September 29, 2005

Two new articles by Charles Murray

One in Wall Street Journal on Katrina, "The Hallmark of the Underclass," and the other in the technical journal Statistical Science on "How to Accuse the Other Guy of Lying with Statistics" -- just the abstract available for free:

We’ve known how to lie with statistics for 50 years now. What we really need are theory and praxis for accusing someone else of lying with statistics. The author’s experience with the response to The Bell Curve has led him to suspect that such a formulation already exists, probably imparted during a secret initiation for professors in the social sciences. This article represents his best attempt to reconstruct what must be in it.

Here's an excerpt from the WSJ op-ed:

We in the better parts of town haven't had to deal with the underclass for many years, having successfully erected screens that keep them from troubling us. We no longer have to send our children to school with their children. Except in the most progressive cities, the homeless have been taken off the streets. And most importantly, we have dealt with crime. This has led to a curious paradox: falling crime and a growing underclass.

The underclass has been growing. The crime rate has been dropping for 13 years. But the proportion of young men who grow up unsocialized and who, given the opportunity, commit crimes, has not.

A rough operational measure of criminality is the percentage of the population under correctional supervision. This is less sensitive to changes in correctional fashion than imprisonment rates, since people convicted of a crime get some sort of correctional supervision regardless of the political climate. When Ronald Reagan took office, 0.9% of the population was under correctional supervision. That figure has continued to rise. When crime began to fall in 1992, it stood at 1.9%. In 2003 it was 2.4%. Crime has dropped, but criminality has continued to rise.

That's an important statistic I haven't thought about enough. Still, I'd like to delve into it more to see if the proportion of, say, 14-24 year old males under supervision is higher or lower than a decade ago. It's clear that the insane levels of murderousness we saw in 1990-1994 among teenage underclass black youths, with boys killing each other over entry-level crack dealer jobs that didn't pay any better than McDonalds jobs (as Steven Levitt pointed out in Freakonomics), was not carried on by the next cohort of teenage black youths, whose murder rate in 1995-2000 fell by over half. But does that reflect an increased level of black youths getting on the path to solid citizenship, or just a settling down of the gang wars into more stable cartels of criminals?

This doesn't matter to the middle and upper classes, because we figured out how to deal with it. Partly we created enclaves where criminals have a harder time getting at us, and instead must be content with preying on their own neighbors. But mainly we locked 'em up, a radical change from the 1960s and 1970s. Consider this statistic: The ratio of prisoners to crimes that prevailed when Ronald Reagan took office, applied to the number of crimes reported in 2003, corresponds to a prison population of 490,000. The actual prison population in 2003 was 2,086,000, a difference of 1.6 million. If you doubt that criminality has increased, imagine the crime rate tomorrow if today we released 1.6 million people from our jails and prisons.

Criminality is the most extreme manifestation of the unsocialized young male. Another is the proportion of young males who choose not to work. Among black males ages 20-24, for example, the percentage who were not working or looking for work when the first numbers were gathered in 1954 was 9%. That figure grew during the 1960s and 1970s, stabilizing at around 20% during the 1980s. The proportion rose again, reaching 30% in 1999, a year when employers were frantically seeking workers for every level of job. The dropout rate among young white males is lower, but has been increasing faster than among blacks.

Obviously, there's a chicken or egg issue involving the relationship between black fecklessness and illegal immigration. The more illegal immigrants pour in, the fewer people willing to hire poor blacks, so poor blacks don't get the discipline of holding a job, so they get even more feckless and unemployable.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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