Friday, January 12, 2018

a note to David Leonhardt (NYT)


I was in a FB discussion with folks about Trump's "racism" and one person sent me your column today. I'm a policy guy, so I don't follow current events (such as the ones you cited) all that closely. And as a Libertarian, I don't particularly care about the incessant political infighting of politicians and their partisan enablers, grasping for power, justifying lousy candidates like Trump and Clinton, and all that. But as a labor economist, I am quite interested in the terms/concepts related to discrimination.

To your credit, you provided a definition. But from there, it gets sticky-- at least applying the same standards outside of Trump. For example, by your definition, international trade restrictions and immigration restrictions would often be racist. Those are certainly prominent Trump policy positions and more evidence for your hypothesis. But the same standard, most Democrats would be racists too, given many of their preferred public policy positions-- e.g,. Affirmative Action, Social Security (given the lower rate of return for African-Americans), opposition to educational choice in K-12.

Racist is such a nasty term. We can go with a smell test, but that's messy. But it turns out that when we try to tighten up the argument, the net catches a surprising number of fish.


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