A truffle rooted out from the heap of… bad news

There was one more bit from one of this morning’s stories that I thought was an interesting development, and deserved its own post:

The proportion of women among the ranks of Canada’s wealthy elite has almost doubled over the past 30 years, new data released by Statistics Canada Monday shows. The data agency published its analysis of the richest one per cent of Canadian tax filers between the years 1982 and 2010 on Monday. From the total number of all Canadian tax filers, Statistics Canada narrowed its list down to 254,700 people at the top, who make up Canada’s “one per cent.”

Among numerous findings, the proportion of women in that group nearly doubled over the time period, from 11 per cent in 1982, to 21 per cent by 2010. That’s 53,200 individuals. The women in that group were slightly less likely to be married or partnered than the men were. Some 68 per cent of women were married or in a common law relationship, compared with 87 per cent of men.

So the sort of ‘broad brush’ good news aspect is that there’s something in the Canadian economy that makes the elite-level wealth professions not quite as gendered, or at least less gendered than it was in 1982. Whatever structural adjustments that have been at the levels of education and training, and more than likely an accompanying cultural shift in attitudes toward women, has resulted in the closure of a gender gap in this particular echelon. This news fits well with shifts we’re seeing in political representation at the highest levels of government. So while we’re not seeing proportional gender representation in all walks of life, we’re at least seeing things moving in that direction.

Awesome. [Read more…]

Taxes ARE Theft (but so what?)


One of the oft-made claims by self-styled Libertarians is that ‘taxes are theft’ (and are therefore ‘bad’). This kind of assertion underpins most of the Libertarian position, and also the bulk of any anti-tax/pro-small-government arguments by folks of any political stripe. Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear this position defended as the self-styled Libertarians don’t seem all that well-read with regards to their own literature.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ayn Rand was gaining prominence, but there were no Philosophers backing her corner, partially because she spouted utter drivel and partially because to side with Rand was engage in self-loathing (Rand was notoriously anti-Philosophy/ers).

Enter Robert Nozick, with his tome “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. Nozick is well-regarded in Philosophy for articulating what was inarticulate, and defending the generally indefensible. Nozick sketched out the Libertarian claims, largely as a response to John Rawls’s defense of Social Justice, and, well… His arguments are not obviously terrible (as much as we may disagree with them). His arguments are certainly compelling, if you have a tendency to ignore all counter-arguments to your position. But hey, that’s the human condition, right?

So let’s dive in. And hold your nose (and your breath), because Nozick doesn’t make the argument that ‘taxes are theft’. Nope: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on par with forced labor.” Yeah, he went there.

[Read more…]

Got to find the reason, reason things went wrong…

I once attended a forum for black students held at York University, where there were a number of seminars and sessions to try to broaden the discussion and (I guess) impart some life skills. One of these forums was about developing and harnessing economic power, moderated by two women who had a successful business consulting firm. Some of the stuff was useful (invest in real estate, work closely with other black businesses to keep money ‘in the community’), while some of the stuff was a bit… different (sell your real estate and buy platinum bouillon!). In a fit of mysticism that I have found to be distressingly common among black intellectuals, they encouraged us to think of ‘money’ as part of an acronym:

Mobilize Our Natural Energy Yield

Which is, y’know… not where the word comes from, but whatever. Small quibble.

The point of the acronym was, I think, to divorce our minds from the concept that paper money is actually worth something in and of itself. Money is, and always has been, a proxy for the time and skill that goes in to the production of goods or services. Since its very early days, it has grown and expanded to represent a lot of other things as well, but at its fundamental level money is what you exchange for goods and services according to the level to which you value them.

The recent economic collapse revealed that our concept of ‘money’ had moved dangerously far away from anything resembling goods and services, and has instead mutated into a seemingly-arbitrary score that different groups use to decide who is better than the other. And when we started realizing “hey, wait a second, this whole thing is built on fairy dust and leprechaun tears”, it collapsed. But at some point, there was MONEY flowing between places, right? So where the hell did it all go? Did it just disappear into the ghost of the machine? Maybe. Then again, maybe not: [Read more…]

Is this racist? You can bank on it.

Part of the challenge of incorporating anti-racism into mainstream skepticism is that skepticism has been primarily focused on developing techniques of inquiry honed in material sciences (by which I mean the study of physical systems like cosmology, biology, and physics – not materials science which is an entirely different thing). Ask most mainstream skeptics, and they’ll display an admirable grasp on at least the basics of astronomy, evolution, mechanics, some quantum physics, and if you’re lucky a bit of biochemistry to go with it. Many questions that atheistic skeptics have had to learn to answer are focussed on the origins of the universe and of life, necessitating this basic ‘toolkit’ of scientific knowledge.

We have not yet, and I mean yet, turned our eye toward the study of human sociopolitical systems (although I am enthused to note that most people have a fair-to-middling grasp on some core psychology, which builds part of the foundation). I am certainly not exempt from these educational blind spots, despite my impression of myself as a skeptic who is more interested in sociology than average. Without the same basic knowledge of methods of sociological inquiry (which surely extend to history, literary analysis, and other things that aren’t, in the strictest sense, ‘sciences’), it becomes very difficult to parse the often labyrinthine mechanisms of cause and effect in human organizations, especially in a way that satisfies the more ‘tactile’ minds among us.

Luckily, every now and then racism expresses itself so clearly and unequivocally that it transcends the need for rigorous study to unravel the mechanism behind the effect: [Read more…]

Racism, elections, and how we measure up

A while back, a writer I like got in trouble with a lot of people who would otherwise be fans over something she wrote:

In it, Dr. Harris-Perry (who I follow on Twitter) lays out an argument for why white voters, who supported Barack Obama in the first election, may be abandoning him now at a greater rate than they did President Clinton in the 90′s – despite the many political and situational similarities between the two. Given that so many of the ostensible reasons for withdrawing support are balanced between the two administrations, racism may explain, at least in part, any differences in voter support and approval. It’s hard to argue that race and racism have not played a role in this particular presidency far more than in others.

Because I liked both this article and a related one that more closely explored the racial attitudes of Bill Clinton more specifically and liberals more generally, I fired a quick message to Dr. Harris-Perry in support, because I knew that she was taking quite a bit of flack for her audacious temerity to suggest that liberals weren’t the immaculate paragons of fairness that we make ourselves out to be. Basically, just a “hey, I liked your piece in the Nation.”

The problem, of course, is that racism is notoriously difficult to pin down as a single causal factor. Because we’ve gotten so good at obfuscating it through clever language and self-inflicted racial blindness, it’s particularly challenging to detect positively. Usually you have to try and remove all other potential causal factors and then measure the size of a racial disparity and say “well this has to be racism, because what else could it be?” That is far less psychologically satisfying than being able to point at something definitively, objectively racist and say “look, there’s your monster”.

Which is why I find this a particularly fascinating exercise: [Read more…]

We’ve got a job to do

I remember my first job interview. I had applied for a position as a stock boy at a bulk food store, and the owner called me on the phone the day after I dropped off my resume. My interview was one question, three words: “are you big?” I replied that I was, indeed, big. “Come in and start tomorrow,” was the reply. I was there for nearly 3 years. Since that time I’ve taught violin, I’ve packed boxes onto trucks, I’ve managed an amusement park cleaning crew (easily the worst job I’ve ever had), I’ve been a doorman, a karaoke host (easily the best job I’ve ever had), and spent two mortifying shifts serving tables in a tapas restaurant. None of those jobs were particularly hard to get – in fact, when I was offered my current job I could scarcely believe it and spent the first year dreading the day when my boss would realized they hired the wrong guy.

At no point in my various job searches did I really actively stress over race. Like most people I’ve been rejected from more jobs than I’ve been given – even then, it never occurred to me to wonder whether or not race played a role. Why would it? After all, I live in the 21st century, and certainly nobody ever said to me “we don’t hire your kind” or anything so overt as that. I will likely never know the role, positive or negative, that race played in me getting my various jobs. However, I know too much to think that racism isn’t still very much a part of the hiring process: [Read more…]

Show her the money!

Happy International Women’s Day!

In every field, at every level of education, men earn more than women. That’s the grim takeaway of this new report [PDF] from the U.S. Census Bureau, which assesses the value of a higher education in the United States—and illustrates the persistent pay gap between male and female employees who hold comparable degrees. In short, education is valuable, but it’s most lucrative if you’re male.

I have more patience than some others when it comes to stupid attitudes about sexism and feminism. Part of that is simple privilege: I can afford to not take those kinds of attitudes personally; however, some of  my zen is honestly come by. I’ve always called myself a feminist, but my understanding of that term didn’t really mature until I became involved in organized skepticism. I then came to understand feminism as a branch of skepticism – learning to unpack and, in a way, debunk claims about gender roles, sex characteristics, history, and a whole host of others. In fact, the level of overlap between feminism and anti-racism has helped enhance my understanding of both topics.

I can kind of understand the problem though, and it relates directly to that overlap. I care deeply about anti-racism for, at least in part, fundamentally selfish reasons. While I must always start this statement with the huge caveat that I have managed to escape the worst aspects of racism in my own life, racism still very much affects my day-to-day life. I have, therefore, a vested interest in seeing the world pay more critical attention to race and race issues. Because of this selfish motive, it is easy for me to empathize with women and recognize the multitude of similarities in the problems we face. However, it took me several years to come to this conclusion. [Read more…]

Black Canadians: outcomes, attitudes, and evidence

This morning I walked you through a crude statistical analysis of labour participation in black Canadians, showing that while the experiences of black Canadians runs parallel to that of African-Americans, it is not directly comparable. However, a more detailed look at the evidence suggests a slightly different picture – black men face a 22% wage gap for identical work when compared to their non-black counterparts, even when controlling for age, education, experience, and other potential explanatory factors.

There is an old truism within the black community (and a similar one among women) that one is expected to work twice as hard as whites to achieve identical success. While 22% is not 50%, it is still a fact that black men do not see the same results for their (our) hard work. Mensah spends a few pages going through two alternate explanations that are offered for this and other kinds of race-based disparities: the class argument and the culture argument, before arriving at his (and my) explanatory model: the race argument.

The class argument – “race is just a function of class”

Some theorists argue that when we measure race-based differences between groups, what we are actually measuring is a function of socioeconomic class. The solutions to these discrepancies, therefore, must be through programs targeted at class mobility rather than anti-racism.  This argument is unsurprisingly popular, as it allows us to maintain our illusion of a ‘post-racial’ society in which racism is the domain of a handful of bad people. However, the evidence (the above statistic included) does not support class as the primary explanatory factor driving inequalities between blacks and whites. [Read more…]

Black Canadians: Making it work

This is the fourth and final instalment in a series of posts I am writing in my annual commemoration of Black History Month. My inspiration, and source of historical material, is a book by Joseph Mensah called Black Canadians: history, experiences, social conditions. As I work my way through the book, I will be blogging my reactions and things that stand out. You can read the first post here, and its follow-up here. The second post is here. The third post is here, and its follow-up is here.

Last week I made reference to the problems inherent in understanding Canadian black culture.The cultural juggernaut that is the United States dominates media expressions of ‘the black experience’, and because of porous cultural borders (and the comparatively small number of black Canadians)  much of black Canadian culture is defined in similar terms as those of African Americans. The problem with this approach, obviously, is that black Canadians and African Americans have very different histories (as I hope the past few weeks worth of posts have demonstrated).

Similarly, much of the racial scholarship around the realities of being black are, in fact, the realities of being African-American. The kinds of systemic racism that we see all to often in the United States may not, in fact, be reflected in the Canadian experience. After all, Canada and the United States have vastly different approaches to immigration, citizenship, and multiculturalism (encapsulated in Canada’s ‘mosaic’ model, vs. America’s ‘melting pot’ model). We know from the vast available stores of data and analysis that anti-black racism is a real economic problem in the United States. The obvious question we must ask is do the experiences of black Canadians reflect those of African Americans?

The answer seems to be “no and yes” [Read more…]

The bankruptcy of racism

Many of the topics we discuss here are personal, at least insofar as race is concerned. We talk about the effect race has on colouring people’s experiences, on how they may perceive identical treatment quite differently. I’ve occasionally shared some anecdotes from my own life to underscore some point or another. This is no accident – race and experiences of racism are incredibly personal, and the facts can often not be divorced from the subjective experience.

That being said, I hope that you haven’t been left with the impression that racism only has interpersonal consequences. From the get-go, I have been trying to convey the fact that attitudes about race work their way into every aspect of our lives, often without our knowledge or consent (and certainly without the consent against whom the weight of racism is pressed).

It is a fact, therefore, that if you scratch the surface of just about any human activity, you will find racism simmering just below the surface: [Read more…]