Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Sloppy Thinking of Affirmative Action Defenders

I have previously on this blog adressed the injustice of affirmative action- and the negative effects of it in three countries that has it: America, South Africa and Malaysia.

Recently, affirmative action lost big in Michigan. Despite being badly outspent and opposed by both the Democratic and Republican establishment, by big media, by big business (including the big 3 car makers in Detroit who despite their financial troubles thought they could afford to sponsor the no-camp), by the unions and by the clergy, the proposition to ban affirmative action in Michigan won an overwhelming victory, 58 to 42.

I now stubled upon a piece by left-liberal columnist Gene Sperling, who attacked the proposition in Michigan and defended affirmative action. It is a quite instructive example of the faulty thinking underlying affirmative action.

He for example claims that a measure designed to ensure that people are treated according to their qualifications will reduce the number of skilled people. Rather odd claim since it is always the most qualified who has the best chance of learning the skills taught at universities. So how does he motivate it? Well, like this:

"First, the MCRI would impede our capacity to deal with projected skills gaps in our workforce. A bipartisan Aspen Institute report, led by David Ellwood, dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, found that the U.S. pool of workers aged 25-64, which grew 44 percent over the last 20 years, won't expand in the next 20. Meanwhile, blacks, Hispanics and women -- groups underrepresented in the areas of science and engineering -- will make up a bigger proportion of our workforce.

To increase the pool of skilled workers in areas critical to our economy, we need an all-out national effort to boost the percentages of women and minorities who want degrees in science, engineering and math."

As for the first part about the projected stagnation in the labor force, I don't see how that is really relevant for the admission criterias. As long as the number of admitted students is the same it doesn't matter what admission criterias you have for that fixed number of seats.

Or actually, since surely the number of graduates rather than the number of freshmen students is what matters, criterias based on qualifications will best help meet any skill shortage since qualified students are much more likely to be able to graduate.

The experience from California after they abolished affirmative action is that while admission of blacks and hispanics dropped sharply at elite universities, the graduation rate of those that remained rose sharply. And more importantly, overall black and hispanic university admissions did not fall as they instead attended less
demanding universities. And with the course being less demanding, the total number of black and hispanic graduates increased significantly after affirmative action was abolished.

Meanwhile, the number of white and Asian graduates also rose. The experience from California shows conclusively that affirmative action at universities reduces, not increases the number graduates of all races including blacks and hispanics.

As for the second part about how blacks, hispanics and women will be a higher proportion of the workforce in the future, that will indeed imply a less skilled workforce provided the average skills of the specific race and gender groups are raised.

But if we are to remedy that, what's needed is improved educational performance of blacks and hispanics in elementary school and high school. Trying to pretend the performance gap from lower levels of education doesn't exist when deciding admission criterias will not do any good-as affirmative action will again only mean fewer graduates.

Moreover, what in case will be needed is more skilled students-whether they're black, hispanic, white, Asian or whatever. Further increasing the number of white or Asian graduates will be just as good for the economy as increasing the number of black and hispanic students even if the black/hispanic share of the workforce increases (There are certainly room for that as there are many whites/Asians who aren't college graduates).

Sperling has another line of argument , namely:

"Second, the MCRI ignores the business case for diversity, made by Fortune 500 companies in an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger that unsuccessfully challenged the University of Michigan Law School's policy of considering race as one factor in admissions.

As the Fortune 500 brief says, ``today's global marketplace and the increasing diversity in the American population demand cross-cultural experience and understanding.''

For our nation's businesses, competing in the global economy places a premium not only on diverse workforces, but on workers who can thrive in racially and ethnically diverse contexts. This point is critical because it underscores the fact that a diverse student body benefits both minority and white students by giving everyone the chance to form friendships with those from different geographic, ethnic and racial backgrounds."

First of all, to think that ideas are innate to certain races and that diversity of ideas require racial diversity is in fact a blatantly racist concept, as Michael Berliner and Gary Hull of the Ayn Rand Institute points out. And as this racist concept is false, there is no evidence that racial diversity will boost competitiveness. Japan, South Korea and China are ultra competitive, scaring the shit out of American business who in desperation go to Washington D.C. for assistance in the form of protective tariffs. And yet Japan and South Korea is two of the world's most homogenus societies, and so are for all practical purposes China too (Most of China's non-Chinese minorities are in poor, marginalized provinces like Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia)

He then carries on by saying:

"Supporters of the MCRI, such as its author Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, believe that we should see the slightest consideration of racial diversity as the moral and legal equivalent of our most pernicious past practices of discrimination. Yet, our shameful history of excluding, segregating and imposing second-class citizenship on minorities shouldn't be used as a rationale to handcuff universities from taking steps to ensure a racially diverse student body."

And why not? On that, he says nothing. Racial discrimination is always irrational, regard of whether it is against blacks or against whites and Asians.


Anonymous Sam Jackson said...

What do you think of the Office of Civil Rights pending inquiry @ Princeton over possible Asian-American discrimination, as alleged by a current Yale freshman (Jian Li) who filed a complaint? Daniel Golden wrote a piece in the WSJ on it on Saturday. Emotions have certainly been stirred up over it.

2:35 AM  

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