Dr Preece Debate: Racial Wealth Disparities (Jacob's Rebuttal)
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
The following is a rebuttal to my opponents arguments in our debate "Racial Wealth Disparities" regarding the following resolution. Resolution: The greatest factor in today's broad and widening gap in household wealth between White families and Black families is the long history of systemic bias against Black Americans in government policies and private industry practices. I have taken the dissenting opinion in this debate.
In examining my opponent's arguments I must first express appreciation for his thoroughness (even if he did go nearly 2x longer than we agreed was the word limit). The injustices toward blacks in our history are tragic and I was fully aware of those systemic injustices coming into this debate. However, this debate is not if racism existed in the past or present. We all agree that it did and does to some extent. Nor is there any dispute about home ownerships importance as a wealth accumulation tool or the systemic barriers that existed prior to 1965. My opponent spills a LOT of ink on things that no one disputes. However, my opponent has almost completely ignored or brushed over many factors that clearly affect home ownership for blacks since 1965 such as education, skillsets, two parent homes, culture, macro economic factors and post 1965 policies. And without accounting for these factors we have to conclude his analysis is not sufficient. My opponent (like many others) seems to conclude that any disparity between blacks and whites must be the result of racism without ever bringing these other factors into the analysis. In the following, I will show how these other factors, when accounted for, are sufficient to conclude that systemic racism is not the best explanation as the primary driver of wealth disparities in 2020.
The reader will notice that a great deal of my opponent's opening essay focused on Pre-1965. He does this because before the civil rights movement systemic racism was rampant and the great victory of the civil rights movement was the reversal of these racist policies and statutory equality before the law. No one disputes this. Considering the dismantling of so many obviously systemically racist policies, we can hypothesize that post 1965 would have seen greater reductions in poverty for blacks as these systemic barriers were removed. However the data tells a different story.
Many don’t realize that DURING Jim Crow and DESPITE the rampant systemic racism from 1940-1960 black poverty was reduced by nearly 40%. However, in the decades after 1965 and during the "war on poverty" reductions in poverty were far smaller and stagnation typified the black economic situation. This clearly suggests that something outside of systemic racism was primarily driving black poverty rates. My opponent (and many others) simply ignore this obvious need to look into these other factors and instead cling to the “Legacy of Jim Crow” as the reason. Yet when we look at the data we see that during ACTUAL Jim Crow we saw black poverty falling faster than post 1965. Another logical error my opponent makes is the assumption that social pathologies like crime, single motherhood and a lack of skills are primarily driven by a lack of wealth when it is the exact opposite. Regardless of race the research shows that it is a stable family that leads to a higher likelihood of a person avoiding crime and having more education and skills and thus higher incomes. Those who want to blame broken families on the “Legacy of Jim Crow” seem to forget that during ACTUAL Jim Crow black families were more stable than white families in 2020. Is the “Legacy of Jim Crow” even more powerful in holding blacks back than ACTUAL Jim Crow? The data simply does not fit the narrative but the narrative persists because that narrative is often politically advantageous.
Another fatal flaw in my opponent’s essay is his implicit reliance on the assumption that wealth is largely inherited. This is how he connects the injustices of the past to today. He paints a picture of pre 1965 white wealth being passed on from generation to generation of white families. But is this the case? A 2011 study on inherited wealth by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only around 20% of wealth is inherited. Another study of 600 millionaires shows that about 4 out of 5 millionaires inherited nothing and 98% surveyed reported coming from non-upper income families. The data clearly indicate that the majority of the wealthy created rather than inherited their wealth. My opponent also seems to ignore that inherited home equity happens when a person's parents pass away. This means most people are not getting their inherited wealth until they are in their 50's or 60's yet we see that the majority of the wealth disparity happens prior to age 60 in a steady progressing fashion over time, not in a sudden windfall as would be expected from an inheritance.
If white wealth is primarily being inherited and not created then why does the gap between individual blacks and whites grow primarily BEFORE the age when wealth is inherited? The timeline does not add up. This is not to say that having a financially stable mother and father who owned their home does not have an impact on their children and this is not to say that a lack of home ownership prior to the 1970’s did not have some effect. However, magnitude matters! My opponent just seems to make the assumption that white wealth is being driven by inheritance without fully accounting for the data above.
My opponent also fails to account for timing when it comes to home ownership. The average age of a first time home buyer in the US is 29-32 years old. So, your first time home buyers in 1965 would now be 85-87 years old. This means essentially everyone alive today who wanted to buy a home did so AFTER the civil rights movement. This does not mean that in 1966 home buyers were suddenly all treated fairly. However, by 1977 the popular move against redlining and discriminatory lending practices grew to such an extent that the government's Community Reinvestment Act was passed specifically to help low and middle income borrowers and those were expanded in the 1990s. So anyone under the age of 77, not only were home buyers AFTER the civil rights movement, but actually lived in an era that had systemic incentives designed to HELP them get home loans. No one denies that Jim Crow created systemic barriers to black home ownership, but why is it that as those systems were dismantled in the 1960-70's the results were negligible? According to my opponent's own essay, home ownership only increased by 2 percentage points between 1970 and 2018. This strongly suggests that other factors are the primary drivers of home ownership in the post Jim Crow world. Yet again my opponent ignores this logic and again appeals to the vague notion of the “Legacy of Jim Crow” without giving details on the specific racist policies preventing blacks from home ownership after 1977. Surely it takes time for change to happen but how many decades does it take before we begin admitting that perhaps other factors besides the “legacy” of policies that were dismantled almost 60 years ago are driving the wealth disparities today.
My opponent also attempted to show that discrimination exists in lending today. Interestingly, he did not provide any examples of legal or systemic policies that discriminate (probably because they are non existent and illegal) but instead appeals to widespread interpersonal racism among individual lending professionals. The primary study he cites is a non peer reviewed study by the NCRC, a racial justice activist group. Even if we ignore the bias of the group who did the study and its lack of peer review, we should not ignore the studies' metrics for racism are mostly subjective and rely on self reporting of things like "levels of encouragement in applying for a loan". A non peer reviewed study based on subjective criteria conducted in one metro area is hardly robust enough to make sweeping conclusions. The study also fails to distinguish between RACISM and group bias which are meaningfully different as I have pointed out in a previous post. Again no one denies that, at some level, both racism and group bias exists today, but what my opponent fails to do is show that this is the primary driver for wealth differences in 2020 when accounting for other factors in the post 1965 world.
Another study my opponent attempts to use in order to show systemic racism in lending in 2020 is a recent and minimally cited sociology study that he claims shows equally qualified blacks are 60% more likely to be denied a home loan. If this were the case, it would denote massive and widespread violation of anti discrimination laws. Sadly, he just makes that naked assertion based off one sociology study that never claims to perfectly account for all factors (as credit score data is not publicly available and is the #1 reason blacks are denied loans) and he fails to mention that the primary findings of the study were that they found significant “evidence of a decline in housing discrimination from the late 1970s to the present”.
Considering racial lending discrimination is highly illegal, if this studies findings were accurate, it would mean Civil Rights attorneys are blind to a massive opportunity to make huge sums suing banks for illegal discrimination. However, this is not happening despite every systemic and economic incentive for attorneys to do so. Perhaps these attorneys dealing with the specific details of specific cases, have accounted for factors the academics missed. Lastly, if systemic racism was a problem in lending today we would expect to see differences in how blacks lend to other blacks and how whites lend to blacks. Shockingly, research shows that black owned banks are more likely to deny loans to blacks that white owned banks. Further reinforcing that other factors besides racial animus are behind these lending disparities. The reality is that Blacks and whites have very different financial spending and saving patterns and thus have very different credit profiles and income levels so the disparity of 44% to 74% home ownership should not be overly surprising especially when you consider a 3 times higher single motherhood rate in the black community. So while illegal lending discrimination may exist, you can’t claim it is "systemic" when it is illegal and it certainly can’t claim its the primary driver of wealth inequality when you have not factored single motherhood into the analysis.
It is an intellectual scandal that my opponent did not account properly for the connection between the single motherhood rates in the black community and home ownership in his analysis. We should keep in mind that never before in human history has any society
anywhere seen levels of single motherhood that high! Brushing over that makes his analysis totally incomplete. Regardless of Race, if Group A had a 70% single motherhood rate and Group B had a 20% single motherhood rate why would we expect parity in home ownership between these two groups? In addition, he seems to want to avoid the connection between income and wealth. Income (along with credit profile) is the PRIMARY factor that determines if you get a home loan and single moms have less than half the income of married couples. What effect do we think this has on the ability to own a home or build wealth over time? Privilege seems to correlate much better with family structure than race. For example, 1st generation immigrants usually have very stable families and the result is their children having a 25% higher home ownership rate than their parents and a 45% higher home ownership rate than native born blacks.
Ultimately, my opponent (like many people) likely believes in the false dichotomy of the black communities pathologies only being explainable by reference to either racism or inherent black inferiority. Because my opponent rightfully believes blacks are not inherently inferior he clings to racism as the primary explanation for these disparities regardless of the data. However, what I offer is an alternative. It’s an explanation that says these problems are rooted in the complex causal relationships between culture, social policies and economics with racism playing a minor role in 2020 despite its major role prior to the 1970's. This is what many great black scholars like Thomas Sowell, Coleman Hughes, Walter Williams, Jason Riley etc have been pointing out quite conclusively for some time. In conclusion, my opponent’s hypotheses are refuted as soon as one sufficiently accounts for a myriad of other factors he ignores that affect home ownership and wealth accumulation since 1965.