from the map is the high correlation between plowing and level of civilizational accomplishment (at least as measured in impressive ruins and buildings). The Taj Mahal, for example, is found in a plow culture. The ancient and medieval churches of plowing Ethiopia are a lot more impressive than the big pile of loose rocks that is the chief monument of Zimbabwe.

Of course, one causal connection between gender roles and civilizational accomplishment is that you can get more done if men work harder, as they tend to do in plow cultures. We don't think about that today, because we're supposed to think that the big issue is: "Why don't those evil men let women work?" In Africa, however, feminist organizations complain about the opposite problem: How do we get men to do more of the work?

The authors write:
The hypothesis tested in this paper is whether at least part of the current differences in gender role attitudes arose from the historic mode of agricultural production - e.g., plough agriculture, hoe agriculture, shifting agriculture, etc. - which in turn affected the gender division of labor historically and the subsequent evolution of norms about the natural role of women in the family and society. Ester Boserup (1970) originally put forward this hypothesis in her seminal book Woman’s Role in Economic Development. She argued that to understand cross-cultural differences in attitudes about female labor force participation, one needs to reach back into history and examine differences in primitive agricultural technologies. She contrasts shifting cultivation to plough cultivation. With shifting cultivation, which is labor intensive and does not use the plough, women do most of the agricultural work. By contrast, plough cultivation is more capital intensive, but also requires more strength to manipulate the plough and the animals that pull the plough. Therefore, in plough societies men tend to dominate agricultural work, while women primarily engage in home production and other activities that occur within the household. Boserup (1970) writes that plough cultivation “shows a predominantly male labor force. The land is prepared for sowing by men using draught animals, and this. . . leaves little need for weeding the crop, which is usually the women’s task. . . Because village women work less in agriculture, a considerable fraction of them are completely freed from farm work. Sometimes such women perform purely domestic duties, living in seclusion within their own homes only appearing in the street wearing a veil, a phenomenon associated with plough culture and seemingly unknown in regions of shifting cultivation where women do most of the agricultural toil” (Boserup, 1970, pp. 13–14)3. In plough societies, a gender division of labor both in the field and in the family becomes predominant. Because women specialize in work in the domestic domain, the home comes to be seen as the “natural” place for women, rather than outside the home in the fields or in the workforce.
Interestingly enough, Boserup maintains that this division of roles persisted even after a country moved out of agriculture: factory work appears to be avoided by married women in many part of the developing world and there is considerable evidence that this social norm is widely accepted.

You can also get bigger things done if men don't spend most of their energies competing with each other to mate with the most women. Anthropologist Peter Frost blogs at Evo and Proud about traditional societies where women do most of the farm work:
The polygyny rate varies considerably among human populations, being highest (20 to 40% of all sexual unions) in the agricultural societies of sub-Saharan Africa and Papua-New Guinea.

Such high rates have consequences. ...

High-polygyny society = Failed society?

In my last post, I noted that high-polygyny societies remain simple in large part because intense sexual competition keeps them from evolving into more complex entities. The surplus males stir up endless conflict, if only because war provides them with access to women, i.e., through rape and abduction. ...

Urban Africa and the new mating environment

This is not to say that a high-polygyny society cannot evolve into a low-polygyny one. It can, if the material conditions of life change. We see this happening as Africans move off the land and into cities and towns, where women can less easily feed themselves and their children without assistance (1). Urban African men are less likely to be polygynous because it costs them more to provide for a second wife.

This in turn has shifted the pressure of sexual competition from men to women. It is increasingly the woman who must compete to find a mate. Whereas before she only had to work hard at tending her plot of land, she must now invest in her physical appearance, notably by lengthening her hair and bleaching her skin.

This new mating environment is described by Fokuo (2009) with respect to Ghana. Traditionally, Ghanaian women were married off through family mediation and bride price. This situation has changed since World War II and especially since the 1980s. They now largely find mates on their own, and do so in an increasingly competitive market that pressures them to be as sexually attractive as possible. One result has been the spread of skin bleaching:
By the late 1980’s and 1990’s, skin bleaching was no longer practiced by prostitutes. The popular culture of the 1980s praised lighter skin tones. This praise encouraged the spread of skin bleaching across gender lines and throughout all socio-economic classes of women. (Fokuo 2009)

Interviews with Ghanaian women suggest that this practice is driven by a competitive marriage market:
Sometimes if you really want to marry a particular man, you have to bleach.(Interview 14, 2006)

Lighter-skinned women tend to attract more men by virtue of their lightness. So if they are at marrying age they get more men coming to court them earlier and quicker than darker-skinned women. (Interview 16, 2006)

Darker-skinned women look at themselves and realize that they need to bleach to be beautiful. Just so men can call them beautiful. (Interview 17, 2006)
(Fokuo 2009)

This shift to ‘bodily commodification,’ together with the decline of matriarchy, is deplored in the literature. Yet the consequences are not entirely negative. Matriarchy meant that African women bore a very disproportionate share of labor in raising their families, especially physical labor. Today, there is a move toward a more equal balance of parental investment between African men and women. And bodily commodification is perhaps a necessary precondition for much of what we call ‘high culture,’ i.e., the pursuit of the aesthetic.

In the 1960s in Northern cities, higher welfare for single mothers, allowing them to support their children without a husband (a policy that had worked in Sweden for a generation without disaster), appears to have caused a remarkably quick reversion among many poor African-Americans to sub-Saharan cultural tendencies, but without the traditional restraining structures of African village life.

What I really want WikiLeaks to leak

The WikiLeaks' State Dept. cables revealed so far have been mildly entertaining. For example, American diplomats reported on President Sarkozy of France (according to the NYT):
But the cables also convey a nuanced assessment of the French leader as a somewhat erratic figure with authoritarian tendencies and a penchant for deciding policy on the fly. ... By January 2010, American diplomats wrote of a high-maintenance ally sometimes too impatient to consult with crucial partners before carrying out initiatives, one who favors summit meetings and direct contacts over traditional diplomacy.
... Mr. Sarkozy was criticized by European diplomats referred to in a cable for an “increasingly erratic” last half of his 2008 European Union presidency.
“Combined, these stories have bolstered the impression that Sarkozy is operating in a zone of monarch-like impunity,” said an Oct. 21, 2009, cable. 

In December 2009, Mr. Rivkin told Mrs. Clinton: “Sarkozy’s own advisers likewise demonstrate little independence and appear to have little effect on curbing the hyperactive president, even when he is at his most mercurial.” He added: “After two years in office, many seasoned key Élysée staff are leaving for prestigious onward assignments as a reward for their hard work, raising questions as to whether new faces will be any more willing to point out when the emperor is less than fully dressed.”

Nothing terribly surprising here, but gossip is fun. I especially look forward to (hopefully) forthcoming cables about Berlusconi.

What I'd really like WikiLeaks to leak, however, is the exact counterpart of this: what French diplomats are telling Sarkozy about Obama. It would probably be a lot more interesting than what the American press has told the American public about Obama.

For example, if Sarkozy tends toward mania, the obvious question is: does Obama tend toward depression? 

Obama's own memoirs suggests that the President suffered through significant depressive episodes in roughly 1981-1983 (a period when his sister asked his mother during a visit, “Barry’s okay, isn’t he? I mean, I hope he doesn’t lose his cool and become one of those freaks you see on the streets around here”) and 2000-2001 (of the 18 months following his crushing defeat by Bobby Rush, Obama wrote, "Denial, anger, bargaining, despair -- I'm not sure I went through all the stages prescribed by the experts. At some point, though, I arrived at acceptance -- of my limits, and, in a way, my mortality.")

But some Googling on "Obama" and "depressive" brings up mostly an Onion piece and me.

Is Obama entering a third depressive phase?

I don't know, but it would seem both interesting and important. Of course, the American press hardly noticed Obama's references to his first two depressive phases, so we can hardly count on them to be on top of this question. 

On the other hand, I would suspect the energetic Sarkozy has been pestering his diplomats in Washington to keep him apprised of the Most Important Man in the World's mood swings. Maybe some day we'll be able to read what they've found out.

November 30, 2010

Stutterer Awareness?

You're going to be hearing a lot about the Weinsteins' movie The King's Speech between now and the Oscars. It's a sort of fake social concern Oscar film -- Stutterer Awareness! -- that turns out to be charming and entertaining.

And that got me thinking about why stutterers, like King George VI, aren't, actually, an identity politics special interest group. What helps determine who gets to be an identity politics group and who isn't?

Like left-handers, another group that isn't much of a group, stutterers occur fairly randomly across the population. So, the vast majority of their social allegiances are to non-stutterers. And most stutterers have non-stuttering loved ones.

Queen Elizabeth II believes her father's stutter was somehow related to his being forced as a child to switch from left-handedness to right-handedness, although the scientific evidence on this theory remains vague, at best. But that raises the point that Left Handers Liberation -- the big social change in the first half of the 20th Century when parents stopped forcing their lefthanded children to write righthanded (Ronald Reagan was a natural lefthander switched over to righthandedness, while three of the four subsequent Presidents have been public lefthanders) -- is completely off the radar. PBS never runs documentaries celebrating this triumph over bigotry.  

Lefthanders tend to view themselves as slightly better than righthanders (certainly at baseball, perhaps at creativity) who have to put up with a lot of hassles dealing with the physical world. In general, however, society expects lefthanders to pay for their own accommodations. For example, a running joke on The Simpsons is that Ned Flanders owns a shop at the mall that sells expensive scissors and so forth for lefthanders. Left-handed golf clubs are rare, so most left-handers play golf right-handed. Nobody ever gets worked up over this bit of unfairness.

Stutterers don't particularly want "awareness," either. Most stutterers would like to stop being stutterers. They view stuttering as a defect, which lefthanders generally don't view left-handedness.

Stutterers aren't, on the whole, all that articulate in speech (although there's a subset of stammering as an affectation: e.g., Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited or William F. Buckley going "B-b-b-b-b-b-but" on Firing Line as Hubert Humphrey steams onward).

It's worth comparing two kinds of deaf people: those who start out deaf and thus learn sign language, and those who gradually go deaf. The first form a small but rather fierce identity politics group, since their primary language is signing. (American signers can converse easily with French signers, but not with English signers, because American Sign Language is an offshoot of French Sign Language.) So, they form an insular cultural/language community. Innovations like cochlear implants threaten to take people out of the community, so leaders of the sign language using community tend to be against them. There is a lot of radical deaf activism at the sign language college, Gallaudet University.

On the other hand, the profoundly deaf aren't at all articulate, neither in speaking (of course), nor particularly in writing -- they have to think in sign language, in pictures of fingers according to Oliver Sacks, then translate into English. So, the media mostly ignore them.

People who gradually go deaf, on the other hand, do not form much of any kind of identity politics group at all. They are very happy to get better hearing aids.

One Loyalty

Newsweek has a long profile of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whom I recently cited as a prime example of how racial gerrymandering creates extremist politicians:
“I have only one loyalty,” he says, “and that’s to the immigrant community."

November 29, 2010

"The King's Speech"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
In outline, The King’s Speech sounds like a Wayans Brothers spoof (Oscar Movie) of a Weinstein Brothers prestige film: the King of England, a victim of society’s prejudice against stutterers, is empowered by an impudent immigrant therapist to overcome his stiff upper lip just in time to rouse his countrymen to defeat Hitler.

Here, though, practice does make perfect. The King’s Speech is delightful: fast-paced, funny, touching, and extraordinarily well-acted.

Veteran TV-movie screenwriter David Seidler (who finally has written a cinema hit at age 73) is aware that overcoming one’s fear of public speaking isn’t an exceptionally edifying Triumph of the Human Spirit story, but it’s something with which almost everybody can identify. The British Royal Family remains of broad interest because it plays out on a grand stage such human-scale dramas as speech impediments and engagements.

The King’s Speech illustrates G. K. Chesterton’s 1905 insight that hereditary kingship is “in essence and sentiment democratic because it chooses from mankind at random. If it does not declare that every man may rule, it declares the next most democratic thing; it declares that any man may rule.”

Read the whole thing there.

The #2 Whitopia is Idaho; The #1 Whitopia is ...

Audacious Epigone has a table derived from the Pew Research Center of net migration trends for white people in the housing bubble years of 2005 to 2007.  

By 2007, Idaho had 4.6 percent more white people than it had in 2005, making it the country's #2 Whitopia for that period. During those years 384,000 residents of America (i.e., not immigrants from foreign countries) moved into Idaho and 307,000 moved out. So, net, Idaho added 77,000 Americans from interstate migration over that period, of whom 53,000 were white.

The term "whitopia" comes from a black author, Rich Benjamin, whose recent book "Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America," took him to places like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which he found to be pretty darn nice. In the course of his research, he took up golf and discovered that he really enjoys it. (The fourth picture down here is of the Coeur d'Alene golf course.)

Interestingly, Hispanics only accounted for 2,000 and Asians 1,000 of the net increase in Idaho. Blacks, however, made up 22,000 of the net increase in Idaho. So, Idaho is also a new Blacktopia. Who knew?

In 2008, McCain carried 65 percent of the white vote in Idaho.

In contrast, the #1 Whitopia for 2005-2007 is a place where Obama carried 86 percent of the white:, of course, Washington D.C. The nation's capital lost from interstate migration (i.e., not from immigration/emigration), net, 37,000 blacks, 5,000 Hispanics, and 2,000 Asians. But it gained 10,000 whites, for a net increase in its white population of 5.1 percent just from 2005 to 2007.

According to the 2008 exit poll, whites accounted for 35% of all votes in D.C., despite a huge black turnout for Obama. African-Americans were down to 56%. This sense within D.C. of the inevitable triumph of white liberal technocrats, leading to a whitopia of good public schools and high property values, was given a rude shock by the technocratic Fenty administration being given the boot in 2010 by black voters.

Immigrants and Exurbs

Ever since African-American voters in Washington D.C. kicked out school reformer Michelle Rhee, lowering property values in gentrifying sections of D.C., blogger and D.C. condo-owner Matthew Yglesias has been on the warpath to admit 165,000,000 immigrants to the U.S.. You might think that the subsequent increase in global carbon emissions alone would make that an expensive way to drive African Americans out of D.C. in order to improve the public schools and raise Yglesias's property value, but, you see, Yglesias has a triple bankshot plan to remake America into his beloved native Manhattan. He thinks 165 million immigrants couldn't help but come in handy in the Manhattanization of America so that everybody will take the subway to work.

But, has Yglesias ever asked immigrants where they want to live? Much of the evidence suggests: in the exurbs, in big houses, with big air conditioners, driving big SUVs. For example, here's a 2009 article by Alan Ehrenhalt in Governing entitled Immigrants and the Suburban Influx. It describes exurban Gwinnett County, about 30 miles outside of Atlanta. Famous as a white flight region just a couple of decades ago, Gwinnett is now majority minority, with lots of prosperous Indians and Koreans. Maybe in a generation or two, affluent Indians and Koreans will want to lead the downtown hipster life, but right now they want the traditional American Dream of a home with a yard and a big car (i.e., they want to emit a lot of carbon.)

"There will always be a reasonably passionate opposition"

Ross Douthat writes in the NYT:
Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania ...”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.

But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense. ...

Is there anything good to be said about the partisan mindset? On an individual level, no. It corrupts the intellect and poisons the wells of human sympathy. Honor belongs to the people who resist partisanship’s pull, instead of rowing with it.

But for the country as a whole, partisanship does have one modest virtue. It guarantees that even when there’s an elite consensus behind whatever the ruling party wants to do (whether it’s invading Iraq or passing Obamacare), there will always be a reasonably passionate opposition as well. Given how much authority is concentrated in Washington, especially in the executive branch, even a hypocritical and inconsistent opposition is better than no opposition at all.

At the very least, the power of partisanship means that there will always be someone around, when Americans are standing spread-eagled and exposed in the glare of Rapiscan, to speak up and say “enough!”

Okay, but what happens when elites of both parties are in favor of a bad idea? To return to air security, President Bush campaigned in 2000 against ethnic profiling of Arabs and Muslims by airport security and Al Gore immediately said "Me, too!" Bush's Transportation Department had been running a big program in 2001 to crack down on profiling of passengers who look like Arab terrorists at the time that 19 Arab terrorists got on their flights on 9/11. (See my 9/11/2001 article for UPI, "Bush had called for laxer airport security.") Did the Democrats rush to denounce Bush for making it easier for Mohammed Atta to board? Did Republicans turn on Bush?

No, what happens is largely that the issue disappears down the old memory hole.

Similarly, how about Bush's push for more zero down payment mortgages in the name of fighting racist redlining?

I've largely devoted my career to raising unwelcome questions about bipartisan elite consensuses. It's not a wise career choice.

The Set-Aside Boondoggle

Heather Mac Donald explains in NRO in The Set-Aside Boondoggle another detriment on the economy. 

Allow me to reiterate that the one comparative political advantage that Obama personally would possess in improving the economy is his ability as a black President to set in motion -- so should he choose -- the reform of the huge number of distortions in economic life due to the Civil Rights Era of the last half century.

"Why isn't Mexico rich?"

Asks Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics blog, citing a paper by an American economist about how the Mexican government has done much of what American economists have advised them to do, with only fair to middling results.

The comments are relatively interesting. I would add that it's worth looking at areas in the U.S. with a traditionally Hispanic dominant population, such as parts of the upper and lower Rio Grande Valley as a test of the institutionalist explanations. They tend to be much richer than Mexico, but much poorer than the rest of the U.S., thus showing the institutionalist theory's glass is part full and part empty.

I would also add that a lot of Mexico isn't terribly poor anymore. Overall, the current life expectancy in Mexico is 97.5% of the life expectancy in the U.S.