Win Ben Stein's Advocacy

May 18, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

In a comment on the previous post, “Anonymous” takes me to task for not writing about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid as members of social categories (“a high-power white man attempting to rape an African immigrant woman”).

Now Ben Stein, in an American Spectator post yesterday, uses reasoning by social category but on behalf of Strauss-Kahn.
In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind.

What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman's word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker's is serious business. Maybe more than a few minutes of investigation is merited before it's done.
Drawing conclusions about an individual’s motivations, behavior, honesty, etc., based on these demographic characteristics – there’s a word for that: stereotyping.
  • Powerful white men go around trying to rape powerless women.
  • Very successful economists don’t commit violent crime.
  • Privileged people get away with crimes against powerless victims
  • Chambermaids, out of their own self-interest, can be dishonest.
Simple caricature and plotline. You can take the few facts that have become public and create the comic book you prefer. In fact, we often do convert the world into familiar stories. The trouble is that these stories are not always accurate.

The one thing that Stein says that is not in dispute is that Rikers (like jails generally) is horrific. I wonder whether he has ever before expressed this concern. I don’t know all of Stein’s oeuvre, but maybe others can enlighten me. (Obvious Ben Stein tag line here.)


Anonymous said...

"Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category?"

Nah. Since we didn't ask the question before the incident, the question isn't, "What are the odds that this maid found the only rapist economist?" The question is, "What are the odds that any maid would find any rapist economist?"

It's the difference between, "what are the odds Student A and Student B have the same birthday?" versus "what are the odds any two students have the same birthday?"

Anonymous said...

Hey, FYI, xkcd found someone with an economics degree who committed violent sex crimes: Paul Bernardo, the serial rapist and murderer:

Jay Livingston said...

Interesting, but I don't think that Bernardo was a practicing economist. Besides, Ben has proven, to his satisfaction if not yours, that the number of rapist economists is zero. Therefore, since we know for certain that DSK is an economist, he cannot also be a rapist. The logic is irrefutable.