affirmative action

Surrender? Hell No!

About six weeks ago, Ross Douthat — the truly conservative columnist at The New York Times (as opposed to David Brooks) — conceded surrender in the battle over same-sex “marriage”:

It now seems certain that before too many years elapse, the Supreme Court will be forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all 50 states.

Once this happens, the national debate essentially will be finished, but the country will remain divided, with a substantial minority of Americans, most of them religious, still committed to the older view of marriage.

So what then? One possibility is that this division will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it.

In this scenario, religious conservatives would essentially be left to promote their view of wedlock within their own institutions, as a kind of dissenting subculture emphasizing gender differences and procreation, while the wider culture declares that love and commitment are enough to make a marriage. And where conflicts arise — in a case where, say, a Mormon caterer or a Catholic photographer objected to working at a same-sex wedding — gay rights supporters would heed the advice of gay marriage’s intellectual progenitor, Andrew Sullivan, and let the dissenters opt out “in the name of their freedom — and ours.”

But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business — which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado….

… We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and … we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose. (“The Terms of Our Surrender,” March 2, 2014)

Well, it didn’t take long to learn the terms of surrender. (Not that it wasn’t obvious, given the cases of the florist in Washington and the baker in Colorado.) There is a strident branch of gay activism — backed by the usual “liberal” and “libertarian” suspects — that will brook nothing less than the surrender of fundamental rights: freedom of association, freedom of contract, and freedom of speech. The cases in Washington and Colorado are evidence of efforts to deny freedom of association and freedom of contract. Then came the full-blown attack on freedom of speech, with the ouster of Brandon Eich from his job as CEO of Mozilla because six years ago he donated $1,000 to California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative reaffirming traditional marriage.  (See the links at the bottom of this post for more about the Eich affair and its implications.)

What else would you expect, given the precedent of the “civil rights” movement? In the name of “civil rights,” Americans have long been forced to associate with and hire persons whose main qualification is the color of their skin. As for speech, no CEO of any consequence would dare say anything in public (or private) about the difficulty of finding qualified black employees, despite the demonstrably lower intelligence of blacks and their above-average proclivity for criminal behavior. The typical CEO will instead tell his minions to make the workplace look like the “face of America,” regardless of the impossibility of doing so without ripping off taxpayers, shareholders, and customers.

Why? Because honesty about the reasons for failing to meet racial quotas would cause the wrath of the Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to be visited upon the CEO’s corporation. And you can be sure that the worthies in those thought-crime agencies are polishing their truncheons in anticipation of the day when the failure to meet a government-imposed gay quota becomes a crime. Brendan Eich’s fate at the hands of private actors is but a hint of the things that will come at the hands of state actors.

Anyone who lived through the “civil rights” forced equality movement with open eyes could see where the “gay rights” movement would lead, long before its victory became evident to Ross Douthat. I certainly did. See, for example, “In Defense of Marriage” (May 26, 2011), “The Myth That Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Causes No Harm” (October 14, 2011), and the posts and readings linked therein. This is from “In Defense of Marriage”:

The recognition of homosexual “marriage” by the state — though innocuous to many, and an article of faith among most libertarians and liberals — is another step down the slippery slope of societal disintegration. The disintegration began in earnest in the 1930s, when Americans began to place their trust in chimerical, one-size-fits-all “solutions” offered by power-hungry, economically illiterate politicians and their “intellectual” enablers and apologists. In this instance, the state will recognize homosexual “marriage,” then bestow equal  benefits on homosexual “partners,”  and then require private entities (businesses, churches, etc.) to grant equal benefits to homosexual “partnerships.” Individuals and businesses who demur will be brought to heel through the use of affirmative action and hate-crime legislation to penalize those who dare to speak against homosexual “marriage,” the privileges that flow from it, and the economic damage wrought by those privileges.

It should be evident to anyone who has watched American politics that even-handedness is not a matter of observing constitutional limits on government’s reach, regardless of who asks for an exception; it is, rather, a matter of expanding the privileges bestowed by government so that no one is excluded. It follows that the recognition and punitive enforcement of same-sex “marriage” would be followed by the recognition and bestowal of benefits on other arrangements, including transient “partnerships” of convenience. And that surely will weaken heterosexual marriage, which is the axis around which the family revolves. The state will be saying, in effect, “Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer — above all — will pick up the pieces.” And so it will go.

The day is coming — and it’s not far off — when it will be illegal to refuse to associate with, do business with, or hire anyone for any reason that Congress, the executive, or the courts deem unacceptable. This will have two predictable effects. It will further dampen entrepreneurial enthusiasm, which has already taken big hits, thanks to the expansion of the regulatory-welfare state. And it will further divide Americans from each other (see Michael Jonas, “The Downside of Diversity,”, August 5, 2007).

The U.S. Supreme Court to the contrary notwithstanding, I will never recognize same-sex “marriage” as a valid institution. I refuse to cede an inch in the culture war.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Seth Mandel, “Brendan Eich, the Culture Wars, and the Ground Shifting beneath Our Feet,” Commentary, April 4, 2014
Jonathan S. Tobin, “Mozilla Has Rights, Just Like Hobby Lobby,” Commentary, April 7, 2014
Scott Johnson, “Roots of Totalitarian Liberalism,” Powerline Blog, April 7, 2014
Jordan Lorence, “Supreme Court Turns Down Elane Photography,” National Review Online, Bench Memos, April 7, 2014
Mollie Hemingway, “The Rise of the Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents,” The Federalist, April 8, 2014
Patrick J. Buchanan, “The New Blacklist,” Taki’s Magazine, April 8, 2014
Ed Morrisey, “Eich, Intolerance, and the Growing Demand for Absolutism,” Hot Air, April 8, 2014
Nicholas James Pell, “The Care Bears vs. McCarthy,” Taki’s Magazine, April 8, 2014
Stella Morabito, “Bait and Switch: How Same-Sex Marriage Ends Family Autonomy,” The Federalist, April 9, 2014
Robert Oscar Lopez, “Stop Crying over Mozilla and Start Fighting Back!,” American Thinker, April 14, 2014

Other related posts at this blog: Take your pick of the many listed here, here, and here.


Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action

Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle” was this blog’s first serious venture into the sociology and politics of race in America. This second venture addresses the ways in which the state usurps the liberty and property of white Americans for the benefit of black ones.

It all adds up to gross injustice: placing the blame on the blameless. As I say in “Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck“:

  • There is a “right” set of life outcomes …, which luck-egalitarians are qualified to choose and evaluate because of their [self-assessed] superior moral character.
  • Therefore, it is wrong if some persons are worse off than others in terms of the “right” set of outcomes….
  • Those who are better off (by the selective standards of the luck-egalitarian) owe aid to those who are worse off, even if those who are better off did nothing that made others worse off. The better-off simply do not deserve all that they have because, surely, they must owe much of it to luck.

Thus blameless Americans have been burdened with equal employment opportunity (EEO), about which more below; minority lending preferences, which contributed to the Great Recession by encouraging mortgage loans to low-income borrowers; public-accommodations laws, a.k.a. theft of property rights and denial of freedom of association; the expansion of the welfare state, which led to welfare dependency, broken families, and crime; and the prosecution and persecution of politically incorrect views as “hate crimes” and “inappropriate” expressions of thought.

Of those burdens, I am most familiar with EEO (a.k.a. affirmative action) because I had to contend with its enforcement and consequences in my job as the chief financial and administrative officer of a private, federally funded, research organization. What EEO (affirmative action) means in practice is this: If a member of a “protected” (i.e., favored) identity-group seems to have something like the minimum qualifications for a job, and if that person’s work record and interviews aren’t off-putting, the identity-group person is likely to be hired or promoted ahead of equally or better-qualified whites. Why?

  • Pressure from government EEO offices, which focus on percentages of identity groups hired and promoted, not on the qualifications of applicants for hiring and promotion.
  • The ability of those EEO offices to put government agencies and private employers through the pain and expense of extensive audits, backed by the threat of adverse reports to higher ups (in the case of government agencies) and fines and the loss of contracts (in the case of private employers).
  • The ever-present threat of complaints to the EEOC (or its local counterpart) by rejected identity-group candidates for hiring and promotion. Those complaints can then be followed by costly litigation, settlements, and court judgments.
  • Boards of directors and senior managers who (a) fear the adverse publicity that can accompany employment-related litigation and (b) push for special treatment of identity groups because they think it’s “the right thing to do.”
  • Managers down the line who practice reverse discrimination against better-qualified but “unprotected” identity groups, to keep EEO offices and upper management happy.

(UPDATE 08/14/12: See Roger Clegg’s “Big Business Weighs In, Unconvincingly, in Fisher v. Texas” for more in the vein of the last two points.)

Blacks constitute the identity group most likely to seek “protection” under the rubric of  EEO.  On balance, the (effectively) forced hiring of under-qualified blacks causes significant economic damage — as well as resentment of and condescension toward blacks as “affirmative action hires.”

Universities long ago began to use the term “diversity” in place of “affirmative action.” This euphemistic shift was meant to reduce resentment and condescension toward under-qualified blacks who were (and are) admitted in place of better-qualified whites, and to deflect legal challenges of reverse discrimination by disguising it as an element of a policy of “mixing” for the betterment of social solidarity — or some such bullshit. Many businesses — especially large corporations — have adopted “diversity” as a corporate “value” because doing so reflects the “social responsibility” of boards and top executives.

Reverse discrimination in favor of blacks has victimized millions of Americans, in at least three ways:

  • The aforementioned combination of resentment and condescension has undoubtedly impeded the advance of racial harmony.
  • Many whites have suffered the loss of opportunities and income in the workplace — opportunities and income that would have been theirs if blacks were held to the same standards as whites with respect to hiring and promotion.
  • Many blacks have suffered, in the not-so-long run, because reverse discrimination has set them up for failure.

Victim 1: Social Comity

Reverse discrimination may have fostered harmony — in isolated instances. But, on balance, the country (as represented by the racial composition of public schools) has become more polarized along racial lines than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Some critics of this phenomenon — which is called resegregation — blame court rulings that have undone much of the forced mixing that ensued from Brown v. Board of Education. But those rulings have only enabled many whites to avoid the mixing that they did not want in the first place. Further, resegregation owes much to “white flight” from old cities to suburbs and then to exurbs. Crime and culture are real and valid reasons for an aversion to mixing — reasons that cosseted politicians, academicians, and corporate executives cannot bring themselves to recognize or avow. America will never be a land of sweet racial harmony — nor will any other country — but more whites would willingly accept blacks as neighbors and classmates, were it not for the resentment and condescension caused by affirmative action.

Victim 2: Low-Income Whites

It is hard to come by good estimates of the cost to whites of pro-black discrimination in the workplace. The best one that I have found is here, where the author says this:

In 1997, because of affirmative action, about $192 billion in income [2.3 percent of GDP] was transferred from whites to preferred minorities. If we perform precisely the same calculation for blacks and Hispanics, we can break down the $192 billion into the amounts gained by each group. We find that $144.3 billion [1.7 percent of GDP] was transferred to blacks and $47.5 billion to Hispanics. Dividing these gains by the respective numbers of black and Hispanic workers, we can compute their average annual income enhancement. In 1997, on average a black was subsidized to the tune of about $9,400; a Hispanic gained an average of about $3,900. The cost of these subsidies was spread over 98,782,000 white workers who suffered an average loss of about $1,900 to pay the bill.

The cascade effect. The net displacement of whites by minorities is not uniformly spread across the quintiles. When high-earning whites are displaced down the employment ladder, they displace other whites downward by exerting pressure on the rung below. The effect is like a cascade. At the bottom there is no rung left. Low IQ whites, who in an affirmative action-free marketplace would be competitive in the $10,000 to $20,000 bracket, now pile up in the lowest-income quintile. Although affirmative action affects every white, the largest number affected are the least intelligent and competitive….

In sum, low-income whites — who are thought to be strongly anti-black, as a group — have a valid economic reason for their resentment of blacks. Although blacks, on the whole, are not to blame for affirmative action, they are its beneficiaries and they vote in disproportionate numbers for politicians who favor affirmative action and the other programs that are listed in the third paragraph of this post. The attachment of blacks to the tit of the state has not escaped the attention of whites, and a large fraction of them — the political left-academic complex aside — see that attachment as a moral failing.

Victim 3: Aspiring Blacks

Now to the issue of pro-black discrimination in the academy, which is the crux of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that will be heard later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is much to say about the harm done to whites and Asians in the name of “diversity,” but it has been said often and sometimes to good effect (e.g., Gratz v. Bollinger). The damage done to blacks has received far less attention, and Rick Sander, the main expositor of that harm, is one of a small number of academicians who has had the courage to call attention to it.

I first wrote about Sander seven years ago:

[N]ow comes Richard Sander…. a professor of law at UCLA who has published “A Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools[.]” [Samder] is without a doubt a liberal of the modern persuasion and a proponent of diversity. He is nevertheless critical of affirmative action as it is practiced at law schools. Here’s the gist of his analysis, as reported at FindLaw:

The Heavy Weight Placed on Race in Admissions in Virtually All Schools – the Cascade Effect
Professor Sander lays the foundation for his critique by describing the kind of race-based affirmative action that law schools use today. Under the Bakke and Grutter Supreme Court precedents, public (as well as private) law schools are prohibited from making use of quotas, two-track admissions schemes, or fixed points added to the numerical indices of minorities….

Professor Sander argues that, in fact, the Michigan law school program, despite its seeming flexibility and inscrutability, employs race in just as ambitious (critics would say aggressive) a way as did the Michigan undergraduate plan [which the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Gratz]….

Moreover, and more important, Sander argues, the way race is used at the Michigan law school is the same way race is used in many if not most law school affirmative action programs. Indeed, Sander says that he has “been unable to find a single law school in the United States whose admissions operate the way Justice O’Connor describes in Grutter” – that is, where race is used as a flexible plus factor that does not effectively dominate over all other diversity criteria. The system of aggressive racial preferences is not, Sander says, confined to the “elite” law schools. Rather, “it is a characteristic of legal education as a whole.”

According to Sander, law school affirmative action across law schools is characterized by a “cascade” effect. As the elite schools “snap up” the blacks who otherwise would have been admitted to and have attended the next tier of schools, that next tier of schools snaps up the blacks who would have otherwise attended the tier below. And so forth.

The Mismatch Effect

This systematic cascade phenomenon is important, because when race is being used so weightily in schools all the way down the ladder, the result is that the African Americans who are admitted to each school under an affirmative action program are significantly less numerically qualified than are their white competitor students at that school, who were admitted outside the affirmative action plan. Sander calls this phenomenon the “mismatch” effect – black beneficiaries of affirmative action are “mismatched” at schools whose non-affirmative action students possess better credentials and skills.

Because of the pronounced mismatch effect that extends down the law school hierarchy, blacks tend to suffer poor grades in law school. According to the data Sander adduces, the median black law student’s GPA at the end of the first year of law school places him at the 7th or 8th percentile of his class. Put another way, more than 50% of black law students are in the bottom one-tenth of their law school class (in terms of grades) at the end of the first year.

The Long-Term Costs of the Mismatch Effect – Bar Passage and Job Placement

This poor academic performance in law school, in turn, creates two distinct costs for African Americans. First, Sander argues, the poor grades lead to a very poor bar passage rate. As he points out, “only 45% of black law students in the 1991 cohort completed law school and passed the bar on their first attempt.” That number is far worse than the comparable number for whites.

Sander goes on to argue that many of these blacks with poor grades would have had better grades – and have ended up with a higher chance of passing the bar – if they had been at law schools more commensurate with their academic skills. Sander’s data suggests to him that black students at any law school who have the same law school grades as white students at that school pass the bar in the same percentages. In other words, blacks with good law school grades don’t fail the bar any more than whites with the same grades.

The problem, Sander suggests, is that law schools have “mismatched” blacks in schools where they are unlikely to get good grades. By placing black students in environments where their grades will be higher – less competitive law schools — the system could improve their overall bar pass rate….

From all this, Sander argues that if race-based law school affirmative action were eliminated or reduced, the black bar passage rate would actually go up. According to his calculations, in the absence of preferential admissions, this rate would rise to 74% from the 45% he observed….

If affirmative action were eliminated, most black law students wouldn’t be ousted from law school entirely – they would simply attend law schools that “match” their numerical credentials more tightly. In other words, elimination of affirmative action would simply eliminate the mismatch effect – blacks would simply be attending less competitive and less prestigious schools than they are currently attending. And of those blacks who would be displaced from the bottom of the legal academic system altogether (i.e., those who need affirmative action simply to get into the least competitive schools), many of them today do not end up passing the bar and entering the legal profession in any event….

Sander says that blacks at better schools, but with poor grades, get worse jobs than they would if they were at lesser schools and had better grades. In other words, Sander argues, at all but the most elite schools, grades matter more than the school from which one graduates for black law job applicants. The upside of attending a better school is more than outweighed – in terms of employment options – by the downside of getting weak grades at that school, compared to the better grades that could have been obtained at a less competitive school….

So whether one focuses on passing the bar, or getting a good job, Sander says, there is a case that race-based affirmative action hurts, rather than helps, black law students.

Two years later, I added this:

Gail Heriot of The Right Coast, who is a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, pens an update:

No one claims Sander’s findings are the last word on the subject. Although so far his work has held up to scrutiny as least as well as the work of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the “mismatch thesis” can be definitively accepted or rejected.

Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Sander’s data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, these thinly-disguised political operatives don’t want anyone to know.

Take William Kidder, a University of California staff member and co-author of a frequently-cited attack of Sander’s study. When Sander and his ideologically-diverse co-investigators sought bar passage data from the State Bar of California, Kidder passionately argued that access should be denied, because disclosure “risks stigmatizing African American attorneys.” At the same time, the Society of American Law Teachers, which leans so heavily to the left it risks falling over sideways, subtly threatened future litigation against the State Bar. Coincidentally, one of Kidder’s co-authors, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers, is a former SALT president.

Sadly, the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners caved under the pressure. The committee members didn’t formally explain their decision to deny Sander’s request for the non-personally-identifiable data, but the root cause is clear: Over the last forty years, many distinguished citizens–university presidents, judges, philanthropists, and other leaders–have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Ordinary citizens have found secure jobs as part of the resulting diversity bureaucracy. If it’s not working, they too don’t want anyone to know.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hopes that it can persuade the State Bar to reconsider. Its newly-released report on affirmative action in law schools specifically calls for state bar authorities to cooperate with qualified scholars studying the mismatch issue. Its recommendation is thus modest. It doesn’t claim that Sander is right or his critics wrong. It simply seeks to encourage and facilitate important research.

Its deeper purpose is to remind those who support and administer affirmative action polices of something that ought to be obvious: The good intentions of one’s predecessors do not give anyone a permanent moral free ride. Good faith requires a willingness to re-examine the consequences of one’s actions from time to time. Deliberate ignorance is not an option….

Sander doesn’t need to be proven 100% correct for his research to be devastating news for affirmative action supporters. Suppose the consequences of race-based admissions turn out to be simply a wash–neither increasing nor decreasing the number of minority attorneys. In that case, few people would think it worth the costs, not least among them the human cost that results from the failure of the supposed affirmative action beneficiaries to graduate and pass the bar. Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The rest are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. The real question therefore is how great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify this. If it is decreasing the number, it can hardly be defended.

Sander has returned to the fray, with more evidence about “mismatch” — this time about “scientific mismatch.” His three posts on the subject, at The Volokh Conspiracy,  merit extensive excerpting. In his first post, he writes:

As some readers will recall, a little more than seven years ago I published an analysis of law school affirmative action in the Stanford Law Review. The article was the first to present detailed data on the operation and effects of racial preferences in law schools (focusing on blacks)….

The article generated intense interest, debate, and criticism, though even most critics conceded that I had gotten the facts right. Several well-known empirical scholars in law schools published essays that purported to disprove the mismatch hypothesis. For awhile, many defenders of affirmative action seemed to assume that the article would inevitably provoke a crisis in legal academia, and while attempting to seize the moral high ground in the debate, they attracted even more publicity to the article.

After several months, however, it became clear there would be no widespread calls, among either law students or law faculty, for further inquiry and reform, and things died down. Those unhappy with the “mismatch” article – and that included the vast majority of law school and university administrators – decided the best strategy was to (a) ignore the issue and (b) use their best efforts to prevent the further release of data such as I had used in the original article. There was another, smaller burst of attention when I published a follow-up article  about affirmative action in law firms, and its similar tendency to boomerang on the intended beneficiaries; but otherwise, public debate about mismatch faded away.

It is about to come back.

Over the past few years, there has been a steadily growing stream of empirical research on affirmative action, much of it taking up the mismatch question.  Some social scientists, like Peter Arcidiacono at Duke University and Frederick Smyth at the University of Virginia, were interested in this subject and producing valuable research well before my Stanford article appeared.  Others, like Doug Williams at Sewanee University or Robert Zelnick at Boston University, were intrigued by some of the issues that arose out of the public mismatch debate and the questions raised in the debate.  Still others have been attracted by the “natural experiments” in affirmative action created by the bans on racial preferences adopted in half-a-dozen states.  I have worked closely with Jane Yakowitz (soon to join the law faculty at the University of Arizona) and public-spirited lawyers to pry loose data relevant for studying affirmative action.

Cumulatively, these scholars have produced a remarkable body of research (some of which can be found here) on the workings and effects of affirmative action. And the Supreme Court’s decision (by granting cert to Fisher v. University of Texas) to revisit the subject of racial admissions preferences in higher education will undoubtedly fuel interest in this work.

This is from Sander’s second post:

Some of the most significant recent work on affirmative action concerns a phenomenon called “science mismatch”. The idea behind science mismatch is very intuitive: if you are a high school senior interested in becoming, for example, a chemist, you may seriously harm your chances of success by attending a school where most of the other would-be chemists have stronger academic preparation than you do. Professors will tend to pitch their class at the median student, not you; and if you struggle or fall behind in the first semester of inorganic chemistry, you will be in even worse shape in the second semester, and in very serious trouble when you hit organic chemistry. You are likely to get bad grades and to either transfer out of chemistry or fail to graduate altogether….

Duke economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Ken Spenner last year completed a study that looked at a number of ways that differences in admissions standards at Duke affected academic outcomes. In one of many useful analyses they did, they found that 54% of black men at Duke who, as freshmen, had been interested in STEM fields or economics, had switched out of those fields before graduation; the comparative rate for white men was 8%. Importantly, they found that “these cross-race differences in switching patterns can be fully explained by differences in academic background.” In other words, preferences – not race – was the culprit.

In research conducted by FTC economist Marc Luppino and me, using data from the University of California, we have found important peer effects and mismatch effects that affect students of all races; our results show that one’s chances of completing a science degree fall sharply, at a given level of academic preparation, as one attends more and more elite schools within the UC system. At Berkeley, there is a seven-fold difference in STEM degree completion between students with high and low pre-college credentials.

As is always the case with affirmative action, ironies abound. Although young blacks are about one-seventh as likely as young whites to eventually earn a Ph.D. in STEM fields, academically strong blacks in high school are more likely than similar whites to aspire to science careers. And although a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report in 2010 documented the “science mismatch” phenomenon in some detail, President Obama’s new initiative to improve the nation’s production of scientists neither recognizes nor addresses mismatch….

Science mismatch is, of course, relevant to the general affirmative action debate in showing that preferences can boomerang on their intended beneficiaries. But it also has a special relevance to Fisher v. University of Texas. The university’s main announced purpose in reintroducing racial preferences in 2004 was to increase “classroom” diversity. The university contended that, even though over a fifth of its undergraduates were black or Hispanic, many classrooms had no underrepresented minorities. It sought to use direct (and very large) racial preferences to increase campus URM numbers and thus increase the number of URMs in classes that lacked them. But science mismatch shows that this strategy, too, can be self-defeating. The larger a university’s preferences, the more likely it is that preferenced students will have trouble competing in STEM fields and other majors that are demanding and grade sternly. These students will tend to drop out of the tough fields and congregate in comparatively less demanding ones. Large preferences, in other words, can increase racial segregation across majors and courses within a university, and thus hurt classroom diversity.

And this is from Sander’s third post:

[In the previous post] I discussed a body of research – all of it uncontroverted – that documents a serious flaw in affirmative action programs pursued by elite colleges. Students who receive large preferences and arrive on campus hoping to major in STEM fields (e.g., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) tend to migrate out of those fields at very high rates, or, if they remain in those fields, often either fail to graduate or graduate with very low GPAs. There is thus a strong tension between receiving a large admissions preference to a more elite school, and one’s ability to pursue a STEM career.

Is it possible for contemporary American universities to engage constructively with this type of research? Recent events at Duke University suggest not.

The Duke study … (by economists Peter Arcidiacono and Esteban Aucejo, and by sociologist Ken Spenner, all of Duke) was motivated by an important question: do students who receive large admissions preferences “catch up” with their peers over their college years? This ties into an important premise of many preference programs – i.e., that the rich resources of an elite university will help to phase out prior preparation gaps between students of different races. Aggregate data at Duke suggested that the GPA gap across racial groups was, indeed, narrowing as college progressed, from over half-a-point black/white GPA gap in the first semester, to less than three-tenths of a point by the eighth semester.

Using data gathered by the university, Arcidiacono et al found that this narrowing was illusory. Courses taken by juniors and seniors were graded very leniently, and, more importantly, students who had bad grades in their freshmen year migrated in large numbers from STEM fields and economics to other majors, which generally had easier grading. When one adjusted for these effects, the relative achievement level of different groups was unchanged over the course of college. Thus, there was no silver lining to offset the science mismatch effect.

Importantly, the authors found that these patterns had nothing to do with race, but rather with a student’s level of academic preparation upon entry into Duke. White legacies admitted with large preferences showed the same patterns as blacks admitted with large preferences.

The paper offered no policy recommendations; like a large body of Arcidiacono’s earlier research on other social and educational issues, it simply presented intriguing results researched and analyzed in a conceptually clear and empirically careful way.

In mid-January 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story on the article. Although the reporter, Peter Schmidt, was characteristically fair in summarizing the article’s findings, once the news reached Duke, the reaction was extreme. The Black Student Alliance denounced the research and staged a protest, suggesting that the research was actually an attack on black students and that data they had provided to the university had been misused. Seventeen black alumni wrote an open letter attacking the research as “misguided scholarship” whose results and methodology were “both flawed and incorrect”, though they provided no specifics. “We cannot sit idly by and allow this slander to be (mis)labeled as truth.” Duke faculty got into the act as well, sending angry, indignant emails to the authors and to the economics department.

The President of Duke, Richard Brodhead, finally weighed in on the controversy on March 22nd, at the Annual Meeting of University Faculty. He said he had decided to devote his talk to the issue of race in part because of the controversy generated by the study. He extolled the university’s progress in moving from exclusionary policies in the 1950s and before, to today having among the highest proportion of enrolled blacks of any elite university. He then went on:

“With respect to this January’s controversy I would say the following. I hope all members of this community recognize that it is not the proper function of the university to block expression from its faculty or enforce a correct view. Universities live through free and open debate; when someone thinks someone else has come to an erroneous conclusion, the remedy is to criticize it and offer a better account. On the other hand, I can see why students took offense at what was reported of a professor’s work. Generalizations about academic choices by racial category can renew the primal insult of the world we are trying to leave behind – the implication that persons can be known through a group identity that associates them with inferior powers. A further insult was that the paper had been included in an amicus brief submitted by opponents of affirmative action urging the Supreme Court to hear [Fisher v. University of Texas]….”

Brodhead’s remarks neatly stood reality on its head. The university’s policy of giving large preferences based on race had created a large academic preparation gap across racial lines (e.g., an average 150-point SAT gap, on the old 1600-point scale, between blacks and whites) and thus large differences in academic outcomes across racial lines; but careful research on the effect of academic preparation on these outcomes was offensive? Academic freedom was vital to the university’s life, but factually baseless slander against accurate research was understandable? And it was especially “insulting” to use such research in an amicus brief – i.e., a debate about public policy?

(As it happens, I know about the amicus brief mentioned by President Brodhead, because I coauthored the brief with Stuart Taylor. Both of us are, to be sure, critics of affirmative action, but neither of us are “opponents”, as I will discuss in a coming post. We cited Arcidiacono et al’s research in the brief pretty much in the same spirit that I discussed it in Friday’s post.)

Brodhead’s message was pretty clear: we won’t try to fire people who engage in honest research that identifies problems in affirmative action; but we will ostracize them, and thus strongly discourage such research. Other parts of the record suggest that Duke’s substantive response to the controversy will consist of providing additional funding to race-based student groups, and showing greater “sensitivity” to student complaints.

One might be tempted to put this behavior down to a particularly high level of intolerance at Duke or on Brodhead’s part (many Duke officials and faculty, including Brodhead, took political correctness to disgraceful lengths during the “lacrosse” scandal several years ago, when a number of white students were falsely accused of raping a black woman and Duke officials led the invidious attacks against them, even long after the prosecution had been discredited). But all of the facts of this latest episode at Duke, including Brodhead’s behavior, actually capture perfectly the dynamics of affirmative action discussions at all major universities.

Colleges and universities are committed to the mythology that diversity happens merely because they want it and put resources into it, and that all admitted students arrive with all the prerequisites necessary to flourish in any way they choose. Administrators work hard to conceal the actual differences in academic preparation that almost invariably accompany the aggressive use of preferences. Any research that documents the operation and effects of affirmative action therefore violates this “color-blind” mythology and accompanying norms; minority students are upset, correctly realizing that either the research is wrong or that administrators have misled them. In this scenario, administrators invariably resort to the same strategy: dismiss the research without actually lying about it; reassure the students that the researchers are misguided, but that the university can’t actually punish the researchers because of “academic freedom”. Note that in this dynamic, “academic freedom” becomes a device to protect the administration, not the faculty doing the research!…

But leftists — academic and other — cannot abide the truth when it refutes their prejudices. Affirmative action, as it turns out, is harmful to aspiring blacks, and so is the minimum wage, whose main beneficiaries are supposed to be young blacks. Most leftists will deny those facts because their leftist faith is more important to them than the well-being of those whose cause they claim to champion. They have no concern for the well-being of those whom they evidently despise — non-leftist whites, Asians, taxpayers, heterosexuals, legal immigrants, persons of religion, and the many other targets of left-academic scorn.

Related posts — leftists and academicians:
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
Lefty Profs
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Affirmative Action for Conservatives and Libertarians?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?

Related posts — race:
Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?
The Face of America
Is There Such a Thing as Legal Discrimination?
More on the Legality of Discrimination
Epstein’s Freedom
Epstein’s Freedom, Revisited
Race and Acceptance
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Lamm (Soft of) Lays It on the Line
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
A Law Professor to Admire
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Time on the Cross, Re-revisited
A Black Bigot Speaks
More Anti-Black Bigotry from the Left
Societal Suicide
A “Taste” for Segregation
Don’t Tar My Nationalism with the Racism Brush
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Timely Material
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited

It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
Racism among the Deracinated
“The War”: A Second Reaction
The “Southern Strategy”
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
An Honest Woman Speaks Out
The End of Slavery in the United States
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle

Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty

If there is a professional class that is almost solidly aligned against liberty it is the teachers and administrators who control the ideas that are pumped into the minds of students from kindergarten through graduate school. How are they aligned against liberty? Most of them are leftists, which means that they are statists who are dedicated to the suppression of liberty in favor of current left-wing orthodoxies. These almost always include the coddling of criminals, unrequited love for America’s enemies, redistribution of income and jobs toward less-productive (and non-productive) persons, restrictions on speech, and the destruction of civil society’s bulwarks: religion, marriage, and family.

In any event, spending on education in the United States amounted to $1.1 trillion in 2010,* about 8 percent of GDP.  Most of that $1.1 trillion — $900 billion, in fact — was spent on public elementary and secondary schools and public colleges and universities.* In other words, your tax dollars support the leftists who teach your children and grandchildren to bow at the altar of the state, to placate the enemies of liberty at home and abroad, and to tear down the traditions that have bound people in mutual trust and respect.

So gulled are Americans by the education lobby that voters routinely approve bond issues and elect legislators who promise to spend more on brick-and-mortar, high-tech monuments to educators’ egos. As a result, per-student spending** by public-school systems (K-12) — in constant dollars — was 2.5 times higher in 2010 than in 1970; in public colleges and universities, it was 1.6 times higher. Has education improved that much in 40 years? To ask the question is to answer it.

Key beneficiaries of the rise in per-student spending are education majors. In addition to commanding salaries above what they could earn if the private sector, given their less-than scintillating mental acuity (e.g., table 4 here), they have a lot of time off, good health insurance plans, and generous retirement packages. For all of that, they are sheltered from accountability by union contracts and the education groupies who serve on boards of education — for the prestige, for the connections, and often as a stepping stone to higher office.

But the education majors who populate teaching and administrative jobs in K-12 schools have not been the only beneficiaries of the “demand” for greater per-student spending. Given the ability of most educators and administrators to move between public and private institutions — especially at the university level — the rising “demand” for public education has fueled a kind of educational arms race that has pushed a large segment of the professoriate into the upper reaches of the nation’s income distribution.

And what do tax-paying Americans get for their money? A strong left-wing bias, which is inculcated at universities and spreads throughout public schools (and a lot of private schools). This has been going on, in earnest, since the end of World War II. And, yet, the populace is roughly divided between hard-headed conservatives and squishy-minded “liberals.” The persistence of the divide speaks well for the dominance of nature over nurture. But it does not change the fact that American taxpayers have been subsidizing the enemies of liberty who dominate the so-called education system in this country.
* Estimates from Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract 2012, Table 220. School Expenditures, by Type of Control and Level of Instruction in Constant (2009 to 2010) Dollars.

** Derived from spending estimates given in Table 220 and estimates of number of students given in Table 219. School Enrollment, With Projections.

*   *   *

Related reading: Matthew Vadum, “You Subsidize Leftist Anarchy,” American Thinker, February 19, 2014

Related posts:
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
Lefty Profs
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Diagnosing the Left
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
Academic Bias
The Higher Education Bubble
Undermining the Free Society
Intellectuals and Capitalism
The Left
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Affirmative Action for Conservatives and Libertarians?
The Public-School Swindle
Is College for Everyone?
Where’s the (Intellectual) Beef?
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy

An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly

It’s hard to tell whether economist Dan Hamermesh is pulling our collective leg, or if he’s serious. In either event, here’s a portion of his proposal to instigate affirmative action for the uglies among us (“Ugly? You May Have a Case,” The New York Times, August 27, 2011):

While extensive research shows that women’s looks have bigger impacts in the market for mates, another large group of studies demonstrates that men’s looks have bigger impacts on the job.

Why this disparate treatment of looks in so many areas of life? It’s a matter of simple prejudice. Most of us, regardless of our professed attitudes, prefer as customers to buy from better-looking salespeople, as jurors to listen to better-looking attorneys, as voters to be led by better-looking politicians, as students to learn from better-looking professors. This is not a matter of evil employers’ refusing to hire the ugly: in our roles as workers, customers and potential lovers we are all responsible for these effects.

How could we remedy this injustice? With all the gains to being good-looking, you would think that more people would get plastic surgery or makeovers to improve their looks. Many of us do all those things, but as studies have shown, such refinements make only small differences in our beauty. All that spending may make us feel better, but it doesn’t help us much in getting a better job or a more desirable mate.

A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

Why would Hamermesh take a special interest in the advancement of ugly persons? It’s probably a case of special pleading:

(I knew Hamermesh when he was in his early 20s. The beard is a cosmetic improvement.)

Hamermesh’s curriculum vitae is fairly impressive, but it is evident that he failed to make the grade in the Ivy League. If Hamermesh blames his looks for his inability to rise higher in his profession, he should not. As economists go — and I’ve known dozens of them — his looks fall in the mid-range.  So, if Hamermesh is disappointed in his professional standing, he should blame it on the inner man, not on his looks.

He should consider, also, that there is a high correlation between looks and intelligence. Good-looking individuals are not more successful, on average, than their less-blessed peers; they are more successful because they generally are smarter than their peers.

But none of this will matter to Hamermesh, if he is serious, or to those who are serious about combating what they call look-ism or beauty-ism. The search for cosmic justice — the rectification of all that is “unfair” in the world — is relentless, knows no bounds, and is built upon the resentment and punishment of success.

Related posts:
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
How to Combat Beauty-ism

The Land of Sunshine: A Parable

This parable is meant to be disrespectful of many things, not the least of them being our rulers and the rules they foist upon us in their disrespect for us and our liberty. It is not meant to be disrespectful of women or persons of color, except for those among them — and their political champions — who believe that past wrongs justify the multiplication of wrongs into the future.

Once upon at time — not so long ago or far away — there was a land ruled by a wise, young king. Well, he was thought wise because he orated in the unctuous, condescending tones, and he was younger than most of the kings who had preceded him. Let’s just call him “the man.”

Now, the man was known for his unbounded compassion. He would do anything for his subjects, as long as it wasn’t at his own expense or the expense of his large, raucous council of advisers. (More about them, anon.) His preferred method of paying for his acts of beneficence was to pretend that they cost nothing — a ruse that he was able to sustain by taking money from his subjects and promising to repay the debt to their descendants. (This scheme had worked well for the man’s predecessors, and so he adopted it as his own — with a vengeance.)

The man’s pseudo-compassionate heart was troubled by the inequality he found in the land. It was upsetting to him was that not all of his subjects were equal in all respects. Some of the man’s subjects were more capable than others, and therefore had higher incomes than others. Although the man was not troubled about the high incomes of lawyers, movie stars, and basketball players, he nevertheless proposed the imposition of higher taxes on high-income persons, just to get even with them.

Other of the man’s subjects were women who could not do everything that men could do, which the man deemed unfair. Although he did not bemoan the fact that men were inferior to women in many respects, he nevertheless proposed forcing employers to hire women for jobs that men could do better.

And there were those of the man’s subjects who went about with pale, sickly white skin, whereas others sported glowing, healthy-looking shades of gold. And so the man proposed to his council of advisers that all pale persons should be made darker (and thus healthier) by allowing them to spend more time in the sun, and by giving them regular doses of a rare, expensive, and effective elixir.

The council of advisers debated the man’s proposals for months on end. The council had no problem with penalizing capable persons and males, for such practices had been accepted for decades, in the name of equality. Nor did the council object to the practice of sending pale persons to work in the sun, as long as it resulted in more indoor work for the golden ones.

The council’s main objection had to do with the elixir, and whether more of it could be produced so that its new consumers could enjoy it without depriving others of its health-giving powers. In the end, the council agreed with the man that it was more important to create the impression of equality than to worry about such trivial matters as the supply of a health-giving elixir. “Trust us, it will all work out,” were the reassuring words of the council’s leaders.

And thus it came to pass that this not-so-distant land was blessed with less freedom, declining prosperity, ill-bred children, more illness, and equality — but one out of five isn’t bad for government work. The only disappointment came when the pale persons acquired red necks instead of turning golden brown.

Goodbye, Mr. Pitts

When I lived in the D.C. area and subscribed to The Washington Post, I occasionally read a column by Leonard Pitts Jr. This masochistic practice served two purposes. First, it exercised my cardiovascular system (i.e., raised my heart rate and blood pressure). Second, it helped me to keep up with what passes for wisdom among the race-card-playing set.

Mr. Pitts, who is a syndicated columnist operating out of The Miami Herald, comes by his race-card-playing naturally, as a black and — given his age (about 50) — a likely beneficiary of reverse discrimination (a.k.a. affirmative action). I should note that Pitts plays the race-card game clumsily, probably because his mental warehouse is stocked with gross generalizations and logical fallacies.

I was provoked to write this post by a recent Pitts column, to which I will come, where (in passing) he defends the socialization of medicine because other things also have been socialized. By that logic, Pitts would excuse the murder of his wife because millions of murders already have been committed.

*     *     *

I begin my sampling of Pitts’s pathetic prose with “We’ll go forward from this moment,” of September 12, 2001 (a reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001):

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless.

No, “we” (the citizens of the United States) are most decidedly not a family, not even a feuding one. If there ever was anything like an American “family,” it existed in the years just after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces. The degree of unity and resolve in the America of 1942-45 makes a mockery of the years following September 2001, during which disunity and irresolution became the standard pose of the media, academia, the Democrat Party, more than a few Republican “moderates,” many isolationist paleo-conservatives, and most libertarians.

Americans, now more than ever, are members of millions of separate families, churches, clubs, neighborhoods, work groups, etc. If there is anything shared by a majority of Americans, it is a taste for food in large quantities, vulgar entertainment, and a chance to feed at the public trough at the expense of other Americans.

The most notable schism in American life is one that has arisen since the onset of the Great Depression. It has come to this: Americans are deeply divided (though not evenly divided) about the rightful power of government in foreign and domestic affairs. There are three main camps. The largest favors surrender abroad and statism at home; the smallest favors surrender abroad and anarchy at home; the one to which I belong favors the full exercise of American might in defense of Americans’ legitimate overseas interest, together with a limited government devoted mainly to the protection of Americans from domestic predators and parasite.

It is obvious in what I have just said that Americans today do not even share a tradition of liberty, which has long vanished from the land. Because of this loss of liberty, Americans have become something less than citizens  with a common birthright and something more like hostages in their own land, with little voice and almost no opportunity for exit. Many (perhaps most) Americans like it that way, many others don’t understand what has been lost to them, and some (too few) understand it all too painfully. Pitts and his ilk like it that way because they are in thrall to special-interest politics and cannot see how those politics have abetted our downward spiral into political bondage, social license, and weakness in the face of our foreign and domestic enemies.

*     *     *

Jumping to September 29, 2003, I find “Faithful often give religion a bad name,” in which Pitts proffers this:

People are always pleased to indulge their religiosity when it allows them to stand in judgment of someone else, licenses them to feel superior to someone else, tells them they are more righteous than someone else.

They are less enthusiastic when religiosity demands that they be compassionate to someone else. That they show charity, service and mercy to everyone else.

Consider that last month thousands of people wept on the steps of an Alabama courthouse in support of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments. And watching, you wondered: What hungry person gets fed because of this? What naked person is clothed, what homeless one housed?

It seemed a fresh reminder that religious people are often the poorest advertisement for religious life.

How much more convincing an advertisement, how much more compelling a testimony, if people of faith were more often caught by news cameras demonstrating against healthcare cuts that fill our streets with the homeless mentally ill. Or confronting the slumlord about the vermin-infested holes he offers as places for families to live. Or crusading to make the sweatshop owner pay a living wage to workers who are treated little better than slaves.

From what well of knowledge does Pitts draw his assertions that people are always pleased to indulge their religiosity when they can stand in judgment of others, but are less enthusiastic when compassion is in order? Does Pitts even know, let alone care, that residents of “Red” States — where religious fundamentalism is more prevalent — are much more generous in their charitable giving than residents of “Blue” States — where secular Europeanism is the norm?

And what about those persons who “wept on the steps of an Alabama courthouse in support of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments”? What is wrong with protesting the further distancing of government from morality? I suspect that Pitts doesn’t want public officials to be reminded of the Ten Commandments because one of them says “You shall not steal” — and that is precisely what government does when it taxes and regulates us toward poverty, often in the name of “compassion.”

And why would it be a compelling testimony for religion if “people of faith” were more often seen demonstrating against budget cuts that fill our streets with the homeless mentally ill, or confronting slumlords about vermin-infested holes, or crusading to make sweatshop owners pay a “living wage to workers”? Pitts can offer such advice only because he doesn’t understand or care about the implications of such actions: Higher taxes for hard-working families; more homeless persons, as landlords raise rents to defray the costs of improving their properties; more starving poor, as “sweatshop” owners find new locales in which to recruit willing workers who have less exalted ideas than Pitts about what constitutes a “living wage.”

Pitts reveals himself as an ignoramus or a hypocrite — probably both — who is simply pleased to indulge his moral outrage when it allows him to stand in judgment of others.

*     *     *

Less than a month later (October 20, 2003) Pitts opined that “Race has always benefited whites“; to wit:

As a reader who chose to remain nameless put it, many people wonder if a given black professional “is there because of his/her skills and abilities, or because of affirmative action. Unfortunately, affirmative action policies leave many unanswered questions about a black person’s education and training, as well as skills and abilities. . . . How do we answer these questions?”

I will try my best to answer them with a straight face. It’s going to be difficult.

Because there’s an elephant in this room, isn’t there? It’s huge and noisy and rather smelly, yet none of these good people sees it. The elephant is this simple fact:

White men are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action this country has ever seen.

That’s not rhetoric or metaphor. It’s only truth.


If affirmative action is defined as giving someone an extra boost based on race, it’s hard to see how anyone can argue the point. Slots for academic admission, for employment and promotion, for bank loans and for public office have routinely been set aside for white men. This has always been the nation’s custom. Until the 1960s, it was also the nation’s law. . . .

My correspondents feel they should not be asked to respect the skill or abilities of a black professional who may or may not have benefited from affirmative action. They think such a person should expect to be looked down upon. But black people have spent generations watching white men who were no more talented, and many times downright incompetent, vault to the head of the line based on racial preference.

So, here’s my question:

Would African Americans be justified in looking down on white professionals? In wondering whether they are really smart enough to do the job? In questioning their competence before they had done a thing?

Pitts deploys three shifty debating techniques: He changes the subject; subtly (and inappropriately) redefines a key term; falsely generalizes about a class of persons (white men); and then draws an unsupported conclusion from flawed premises.

The change of subject is obvious. Pitts, instead of addressing the question whether affirmative action leads to the advancement of under-qualified blacks, attacks whites for having been unqualified.

Why were whites unqualified? Because they, too, benefited from something Pitts chooses to call affirmative action, namely, “giving someone an extra boost based on race.” There is a basic problem with Pitts’s shifty redefinition of affirmative action: discrimination against blacks produces different results than discrimination against whites. The real elephant in the room, the one that it is impolite to mention, is that blacks and whites have different skills. And for most jobs, where intelligence matters, there are many more qualified whites than blacks.

It is therefore wrong to paint whites with the same “affirmative action” brush. Despite Pitts’s implication to the contrary, blacks would not have been justified in looking down on white professionals, as a group. But the converse is not true. Certainly, there are and have been superb black doctors and miserably incompetent white ones, but faced with a choice between, say, a white doctor of unknown skill and a black doctor of unknown skill, a person (black or white) would prudently choose the white doctor. The shame, of course, is that in some parts of the United States blacks were not allowed to choose white doctors.

*     *     *

In “Leave education to the principals, teachers, parents” (November 28, 2007), Pitts subscribes to romantic claptrap:

No one becomes a teacher to get rich. You become a teacher because you want to give back, you want to shape future generations, you want to change the world.

Oh spare me! You become a teacher because

  • you enjoy teaching, in general
  • you enjoy teaching a particular subject because you know it well
  • you enjoy the power of being in charge of a classroom (to the extent that you’re mentally and physically capable of being in charge)
  • it’s the best job you can get, given your intelligence and particular skills
  • some or all of the preceding statements apply to you.

Teaching is a job, not a mystical calling.

Pitts is right to say that

much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: a) doesn’t pay enough; b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; c) doesn’t give principals authority over who works in their schools; d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

The key word is “bureaucracy.” American schools will not improve until they are privatized, allowed to compete with one another, and allowed to hire teachers who know their subjects as opposed to NEA-approved hacks with “education” degrees. Some schools will be better than others, of course, but that’s true now. What isn’t true — or possible — now is that most schools will improve, or go out of business. (Public schools sometimes are “closed” for conspicuous failure, only to re-open in the same place, and with most of the same students and teachers.)

The problem, for Pitts and other “liberals,” is that it just isn’t “fair” for some children to have access to better schools than others, even though that also is true now, and even though bright children of less-affluent parents undoubtedly would have access to scholarships funded by affluent graduates of better schools. No, in the name of “fairness,” Pitts and his fellow “liberals” would rather hope for a transformation of public schools that will never happen, precisely because public schools are beholden to the NEA, which is nothing more than a union designed to guarantee work for incompetents who cannot master real subjects.

*     *     *

I come now to the column that touched off this post: “The distance between us” (as titled by the Austin American-Statesman) of August 24, 2009. Though the thread of Pitts’s “logic” is tangled, he his main concern seems to be national unity, or the lack thereof.

He rests his point on the fact that not everyone is happy with the election of Barack Obama or his policies, which he traces to racism or out-and-out nuttiness:

Last year, Barack Obama was elected president, the first American of African heritage ever to reach that office. If this was regarded as a new beginning by most Americans, it was regarded apocalyptically by others who promptly proceeded to lose both their minds and any pretense of enlightenment.

These are the people who immediately declared it their fervent hope that the new presidency fail, the ones who cheered when the governor of Texas raised the specter of secession, the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the “Black” House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

On tax day they were the ones who, having apparently just discovered the grim tidings April 15 brings us all each year, launched angry, unruly protests. In the debate over health-care reform, they are the ones who have disrupted town hall meetings, shouting about the president’s supposed plan for “death panels” to euthanize the elderly.

Now, they are the ones bringing firearms to places the president is speaking.

The Washington Post tells us at least a dozen individuals have arrived openly — and, yes, legally — strapped at events in Arizona and New Hampshire, including at least one who carried a semiautomatic assault rifle. In case the implied threat is not clear, one of them also brought a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson’s quote about the need to water the tree of liberty with “the blood of … tyrants.”

Is Pitts suggesting that most of the 60,000,000 Americans who voted against Barack Obama (46 percent of those casting a vote in last year’s election) immediately hailed Obama’s election as a “new beginning”? To be sure, there was a honeymoon period around inauguration day, when about two-thirds of voters hopefully approved of Obama and his net approval rating hovered between 25 and 30 percent. But the honeymoon was over almost as soon as it had begun, as Americans began to grasp the bankruptcy (pun intended) of Obama’s policies.

But rather than acknowledge the awakening of most Americans to Obama’s threats to liberty and prosperity, Pitts stoops to barely veiled charges of racism and irrationality. To hope that Obama fails is not to wish ill for the nation; to the contrary, it is to hope that Obama’s policies fail of realization because they are seen (rightly) as inimical to liberty and prosperity. To find racism in talk of secession is a ploy by a columnist who is willing to sell his liberty cheap (or give it away), as long as the president’s skin is of the right color.

Then we have the concatenation of

the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the “Black” House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

On tax day they were the ones who, having apparently just discovered the grim tidings April 15 brings us all each year, launched angry, unruly protests.

In other words, some racists oppose Obama and his policies; therefore, opposition to Obama and his policies is racist. Pitts evidently failed Logic 101, for he could just as well suggest that some racists (i.e., reverse racists) support Obama and his policies; therefore, support of Obama and his policies is racist.

A relative handful of those publicly protesting Obamacare — themselves a relative handful of the millions who oppose or question it — happen to have carried guns (legally) to the forums at which they (or others) voiced protests. Pitts verges on a Soviet-style declaration that those who oppose the regime are, by definition, mentally ill and must be locked up, for their own safety.

As noted earlier, Pitts is unfazed by the fact “that our libraries, schools, police and fire departments are all ‘socialized’.” If one more thing — namely medical care — is socialized, so what? And, given the number of murders committed every year, if one more person is murdered, so what?

All of that aside, Pitts’s real point has do with the kind of country America will become:

These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: “There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole.”

Adams spoke in geographical terms of a nation rapidly expanding toward the Pacific. Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual, less a question of the distance between Honolulu and New York than between you and the person right next to you. . . .

We frame the differences in terms of “conservative” and “liberal,” but these are tired old markers that with overuse and misuse have largely lost whatever meaning they used to have and with it, any ability to explain us to us. This isn’t liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were. . . .

Round and round we go and where we stop, nobody knows. And it is an open question, as it was for Henry Adams, what kind of country we’ll have when it’s done.

“Can” one government comprehend the whole? It may be harder to answer now than it was then.

The distances that divide us cannot be measured in miles.

Pitts is right about the distances that divide Americans, but those distances have divided Americans for generations. (I repeat: “We” are not a family.) The only way to reconcile those differences is to restore the basic scheme of of the Constitution, which is to

  • establish one nation united in common defense,
  • with open internal borders, and
  • free movement of goods across those borders, for prosperity’s sake, and
  • free movement of people between and within the several sovereign States, so that individuals may associate with those whom they find most congenial.

Such a wise scheme will not do for collectivists like Pitts, who cannot abide the thought of a world other than one made to their specifications. If the Pittses persist in their collectivist zeal, America will proceed from a (cold) civil war to secession, a military coup, or even revolution. And the fault will lie with the Pittses, because they are the true enemies of liberty.

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Having reacquainted myself with Mr. Pitts, and having thereby exercised my cardiovascular system, I now bid him adieu — not fondly but forever.