Sunday, March 23, 2008

Isues in Affirmative Action

JLK in comments below raised the issue of Affirmative Action, which is something that I have been thinking about posting on for some time. Part of this is due to Senator Obama's call to have a dialog on race, and part of it is just plain old fairness. For a primer that isn't very long, nor very nuanced (those conservatives are wrong to oppose it) this piece is a good start.
As Lyndon Johnson once said, you don't just take the chains off a man and expect him to run the 100 yard dash and be successful do you? Affirmative Action today also relies on the notion of a stigma for having suffered from slavery and Jim Crow laws that somehow has been buried in the genes. Which makes Obama interesting, since his father did not suffer from being descended from slaves.
But the problem with Affirmative Action is the general illogic of it. In the most recent AA case to be heard by the Supreme Court, Justice O'Conner said that AA is fine for 25 more years, but after that it would become unconstitutional.
Think about that for a minute - the calendar being used to decide what is constitutional or not. How is that possible? Because the Supreme Court punted on a constitutional issue, instead of sending it back to the Congress. You got to love outcome based decisions. Think Plessy v. Ferguson as another.
The real issue for Affirmative Action is the idea that there are limited slots that are coveted for something, whether schools or jobs, and that based on historical analysis that one group has been overrepresented at the expense of another group. But the people who are competing for the slots have not necessarily benefited from that over representation and they are being made to sacrifice for that which they had no actual fault.
When competing for the scarce resource, you can divide the applicants into three groups: Those who are so exceptional they would get the slot anyway; those who are so unqualified, that should they even get the slot, they would be unable to compete and will be let go for the good of the institution, and; those in the great middle. The bubble that is being used to adjust for past sins.
So, let's run some thought experiments and see where we come out, shall we. Let's say that two people are competing to enter college, both are black and male and both have identical scores. Now, let's make one the son of a black millionaire and one the son of a sharecropper from Alabama. The preferred result should be the sharecropper son who gets the slot. Affirmative Action would work most effectively by giving the sharecropper's son the opportunity to break out of the poverty that he comes from.
Now change the sharecropper's son from black to white. The argument is that the son of a black physician should get the slot because he has not benefited from being white. Ask the son of the sharecropper how much advantage he has over the son of the physician. Change it again, and make the son of the sharecropper into the daughter of the sharecropper. Does that change who gets in?
Affirmative Action has been shown to be more palatable if it is based solely on economic class, than racial makeup. This would still have a benefit for the white sharecropper because there are more whites in poverty than blacks. But black poverty is proportionately over represented as a share of the general population, so that they would have a greater opportunity to take advantage than the poor white applicant.
Of course, this does not take into account so called "legacy" allotments. (Cue Mark T.). But to use Mark's argument against him, legacys are not necessarily successful beyond the original generation (think GWB).
We need to help people rise up from an economic disadvantage and maximize their potential. That is always going to be preferential to trying to remedy past wrongs based on the actions of others.

11 comments:

Wulfgar said...

"Let's say that two people are competing to enter college, both are black and male and both have identical scores. Now, let's make one the son of a black millionaire and one the son of a sharecropper from Alabama. The preferred result should be the sharecropper son who gets the slot."

Preferred? Based on what, exactly?

Kevin K. said...

The chains have been off for more than 140 years! And Sandra, an affirmative action joke herself, says the blacks need 25 more years? Be real.

“Affirmative Action has been shown to be more palatable if it is based solely on economic class…” Bunk. (So I start State U as an affirmative action student from a poor family; my besotted old man wins the lottery when I am a sophomore; and what? They expel me? Nah, I buy a BMW and transfer to Harvard!)

There’s no way you can justify affirmative action. It is nothing more than a racist, sexist dumbing-down of a whole nation.

Mark T said...

I thought we had this debate in the 1970's. You lost. But thanks for time-traveling. Now go back to your time.

WolfPack said...

Shouldn’t the analysis also include that AA establishes a rational reason for negative stereotypes. If under usual circumstance 1 out of a 100 new brain surgeons are black. Also, suppose it is established for AA reasons that the fair ratio should be 15 out of 100. If the slots available in medical school are fixed then the only way to get the right ratio is to deny 14 marginally qualified whites and allow in 14 marginally unqualified blacks. This means when you are deciding who to see for a brain tumor that if you pick a black doctor you have a 14 out of 15 chance of getting a very low performing doctor. It also means that having a white doctor guarantees that your doctor was not at the bottom of his medical school class. Since most of us have little else to go on when selecting a physician and so much is at stake the intelligent decision would be to select a white doctor. Even a black man with a tumor would easily buy into this. However, without AA this same decision model (picking white doctors only) would have been irrational. So AA helps legitimize the stereotypes it was created to alleviate.

Steve said...

Wulfgar- the preferred result is the poor one, since that would create the opportunity for the poor one to move up the economic ladder. Thereby (hopefully) making room for the son or daughter of the next sharecropper to have a chance to move up.
While I realize that this is a form of economic redistribution, it has a rational basis in preventing a permanent underclass, which I know some say we already have.
And to the extent that there are generations locked into poverty that is true. But again, if AA is used for economic opportunity rather than race based reparations, the end result will be better for the whole lot of us.

Kevin K. said...

The Invisible Hand weeds out most of the AA types before they can do too much damage or relegates them to permanent low-level positions reserved for the UA types (underachiever types). Business can’t afford to play politically correct games.

On the other hand, that’s why you find so many AA types concentrated in government or sucking up donations and grants in non-profits. Those kinds of organizations can be as inefficient and wasteful as they like.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that it was recently reported that Rev. Wright, who Obama claimed simply represented the realpolitik of his era, was a son of privilege brought up in a home of upper middle class blacks.

The identity politics game is how the Democrats have operated for generations, and when it looks like it may finally come back to bite them in the ass, by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they simply can't fess up.

Wulfgar said...

Oh yes, Steve, whatever you do, don't forget that Wright was "a son of privilege" brought up by "upper middle class blacks". That means his attitude and beliefs belong to ... what and who exactly?

Steve said...

Wulfgar said: "Oh yes, Steve, whatever you do, don't forget that Wright was "a son of privilege" brought up by "upper middle class blacks". That means his attitude and beliefs belong to ... what and who exactly?"

???

Does this comment belong to another post?

Wulfgar said...

Steve did you bother to read and think about the anonymous comment above mine? Considering your history of selective myopia, that's a fair question.

Steve said...

Wulfie - sorry, but since you addressed it to me, I assumed you thought that I wrote that. But I have no knowledge of Wright's upbringing, nor does it matter to me.
Whatever your upbringing, you have to assume responsibility for your words when you are an adult. And when Obama claims him as a "spiritual advisor" then Obama assumes the words as well, unless he specifically rejects them. Which he sort of did.