Dr. Steven Levitt is a Harvard and MIT Ph.D. educated economist who teaches economics at the University of Chicago. Last year he won the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, an award given every two years to the best economist in America under the age of forty.
Dr. Levitt is a rogue economist who explores the 'hidden side' of everything. He has the uncanny ability to use information to peel back the layers of what is going on around us to get to the heart of what is happening under the surface of everyday life.
His newest book, entitled Freakonomics, explores the hidden side of every day life in America. His chapter titles are controversial, but his conclusions are hard to ignore.
In one chapter entitled "How Is The Ku Klux Clan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents?" Dr Levitt shows how information obtained in the 1940's by an activist named Stetson Kennedy helped break up the power and influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Kennedy secretly infiltrated the Klan and turned all the secret codes, greetings, passords and agendas of that organization to the producers of "Superman," the number one rated radio show of the day.
The producers of "Superman," sympathetic with Stetson Kennedy's desire to break up the Klan, wrote a four part series where Superman himself took on the greatest villain in America --- the Ku Klux Klan. The producers used all the real 'super secrets' of the Klan in the "Superman" show. Once America knew the 'secrets' of the Klan, people began to be able to 'identify' Klansman (who habitually wore hoods to not be identified) by the way they talked and acted in public when they were not wearing the hoods.
All the kids of America began using the code words of the Ku Klux Klan as they play acted out what they had heard the night before on "Superman." Soon the dads and gradndads of those kids decided it might be best if they no longer showed up at the Klan meetings, lest they ended up being identified by their own family as a Klansman.
Economist Levitt says, "Of all the ideas that Kennedy had thought up --- and would think up in the future --- to fight bigotry, his "Superman" campaign was easily the cleverest and most productive. It had the precise effect he hoped: turning the Klan's secrecy against itself, converting precious knowledge into ammunition for mockery" (Freakonomics, page 65).
What Do Klansman Have in Common with Real Estate Agents?
Before anyone who is a real estate agent gets upset with the above question, including my cousin in California who is the number one real estate agent in America, I remind you this is the title of one of Dr. Levitt's chapters in Freakonomics. Further, before you jump to any false conclusions, Dr. Levitt's does not say in the chapter that there is a commonality in the 'character' of Klansman and real estate agents.
He is, however, saying that there is a commonality in what he calls "the assymetry of information" between Klansman in the early 1940's and real estate agents in the early 1990's. Both groups had information that the masses of people had no way to obtain for themselves.
Klansman had secret codes, passwords and agendas that kept people outside the Klan in the dark regarding their activities.
Real estate agents had secret graphs, home prices, statistics and other facts and information about the housing market that was unavailable to the common layman. As a result, real estate agents developed a 'code' language among themselves. For instance, Dr. Levitt gives ten common real estate words associated with real estate advertisements placed by realtors in the early 1990's.
Ten Common Real Estate Ad Terms
Dr. Levitt says that five of these words are 'code' words by real estate agents used to describe houses that have few attributes worth describing. He says 'fantastic' and 'charming' are dangerously ambigious adjectives. 'Spacious' is often code for decrepit or impractical. 'Great neighborhood' is code for 'the other houses are great, but this house leaves something to be desired.' Finally, the ! is a very dangerous sign that something is being covered up by displaying inordinate enthusiasm. Real estate agents often used these code words when selling other houses.
However, when selling their own homes, agents used words like 'maple', 'gourmet,' 'corian,' 'granite,' etc . . . to describe, in concrete terms the houses' good qualities and avoids empty adjectives and ambigious words. The real estate agents would also hold out for a higher price when selling his own home, rather than taking the first good offer that came along, earning at least three percentage points more in selling their own homes than the average American.
But just like the Klan in the 1940's, the secrets of real estate agents were revealed in the mid-1990's by all things --- the Internet.
Dr. Levitt said, "As a medium, the Internet is brilliantly effecient at shifting information from the hands of those who have it into the hands of those who don't. The Internet has vastly shrunk the gap between the experts and the public."
In the late 1990's real estate agents began to deal with a much better informed public, and as a result, 'the assymetry" (or imbalance) of information was corrected. People began to 'crack' the code language of real estate agents, and as a result, the average percentage difference between the prices of houses owned and sold by real estate agents compared to those not owned but sold by real estate agents shrunk significantly.
Information balances the playing field and gives to the have nots the same power and abilities of the haves.
In other words, the gap between 'experts' and 'laypeople' shrinks dramatically with the availability and easy accessibility of information.
What the Missouri Baptist Convention, the Ku Klux Klan, and Real Estate Agents Have in Common
Before anyone gets upset with the analogy, let me say, again, that the commonality is not character --- it is code breaking and making public what used to be done in secret.
The Missouri Baptist Convention's Board of Directors attempted to go behind closed doors last week to launch an investigation against Executive Director David Clippard, and according to this Baptist Press article, were unsuccessful in shutting out the public, so they dealt with a recommendation in 'plenary' or 'open' session to form an investigation committee to probe several issues related to David Clippard.
Like other groups profiled in Dr. Levitt's Freakonomics, Southern Baptists on the far right of the SBC political spectrum who seek to disparage their fellow evangelical Christian brothers is a group that must be exposed. Generic words like 'moderate' or 'liberal' and phrases like 'character problems' or 'a lack of integrity' are completely off base in a discussion about any fellow evangelical Bible believing Baptists. Specificity is a sign of truth. General, hollow adjectives is a sign that there is a hidden, underlying meaning behind events.
Code phrases used like "issues of misconduct," and "lack of overall effectiveness," and "varous concerns," and "questionable integrity," and "questionable character," have all been public allegations leveled at Dr. David Clippard, the Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Missouri. This is a travesty.
I am not, nor would I ever, call into question a recommendation for an investigation into a board or agency. Calls for investigations of agencies are always appropriate when there is evidence of specific, concrete problems and a willingness to share the specific nature of those problems publicly (just ask the Baptist General Convention of Texas who ignored such calls for too long regarding their Valley Mission fiasco).
However, to call for an investigation of an individual for "questionable character," "questionable integrity," or "various concerns" without having the wherewithal to present specific, concrete examples of such concerns, sounds a lot like "informational assymetry" by 'denominational experts' who hope that the average SBC layperson will simply "trust" their rationale.
The tired old explanation "We don't wish to tell you what the problem is, but trust us on this," will no longer work. Southern Baptists are becoming too tech savy, too denominationally astute, and too interested in the future of our convention to let good people be railroaded any more.
I know Dave Clippard. I have known him for nearly twenty five years. I have worked with him in Oklahoma when he was our Associate Executive-Director.
I don't agree with everything Dave believes or says, but . . .
Dave Clippard has no character problem. He has no integrity problem. He is a godly, compassionate, gentle man who loves the lost. He is a Southern Baptist and I desire to cooperate with him in ministry and SBC leadership.
Just a little heads up to the Missouri Baptist Convention.
The days of secret codes for "We don't like you" are now over. No more closed door meetings. No more attempts at discrediting godly men or women with the dangerously ambigious words or phrases used in the Baptist Press article.
Look up in the air . . . It's a bird . . . No, it's a plane . . . No, it's . . .
Southern Baptist bloggers.
It's time for Southern Baptists to explore the hidden side of SBC politics.
It's time to examine the Freakonomics of the politics of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
In His Grace,