Ben Shapiro and Institutional Racism

Ben Shapiro is a master in taking complex issue and dumb them down into simple binaries choices. I remember especially his debate on health care where he said:

“The truth about health care is this: There are three qualities of health care that you can have: You can have affordability, you can have universality, or you can have quality. You can have two of those three things, but not all three.”

It demonstrates a classic Ben Shapiro tactic to win arguments. He picks simple absolutes that seem to cover every possible choice. Now that he has narrowed down the discussion to parameters he has chosen and force you to play by his rules, the can easily go for the knock-out. The does this lame trick every single time. Actually it reminds me a lot of how Milton Friedman would argue which also tended to sucker punch his opponents with the same tactic.

Anyway, what is the problem with his argument? Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if you e.g. make health care more affordable and cover more people, it has get lower quality? It almost seems self evident.

He does the same nasty trick when talking about institutionalized racism, but I will get to that.

A serious problem in the American for-profit health care system is over-treatment. It means many patients get treatment they don’t need. Expensive surgery or drugs they never needed which often makes their health worse, not better. Why? Because it is a profit driven system, where the incentive is to make money, and not really to make you healthier.

Ben Shapiro is trying to make you believe that if more people get treatment, then existing patients get worse treatment given that total costs remain unchanged. However if you eliminate overtreatment you actually make the health of those receicing over-treatment better while saving money. Money you can now spend on covering more people.

American health care is overly bureacratic. More than 1/3 of US health care costs go to cover bureaucracy. This is four times more than Canada per capita. Again this is in large part due to the for-profit system in the US, where insurance companies and hospitals battle it out through red tape. You can cut red tape without any quality, coverage or affordability lost.

I could continue but the point is that Ben Shapiro’s arguments always rests on the viewer not being aware of details such as this. He throws up reasonable sounding premises that narrows down the playing field so he can win.

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism is typically compromised of a myriad of small choices which added up develop into racism. Yet you cannot easily put a specific individual on the spot.

Here is one example from a University of Maryland study covered by the Economist. If you went through every arrest and tried to find where a cop was being racist, you would probably be hard pressed to find it.

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However statistics can easily expose a bias or trend hidden when looking at an individual. When reviewing each individual arrest of a drug dealer you can probably not tell to what degree the cops exaggurate or not how much drugs they had. Arrests for 1999–2010 shows roughly what you should expect. That there is a fairly smooth distribution of how much drugs those arrested possess. However once a new law came in 2010 which allowed much higher punishment for people with 280–290 grams of crack the police consistently exaggerated the amount black drug dealers had on them to get right to this cut-off point with such consistency that in the years 2011 to 2015 it caused a huge surge in sentences for that narrow band of possession.

This is clever use of statistics to expose institutionalized racism. The problem is that most of the time one doesn’t have access to data and circumstances which allow us to expose the bias.

E.g. when pointing out blacks get more arrested than whites, get higher sentences etc, it is by people like Ben Shapiro all to easy to brush it away and say it is only because blacks do more crime. The way around this problem is to perform a controlled experiment such as this one where there is a game where people have to shoot criminals put not the innocent people.

Criminals hold guns or other weapons while innocent people hold things like cell phones. It turns out blacks got shot wrongly 35% of the time while whites got shot wrong 26% of the time. This test was done on college students.

It exposes a problem with Ben Shapiros problem of looking at specific instititions. Often the bias is simply all over society. You cannot point out one specific building or school and say “let us remove institutional racism from that one.”

Here is another one regarding institutional racism in schools. Black students are 3 times more likely to be suspended. Of course it is hard to prove that this is due to racism and not simply that black kids act out more, as Ben Shapiro would likely claim. But again we got studies which prove that people are more likely to view a black child as older and less innocent.

Some researchers came up with a clever way to uncover police bias against black drivers. They analyzed 100 million traffic stops. They made the hypothesis that after the sun went down, and you cannot see the color of somebody’s skin, a lot of bias against blacks would disappear. What made this analysis extra clever is that the sun sets at different times through the year in different states. Hence you can tease out any anomalies related to say blacks working at different hours of the day, or driving at different hours. Hence you can could check bias in the same state over the year and see how it would basically follow the sun light.

As suspected they found there was a clear bias. Not only that but they also found that whenever blacks got searched there was a lower chance that they had drugs or guns than whites. What does that tell you? It is lower because more innocent blacks get stopped than innocent whites. Why? Because blacks are disproportionately targeted.

So the evidence is there, but you can seldom look at a clear individual incident. You have to look at trends in the aggregate. People like Ben Shapiro deliberately exploit the fact that institutionalized racism takes hard work to prove and uncover.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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