The Corner

Jamelle Bouie, Wrong as Usual

Jamelle Bouie, whose tiresome column ought to bear the title “Jamelle Bouie Calls Somebody a Racist!”, has, predictably, misstated my views on why black voters prefer Democrats.

The crude version comes from figures like Herman Cain, who claims that blacks have been “brainwashed into not being open-minded, not even considering a conservative point of view.” On the other end are conservative writers, like Kevin D. Williamson, that see blacks as the helpless victims of cynical racial bribery. . . . The problem with this argument is it denies agency to black voters, who become the objects of party strategy and not individuals with their own interests and priorities.

The problem with Mr. Bouie’s argument is that he does not know what the hell he is talking about. Not only is that not my view, it is a view that I have specifically and repeatedly rejected, e.g. my longstanding criticism of the “conservative plantation theory” that holds that African Americans support the Democratic party in exchange for welfare benefits and other handouts, that the Democratic party cultivates black welfare dependency in order to keep black voters firmly in their camp.” Which is to say, the view that sees “blacks as the helpless victims of racial bribery.”

Given that Mr. Bouie offers this criticism in the course of a column organized around the preposterous superstition that national economic conditions are substantially shaped by the party identification of the person residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — a childish fantasy with approximately zero basis in reality — I am not particularly surprised that he has not taken the time to acquaint himself with my views on the subject at hand, which would require at least a modest bit of intellectual effort of the sort that Mr. Bouie seems to find uncomfortable.

What I have argued is that black voters, like single women, prefer the Democratic party and welfare-statist policies because they are remarkably risk-averse compared to traditional conservative constituencies such as white men and business owners. For blacks and women to entertain some suspicion of economic arrangements that have within living memory formally excluded them, and to regard interventionist economic policies as a hedge against economic abuses, is not irrational. It is erroneous, but not irrational. In the same sense, it is perfectly rational for people to support Social Security as a hedge against penury in old age, but it is erroneous to believe that Social Security, given its underlying financial problems, will perform as promised. As voters, African Americans and single women are the political equivalent of people who embrace crackpot weight-loss programs or consult psychics: Their agency is not in question, but their judgment is. You don’t just trip and fall into a psychic’s den or accidentally end up with a stomach full of cotton balls spritzed with orange juice. Neither horoscopes nor federal regulation can be relied upon as a guide to future realities.

If I may be forgiven for quoting myself:

The Democratic party is in fact a coalition of financially risk-averse groups: Women, blacks, and Hispanics all exhibit a high degree of financial risk-aversion when compared with whites and men. Even when controlling for income, white households are more likely to invest in stocks and other relatively risky assets compared with non-white households, and men are more likely to invest in stocks than are similarly situated women, though those differences are somewhat diminished when accounting for net worth and education. Black and Hispanic households, even when adjusted for income, are more likely to invest in low-risk, low-yield assets such as government bonds. . . . Likewise, women are more conservative, risk-averse investors than men are. They are also much less likely to be involved in starting a new business than men are — and not just in the United States, but around the world. . . . Single women are more financially risk-averse than married women, and likewise more likely to vote Democratic.

Mr. Bouie is more than welcome to take issue with the argument I have made, rather than the one that exists in his imagination, assuming he can work up the energy to do so.

In either case, I look forward to Mr. Bouie’s inevitable disquisition on how his intellectual laziness is caused by white supremacy and enduring nightly visits from the ghost of John C. Calhoun. 


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