Tag: Freakonomics

This Is Either the Best Idea or the Worst Plan Ever

So I’ve been following the advice of the Freakonomics guys, who advise us to think like a child and ask seemingly naive questions in the pursuit of higher truths.

At first, my childlike wonder led to such inquiries as “Why do men have nipples?” and “Can you hit a baseball thrown at the speed of light?” and of course, “If zombies aren’t alive, why do they need to devour the brains of the living?”

But let’s face it, some questions are just unanswerable.

questionmarkleaning

So I turned my attention to one of America’s big issues, and a subject that I have written about at length: immigration.

I asked myself, “Would something like the Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants be a good idea?”

For those of you who skipped U.S. history class to go smoke in the parking lot, here is a quick refresher: The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. It encouraged Western migration by giving settlers 160 acres of land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a filing fee and completed five years of residence before receiving ownership of the land.

So how does that relate to undocumented immigrants?

Well, right now, undocumented immigrants are either caught in an expensive, inefficient loop of deportation/return/deportation, or they live in constant fear of la migra. The system doesn’t work very well, which is something that both conservatives and liberals can agree upon.

And don’t fall for the classic mistake of saying undocumented immigrants should just wait in line to get their papers. It is well-established that for many people, there is no line and never will be.

So here’s my proposal: We say to undocumented immigrants, “Well, we can’t just hand you citizenship. But you can stay in the country if you agree to move someplace where your insane work ethic and tireless pursuit of the American Dream can benefit the nation.”

And then we give them the option of claiming an abandoned house in Detroit’s inner city, or moving to a small town that’s dying, or going to some other location where they can help reestablish a troubled community and work off their debt. If they live in the location for a certain number of years without getting into legal trouble, and pay a filing fee, they get citizenship.

Yes, that’s crazy. Because we can’t solve a societal issue by giving away vacant homes… except that we can. And an influx of newcomers won’t revive rural America or fading cities… except that it can. And the cultural clashes that would erupt over such a policy are insurmountable… except that they’re not.

In essence, there is a precedent for each element of this idea. It would be a massive undertaking loaded with political landmines, but hey, what isn’t these days?

Also, this would not be the only way for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. It would be one of several potential pathways available to them.

Now, I’m not saying this a great idea. I’m just asking the question and looking for feedback. So what do you say? Is a new Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants worth pursuing?


Freaky

I’m a big fan of ideas that are supported by hard data. In fact, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve seen that I don’t just assert that climate change is real, vaccines are safe and effective, and that immigration is down. I back up these claims with facts.

So it’s no surprise that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast, where a couple of academics analyze and verify and quantify all kinds of concepts that are supposedly unquantifiable.

That’s where I found out that free parking is a scourge, tipping is racially motivated, and learning Spanish is a waste of time.

Wait, what was that last one? It’s a shocker.

shocked-baby-expression

Well, the researchers at Freakonomics discovered that learning Spanish increases your income by less than 2 percent. They concluded that the effort you put into learning how to conjugate “decir” doesn’t justify a measly 2 percent income boost. It constitutes poor ROI (that’s “return on investment” for you non-economist types).

Now, it’s depressing to think that nativists have a fact-based argument for dissing Spanish. So you’ll be relieved to hear that there is more to the story.

Additional research has shown that learning a second language (it doesn’t have to be Spanish) has advantages that go beyond income.

For example, bilingual people have more nimble brains and seem to ward off Alzheimer’s more effectively. And Americans who speak another language appear to display greater awareness and empathy for other cultures.

So it just might be worth it to learn Spanish, after all. But the key is to learn is while you are young, so that the process is quicker and less labor-intensive, thereby leading to greater ROI.

OK, that last sentence has convinced that maybe I have been listening to far too many economists lately.

 


In Jeopardy

I recently wrote about the study in “Freakonomics” that showed white contestants on game shows were more likely to discriminate against Latinos than against blacks. The more I’ve thought about this study, the more that it begins to make sense to me.

You see, over the past decade or so, I’ve tried out for several game shows – not because I have any desire to appear excitable on television, but because I’d like the cash. It helps that I have an affinity for trivia. Really, you would want me on your team on quiz night at the bar, because I know a lot of useless shit.

Now, when it comes to the tryouts, I’ve always passed the written or online test (by the way, the “Jeopardy” one is a bitch). But the follow-up, the in-person interviews have gone about as well as a blind date between Condoleezza Rice and Michael Moore. Not once have I been called back to appear on the numerous shows on which, according to the test results at least, I would theoretically kick ass.

When I first started trying out, I figured that my rejections were because a long-haired guy in his twenties was too odd for primetime. Even after my look became more, shall we say, conservative, however, I failed to make the cut. So I presumed that I was just too stoic or reserved for tv.

But now I have proof. I’ve seen guys mellower than me on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” I’ve watched as contestants have floundered over gimme questions like “Who is the only U.S. president to earn a PhD?” (Woodrow Wilson, but you knew that already).

I mean, some people have come across as truly thick-headed:

Yes, I’ve had it. The next time I try out for a show, I’m informing the interviewer that this one goes out to La Raza.

That should work.


No Wonder They Cancelled That Show

First off, let me thank Carola for her comment on my last post.

As for the latest around here, I finally got around to reading “Freakonomics,” the bestseller from a few years ago. Like everyone else who read the book, I’m amazed at the bizarre factoids and surprising conclusions that it supplies. And it’s also convinced me never to buy a swimming pool for my backyard…

In any case, one of the sections in “Freakonomics” looks at a study done on that forgotten game show “The Weakest Link,” which is best known for supplying a short-lived catchphrase that I will refrain from repeating.

The “Freakonomics” authors were curious if data would uncover hidden racial prejudice or sexism among the contestants on the show. Their conclusion was that blacks and women were not discriminated against. They write, in a burst of set-you-up optimism, that “perhaps… discrimination was practically eradicated during the twentieth century, like polio.”

Wouldn’t that be most cool? Racism eradicated – with game shows like “The Weakest Link” serving as a mass-media, pop-culture Salk vaccine! How nifty keen is that?

Well, as you may have predicted, the story doesn’t end there. The authors point out that “the ‘Weakest Link’ voting data do indicate two kinds of contestants who are consistently discriminated against: the elderly and Hispanics.”

Somehow I knew this case study would end badly for us.

What the authors are saying is that my grandmother would have been eliminated from the show before the announcer finished his intro.

So why are Latinos and the elderly picked on? Well, the authors conclude that “all but the most insensitive people take pains to at least appear fair-minded, at least in public,” and that discrimination still pops up when aimed at “other groups that society doesn’t protect as well.”

In other words, white people will go out of their way to avoid looking like they’re picking on black people. But when it comes to, say, Hispanics, all bets are off.

The authors even pinpoint the form of bigotry aimed at Latinos. They say that “Hispanics suffer information-based discrimination,” which is when someone “believes that another type of person has poor skills, and acts accordingly.” The authors note that “other contestants seem to view the Hispanics as poor players, even when they are not.”

The prejudice against the elderly, in contrast, is “taste-based discrimination,” which is when someone “prefers to not interact with a particular type of other person.”

So the good news is that many Americans don’t get skived out at Hispanics the same way they do at, for example, old people. It’s just that they automatically think that we’re really, really stupid.

Well, that makes me feel better.

Regardless, the “Freakonomics” study creates a conundrum. It assumes that Latinos are a group that “society doesn’t protect as well.” This confuses me this because I have been told, repeatedly, that we live in a post-race society. Ergo, even the slightest suggestion that people are treated differently – or that some groups receive more societal protection or favoritism than others – is a roundhouse left to the legacy of MLK. At least, this is what I’ve heard from my conservative friends.

Another issue that the study raises is whether the parsing of bigotry is even possible or relevant. If we categorize prejudice, can we combat it more effectively? Or is it all just shop talk for academics?

Assuming that discrimination comes in different flavors, can we tackle it with more education? After all, the majority culture is not creeped out by Latinos (as opposed to the universal disgust aimed at those icky old people), which implies that this type of prejudice is more analytical than emotional. As such, can we convince others that we’re not total morons, or is it a doomed enterprise, because minds are already made up? And isn’t the very attempt to persuade the majority culture of our worth a degrading endeavor?

Obviously, I don’t know the answer to these questions. Maybe I’m not smart enough. But I do know that, henceforth, I’ll do my best to avoid verifying the majority culture’s perceptions of Latinos. I will take great pains to not appear like a total ignoramus.

From now on, I vow to be all, like, intellectual… and stuff… yup.


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