Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pigford Perspectives IV (Earmarks)

There's been lots of flak about Congressional earmarks over the last few years--the Dems beat the Reps over the head about the "bridge to nowhere" ($150 million in Alaska) as a symbol of their apostasy from their small government, tight budget principles. Now that the Dems are in the majority, they're catching grief as they struggle to reduce and/or put light on the process.

What's this have to do with Pigford? Maybe nothing. But I've often puzzled: blacks often charge discrimination and bias in contexts where the whites profess innocence: ("yes, racial hate is terrible, but that's not me...etc. etc.) If this were just an occasional event one might say simply that the whites are lying. But it happens often enough that maybe one should take the claims seriously and see if something else is going on, at least in part.

Back to earmarks: can the residents of New York or New Jersey, who pay much more in federal taxes than they get back, fairly charge Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV) or Sen. Stevens (R, AK) with bias and discrimination against them? If they did, the Senators would rouse themselves to say, we're just looking after the home folks.

When you look around the "earmarking" phenomena is quite prevalent. "Legacy admissions" to colleges (children of alumni) are one form; giving preferences to one's family and friends (MCI used to run an advertising campaign called "Friends and family") is another. It just seems natural when we have goodies to give out we start first with those we know and love, then switch to a more arbitrary standard (i.e., merit; first come, first served) to distribute the rest.

So I wonder--is some of Pigford, the symptoms of disparate conditions between black and white farmers, the result more of "looking after the home folks" than bias? The Farmer's Home office (now FSA) had so much loan money to allocate. It wouldn't surprise me if they looked out first for old classmates, fellow church members, etc. The result would be much the same for blacks as straight discrimination, and no doubt would feel to blacks as racial bias. Trying to figure out when it's bias and when it's "good ole boy" network would be frustrating.

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