Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Economic Cost of Hate... And a few more thoughts.

Now that I’m retired, my brain is craving some interaction with people who want to teach me something! Last week, I attended a webinar, via Zoom, on the economic cost of hate. This talk was focused on the cost of hate aimed primarily toward the LGBTQ community.

This event was provided by Ken Stern of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate. The presentation was made by Lee Badgett, an economist who recently authored the book The  Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair & Equal Treatment Benefits Us All. 

Here is a summary of the points made by  Dr. Badgett:

Her work is focused on the economic quantification of bigotry. It is all about numbers and data and is meant to appeal to those looking at the “bottom line.” 

The cost of hate begins to accumulate as early as elementary school. One person who was bullied as a child said that it was like going to war every day. And like a war, bullying can be costly. Studies have shown that bullying reduces GPAs, increases absenteeism and drop-out rates.  An LGBT student is more likely to be bullied. Not surprisingly, bullying is bad for the entire school and this is reflected in test scores and rankings. 

This cost continues into adulthood. Gay men, with the same education and work history as their straight counterparts, make, on the average, 11% less. In studies where applicants’ resumes reflected an affiliation with the LGBT community, the applicant was much less likely to move onto the next phase of a job interview. Studies show that for every nine interviews made, a straight man will get the job. It takes a gay man fourteen interviews to do the same. 

Stigma makes you sick. Minority stress is a real thing and it just doesn't affect LGBT people, but all people whose demographics are underrepresented in a field. Women in predominately male professions, black people in a predominately white profession, etc. 

Discriminatory policies prevent businesses from hiring or keeping good employees. Studies back up the fact that businesses with anti-discriminatory policies increase their stock prices, their productivity and their profits. 

She talked about the so-called bathroom bill which North Carolina put in place preventing transgender people from using gender-appropriate restrooms. This move cost the state four-billion dollars in lost revenue. Businesses that were going to relocate there, didn't relocate. Conventions and events that were going to take place there, went some place else. 

Countries with progressively better treatment of the LGBT community, had a progressively better GDP. In emerging economies, one additional LGBT right afforded brought in an additional $320 increase to the per-capita GDP. In already-established economies, this one additional right brought in a $1,065 increase to GDP. On the flip side, the stigma of becoming incrementally anti-LGBT costs a national economy. The conservative estimate of this cost was a loss of one-percent of GDP. 

Making positive LGBT policy changes in an organization or a state or nation complements that entity’s promotion of human rights and opens doors. 

The author concluded that three things should come out of these studies:

  1. There needs to be more resources for LGBT organizations.
  2. Policies and laws need to change.
  3. There needs to be more and better data. 

Dr. Badgett took about 20 minutes to outline her book and the rest of the hour was devoted to questions. 

I believe that this “economic cost” perspective is an important vector for our community to push in promoting equity and justice for all. But, one thing kind of nagged at me, so I asked the question: “Short of boycotts, In your experience, have you found that anti-LGBT politicians (not business leaders) in the United States are swayed by the data you presented?

Her short answer was “probably not.”

Here is the webinar if you are interested.


Or a link can be found here

Of course, the webinar made me think about some issues. If you want to know what I am thinking, please keep reading.

I suppose that if the only way to get a business to do the right thing is to show them the bottom line, that’s better than them not doing the right thing, in spite of the bottom line. 

I applaud the work being done to promote anti-hate as a “logical” position for financial success. Fortunately, today we live in an era where that can happen. In other words, in the past, a slave-based business enterprise might be be hard-pressed to acknowledge the economic logic of anti-hate.

The question I asked Dr. Badgett underlies my main concern. Politicians whose base is composed of ideologues will not be swayed by a logic which endangers their livelihood. In fact, if conservative politicians decide to follow the logical route, thereby creating a platform position which contradicts the programmed worldview of their constituents, they will be “primaried” out. 

This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it endemic to the extreme right. Any longterm plan of promotion of “liberty and justice for all” cannot ignore it. I think this closed mindset deserves to be studied and addressed, in order to understand and eventually overcome it. 

The Rand corporation conducted a study decades ago which highlights this problem. The conservative think tank found that it was five times more economical to spend money upstream when it comes to the prevention of crime. In other words, for every dollar a government spent on childhood education, free breakfasts and lunches in school (or any government spending which studies have shown prevents a child from slipping into a life of crime) the state would not spend five dollars to incarcerate these children later on in life. 

You would think that this would have spurred an increase in Head Start and other programs. Again, this study was made by the conservative-leaning Rand Corporation. They did not address altruism, just the economic bottom line. This study had almost zero impact on politicians, let alone their constituents. 

One might project this phenomenon into the larger world, as well. We used to spend a lot of money in other countries to win the hearts and minds of those citizens. It was an effective foreign policy too, and brought results. Many people in our nation decried this as a “waste of money.” So much so, that today the United States is at the bottom of the list of nations which render foreign aid (as a percentage of GDP). Now, we find that the United State’s defense budget is more than all of our potential enemies’ budgets combined. I believe the budget number is closer to the rest of the entire world’s defense budget combined. Yet, you don't hear much of an outcry about this spending from those who, otherwise, like to think of themselves as “conservative.” But, you did hear from them complaining about our more effective, more economical foreign aid - a lot. Why is this?

In my opinion, it is pretty obvious that we are more than willing to spend money ineffectively, and without any regard to the outcome, as long as that money is spent satisfying a visceral desire to hurt others and not help them. 

I don’t think we used to be this way. Today, I don't think the majority of our nation operates this way, either. Those who embrace a costly hate-based economics are in the minority. But due to voter suppression, gerrymandering and an undemocratic system which gives this minority of people in our nation sway over the majority, it really doesn't matter. This minority seems outspoken in their desire to spend more money to exacerbate a problem than less money to solve it, especially when this spending promotes cruelty. Witness the economic cost of locking hundreds of children up as a deterrent to immigrants seeking to cross our border. You can almost hear their chants “Lock them up!” Granted “Effective immigration policy, now!” is not very catchy.

Now that we have lost track of the parents of our child prisoners, we have a dilemma  - hundreds of children that we must now do something with. Whatever the solution, it will be costly. And knowing that a hateful minority calls the shots, rest assured, it will also be cruel. What the Trump administration did to these children (and what they might yet do to them) is an expense we bare, not only in dollars, but also costs our national character and our standing in the world. We have shown the world who we are, and all Americans will forever bear the brunt. For the promoters of this cruelty and to the average Americans who support them, this seems well worth it. They will continue to feel this way right up until the time when the economic and societal chickens come home to roost. When this happens, they will conveniently forget they were ever supportive of this international crime. 

Most who supported incarcerating these children will forget they did so. More than likely, these are the same ignorant, arrogant bunch who rah-rah’ed us into the Iraq War and then when things went sour, said they were never for the war in the first place. As a point of clarification, when I say “ignorant” and “arrogant” I say this not as a pejorative. I mean it in the sense that, in my life, I have never witnessed so many average citizens who proclaim they know more about global warming than climate scientists, know more than epidemiologists about pandemics, know more than constitutional scholars about the constitution, know more about human gender biology than biologists, etc. In other words, “ignorant” and “arrogant.”

You might be picking up from me that, in the United States, our political decisions often do not reflect an underlying logic  but only an underlying cruelty. This cruelty, oftentimes, does not only extend to others. Sometimes, we turn this illogical cruelty inward, toward ourselves.  

A worker whose employer spends a thousand dollars a month for that worker’s health insurance, on top of the thousand dollars a month the worker themselves pay, might take a look at the world and note that the United States is the only place where this bilking takes place. They may also note that, not only do we spend twice as much as the next highest spending nation, our health outcomes are near the bottom of all nations in the world. An employee, if motivated by the bottom line, or their health, might want to vote for politicians who would work toward changing this system. All other countries have already done so. But here, the ignorant and the arrogant do not change course, no matter what the data says. That is, again, until everything crashes down around them. When this happens, they will forget they were ever driving the train. As stated before, these folks are the minority, but, thanks to what our system has become, they call the shots. 

If I wanted to promote a self-interest rationale for not automatically excluding others because of the color of their skin, their “LGBTness,” or any other bigotry, I think I have the ticket. Namely, just from a selfish perspective, why would I want to arbitrarily narrow the field of people who have the potential to be in my life? Why would I not want to meet and befriend someone who would care for me, make me laugh, help me out or otherwise hang out with me? If I was a business owner, why would I want to exclude some candidates who possessed the skill-set my business needed? Maybe the best candidate might be among the excluded. 

When Trump instituted the ban on transgender people serving in the military, some of my conservative friends thought this was a good thing. They said, “Being in the military is not a right but a privilege.”  Really, they said this. Apparently, they unwittingly now understand the concept of “privilege.” My response to them was one that I have heard every general and admiral echo in asking, “Why shouldn't we want to hire the best people for the job? Sometimes, these people are transgender.” Quite simply, the reason why my conservative friends held this irrational belief contrary to the logical belief held by leaders of our military, was that they did not care so much for the success of our military, as much as they wanted to exclude others and hurt them. This brought them some emotional pleasure. Cruelty once again “trumping” logic.

I understand that excluding a group of people from possible economic success, from taking part in society, sweeping them from the mainstream and pushing them to the margins, might make some people feel better about themselves. For some reason, hurting other people - like jailing adults instead of feeding them as children, or locking up undocumented immigrant children in cages really appeals to a certain ideological bent. Think about the people who fought against marriage equality. It had nothing to do with their religion. No one was forcing any religion to marry same-sex couples. It had nothing to do with same-sex marriage being an attack on other-sex marriage. It was simply a way to ensure gay people did not have the same rights and opportunities that they had. Same with not letting trans people use the restrooms of their gender. Like marriage, being able to go to use a public restroom is a pretty basic human right. Remove that right, and the people you don't like cannot go out to eat, go to movies, go to school, etc. Cruelty’s triumph over logic.

I think the problem is that our country is now divided into two basic groups. There is an inflammatory term for one of these groups, which I will refrain from. So, how about "Empathetic people" and "Sociopaths"? "Kind" and "Unkind"? "Logical" and "Irrational"? Whatever you want to call them, there are two distinct groups of people - those who are irrational and want to hurt others and those who are logical and empathetic. 

I am glad that business are looking at the bottom line… now, and that most businesses know that hate costs. I believe that in our public life there has to be a multifaceted approach to ensure rationality and justice eventually overrule hate and inequity. Here is what I would suggest:

  1. Restore a type of democracy to the United States. Fix the electoral college. Eliminate gerrymandering. Make one person’s vote count the same as another person’s vote. Make the senate more representative. Eliminate voter suppression. Institute campaign finance reform.
  2. Show voters what their decisions cost them economically. Send them a bill for locking children up. Send them a bill for the Iraq War. Send them a bill for incarcerating people that would not have been incarcerated if we took care of the problem early on in their lives.
  3. Show people that it is a courageous thing to change one’s mind when one is confronted with facts. In other words, show how news outlets like Fox may make you feel more comfortable, but they are not helping you become more informed. In fact, they are making you more ignorant and lazy. The data is there for the ignorant part. The laziness factor is my own hypothesis. 
  4. Know the costs to your children when you raise them to be unempathetic (sociopaths) and illogical. Know the costs to yourself when you operate the same way. 
  5. Teach children critical thinking in school. I suspect that there may be a bigger backlash for this than the current brouhaha over sex ed. Some parents may be fearful that their children will become critical thinkers. Logic may undermine their household.  
  6. Instill pride in our nation. Not blind faith, but a realization that we collectively own what we are and what we will become. Be an active fixer for what is broke. When we eventually have a democracy, our national character should be a reflection of the overall character of its people. Right now, it is not. 

I’m sure there are more, but this is a start. 

No comments: