Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

The right must be more than a critic on critical theory

Simon Cowan

05 June 2021 | Canberra Times

It has been difficult to knock the Coronavirus crisis off the front page of the world’s major newspapers, for good reason. Yet the issue of race — and the broader cultural conflict over identity politics and cancelling — has done so with surprising frequency.

Just this week, in justifying his priority to give small business loans to minority businesses, US President Joe Biden made comments suggesting that “Black entrepreneurs are just as capable of succeeding given the chance as white entrepreneurs are. But they don’t have lawyers. They don’t have accountants.”

This comment received its usual mix of praise from the left and condemnation from the right, notably for its patronising tone and “soft bigotry of low expectations”.

It may be true that, on average, black entrepreneurs are less able to access business support services. Warren Mundine made a similar point in a recent CIS publication on this topic. Yet, crucially Mundine observed that the issue is not actually one of race but access to business support services in your community.

There is no reason to think that a black, or Indigenous, entrepreneur based in a major city, especially one with a university degree, would have significantly more trouble accessing business support than their white counterpart.

As Jordan Peterson, Charles Murray and a host of others have pointed out, group averages tell us very little about individual circumstances.

Ironically, other policies pursued by those concerned about these group differences are actually counterproductive. For example, attempts to tighten lending laws would further restrict access to capital for borrowers with marginal credit (which undeniably includes minority small business owners).

It is also worth observing the obvious point that race is a terrible basis on which to select and support small business ideas if your aim is to foster successful business.

The problem is that Biden and others on the identity politics obsessed left are not pursuing business success, they are chasing ‘racial equity’.

In that sense, their policies are constructed backwards from their preferred outcome.

As my colleague Peter Kurti made clear in his recent paper, Cancelling the Culture: Critical Theory and the Chasm of Incoherence, identity politics seeks to shift focus from individuals to group identity. By labelling any difference in outcomes between racial groups as structural racism, the aim is then to use government to enforce equality of outcome.

This thinking has deeply pervaded the American policy landscape. As Richard Hanania, President of the US based Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, has observed,  ‘non-discrimination’ meaning pretty much everything that advantages one group over another is an idea that has been around for almost 60 years.

For example, it is the basis of US affirmative action policies.

While Australia has avoided many of these problematic policies, they are becoming increasingly in vogue here. The same type of thinking is at the core of gendered analysis of the recent budget, with its claims that tax cuts are effectively sexist.

Another example is the recent report into structural racism at Collingwood, which called for the adoption of an ‘anti-racist’ framework. Anti-racism, as Ibram X Kendi has made clear, is a binary framework where everything that is not explicitly aimed at narrowing group outcomes is racist.

Biden’s desire to mandate an increased percentage of loans to black small businesses is a good example of anti-racist policy. One that, when applied to home loans in the early 2000s, fed into the risky sub-prime mortgage pool that contributed to the global financial crisis.

Focusing exclusively on group identity is a crude, reductionist approach to people that diminishes — not uplifts — black and Indigenous people. And the pursuit equality of outcome is not more desirable because it’s been given a shiny new name.

Hanania has also been critical of the lack of policy response on the right to this revived left-wing agenda, noting the absence of what leading crusaders against cancel culture actually want policymakers to do about it.

This is because most of the response from the right has been on the cultural side of the debate. While this is understandable, it has been largely limited to pushing back against the more absurd manifestations of cancel culture.

In order to relegate identity politics to a place of less importance, a broader approach is needed. One that especially emphasises and supports equality of opportunity as a genuinely better option for Indigenous and black families and individuals, as well as society as a whole.

While the accepted wisdom on the right is that Australia has been less affected by woke cancel culture than America or Britain because of the pragmatic, blunt approach of the average Australian, this may not be the entire story.

Australia has had significantly higher social mobility than a number of other countries. And where working class wages in America and Britain have stagnated for decades, widespread wage growth has been the norm in Australia during that time.

Indeed, if identity politics and critical theory relies heavily on the lived experience of inequality, it is entirely plausible that a relative lack of inequality in Australia might make those ideologies less attractive to ordinary Australians.

The Productivity Commission, in its landmark study on inequality in 2018, found that widespread inequality was not the biggest problem in Australia, but rather the persistent disadvantage of a relatively small percentage of the population.

Remote Indigenous communities are a significant proportion of that disadvantaged population.

This is why Mundine, my colleague Jacinta Price and others continue to emphasise the need to generate real economic opportunities in these communities.

This does not mean racial-based government lending programs. Instead it means laser-focused targeting of support at the factors driving disadvantage and preventing communities from building their own businesses.

Those pushing back against identity politics should remember it is not just about defending the culture, it is also about advancing a positive vision for the future.

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