In America, you can be anything you want to be, and everybody has unlimited potential.
Well, if that were really true, the entire population would be nothing but rockstars, senators, Oscar-winning actresses, and NFL quarterbacks.
At the very least, the ancient burdens of race and ethnicity continue to have an influence on how successful (or unsuccessful) each of us is. For example, white households have about eighteen times as much money as Latino households — not double or triple, but eighteen times.
And now a USC professor claims that racial disparities are here to stay.
Daria Roithmayr, a professor of law, has proposed the “lock-in model of inequality.” She hypothesizes that “racial disparities persist because whites have stacked the institutional deck in their favor;” adding that the socioeconomic gap between the races “may now have become locked in place.”
Professor Roithmayr doesn’t say the disparity will fade over the next decade or generation or whatever. She says the damn thing is fixed in stone, unalterable for the foreseeable future. That’s all, folks.
Of course, she offers potential remedies, most of them in the area of legal statutes (she is a law professor, after all). But many of them are as likely to become law as Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan.
But what drew Professor Roithmayr to this grim conclusion? For starters, she says white people “are more likely to be in high-wage, high-status jobs,” where they can network and “pass along such jobs and wages. In contrast, for poor and working-class blacks and Latinos, these network referrals link people to lower-wage jobs or unemployment.”
Well, that makes sense, but it only explains how the cycle started and why it continues churning. What’s to keep us, through hard work and perseverance, from breaking the pattern?
For this, Professor Roithmayr uses the metaphor of Microsoft, which is the unquestioned leader in its field despite the fact that everybody hates its products. Roithmayr says Microsoft got off to such a huge start that nobody else can catch it now, adding that “just as Microsoft’s early monopoly advantage became institutionally locked in place, the lock-in model suggests that racial monopolies can become locked into place as well.”
The bad guy in all this is something called the positive-feedback loop. I’ve written before about this concept and its potential to change society. When it comes to race, however, “positive” is a misleading term. In fact, such loops are far more insidious.
Roithmayr says positive-feedback loops — in everything from Jim Crow laws of the past to school funding of the present day — create small disparities that “can become self-reinforcing and produce large and very persistent disparities later on.”
Basically, she claims we’re in an endless cycle where ethnic minorities are unable to dig out of the economic hole in which they were born.
It’s all very pessimistic. But what if she’s right? We should hope that Professor Roithmayr is some ivory tower hack who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.