American Caste

Our featured post modernist scholar Daria Roithmayr appears to believes that America has four castes: caucasions, latinos, blacks, asians; and emphasizes the importance of caste (which she calls “race”) over class in understanding how the world works and changing societal socio-economic outcomes. And our featured hero, leader of the intellectual dark web, global respected elder, and leading global intellectual Glenn Loury believes in emphasizing class over caste. I am 200% with my hero Glenn Loury on emphasizing class over caste.

Discussions at Brown Pundits seem to be overrun with discussions on caste that I don’t fully understand. The parallels of caste in the muslim world (various different sects of Islam), Arya societies (Iran, Hindu Jain Buddhist influenced societies) and America are uncannily similar. Perhaps a discussion of American caste might help lower extreme passions and facilitate a more productive discussion of caste in muslim societies and Arya influenced societies.

Start watching 35 minutes in if interested.

Daria Roithmayr believes that due to a series of historical events humans are not born with the same social capital. This inequality in social capital is inherited across generations and she believes drives differences in average socio-economic outcomes between America’s four castes. The way she believes social capital in inherited across generations is:

  1. Inter-generational wealth transfer from parents to children [I think this is easily overcome]
  2. Rich kids go to better public schools funded by high property tax revenues [I don’t think school funding matters as much as she does. Expensive versus cheaper public schools matter far less than the power of “good company”, or the effect of kids being surrounded by other amazing kids.]
  3. Social networks [this or the power of “good company” is even more important and valuable than she thinks]
  4. Leadership of or influence on social networks [I don’t think I understand this point]

Daria Roithmayr is right that social capital advantage is inherited across generations. My belief is the way social capital transfers across generations is through affecting four types of privilege:

  1. Physical health [Sharira Siddhi in Sanskrit]
  2. Mental health [Chitta Shuddhi in Sanskrit]
  3. Intelligence [Buddhi in Sanskrit] {Intelligence is affected by physical and mental health as well as by meditation in eastern philosophy}
  4. Good company [This is the least important of the four and primarily works via the influence good company has on physical and mental health and intelligence. There is an eastern saying: “tell me your company and I will tell you who you are”. Social networks or what Glenn Loury calls “relations over transactions” is part of “good company”.]

The other issues Daria is discussing has a far smaller effect on inter-generational social capital transfer than these four.

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17 thoughts on “American Caste”

  1. “Caste” and race are similar in that both are ascribed statuses. You are born into a particular caste and you are born into a particular race. In the antebellum South, the “one drop rule” made even otherwise White looking people black. There was a whole hierarchy based on how much black ancestry you had (Octoroon, Quadroon, etc–even the very terms are racist).

    But “race” doesn’t have religious sanction like “caste” has in Hinduism. That’s all I can say as a layperson. You would need an Anthropology scholar to really delve into the differences between South Asian caste and American race.

    1. Just putting this out there; don’t know what the Asian stat is.

      If you are starting at the median for people of color, you’ll want to practice your financial pole-vaulting. The Institute for Policy Studies calculated that, setting aside money invested in “durable goods” such as furniture and a family car, the median black family had net wealth of $1,700 in 2013, and the median Latino family had $2,000, compared with $116,800 for the median white family. A 2015 study in Boston found that the wealth of the median white family there was $247,500, while the wealth of the median African American family was $8. That is not a typo. That’s two grande cappuccinos. That and another 300,000 cups of coffee will get you into the 9.9 percent.

    2. “Religious sanction” is what religious people give themselves sanctions – or approval – to do their things – racial or anything else. Christians gave themselves ‘sanctions’ to exterminate large number of American Indians and their cultures. Arabs gave themselves religious sanctions to do large scale slave trafficking and trading of Africans till 20th century . The list is long. There is no ‘religious sanction’ in abstract – it is what religious people sanction themselves with. OTOH, Communists though God of Dialectical Materialism has given them sanction to build large scale gulags where millions perished.

  2. Zach, there are no very accurate estimates of Asian American wealth in my opinion, although it is likely higher than for caucasion Americans. For detailed information regarding Asian income versus caucasion income in the US:
    See pages 28 for Asians and pages 24-25 for caucasions. As you can see Asian Americans earn considerably more than caucasions by every measure. And the spread is widening. Hispanic Americans are converging on non hispanic caucasions but have not converged yet. Black Americans earnings are falling further and further behind Asian American, hispanic American and caucasion American levels. This is one of America’s largest challenges and is destabilizing American politics.

    The question of wealth for African Americans has gotten worse over time based on some estimates because of:
    -out of wedlock births (77% for African Americans)
    -high divorce rates (divorce is a wealth killer) (76% for African Americans)
    -low black American savings rates (many African Americans that I admire blame this on cultural changes, hollywood, music that have harmed black Americans and less educated caucasions/hispanics)
    -high rate of black children raised by the state through foster care and orphanages (which in America is extremely dysfunctional)
    -the question of return on investment doesn’t arise because most black Americans own little wealth to invest

    Many black Americans believe that black wealth, entrepreneurship and careers were more successful in the 1950s and 1960s than now (out of wedlock births and divorce were rare back then); but I haven’t seen enough data to confirm this common perception.

    Warren Buffet was asked by an undergraduate male for career advise. Warren Buffet told him that finding a good spouse is much more important than having a good career and that the first leads to the second. Templeton said something similar. I am sure you would agree that you are far more successful than you would have been if V hadn’t helped you.
    Kabir wrote:
    “Structural inequality is real.” What is structural inequality? Intend to write about this soon.

    Many American caucasions have over 20% African ancestry.

    “But “race” doesn’t have religious sanction like “caste” has in Hinduism.”
    Caste was invented by Europeans in the 1400s and 1500s. Varna exists in the scriptures. Caste does not. Almost no post modernist subaltern studies anthropologists that specialize in the East have any idea what Varna is or understands eastern philosophy. This statement is not made lightly. I would challenge any anthropologist to prove me wrong. Sam Harris (world’s most famous atheist) has some understanding; but he has meditated much of his life, including 3 month periods of complete silence.

    “You would need an Anthropology scholar to really delve into the differences between South Asian caste and American race.” Do you think anthropologists understand American “race”. I have met a few who do; but they were too afraid to publicly write or say what they believed except in extremely coded academic words.

    1. Race is the proper subject of study for Anthropologists. They would know much more about it than you, who have yourself admitted you are an economist. Please find yourself a PhD in Anthropology who has studied Race and see what they have to say on the topic.

      Structural inequality has a pretty standard definition. I don’t really have the time to get into this now.

  3. Kabir, argument from authority was discredited by Socrates. Why are you bringing it up now? Even a poor person who never attended school might be wiser and smarter than the most educated person in the world.

    Academic credentials aren’t worth as much as you imagine.

    How do you explain Steve Jobs and his crazy ones?:
    Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many of the greatest people in the world never attended more than a year in college.

    1. Academic credentials are worth of a hell of a lot. You are speaking to a future academic.

      After all, people go to the trouble of acquiring PhDs in Anthropology for a reason and not just for the fun of it. People who have done extensive research in a particular area know more than the layman. Just as Razib knows more about genetics than anyone else on this forum.

      Steve Jobs and Bill Gates invented software and ran successful companies. I wouldn’t go to them for a coherent explanation of Race. Just as I wouldn’t go to an orthopedic surgeon for a cardiac complaint.

      That’s all from me on this thread. Honestly I don’t care that much and I find engaging with you extremely frustrating.

    2. AnAn, Whenever this issue comes up on BP, I am reminded of Badshah Jalaluddin Akbar, who to my knowledge was illiterate by today’s definition. But there was nothing lacking in his personality, his grasp of life, religion, and the people. If only we are all half that good with our credentials. Cheers.

      1. hoipolloi and Badshah Jalaluddin Akbar

        The reason Razib is insightful on genetics has little to do with him having a formal “PhD” and everything to do with his intelligence, research and academic papers.

        Argument from authority and other types of pretentious, condescending, patronizing, arrogant sophistry from the world’s college educated (which I realize includes most of us at BP) explains why those who don’t go to college find us so disgusting.

        The great academic scholars that I know don’t appreciate argument from authority.

        Kabir, what do you think of Glenn Loury (from the video above)? I consider Glen to be one of the best living economists in the world. In part because of his interdisciplinary strength, his openness, his humility and “christian charity.” I think we can all learn from Glenn Loury.

        1. I don’t know much about economists and nor do I particularly care. My intellectual heroes come from the fields of Literary Criticism and Cultural Studies such as Edward Said and Michel Foucault.

          My very limited point was that people specialize in various things and we are perhaps better served by going to a specialist to answer particular questions (as in the medical example above). Anthropology is the study of human society. Economics has to do with the market. Thus on questions of “race”, “gender” etc, one should get input from credentialed Anthropologists (which I am not). You are free to disagree with me on the importance of credentialing, but I believe it matters. You wouldn’t give a computer science job to someone who can’t code.

          1. “You wouldn’t give a computer science job to someone who can’t code.” Correct. All of us would rather have a genius hot shot coder who never went to college code for us over a moderately good coder with a PhD in computer science from Harvard.

            Economics is about using data, analytics and models to solve problems. In other words economists need to be interdisciplinary or partner with people in other fields to solve real world problems.

            You casually say that there are structural barriers or institutional racism or racism without explaining this claim with data or a plausible theoretical framework. You might have data or a theoretical framework on which you are basing your claims; but you choose not to share it. This makes conversations with you confusing.

            I haven’t read Edward Said and cannot intelligently respond to him. But my sense is that he too was unhappy with the westernized ethnocentric lens through which the muslim world and Arab world were viewed, including marxism and post modernism.

            An article on Foucault is planned. He deserves a serious response. Many from Sanathana Dharma are providing this response. But to understand the Sanathana Dharma response an understanding of neuroscience, genetics, psychology and meditation would be helpful.

          2. I think the fact that racism and structural inequality exists is obvious and there is no need for me to explain it to anyone who is even moderately intelligent. In any case, Anthropology is not my field so I am not the best-placed person to explain these things in detail.

            If you think Edward Said was unhappy with “Postmodernism”, you have no clue what you are talking about. He literally invented the entire field of Postcolonial Studies. Do read “Orientalism” (at least try) before telling us what you believe Said thought.

            For god’s sake, don’t write about Foucault until you have seriously read “Power/Knowledge”, “Discipline and Punish” and “The History of Sexuality”. Otherwise, you will just totally butcher the topic.

            There is limited time in the world and I am neither interested nor capable of learning neuroscience or genetics. My days are pretty full with French, Italian, English Literature, and Hindustani Classical Music. Thanks.

  4. AnAn wrote: “An article on Foucault is planned.”

    Progressive Telugu poets in India waxed eloquent about Foucault in 1960s. Is he that relevant now? Even Sartre is rarely mentioned these days. With the information revolution (Internet, smart phones) things become obsolete very fast.

    1. When I was in college (a decade ago), Foucault and Gramsci were a big deal. I don’t know what Literature majors are being taught now.

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