25 November 2015

A Campus Protests About Nothing: Racial grievances used to lever quotas and money

Stephen Kershnar
Missouri and Yale: Race-Based Takings
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 21, 2015

The academic world is focused on recent protests at University of Missouri and Yale University.

At the University of Missouri, black students and their allies claimed the administration was racially insensitive. This led to protests, a threatened boycott by the football team, and a single student going on a hunger strike, which in turn led to the resignation of the chancellor of the university and the president of the University of Missouri system. The movement was led by a group (Concerned Student 1950) that demanded quotas (10% of faculty and staff must be black), mandatory diversity training, and fewer black students flunking out or leaving.

At Yale University, a protest over two married professors’ mild replies to the university’s sensitivity hectoring on Halloween costumes led to students angrily confronting one of them over his strong support of free speech. In response to the confrontation and related protests, Yale decided to buy off the protesters. It promised to spend $50 million to hire more black and Hispanic faculty, implement mandatory diversity training for supervising professors and staff, increase financial aid to low income students (they already pay little to no tuition), and put more money into its racial and ethnic cultural centers.  

Other universities are being hit with similar protests. An elite and traditionally Jewish University (Brandeis University) has been hit with protests demanding, you guessed it, quotas (10% of faculty and staff and 15% of students must be black), mandatory diversity training, and increasing funding for black student organizations and programs. Similar protests and pressured resignations have occurred at Princeton, Dartmouth, and Claremont-McKenna College.

The overall pattern is stunning. First, even if all the alleged acts of race hatred at Missouri did occur, they are so few and minor as to not warrant much attention, let alone a panicked response, by top-level administrators running massive universities (their budgets and resources are sometimes in the billions).  

Second, many, if not all, of the high profile acts of race hatred probably didn’t happen. Over the years, many of the high profile acts of alleged race hatred, and probably most, have turned out to be hoaxes. By this I mean that the perpetrator was black, Hispanic, or a liberal white trying to make a statement rather than an expression of white hatred.

As Ashley Thorne writing for the National Association of Scholars points out, there have been a series of documented campus hoax crimes in recent years, such as those at Trinity International University (2005), George Washington University (2007), the University of Virginia (2007), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2011), Central Connecticut State University (2012), University of Wisconsin at Parkside (2012), Montclair State University (2012), and Vassar College (2013). Overreactions and hoaxes have also occurred at elite institutions, such as Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Williams.

Third, some of the protests have been accompanied by thuggery. Witness, for example, the shoving and physical intimidation of reporters at the University of Missouri and the violence that broke out at Dartmouth. The toleration of thuggery to intimidate faculty and students and lever the administration is an ominous sign.  

Fourth, the hypocrisy is troubling. As Victor Davis Hanson in National Review points out, the black Missouri football threatened to boycott games based racial underrepresentation when blacks were 50% of the team, roughly four times their percentage of the population. Apparently, overrepresentation of blacks in football is not an issue but overrepresentation of whites and Asians in theoretical physics is.

The real issue, though, is the attempt to use dubious racial grievances to replace white and Asian students and faculty (and especially Jews at elite institutions) with blacks.  

It is uncontroversial that, on average, black (and Hispanic) students at elite institutions have significantly less academic ability than their white and Asian counterparts. Consider, for example, University of Michigan. In 2005, University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot reports that the average black student had SATs roughly 200 points lower than the average white student and 250 points lower than the average Asian. Were a white or Asian student to have the scores of the average black student, he would have a 1% chance (if white) and 0% (if Asian) of being accepted. This matters because IQ scores correlate with SATs and are a strong predictor of academic and job performance. Having (on average) lower scores predictably leads to black students having worse grades, lower graduation rates, and switching from rigorous majors (for example, hard sciences) to easier ones.   

UCLA law professor Richard Sander and others have shown that ratcheting up black students into schools in which their competition outclasses them hurts them. It leads to their failing or dropping out more often than they would were they to attend schools in which they were better matched with their peers. It also leads to their being unable to pass professional entrance exams (for example, medical boards and the bar) more often than would occur if they were better matched.  

For example, Sander showed that the average black law student was in the bottom 10% of his class. This is entirely unsurprising given that they had an academic index score more than two standard deviations below their average white competitor. How would you do in a race in which your best times going into the race were well below those of most of the other runners? Is it any wonder, then, that black students get discouraged and firms and clients are wary of black lawyers and doctors?

The lowered standards also lead to executives, engineers, doctors, and lawyers who perform worse than would a white or Asian who would otherwise have received the educational slot. This leads to worse decisions in these fields and thereby hams consumers and employers. For example, putting a subpar teacher in the classroom, on average, harms decades of students. The same is true for subpar executives and doctors. The ratcheting effect also leads to wasted resources as black law and medical students flunk the entrance exams with disturbing frequency and sometimes never end up passing, thereby wasting the resources that went into educating them.

Perhaps the harm is outweighed by the benefits that come about through role-modelling, diverse ideas, or improved interracial relations, but I am unaware of any study that shows these benefits outweigh the costs. In addition, it is implausible that this is true. No one thinks that the New England Patriots would do better if they replaced black and Hispanic players with less meritorious Jews or Asians. There is little reason to think that boardrooms or operating rooms are different.

The protesters are trying to use racial grievances, dubious and in any case infrequent, to implement quotas and to shift money, educational spots, and jobs from whites and Asians to Blacks. This is not good for the country or academia and probably not even good for blacks. 

11 November 2015

2015 Budget Deal: Republicans Betray Conservative Voters

Stephen Kershnar
Republicans Stab America in the Back
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 7, 2015

In passing the recent two-year federal budget deal, the Republican Party leadership stabbed America in the back. Every year, Republicans run for office promising to reduce the size and scope of the government and yet every year, like Lucy with the football, they fail to deliver.

The spending cap (budget sequester) is a multi-year limit on spending increases that was put in place in 2011 to prevent the flood of spending that childish Democrats seek each and every year. Because Republicans did not otherwise attempt to cut government spending, the cap did a lot of work. It played a central role in tamping down the growth of government from the piggish levels that occurred during Obama’s first few years in office and in reducing the deficit to less obscene levels.

Writing in Investor’s Business Daily, Stephen Moore points out that even with the cap in place, the federal budget was scheduled to rise by 6% in 2016. In contrast, he notes, inflation is less than 2% and incomes have stagnated for a decade. So what did the Republicans do? They signed off on a deal that in effect destroyed the cap and increased federal spending by 8% next year. So while incomes haven’t increased much in a decade, the Republicans gave the government an 8% raise. What the hell?

Thrown in for good measure by the Democrats and their Republican collaborators was a further raiding of social security revenue and a $32 billion increase in off-budget war spending. The latter is especially galling because labelling spending off-budget is just more dishonest budgeting. The off-budget war spending complements the $40 billion increase in military spending because where would this country be if we couldn’t continue our foreign adventures in Afghanistan and the Middle East and edge ever closer to war with Iran, Russia, and China?

The Republican leadership also raised federal debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion dollars to a total of nearly $20 trillion. During the Obama presidency, the debt has nearly doubled and the Republican collaborators greenlit much of it. The debt is now larger than the economy and more deficits loom ahead.  

What have we gotten from this spending orgy? A number of taxes on the middle class and rich have gone up and the economy stagnated. From 2009-2014, the economy grew at a pathetic average of 1.4% per year and this is with immigration swelling the population. We’ve seen a litany of scandals involving the IRS (targeting of TEA party groups), ATF and Justice Department (Fast and Furious cover up), Veteran’s Department (unnecessary deaths due to incompetence), State Department (Benghazi-related mess), and so on. We’ve also see the Obama administration trample on the Constitution by amnestying millions of illegal aliens, ignoring the law on Obamacare and bankruptcy involving the car companies, starting an illegal war in Libya, and so on. Nothing here merits an 8% raise.

The left loves the raise. They have become completely unhinged from economic reality. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to jack up income tax rates on the rich to 70%. Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton wants to tax capital gains (investment income) at 44%. One can only imagine the damage such policies would produce. 

To be fair, most Republicans did not vote for the spending orgy. Roughly two-thirds of Republican senators and representatives voted against it. Republican Congressional leadership, specifically, Paul Ryan (R-WI), John Boehner (R-OH), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), broke their campaign promises and passed a far left spending deal using Democrat votes. Of course, the shame of New York, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), voted for it, but so did our representative: Tom “RINO” Reed. In so voting, Reed is begging for a primary challenge.

How conservatives and libertarians should respond to this betrayal? There aren’t too many options. First, they can keep on voting Republican and hope that adult legislators (for example, Freedom Caucus) gain influence. The problem is that there is little indication that this will happen. The beltway Republicans have not been made to relinquish power and there is little reason to think they will do so in the near future.

Second, they can vote for a new party. This runs the risk of splitting the right’s vote.

Third, they can sit out an election and snap their wallets closed when Republicans show up hat in hand. This risks empowering the left as their voters will still show up.

These are bad choices. Were the U.S. not approaching a point of no return in terms of the size of government, the debt, and, most importantly, the importation of many far left voters (legal and illegal immigrants), the second and third options might be the way to go. Unfortunately, the importation of new voters makes these options less viable, so conservatives and libertarians will have to go with the first. Perhaps a middle ground can be found where the right refuses to fund the national party and RINOs like John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Reed get primary challenges.

The gloves in national discussions have to come off. If the left wants to make elections a battle of identity-politics, the right should welcome this development. The left can explain how its candidates are the right choice for blacks, Hispanics, unmarried women, and poor people. The right can explain how its candidates are the right choice for whites, married women, the middle class, and rich people. With the parties increasingly appealing to different sectors of the population, Republican candidates can focus on energizing their base rather than reaching out to groups that haven’t and won’t vote for them, in large part because they like socialism. Not only will focusing on turning out the base work better (see, for example, Reagan’s success and Newt Gingrich’s and the TEA party insurgencies), it will prevent the core beliefs of Republican voters from being ground into the dirt. 

28 October 2015

The Global Warming Crusade and Philosophy

Stephen Kershnar
The Climate Change Crusade and Philosophy
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 25, 2015

The 2015 United National Climate Change Conference is coming up in about a month. The conference aims to put a legally binding and universal agreement on global warming (that is, climate change). Manmade global warming (that is, climate change) refers to the claim that the climate system is warming and that it is caused, at least in part, by human activity. Among the solutions that various groups have suggested are taxing, regulating, or punishing people to reduce the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Other suggestions include reducing consumption and travel, moving to more efficient cars, buildings, and appliances, and promoting vegetarianism. If these goals are adopted, governments will likely pursue them through coercion.    

The scientific consensus is that that the earth’s surface and oceans are warming due to in part to the emission of greenhouse gases. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that it was more than 95% likely that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other human activity is causing global warming. Various scientific models predict that in the 21st century, the global surface temperature is likely to rise anywhere from 0.5 to 8.6 °F, depending in part on how much greenhouse emission occurs. That there is manmade global warming is the consensus view of most, if not all, of the major scientific bodies.   

If these models are correct, the question becomes what, if anything, should be done about climate change. Among the possible responses are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, learning to live with its effects, and climate engineering. The American and European left want to reduce greenhouse emissions via higher taxes, more regulation, and various criminal punishments and civil fines. The philosophical problems that accompany these solutions are worth considering.    

First, policies that aim to lessen greenhouse emissions not to prevent harm from pollution-related harm today, but to combat global warming decades from now might not be the best use of charitable resources. One group (Copenhagen Consensus) tried to rank the effectiveness of various types of altruistic policies and found that lessening global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emission is not the most efficient type of altruistic spending. More good was done by other programs, such as ones that lessened malnutrition and hunger, combatted chronic and infectious diseases (such as malaria and HIV), and funded research and development for green technologies that combat climate change and increase agricultural productivity.

Even if manmade global warming is bad for mankind, this does not mean it should receive priority if there are more pressing problems. For example, if a dollar spent on reducing malnutrition or malaria does more good than reducing greenhouse gas emission, this should guide our spending of scarce charitable dollars.  

Second, at least in the near future, the costs of lessening greenhouse emissions through the left’s programs might exceed their benefits. Arguing in the New York Times in 2013, Bjorn Lomborg argues that in the near future, the increased use of coal and other fossil fuels is crucial to helping the poor in the third world escape poverty. He argues that over the last 30 years, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty in part by giving them access to more modern energy, mostly through the burning of coal. He notes that this resulted in terrible air pollution and a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but argued that this is a tradeoff many developing countries would welcome (for example, those in sub-Saharan Africa). Perhaps this is incorrect, but it is incumbent on environmentalists to show why.   

As a theoretical matter, the benefits of added wealth might exceed the costs of depletion. Consider this cartoonish example. For example, if depleting various natural resources allows the economy to expand at 5% rather than 0% for 25 years, the per capital income of the average American will go from $55,000 to $186,000 (in 2015 dollars). Future generations might do better with more wealth and technology than a pristine environment.  

Third, if a policy leads to the creation of different people than otherwise would be created, then the policy does not harm anyone. More than a decade ago a controversy erupted when a deaf lesbian couple intentionally had a deaf child by using the sperm of a man from a multi-generational deaf family. Their action did not harm anyone because there was no one whom they made worse off (leaving aside taxpayers). Their child would not have existed were he not (partially) deaf. Similarly, if the left’s changes in the economic system are large enough, this might affect the people who come into existence in the same way that industrialization, world wars, and the computer economy have a large effect on who reproduces with whom. If such a large effect occurs, then, over the long term, it is hard to see who would be harmed by large-scale greenhouse gas emissions. People are not harmed by the emissions if they would not have existed were the emissions not to have occurred. Whether the left’s programs are large enough to affect reproductive patterns is an empirical question.   

Fourth, even if greenhouse gas emissions make the world a better place, it is not clear we have a duty to make the world a better place. For example, it might well be that the world would be a better place if wealthier couples donated their money to famine-relief programs rather than going on European vacations, but they don’t have a duty to do so. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with happier and smarter couples having two children rather than five even though this makes the world worse because there are fewer happy people.

These economic and philosophical concerns about some of the proposals to lessen greenhouse gas emissions as a way of lessening global warming are well-known and serious. If climate change crusaders do not address them, then their solutions should be rejected.