14 September 2016

Racialize the Presidential Election: Amnesty, Affirmative Action, and Racial Grievances

Stephen Kershnar
The Presidential Election and Affirmative Action
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 5, 2016

            Charges of racism and xenophobia are being thrown at Donald Trump as part of the attempt to energize minority voting and create a wedge between Trump and the Republican elite (for example, Jeb Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney). Trump and his supporters should welcome this attempt to racialize the election.  

            Consider Barack Obama’s attempt to amnesty five million illegal aliens and then smear opponents as xenophobes or racists. Relative to the current American populations, these aliens and their offspring are poorer, less well-educated, less intelligent, and impose net costs on society via their use of welfare and other government benefits. As a result, amnesty is not good for current Americans. It is even worse when one considers that the country could instead be importing high quality immigrants from countries like Great Britain, Germany, and Japan. If Hillary wants to make the election about amnesty, she will be throwing the Republicans into the briar patch.

            Consider next Obama’s push on affirmative action. His administration backed race and ethnic preferences in the recent Supreme Court decision. It also pushed through many pro-affirmative-action regulations and instructed universities that they may, and implicitly should, consider diversity in admissions. An odd feature of this is that the intellectual case for affirmative action has collapsed.  

            Rice University professor George Sher recently argued that universities are not really interested in diversity because it promotes various ideas or perspectives. There are a lot of different ideas universities could promote via preferential admission. They could promote conservative ideas by favoring people from conservative parts of the country or religious ideas by favoring people from parts of the country with concentrations of evangelicals, Mormons, or Catholics. They could favor a parental perspective by favoring parents in admission. The choice to largely favor two minority groups (blacks and Hispanics) and sometimes women is not about ideas or perspectives, he notes, but rather about making up for past injustice. The problem is that lowered standards for university positions or jobs is not an appropriate response to past injustice.  

            First, the notion that current blacks were harmed by injustices in the distant past (consider slavery and early Jim Crow laws) depends on their being worse off than they would have been had these events not occurred. But these events caused current black people to exist by affecting the reproduction pattern that eventually led to their creation. That is, were these events to not have occurred, the specific black people who live in America would not exist, although others might, and hence current blacks were not harmed by these injustices.

Second, even if current blacks were to exist in the absence of these injustices, the amount of compensation they are owed is nearly impossible to discover. Just compensation would make current blacks indifferent between (a) living with slavery and subsequent oppression and compensation and (b) living without either. A difference in wealth and opportunity would depend on where they live: America or Africa and it is unclear which should be the baseline for discovering what blacks are owed.  

Also, on average, American blacks are roughly 19% white. If physical origin or original genetics are an essential feature of who someone is, there would be no world in which the current blacks did not have white ancestors. An imaginary world in which blacks have white ancestors but no history of racial oppression is so different from the actual world as to be practically impossible to use as a way of determining just compensation.

Third, even if compensation were owed and the amount discoverable, it is fairer and efficient to pay it via money than affirmative action. It is fairer because many blacks and Hispanics do not go to universities or apply for jobs that have affirmative action and it is unfair that they get little, if any, compensation. It is more efficient because selecting less talented people is costly.   

One cost is the harm that occurs to third parties. Consider that medical error is one of the leading causes of death in the country. Because medical admission tests correlate strongly with medical school grades, medical board scores, and physician performance and affirmative-action beneficiaries score much lower on them, there is good reason to believe that affirmative action brings with it a serious loss of life and health. Just as lower round draft picks in the NFL are on average less talented than first round draft picks, the same is true for physicians.  

A second cost is the harm done to the beneficiaries of affirmative action. UCLA law professor Richard Sander argues that mismatching minority students to universities by putting them into schools where the average student is far better makes them perform worse than they would were they correctly matched to universities. For example, he found that about half of black law students rank in the bottom 10% of their classes. He also found that black law school graduates are four times as likely to fail bar exams as are whites and that mismatch explains half of this gap.

Similarly, Sander notes, about half of black college students rank in the bottom 20% of their classes. He further points out, black college freshmen are more likely to aspire to science or engineering careers than are white freshmen, but mismatch causes blacks to abandon these fields at twice the rate of whites.

Third, there is a cost to other applicants who would have attended various universities and programs were their position not given away. This is especially true for the two groups that are likely the biggest victims of affirmative action: non-Jewish whites and Asians.  

Proponents of affirmative action cite the various benefits of affirmative action: more role models, less stereotyping, improved group decision-making, and less homogeneity, but there is little reason to think that these benefits outweigh the cost in merit-based efficiency.

If Hillary, Democrats, and the media want to racialize the election, Trump should welcome their doing so. Let’s make the election about amnestying illegal aliens, affirmative action, and whether the country should redouble its focus on racial grievances and then let the average voter weigh in.  

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