Barone: Backsliding into Bankruptcy
June 22, 2001, 05:00 AM
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An Old American Comments on Sailer vs. Barone

[Peter Brimelow writes: As Steve Sailer points out in this important review, neocon doyenne Michael Barone simply ignores contrary argument in his new book. This confirms that political establishment, left and right, is firmly back in Denial Mode on race and immigration, and marks an ignominious personal retreat for Barone since the mid-1990s, when he actually had some valuable things to say. But denial is hard to maintain in the age of the internet and talk radio. A correspondent reports that, confronted with my work recently on the Radio America Network's Schiffer Report, "Barone became indignant, describing you as "the guy who wants to restrict immigration because his son has blond hair and blue eyes," or words to that effect…" This of course is a reference to the celebrated single sentence in Alien Nation illustrating the paradox that immigrants can qualify for affirmative action preferences over native-born Americans who do not belong to the "protected classes," as Alexander manifestly does not. Barone's response is unimpressive, of course. But it usefully demonstrates that it is immigration enthusiasts, not immigration reformers, who are driven by unspoken ethnic animosity.]

Prominent neoconservative Michael Barone, a regular panelist on The McLaughlin Group, has been getting a lot of flattery from the "conservative" establishment lately for his new book, The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again. George Will's June 11th Newsweek column on it was nothing more than a fawning book report.

Compared to the typical liberal book on racial diversity, Barone's tome is dramatically more down to earth, even worthwhile. Yet, it also is a perfect illustration of the perverse trends that are sapping the realism from conservative intellectual discourse on immigration and race. So I'm going to spend quite some time demonstrating what's wrong with the book.

In a rave review in National Review, Tamar Jacoby summed The New Americans up like this:

For Barone, today's pessimism about immigration is as foolishly unfounded as yesterday's. The great, slow, mysterious absorptive alchemy that worked in the past can and will work again… Barone remains relentlessly—and on the whole persuasively-upbeat about the massive demographic change sweeping the United States, convinced that the new immigration, like earlier ones, will ultimately be a boon for all Americans.

Barone certainly does his best to keep as "mysterious" as possible the "absorptive alchemy" that worked its magic on pre-1924 immigrants—he never mentions the crucial assimilative role played by the immigration cutoff of 1924 to 1965. And in general, the author dodges facing the arguments of anyone who would challenge his views. While Barone frequently quotes pro-mass immigration conservatives like Jacoby, Gregory Rodriguez, John J. Miller, Joel Kotkin and the like, he can't bring himself to refer by name any immigration skeptic more recent than Ben Franklin.

The New Americans is in fact a disappointingly unoriginal and tendentious rewrite of Thomas Sowell's deservedly famous Ethnic America of 1981. Unlike Sowell's encyclopedic work, which offered a magisterial account of most of America's major racial groups, Barone has a single Big Idea that he wants to hammer home.

"The thesis of this book is that minority groups of 2000 resemble in important ways immigrant groups of 1900. In many ways, blacks resemble Irish, Latinos resemble Italians, Asians resemble Jews. … I began to notice the resemblances between each of the three pairs in the 1990s."

Considering that Sowell's book covered these comparisons back in 1981, you have to wonder why it took Barone, the co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, so long to notice them. I mean, I could have given you a summary of Barone's argument in 1982, when I read Ethnic America. The fascinating (but hardly complete) series of similarities between Irish Americans and African Americans was the most celebrated single aspect of Ethnic America. Sowell wrote, "[B]lacks are about where the Irish were one hundred years earlier" on the first page of his chapters on blacks. Similarly, the first page of Sowell's section on the Chinese mentions, "The Chinese have often been called 'the Jews of Asia.'" Finally, Sowell lists about five similarities between Italians and Puerto Ricans or Mexicans, although the great man seems to have found the Italian-Latino comparison far less interesting or impressive than Barone does.

Nor were these comparisons original with Sowell. Irving Kristol had made the same argument in The New York Times Magazine way back in 1966. Kristol also wrote, "Puerto Ricans today resemble nothing so much as the Sicilian immigrants of sixty years ago." (Barone, though, seems to have largely given up on Puerto Ricans turning into Italians, and is now mostly pinning his hopes on the Mexicans.)

These comparisons have become commonplaces over the years among "cultural realist" writers. While definitely interesting, I must point out that you shouldn't get too carried away by them.

For example, 19th Century Irish and 20th Century blacks did share a lot. Both were big, strong, manly, good at sports, entertainment, and politics, lousy at business, enthusiastic for corrupt Democratic mayors, and had high rates of substance abuse and crime. We don't like to talk about it today, but in the 19th Century, as Barone makes clear, when Irish immigrants showed up in your town, it was Bad News. They brought crime, alcoholism, rioting, and sometimes even cholera.

On the other hand, the Irish and the blacks differ strikingly in sexual restraint. The Irish have been the least lusty Europeans for a long time. The Kennedy men made Americans forget this central facet of the Irish Catholic character, but the evidence is definitive. A couple of decades ago, the average age of first marriages in the Republic of Ireland was 26 for women and 31 for men. This is remarkable because, although contraceptives were illegal and difficult to obtain there until 1979, illegitimacy was rare.

Second, Irish religion was intensely institutional. Irishmen didn't start churches to compete with the Roman Catholic faith; they found slots in Rome's vast hierarchy. In contrast, African American Christianity has been highly entrepreneurial. Anybody could get "the call" and start preaching and passing the hat at any time.

This is an important difference because, in Sowell's view, primarily what eventually raised Irish-American behavior to acceptable levels was the Catholic Church's pounding guilt into them. In the black entrepreneurial religious economy, though, there's not much of a market for guilt, especially over sex.

The contrast between African American carnality and Irish guilt was amusingly underlined at this year's Grammies. The nubile young ladies of Destiny's Child repeatedly thanked God for their success, while wearing what looked like extra-small sandwich bags. But when the Best Song award went to the great Irish band U2, lead singer Bono made clear he thought it a little presumptuous to thank the Almighty for, of all things, a Grammy: "I just have this feeling, or picture in my head, of God looking down on people like us at occasions like this and going, 'Oh, don't thank me for that song, there's no hook and the chorus is weak.'"

The resemblance between "Asians" (by which Barone primarily means Chinese) and Jews basically comes down to both groups tending to be above average in work ethic and IQ (although Barone can't bring himself to mention those two scarlet letters "I" and "Q"). But the differences are manifold. Jews, for instance, do much better on the verbal parts of IQ tests, while Northeast Asians do better on the visual subtests. (See the "Of Jews and Japanese" chapter in Dan Seligman's fine A Question of Intelligence.) That's why East Asians do not play a major role in those many verbal-intensive fields such as entertainment or journalism where Jews thrive. And while both groups are immensely old, there are 1,000 times more Chinese than Jews. This would suggest there must be some profound differences between them.

Indeed, Barone's Jewish-Chinese comparison has become so hackneyed that it's more fun to look for better comparisons. Barone asserts, "[T]he South Asian or Middle Eastern immigrants of today seem to have no parallels from a century ago." In fact several of those groups tend to be more similar to the Jews than the Chinese, and not just in physical appearance. If you are looking for groups that might have both the mathematical and verbal smarts to rival Jews, keep an eye on the higher caste Indian Hindus and the remarkable Zoroastrian Parsis of Bombay. Another even better all-around analog to Jews exists among modern immigrants: who for centuries have been a religiously distinct caste of merchants selling to surrounding peasants, and who currently deftly use their impressive influence on Congress to aid their homeland in its struggles with its Muslim neighbors: the Armenians.

That Barone never noticed any of these better comparisons suggests—along with much else in his book—that he really didn't give much thought to his Big Idea.

Finally, by comparing Latinos to Italians, Barone allows himself to glide over the racial issues that are so distinctive a feature of Latin America. While a few all-white Latin American nations like Argentina do resemble Italy, the distinguishing feature of the Hispanic nations that send many immigrants to the U.S. is a system of white dominance over darker races that, while more subtle than America's, is at least as pervasive.

A key difference between Sowell's classic and Barone's effort is that Barone has a specific political agenda. He wants to reassure conservatives that, "We've been here before." Barone tells us,

America in the future will be multiracial and multiethnic, but it will not—or should not—be multicultural in the sense of containing ethnic communities marked off from and adversarial to the larger society, any more than today's America consists of unassimilated and adversarial communities of Irish, Italians, or Jews. [Emphasis mine.]

Obviously, though, there is a huge difference between "will not" and "should not." One's a prediction, the other a prescription. The entire book is infected with this slippery vagueness over what's actually true and what Barone merely wishes were true. For instance, Barone writes:

Mexican commentator Sergio Sarmiento argues that if Mexico can achieve the South Korea-style economic growth that seems possible over the next twenty years, it will vastly reduce its economic disparity with the United States and substantially reduce incentives to immigration…. It is possible also to imagine that in time Latinos will become interwoven into the American fabric.

Yes, the imagination certainly is a wonderful thing! But any reasonable person would need a lot more evidence and logic than Barone bothers to amass to accept this flight of fancy.

I've long wanted Sowell to update his 1981 book, which relied heavily on 1970 Census data. Barone's effort is not a satisfactory substitute.

First, he should have waited for the 2000 Census data to come out. For example, Barone wrote,

But the 30 million "Hispanics" counted in the 2000 Census are not members of a single homogenous community.
Sorry, but the 2000 Census actually counted 35.3 million. Over the last couple of months, we've learned that both the Hispanic population and the illegal alien population have been growing much faster than the government had been telling us back when Barone was writing his book. These new facts obviously have significant implications for the long-term impact of the immigration policies that Barone lauds.

Second, Barone's book simply lacks the moral seriousness of Sowell's landmark tome. In Ethnic America, there's a profound sense of an author honestly confronting the facts and pushing himself to discover from them new, and often unwelcome, general truths. Barone, in contrast, steadfastly refuses to draw conclusions displeasing to the "conservative" establishment of 2001.

However, the book does contain a lot of important details scattered about. I've wondered why George W. Bush so overestimated the GOP's appeal to Mexican-Americans in California. Unintentionally, Barone sheds some light on why Bush doesn't understand California's Latinos:

California's Mexicans may be more inclined to vote Democratic because of where they come from in Mexico …(such as) Michoacan…. the only state that Cuahtemoc Cardenas of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) carried in the 2000 presidential election. Cardenas ran a close second in Guerrero, another state from which many of California's Mexicans come. In contrast, most Texas Mexicans appear to have come from the northern states of Mexico, historically the heartland of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and carried by PAN candidate Vicente Fox in 2000.
In other words, Bush is deluded in thinking he can get Mexican-Americans in California to vote Republican as much as they do in Texas (43% in 2000). But, those are my words, not Barone's, who doesn't seem to want to say anything that would discomfit the Bush Administration.

Too often in The New Americans, though, one is simply led around by the nose on a tour of all the news that fits. And if it doesn't fit, well, Barone will knead it until it looks like it fits.

Take how Barone spins the Latino crime and imprisonment rates. First, he explains why the numbers ought to be low:

But the Latin heritage of mistrust of institutions suggests that Latinos would not have a proclivity toward crime. The sensible thing is to keep your head down and work, avoiding any activity that might bring you to the attention of the often corrupt police.

Of course, an entrepreneurial young fellow might look at this situation from an entirely different angle: as an opportunity for organized crime. If nobody in your neighborhood ever calls the cops, then why not start a gang to run protection rackets and deal controlled substances? That's exactly what happened in Italian neighborhoods then and Latino neighborhoods now.

Undaunted, Barone wades on:

In point of fact, Latino immigrants and their descendents have not been much more likely than native-born Americans to commit crimes or be imprisoned.
Here are the facts on Latino imprisonment, as reported in a valuable new study called "Masking the Divide: How Officially Reported Prison Statistics Distort the Racial and Ethnic Realities of Prison Growth" by the liberal National Center on Institutions and Alternatives. According to the statistics in their appendices, the per capita imprisonment rate for Hispanics in 1997 was 3.7 times that of non-Hispanic whites.

Now, a 3.7 times worse imprisonment rate might suggest to the objective observer a bit of a relative "proclivity toward crime." So I had to reread Barone's paragraph a couple of times before I noticed his deft phrasing. He's comparing Hispanics not to Anglo whites but to "native-born Americans." This is clever because plenty of Hispanics are "native-born Americans," so they get double-counted, which inflates the "native-born" imprisonment figures. His big ploy, though, is that he's comparing Hispanics primarily to African Americans, who outnumber Anglo whites in prison by 30% in absolute numbers and by a stunning 9.1 to 1 ratio per capita.

Sadly, this is not an isolated example. The New Americans is full of statements ranging from the sly to the dubious to the absurd.

To take one amusing example, Barone holds quite a grudge against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who died in 1558. Three separate times he blames Charles V for Italians and Latinos having too little faith in government. But Charles V also ruled much of Germany and Austria, where the locals eventually developed a tad too much faith in government.. There's only so much one Emperor can do. Some Latin American countries like Guatemala are so dysfunctional in so many ways that to screw them up that royally would have taken all the Holy Roman Emperors working together, plus Darth Vader and Lord Farquaad.

From an American perspective that considers a government functional only if it provides order, justice, and liberty, practically all countries in all history were "politically dysfunctional." The important question is not why Italy and Spain were dysfunctional, but why England and its offshoots slowly became functional in the modern sense.

The third major problem with The New Americans is that the school of thought that Barone's sources Kristol and Sowell helped pioneer decades ago—"cultural realism"— is finally running into diminishing returns. One leading cultural realist at Harvard told me that every time he writes an article blaming the poverty of Haiti on its culture (e.g., Haitians' obsession with casting voodoo curses on each other), he gets many letters from other academics calling him a "racist" for doubting that Haiti would be as rich as America if only America hadn't gotten rich by plundering the oppressed proletariat of Haiti. Not surprisingly, having his enemies slur him with the potentially career-killing "R" word has led him to make a dogma of the "anti-racism" of his cultural realism: No, Haitians would be as rich as Minnesotans if only they had the same culture as Minnesotans!

This phobia against saying anything interesting about race—as prudent as it no doubt is in today's academic climate—means that the cultural realists end up with one hand tied behind their backs.

Something fascinating has been happening in America. Integration has brought the different racial groups into closer contact, allowing them to observe each other more carefully. Private discussions about racial differences have become more detailed and discerning—but almost none of what is being said is appearing in the academic press. Sowell remained carefully agnostic on biological racial differences, but many of his conservative followers are beginning to sound more Catholic than the Pope on how understanding culture allowed you to ignore biology.

The key event in cementing this "biophobic" orthodoxy in place was the furious backlash against Charles Murray's and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve in 1994.

Initially, Barone bravely backed Murray and Herrnstein. Here's what Barone wrote in an essay entitled "Common Knowledge" in a National Review symposium on The Bell Curve just after its publication:

PERHAPS because I'm congenitally optimistic, I think The Bell Curve's message is already widely understood, by the American people if not by the elite. Ordinary citizens know that some people are in significant ways more intelligent than others, that only a relative few are extremely bright or extremely dull, and that intelligence bunches up at the center. They know that intelligence is not randomly distributed among members of different identifiable racial and ethnic groups. These are lessons that are taught in everyday life, and you have to undergo a pretty sophisticated indoctrination and enlist in a tightly disciplined ideological army to believe otherwise. … More specifically, by showing strong relationships between intelligence as measured by IQ tests and behaviors ranging from job performance to a propensity to commit crimes or bear children outside marriage, The Bell Curve makes a powerful case that the disproportionately low number of blacks in top positions and the disproportionately high number of blacks in prison (just under half our prisoners are black) do not result from racial discrimination.

But within a few months, it became apparent that continuing to publicly back Murray could have career-threatening consequences. The problem was not that The Bell Curve had been disproved. Indeed, the problem was the opposite. The Bell Curve provided so much evidence that it had to be silenced.

Not surprisingly, in Barone's new book there is no mention of IQ.

Since The Bell Curve was shouted down, race has become America's intellectual anti-matter, a subject that repels thought. Many who aspire to be Conservatives have lost the most basic grasp of what race even is. They have become more and more dependent on leftist theories of the Race Is Only Skin Deep or Race Does Not Exist schools.

But consideration of race questions is unavoidable in the field of immigration policy. An intellectually coherent definition is essential. Here it is:

A "racial group" is an extremely extended family that inbreeds to some degree.
Lacking this fundamental definition of race, Barone flounders. He sometimes sounds like he's relying on UNESCO Christmas cards for his insights into human nature:
Babies do not distinguish between people of African and European descent; they recognize only other human beings. They have to be taught to differentiate between blacks and whites.
This claim that young children have to be taught to distinguish races is simply not true. Often times, before they've learned American names for racial categories, they'll invent their own, such as "brown," "tan," and "pink." This subject has been studied extensively in controlled experiments. In Race in the Making, the liberal U. of Michigan anthropology professor Lawrence A. Hirschfeld sums up the findings:

As comforting as this view may be, children, I will show in this book, are more than aware of diversity; they are driven by endogenous curiosity to uncover it. Children, I will also show, do not believe race to be a superficial quality of the world. Multicultural curricula aside, few people believe that race is only skin deep. Certainly few 3-year-olds do. They believe that race is an intrinsic, immutable, and essential aspect of a person's identity. Moreover, they seem to come to this conclusion on their own. They do not need to be taught that race is a deep property, they know it themselves already.
For example, if you show preschoolers drawings of people and ask them to match the children with their mommies, on average they will correctly tell you that the skinny white child belongs to the fat white mommy, while the fat black child belongs to the skinny black mommy (or vice-versa). They consider race a better predictor of family relationship than body shape.

Because he is unaware of the accurate definition, Barone swallows whole a lot of the glib sophistry of the pernicious "whiteness studies" ideologues:

But we must recall that the Irish immigrants of the nineteenth century were widely considered to be of another race, a fact reflected in the wry title of a recent book, How the Irish Became White.

You will of course recall that dramatic scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett O'Hara's Irish surname is discovered, causing her to be immediately sold into slavery.

In 1900, Americans referred to the Irish as a "race" for the simple reason that—under the fundamental definition—they are a race. Over time in America, the term "race" has come to be used mostly for continental-scale racial groups such as sub-Saharan Africans and East Asians. But there is nothing written in stone that says those are the only racial groups worth considering.

This kind of conceptual confusion about race makes Barone prey for racial snake-oil salesmen. Thus, for example, he unloads this gem on us at the end of his book:

There is no greater biological difference between the minority groups and other Americans of today than there was between the immigrant groups and other Americans of a hundred years ago.

I assume that what Barone is trying to say is that the genetic distance between the immigrant Irish, Jews, and Italians and the Anglo-German native majority in 1900 was no greater than between the blacks, Latinos, and Asians and the white majority in 2000. This statement is balderdash. The relationship between racial groups has been quantified in Stanford population geneticist L.L. Cavalli-Sforza's monumental "History and Geography of Human Genes." Cavalli-Sforza's team compiled extraordinary tables depicting the "genetic distances" separating 2,000 different racial groups. For example, assume the genetic distance between the English and the Danes is equal to 1.0. Then, Cavalli-Sforza has found, the separation between the English and the Irish would be 1.4 times as large as the English-Danish difference. On this scale, the English and Italians are about 2.5 more distant than the Danes are from the English. The Iranians would be 9 times more distant genetically, and the Japanese 59 times greater. Finally, the gap between the English and the Bantus (the main group of sub-Saharan blacks) is 109 times as large as the distance between the English and the Danish. In other words—for what it's worth—the "biological difference" between America's post-1965 immigrants and the host community could hardly be greater. (For my further comments on Cavelli-Sforza, click here.)

Let's conclude with an example of how race can add greatly to our understanding of culture. The imprisonment data shows that race, not culture, drives crime rates among Hispanics.

In the state of Florida, where most Latinos have been white Cubans, Hispanics are imprisoned at a rate only 1.2 times higher than Anglo whites.

In the American West, where most of the Latinos are mestizo Mexicans, the rates vary from only 1.5 in Nevada to 4.3 in Utah. These state-by-state differences are largely driven by disparities in the behavior of the white population. Nevada whites, not surprisingly, include a fair number of bad guys. The Hispanic to white ratios in Texas and California, where whites are also fairly badly behaved, are 2.2 and 2.4 respectively. In Utah, Colorado, and Washington, where the whites are more law-abiding, the ratios are over 4 to 1.

Finally, in Northeastern states, where Hispanics are generally mulatto Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, the imprisonment rates can range from 8 up to 12 to 1. (Keep in mind though that Northeastern whites stay out of prison better than Western whites.)

In other words, we see the same black-white differences in crime rates among non-Hispanic Americans show up among Hispanics.

In summary, perhaps the justification for books like The New Americans is that if the public were told the truth about race, it would immediately launch a bloody race war. I find this preposterous. Interestingly enough, so did Barone seven years ago. What he said then about the enemies of The Bell Curve provides a fitting summary of my views now:

Of course, most of our university and media elite have signed up for those forces [of indoctrination on empirical questions about race]. They have done so, I think, because they believe that ordinary people would take the admission that there are differences in average intelligence among the races as a license for racial discrimination. They evidently believe that many or most Americans long to return to the system of legally enforced racial segregation that prevailed in the American South until the mid 1960s. But that is nonsense.

Sadly the brave Michael Barone of 1995 has become in 2001 at best a pitiable bus-boy clearing tables for the new orthodoxy on immigration. An orthodoxy which has the temerity to claim to be "conservative."

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for

The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]

June 22, 2001