Hit & Run

Cosby Mysteries Revealed

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As film buffs the world over live in fear that Leonard Part 7 is in pre-production, Bill Cosby has been getting some mad props for his recent comments about what he called black America's "dirty laundry."

The Village Voice has a piece worth reading about Cosby's comments. Citing the work of the always interesting Mike Males, the Voice's Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that by many, though not all, of the metrics mentioned by Cos are much better than they used to be:

After hearing Cosby grumble that the young were trampling over the work of the old, [Males] went and crunched some numbers and came up with some shockers:

In 1970, among black females between 15 and 17 years old, there were 72 pregnancies per 1000. In 2002, there were 30.9 per 1000.

In 1970, the dropout rate was 28 percent among African Americans. In 2001, it was 11 percent.

In 1970, 15 percent of African Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 went to college. Today, that number stands at 31 percent.

Coates emphasizes that "the black community is no field of lilies," but the article is an provocative counterpoint to much of what's been said about Cosby's comments. Perhaps most interesting is the Voice's implicit endorsement of a pre-Bell Curve Charles Murray-type argument that "the culture" of individuals is less important than the incentive system in which they find themselves. In Losing Ground, Murray famously argued that many welfare recipients were essentially responding rationally in choosing relief over work; the only way to change behavior was by changing the incentive system built into welfare. In a similar vein, Coates quotes employment researcher Mark Levitan:

"The interesting thing is that people were saying [similar things as Cosby] about African American women 10 years ago. In a certain way, I think welfare reform put the lie to that," says Levitan. "We had a change in policy and the blessing of a strong labor market. There were sticks but also some carrots?…Changing the law in a good labor market showed that if people get a little help, they will respond.