A Brief History of the Future

Jim Henley has a very interesting post describing future trends tied in with Science Fiction.

Racial Discrimination: #5

Kieran Healy links to a study focussing on the effects of a criminal record on job prospects.

Pager found a similar race effect to the study Kreuger writes about, but because she also looked at incarceration it brings it into sharper focus. She found that blacks “are less than half as likely to receive consideration by employers relative to their white counterparts, and black non-offenders fall behind even whites with prior felony convictions.” In other words, even though race and prior incarceration both negatively affect one’s employment opportunities, controlling for education and skills you’re better off being a white male with a felony conviction than a black male with no criminal record.

Security: Pros and Cons: Part Deux

While we are on the subject of security policies, I should mention the FBI interviews of people from Middle Eastern and Muslim countries. I was also one of the people interviewed by US government agencies early this year. My interview was harmless. The time and date of the interview was set at my convenience. The interview lasted about half an hour. There were two agents who were very polite. They didn’t ask to see any documents. They were interested in what sort of work/research I was doing in the US and whether I had any contact with anyone who could be interested in advanced technology for the wrong purpose. Looking back at my interview, I see no harm being done. But there were people who were afraid, some because they didn’t like being singled out, others because an encounter with the police in their home countries is not a pleasant thing. There were also cases of people who had broken the law in some way (e.g. working without INS authorization to make ends meet while they were in school.) In the end, the story in Pakistan was not of polite FBI officers interviewing law-abiding people. It was of Pakistanis and Muslims being targetted and harassed. The news reports told of people being detained and deported. The media, as Aziz emphasizes, focuses only on the scandalous and sensational. What we forget is that it’s not just the US media; newspapers (which are usually more independent than TV and radio in most of the Middle East) in other countries do the same. It’s just that what they sensationalize is our follies and our policies.

Hindu Extremists Gain

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won by a landslide in elections in the province of Gujarat.

In an election that was widely viewed as a referendum on India’s secular character, Hindu nationalists won a landslide re-election victory today in the western state of Gujarat, which was convulsed by Hindu-Muslim riots early this year.

The vote seemed to affirm the success of the campaign strategy of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party, which had focused on uniting Hindus against a threat of Islamic terrorism and implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, against the state’s Muslims.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which also leads the national coalition government, won 126 seats in the 182-seat state assembly. The Congress Party, the main opposition, won 51 seats.

The party’s greatest gains came in areas where rioting took place last spring, and where tensions were high. The riots —- prompted by 59 Hindu pilgrims’ being burned to death in February in a train compartment that had been surrounded by a Muslim mob —- left 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslim.

The Bharatiya Janata Party won 52 of 65 seats in riot-affected areas. In central Gujarat, where the rioting was concentrated, it won 45 seats, 30 more than it had in 1998. Even candidates whom witnesses had described as leading or inciting rioting mobs won handily.

I guess extremism helps in the short term.

Military Punishment

Can the military punish killers among its soldiers? Specifically killers of innocent civilians on the side of the enemy. Obviously, we cannot look at the record of illiberal and fascist countries for guidance in this matter. However, looking back at US history, I don’t find a good record either (obviously, the record is much better than say the Soviet Union.) An example is the My Lai massacre in 1968 in Vietnam. Captain Medina was found not guilty and Lt. Calley served only 3.5 years, even though he was sentenced to life imprisonment. A light punishment for the “massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly.” Generally, Israel is also careful to punish its soldiers who overstep the bounds and kill or harm innocent civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. However, from reading of Press reports and Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, it seems that most receive light jail terms, discharge from the army or reduction in rank. So my question is: are there any examples of soldiers being punished appropriately (or even harshly) by their own military/government for killing (or massacring) innocent enemy civilians or violating the laws of war?

Security: Pros and Cons

More countries are being added to the special registration requirement by INS (see here.)

Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy has just received an advance copy of a Federal Register notice, scheduled to be published on December 18, that adds the following groups to the “call-in” registration requirement: males born on or before January 13, 1987; nationals of Pakistan, Armenia, or Saudi Arabia, who were last inspected and admitted to the United States as a nonimmigrant on or before September 30, 2002; and, will remain in the United States after February 21, 2003. Such foreign nationals will need to register at a local INS office between January 13, 2003 and February 21, 2003.

According to INS,

Special Registration is a system that will let the government keep track of nonimmigrants that come to the U.S. every year. Some of the approximately 35 million nonimmigrants who enter the U.S. —- and some nonimmigrants already in the U.S. —- will be required to register with INS either at a port of entry or a designated INS office in accordance with the special registration procedures. These special procedures also require additional in-person interviews at an INS office and notifications to INS of changes of address, employment, or school. Nonimmigrants who must follow these special procedures will also have to use specially designated ports when they leave the country and report in person to an INS officer at the port on their departure date.

These nonimmigrants will be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed when they report at an INS office.

Another result of the war on terrorism is the authority given to CIA to kill terrorists:

The Bush administration has prepared a list of terrorist leaders the Central Intelligence Agency is authorized to kill, if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized, senior military and intelligence officials said.

The previously undisclosed C.I.A. list includes key Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as other principal figures from Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups, the officials said. The names of about two dozen terrorist leaders have recently been on the lethal-force list, officials said. “It’s the worst of the worst,” an official said.

Even though I agree with the basic principle behind both of these policies, I am a little troubled. I believe that it is sometimes (though rarely and as an absolute last resort) necessary to use assassination (which is what this policy is in effect.) However, we should be very wary because there is a huge chance that this kind of power will be misused. All we need to do is to look back over our own history during the cold war.

Another thing that needs to be considered for both the special registration and the killing of terrorists is the weighing of consequences. We need to include all direct and indirect effects of these policies. Will these policies get rid of terrorists? How about help in capture? Prevention of terrorist attacks? Effect on relations with other countries? Anger at the US among citizens of countries who have to go through fingerprinting? Hatred of US in those countries as these stories get exxagerated back home? Will assassinating one terrorist create 10 new ones? What if we assassinate somebody who is innocent? Isn’t this the sort of thing that makes Henry Kissinger “one of the ten most evil men of the 20th century” (trademarked by the Talking Dog)?

Does that mean we shouldn’t ask people from specific countries to get fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed? Not at all. I do believe the basic policy is justified. (Please note that I do not fall under the category requiring special registration.) So my question is not exactly about the policy itself, but the thought process of the administration in coming up with this policy. Did they think long and hard about it? Did they consider the pros and cons, both short-term and long-term, of their decisions? And this is where I am not confident.

UPDATE: My views on the assassination policy were probably not clear. I believe that assassinations can be justified only very rarely as an absolute last resort against terrorists against whom we have already made a very good case internationally.

States’ Rights and Slavery

Patrick Nielsen Hayden notes how the South in the 19th century paid only lip service to states’ rights when it came to fugitive slaves:

But claiming to be coerced while actually practicing coercion is a dark art that Southern racists have refined on for over 150 years. The Confederacy’s central claim was that the North was attempting to force change on them—but the central fact of American politics from the Mexican War to 1861 was the remorseless struggle of slaveowners to force Americans outside the South to enforce their “rights.” Whether Americans in Minnesota and Michigan and Maine wanted to or not.

Racial Discrimination: #4

I like the data organized this way. For each want ad, four resumes were sent, two Whites and two Blacks.

Equal Treatment


No Call-back






Whites Favored








Blacks Favored








Another interesting breakdown is by occupation and industry.

Occupation % of Ads White callback rate Black callback rate Ratio
Executive and Managerial 14.5% 7.91% 5.95% 1.33
Administrative supervisors 7.7% 9.57% 5.85% 1.64
Sales representatives 15.2% 8.04% 5.09% 1.58
Sales workers, retail and personal services 16.8% 10.46% 7.05% 1.48
Secretaries 33.9% 10.49% 6.63% 1.58
Clerical workers, admin. support 11.9% 13.75% 9.96% 1.38

I would have expected similar results. At the highest level (executive and managerial) and the lowest (clerical workers, admin. support) discrimination is lowest.

Industry % of Ads White callback rate Black callback rate Ratio
Manufacturing 8.3% 6.93% 3.96% 1.75
Transportation and communication 3.0% 12.16% 14.86% 0.82
Wholesale and retail trade 21.5% 8.76% 5.71% 1.53
Finance, insurance and real estate 8.5% 10.63% 4.35% 2.44
Business and personal services 26.8% 11.30% 6.71% 1.68
Health, educational and social services 15.5% 12.14% 9.50% 1.28
Other/unknown 16.4% 8.71% 6.47% 1.35

Let’s now consider what the authors have to say about the hypothesis that the observed differences can be due to perceived social class rather than race of the applicants:

Second, perhaps employers are inferring more than just race from applicants’ names. More specifically, maybe employers are inferring social class. When employers read a name like “Tyrone” or “Latoya,” they may associate that name with the ghetto or other disadvantaged social background. Of course, because African Americans on average do in fact come from poorer backgrounds than Whites, this argument would have to be sharpened. These names would need to be more reflective of economic background than being African American already is. While plausible, several of our results are inconsistent with this interpretation. First, recall that the African American sounding names we use are not as atypical as they may seem. In fact. as Appendix 1 shows, they are quite common among African Americans. Second, for the subset of African American female names where we had access to data on social background (mother’s education to be precise), we found no correlation between social background and callback rates. Finally, and perhaps most telling, in Table 7, we found that African Americans are not helped more than Whites by living in more White or more-educated neighborhoods. If the African American names were mostly to signal negative social background, one might have expected a better address to yield greater returns for the African American names than for White names.

The authors make a plausible case, but not an air-tight one in my opinion. I think a batch of neutral-sounding names, i.e. common names equally popular among whites and blacks, would have given a good comparison. Also, the authors did not have access to much social/economic data; only data about mothers’ high school education for a small subset is not enough. I would guess that there is a bigger jump in social/economic status if the mother is college-educated as opposed to the difference between “completed high school” vs “not completed high school.” (I do not have any data on this, but would appreciate if someone could point me to it.)

In the end, I have no doubt that there is racial discrimination in hiring, though definitely has gone down quite a lot over the years. The authors do make a better case than a lot of the previous studies, but their case is all about discrimination among first names. There is definitely correlation with race, but is it causation? I am not completely convinced.

NOTE: All the tables and quotes belong to Bertrand and Mullainathan and are from their paper “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” All copyrights belong to the authors or to the publisher of their paper.

Racial Discrimination: Post 3

Looking at the data for the different names from the previous post, a few things come to mind.

There is a great variation even within a category. What is the reason for that? Do people like Kristen so much better than Emily? Ebony over Aisha? What’s wrong with Neil? What is Brad doing right (other than sharing his name with Brad DeLong)? Can the authors explain it? Is the difference between blacks and whites due to choosing these specific subset of all names instead of race? What if the researchers had chosen all white names with results like Neil and all black ones like Jermaine? Is that even possible? Here is what the authors say:

Not surprisingly, we find variation in callback rates across names. Chance along would produce such variation because of the rather small number of observations in each cell. We therefore formally test the hypothesis that the names within each sex-race category produce the same effect. We estimate a probit regression of the call back dummy on all the personal first names, allowing for clustering of the observations at the employment ad level. For all but one sex-race category, we cannot reject the hypothesis that all the first name effects are the same. Only for African American female names do we reject this null at a significant level. Five out of nine female African American names (Aisha, Keisha, Tamika, Lakisha and Tanisha) do worse than the worst female White name. The last four female names (Latoya, Kenya, Latonya and Ebony) perform only slightly below the average White female name.

We investigated two possible explanations for these name specific effects among African American females. First, we considered the possibility that employers might be relatively less familiar with some of the worst performing names and it is this lack of familiarity that motivates their callback behavior. However, we found no obvious correlation between name-specific call back rates and the relative frequency of each of the names, at least in the Massachusetts birth certificates. Second, we considered the possibility that the name fixed effects reflect differences in social class or economic background. To assess the relevance of this interpretation, we used some limited Massachusetts birth certificates data on mothers’ education. More specifically, for each of the five most common African American female names in our sample (Aisha, Ebony, Keisha, Tamika and Tanisha), we were able to obtain information on the fraction of mothers having completed high school. We found no obvious relationship between the name-specific callback rates and mothers’ education. (Footnote: Female names by ascending mother education are: Tamika, Keisha, Tanisha, Ebony and Aisha.)

A number of black names in the study (Aisha, Rasheed, Kareem, Jamal, Hakim) seem like Arab in origin. Did that affect the results in any way? We see that Aisha, Rasheed and Kareem do badly but Jamal and Hakim don’t.

Bertrand and Mullainathan selected these names based on three factors: the popularity of these names among babies born in Massachusetts between 1974 and 1979; a high ratio of frequency in one race to the frequency in the other race; and as a result of a public survey which asked people to guess race and other features just based on a first name. If I was doing this study, I would include popular names that are equally popular among blacks and whites as well. That would give me something to measure my results against. Also, I would like to see the results of the public survey. Did they ask about education, income, intelligence, etc.? For example, was there a correlation between the call-back rates and any of the features they asked on the public survey?

Even though last names used were also race-specific, they do not analyze the effects of last names. “Because sample sizes are not large enough to separately consider each first and last name combination, we focus on first names.

I should also mention Bertrand and Mullainathan found that the observed differences in callback rates for blacks and whites are statistically significant.

NOTE: All the tables and quotes belong to Bertrand and Mullainathan and are from their paper “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” All copyrights belong to the authors or to the publisher of their paper.

Racial Discrimination: Expanded

Continuing on an earlier post, here is the data about the first names used, their prevalence in the specific group (black/white male/female) and the percentage who received calls for interviews in the study:

White-Sounding Black-sounding
Name Frequency Mean Call-back Name Frequency Mean Call-back
Emily 4.7% 8.3% Aisha 3.6% 2.2%
Anne 5.0% 9.0% Keisha 3.7% 3.8%
Jill 4.2% 9.3% Tamika 5.3% 5.4%
Allison 4.7% 9.4% Lakisha 4.1% 5.5%
Sarah 3.9% 9.8% Tanisha 4.2% 6.3%
Meredith 3.9% 10.6% Latoya 4.6% 8.8%
Laurie 4.0% 10.8% Kenya 4.0% 9.1%
Carrie 3.5% 13.1% Latonya 4.7% 9.1%
Kristen 4.4% 13.6% Ebony 4.3% 10.5%
Neil 1.6% 6.6% Rasheed 1.4% 3.0%
Geoffrey 1.2% 6.8% Tremayne 1.4% 4.3%
Brett 1.2% 6.8% Kareem 1.3% 4.7%
Brendan 1.3% 7.7% Darnell 0.9% 4.8%
Greg 1.0% 7.8% Tyrone 1.6% 5.3%
Todd 1.4% 8.7% Jamal 1.2% 6.6%
Matthew 1.4% 9.0% Hakim 1.1% 7.3%
Jay 1.4% 13.2% Leroy 1.3% 9.4%
Brad 1.3% 15.9% Jermaine 1.1% 11.3%

I have a few more excerpts and thoughts on this, but right now I have to go for dinner with a friend.

To be continued.

NOTE: All the tables and quotes belong to Bertrand and Mullainathan and are from their paper “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” All copyrights belong to the authors or to the publisher of their paper.