What About Affirmative Action? SCOTUS and Sowell

There is much consternation and anticipation regarding cases before SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the US) regarding racially biased admissions policies at universities, specifically Harvard and North Carolina.  Hearings were held last fall, and a ruling is expected in July, unless there is a leak beforehand as happened regarding the decision returning abortion policies to state voters.

For example, reports like this one reflect how this decision goes to the heart of identity politics and critical race theory. Supreme Court Affirmative Action Cases Could Bring End to Race-Conscious Admissions from Teen Vogue.  Excerpt:

A ruling that makes race-conscious admissions practices unconstitutional — or even that further narrows the weight that race can be given — doesn’t only have worrisome implications for universities; employer hiring practices and diversity in the workplace could dramatically shift if affirmative action in higher education is struck down. Given that landscape, lower courts could look at other precedents where the Court has found race to be a permissible factor under federal antidiscrimination statutes and decide they no longer apply. Doing so could potentially undermine employer recruitment and diversity initiatives and hinder the pipeline of diverse talent.

Bonus SAT points (plus and minus) awarded by university admissions staff based on racial identities.

The Court will issue its decision on these cases by July of this year. In a world where the Supreme Court grants SFFA the relief it seeks, applicants won’t be able to share the backgrounds and experiences they have that are directly connected to their racial identity. In a society where there are efforts to ban books that examine race relations, where instructors are threatened for using their classroom as a venue to discuss literature and ideas on race, a court-imposed ban on the consideration of race in admissions would be yet another blow to fostering diversity in schools.

It remains unclear what, if anything, will be salvageable from the Court’s ultimate ruling on affirmative action. But in this waiting period, some universities are thinking more intentionally about their role in and beyond this fight, and what holistic admissions programs should look like moving forward.

OTOH, others look forward to the demise of “temporary” affirmative action programs: After Affirmative Action from Real Clear Politics.  Excerpt:

Why is affirmative action in jeopardy? The main reason, ironically, might be the increasing ethnic diversity of the United States. In 1960, the U.S. was roughly 88% white and 12% black. The census category “Hispanic” did not yet exist. Similarly, the U.S. did not have a separate “Asian” category for the less than one million Americans from various nations in Asia, though the 1960 census had separate boxes for some, but not all, Asian countries. Today the U.S. is 61% white and dropping. Among American children, the white/nonwhite population is rapidly approaching 50-50.

But the interpretation of the law rapidly transformed from prohibiting categories of action to creating “protected classes” of people, to the point where it essentially pits white men – and now, with the introduction of sexual orientation as a protected class, specifically straight white men – against everyone else. Other than that shrinking group, all others are supposed to be “protected” from discrimination in our DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) regime.

If the Supreme Court cuts the Gordian Knot and rules affirmative action illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and/or declares that it is unconstitutional, what should be the next step? Even without affirmative action, our administrative bureaucracies, dedicated to the principle of equality of outcome, will work mightily to sustain the division between protected classes of people and others. They will, after the fashion of previous supporters of racialized schools, practice massive resistance. They, like their predecessors, need to be fought.

Enter Thomas Sowell’s Wisdom and Scholarship on this Issue

Excerpts on Affirmative Action from The Thomas Sowell Reader 

Assumptions Behind Affirmative Action

With affirmative action suddenly coming under political attack from many directions, and with even liberals backing away from it, we need to question not only its underlying assumptions but also what some of the alternatives are.

At the heart of the affirmative action approach is the notion that statistical disparities
show discrimination. No dogma has taken a deeper hold with less evidence
—or in the face of more massive evidence to the contrary.

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal revealed that more than four-fifths of all the doughnut shops in California are owned by Cambodians. That is about the same proportion as blacks among basketball stars. Clearly, neither of these disparities is due to discrimination against whites.

Nor are such disparities new or peculiar to the United States. In medieval Europe, most of the inhabitants of the towns in Poland and Hungary were neither Poles nor Hungarians. In nineteenth-century Bombay, most of the shipbuilders were Parsees, a minority in Bombay and less than one percent of the population of India.

In twentieth-century Australia most of the fishermen in the port of Freemantle came from two villages in Italy. In southern Brazil, whole industries were owned by people of German ancestry and such crops as tomatoes and tea have been grown predominantly by people of Japanese ancestry.

Page after page—if not book after book—could be filled with similar statistical disparities from around the world and down through history. Such disparities have been the rule, not the exception.

Yet our courts have turned reality upside down and treated what happens
all over this planet as an anomaly and what is seldom found
anywhere—proportional representation—as a norm.

Why are such disparities so common? Because all kinds of work require particular skills, particular experience, particular locations and particular orientations. And none of these things is randomly distributed.

Local demagogues who thunder against the fact that Koreans run so many stores in black ghettoes merely betray their ignorance when they act as if this were something strange or unusual. For most of the merchants in an area to be of a different race or ethnicity from their customers has been common for centuries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa, the Caribbean, Fiji, the Ottoman Empire and numerous other places.

When German and Jewish merchants moved into Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, they brought with them much more experience in that occupation than that possessed by local Eastern European merchants, who were often wiped out by the new competition. Even when the competition takes place between people who are racially and ethnically identical, all kinds of historical, geographical and other circumstances can make one set of these people far more effective in some activities than the others.

Mountain people have often lagged behind those on the plains below, whether highland Scots versus lowland Scots or the Sinhalese in the highlands of Sri Lanka versus the Sinhalese on the plains. The Slavs living along the Adriatic coast in ports like Dubrovnik were for centuries far more advanced than Slavs living in the interior, just as coastal peoples have tended to be more advanced than peoples of the interior hinterlands in Africa or Asia.

Some disparities of course have their roots in discrimination. But the fatal mistake is to infer discrimination whenever the statistical disparities exceed what can be accounted for by random chance. Human beings are not random. They have very pronounced and complex cultural patterns.  These patterns are not unchanging. But changing them for the better requires first acknowledging that “human capital” is crucial to economic advancement.

Those who make careers out of attributing disparities to the wickedness of other people
are an obstacle to the development of more human capital among the poor.

There was a time, as late as the mid-nineteenth century, when Japan lagged far behind the Western industrial nations because it was lacking in the kind of human capital needed in a modern economy. Importing Western technology was not enough, for the Japanese lacked the knowledge and experience required to operate it effectively.

Japanese workmen damaged or ruined machinery when they tried to use it. Fabrics were also ruined when the Japanese tried to dye them without understanding chemistry. Whole factories were badly designed and had to be reconstructed at great cost.  What saved the Japanese was that they recognized their own backwardness—and worked for generations to overcome it.

They did not have cultural relativists to tell them that all cultures are equally valid
or political activists to tell them that their troubles were all somebody else’s fault.
Nor were there guilt-ridden outsiders offering them largess.

Affirmative action has been one of the great distractions from the real task of self-development. When it and the mindset that it represents passes from the scene, poorer minorities can become the biggest beneficiaries, if their attention and efforts turn toward improving themselves.

Unfortunately, a whole industry of civil rights activists, politicians and miscellaneous hustlers has every vested interest in promoting victimhood, resentment and paranoia instead.

Affirmative Action Around the World

While controversies rage over “affirmative action” policies in the United States, few Americans seem to notice the existence or relevance of similar policies in other countries around the world. Instead, the arguments pro and con both tend to invoke history and traditions that are distinctively American. Yet group preferences and quotas have existed in other countries with wholly different histories and traditions—and, in some countries, such policies have existed much longer than in the United States.
What can the experiences of these other countries tell us? Are there common patterns, common rationales, common results? Or is the American situation unique?

Ironically, a claim or assumption of national uniqueness is one of the most common patterns found in numerous countries where group preferences and quotas have existed under a variety of names. The special situation of the Maoris in New Zealand, based on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, is invoked as passionately in defense of preferential treatment there as the unique position of untouchables in India or of blacks in the United States.

Despite how widespread affirmative action programs have become, even the promoters of such programs have seldom been bold enough to proclaim preferences and quotas to be desirable on principle or as permanent features of society. On the contrary, considerable effort has been made to depict such policies as “temporary,” even when in fact these preferences turn out not only to persist but to grow.

Official affirmative action or group preference policies must be distinguished from whatever purely subjective preferences or prejudices may exist among individuals and groups. These subjective feelings may of course influence policies, but the primary focus here is on concrete government policies and their empirical consequences—not on their rationales, hopes, or promises, though these latter considerations will not be wholly ignored. Fundamentally, however, this is a study of what actually happens, rather than a philosophical exploration of issues that have been amply—if not more than amply—explored elsewhere.

The resurgence of group preferences in societies committed to the equality of individuals before the law has been accompanied by claims not only that these preferences would be temporary, but also that they would be limited, rather than pervasive. That is, these programs would supposedly be limited not only in time but also in scope, with equal treatment policies prevailing outside the limited domain where members of particular groups would be given special help.

Similar reasoning was applied in the United States to both employment and admissions to colleges and universities. Initially, it was proposed that there would be special “outreach” efforts to contact minority individuals with information and encouragement to apply for jobs or college admissions in places where they might not have felt welcome before, but with the proviso that they would not be given special preferences throughout the whole subsequent processes of acceptance and advancement.

Similar policies and results have also been achieved in less blatant ways. During the era of the Soviet Union, professors were pressured to give preferential grading to Central Asian students and what has been called “affirmative grading” has also occurred in the United States, in order to prevent excessive failure rates among minority students admitted under lower academic standards. In India, such practices have been referred to as “grace marks.” Similar results can be achieved indirectly by providing ethnic studies courses that give easy grades and attract disproportionately the members of one ethnic group. This too is not peculiar to the United States. There are Maori studies programs in New Zealand and special studies for Malays in Singapore.

In the job market as well, the belief that special concerns for particular groups
could be confined to an initial stage proved untenable in practice.

Initially, the term “affirmative action” arose in the United States from an executive order by President John F. Kennedy, who called for “affirmative action to ensure that the applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin.” In short, there were to be no preferences or quotas at all, just a special concern to make sure that those who had been discriminated against in the past would no longer be discriminated against in the future—and that concrete steps should be taken so that all and sundry would be made aware of this.

However, just as academic preferences initially limited in scope continued to expand,
so did the concept of affirmative action in the job market.

A later executive order by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 contained the fateful expressions “goals and timetables” and “representation.” In December 1971, yet another Nixon executive order specified that “goals and timetables” were meant to “increase materially the utilization of minorities and women,” with “under-utilization” being spelled out as “having fewer minorities or women in a particular job classification than would reasonably be expected by their availability.” Affirmative action was now a numerical concept, whether called “goals” or “quotas.”

This confident pronouncement, however, presupposed a degree of control which has proved illusory in country after country. Moreover, “when and where there is social and economic inequality” encompasses virtually the entire world and virtually the entire history of the human race. A “temporary” program to eliminate a centuries-old condition is almost a contradiction in terms.

Equality of opportunity might be achieved within some feasible span of time,
but that is wholly different from eliminating inequalities of results.

Even an approximate equality of “representation” of different groups in different occupations, institutions or income levels has been a very rare—or non-existent—phenomenon, except where such numerical results have been imposed artificially by quotas. As a massive scholarly study of ethnic groups around the world put it, when discussing “proportional representation” of ethnic groups, “few, if any societies have ever approximated this description.”

In short, the even representation of groups that is taken as a norm is difficult or impossible to find anywhere, while the uneven representation that is regarded as a special deviation to be corrected is pervasive across the most disparate societies. People differ—and have for centuries. It is hard to imagine how they could not differ, given the enormous range of differing historical, cultural, geographic, demographic and other factors shaping the particular skills, habits, and attitudes of different groups.

Any “temporary” policy whose duration is defined by the goal of achieving something that has never been achieved before, anywhere in the world, could more fittingly be characterized as eternal.



via Science Matters


February 27, 2023 at 08:19PM

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