Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Boring facts

Matt Yglesias chases Brad DeLong chasing David Brooks chasing his own tail as usual, on culture and policy as explanations of social outcomes.

Brooks says
If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota.
and follows up with
Therefore, the first rule of policy-making should be, don’t promulgate a policy that will destroy social bonds. If you take tribes of people, exile them from their homelands and ship them to strange, arid lands, you’re going to produce bad outcomes for generations.

Now, "first do no harm" to functioning social worlds is a valuable rule for policymakers to follow. And Matt's right to see the second passage as completing the meaning of the first.

But, well, here's the thing. South Dakota, arid though it might be, is not Oklahoma. South Dakota's Indians are mostly Sioux-- the members of the Lakota/ Nakota/ Dakota nations from which the state takes its name. They have been progressively crowded onto smaller and smaller portions of their ancestors' homelands as a result of gold rushes, wars, thefts, and allotments and partitions. But they have not been "exiled" from their homeland, and strange, arid South Dakota is not strange to them.

There's been plenty of bad policy directed at Indians-- but it's not the same bad policy everywhere.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Thanks for the Dakotan history (My family -- uh, "native Americans" but not "Native Americans" -- came from South Dakota).

Does Brooks downplay the importance of politics and policy because he doesn't favor government in general, or the party in power in particular?

Contrast his current disdain for policy with his soaring praise in 2001 for "supply side" tax-cutting policy (ironically as he is criticizing the big Bush tax cuts, mostly for the rich -- which we are still paying for -- as not being given a more "epic" framing) ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/01/opinion/the-zero-sum-tax-cut.html

It's fascinating how unimportant policy is to a wealthy conservative if it's not cutting his taxes (or how "uninspiring" it is if it's not soothing his conscience while cutting his taxes).

And if you notice, he never mentioned "cultural differences" in any of that. (He wouldn't be playing a game of "divide and conquer" in his recent op-ed, would he?)