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June 26, 2013

Quote of the Day

Via Megan McArdle, an interesting study of the displacement effects of affirmative action policies concludes that eliminating racial preferences for Blacks and Hispanics would have little effect on the admission rates of white students.

The real beneficiaries of strictly merit-based admissions would be... [drum roll]... Asian students:

... without affirmative action the acceptance rate for African-American candidates likely would fall nearly two-thirds, from 33.7 percent to 12.2 percent, while the acceptance rate for Hispanic applicants likely would be cut in half, from 26.8 percent to 12.9 percent.

...Removing consideration of race would have little effect on white students, the report concludes, as their acceptance rate would rise by merely 0.5 percentage points. Espenshade noted that when one group loses ground, another has to gain -- in this case it would be Asian applicants. Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students, with an acceptance rate rising from nearly 18 percent to more than 23 percent. Typically, many more Asian students apply to elite schools than other underrepresented minorities. The study also found that although athletes and legacy applicants are predominantly white, their numbers are so small that their admissions do little to displace minority applicants.

Megan notes:

There's a certain irony in the fact that white students usually bring these affirmative action lawsuits (and that defenses of affirmative action are often framed in terms of white privilege). The evidence seems to show that if completely race-neutral admissions policies were adopted at colleges and universities, the admissions rates for blacks and hispanic would fall dramatically . . . but the admissions rates for whites wouldn't change much. The primary beneficiaries would be Asian students, who would fill nearly four out of five of the extra admissions slots.

...everyone seems to be aware that colleges have imposed restrictive admissions quotas to keep Asians underrepresented in their student bodies, akin to the “Jewish quotas” which used to exist at Ivy League schools until the 1950s. But no one seems particularly bothered about systemic, institutionalized racial discrimination against a large group of Americans. I’m not even aware of any concerted effort by Asian community groups to shame universities into stopping this.

It's hard to think of anything that better demonstrates the fundamental divisiveness of affirmative action than this last bit. It pits identity group against identity group, with each group claiming to be motivated by principles they're not always willing to see applied across the board.

Posted by Cassandra at June 26, 2013 06:19 AM

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It's hard to think of anything that better demonstrates the fundamental divisiveness of affirmative action than this last bit. It pits identity group against identity group, with each group claiming to be motivated by principles they're not always willing to see applied across the board.

Everyone's principles are merely a convenient fig leaf for their naked self interest but mine.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 26, 2013 12:31 PM

Though I realize you're yanking my chain (not without reason), allow me to take that seriously.

I don't think principles are nothing more than rationalized self interest - that's too strong a statement. But it seems to me that the best test of our principles (or the strength of our conviction to them) is to imagine a case in which adhering to the principle hurts someone we like or benefits someone we don't like.

The pull exerted by 'us vs. them' is so strong that it requires a counterweight.

In principle, I believe that affirmative action is little more than legalized favoritism or discrimination. I thought that even when it was still being used to get more women into college. It's quite possible that I only got into Dartmouth because I was female. Certainly, my SAT scores were more than competitive but my grades (until senior year) were less than impressive.

It's interesting that, having seen my grades and scores, the school told my father that I might get in but that he shouldn't hold his breath. So clearly, simply being female wasn't enough to get me in despite being above the watermark in test scores. So the "advantage" of being female can't have been that great. My grades weren't all that bad, either. They just weren't stellar - I was a B/B+ student overall.

After I interviewed, I got in. So was it the fact that my Dad was an alum? They already knew that when they told him not to hold his breath. Did I make a super-good impression? Possibly - we'll never know. I'm told I interview well.

A few years down the road when I realized that it was possible that I only got in b/c I was female, that really bothered me. I truly believed that if that was the case, it was unfair and wrong.

If I look at a case where a black student from an upper class, wealthy background got the edge due to race (this student had all the advantages, but wouldn't have gotten into an elite school "but for" skin color), AA still looks unfair and wrong.

If I look at a case where a black student from a poor background gets the edge due to skin color, struggles through school, barely graduates but manages to get a better job than he would have otherwise, marries and rises to the middle class and has children who go on to get college degrees... how do I feel about AA then?

My point, though poorly made, is that we have a hard time separating out the outcome from the process (and also, seeing how our own self interests or sympathies affect our willingness to support a given principle). Especially if we only consider half of the equation (cost/benefit to recipients of affirmative action, or cost/benefit to third parties impacted by it).

I don't exempt myself from any of this - my response on the other thread shows I'm vulnerable to ends-justify-the-means arguments.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 01:12 PM

But it seems to me that the best test of our principles (or the strength of our conviction to them) is to imagine a case in which adhering to the principle hurts someone we like or benefits someone we don't like.

I don't think McArdle is right here, because I think eliminating affirmative action would change the character of the institutions in ways that would make them more attractive. Thus, I would expect more white men (indeed more men generally) to apply to a competitive institution than to an institution that operates on caring-and-let's-not-offend principles.

But say she were right. Well, I can't quite apply your test because I don't have any particular feelings about Asians one way or the other, but I certainly wouldn't be terribly bothered if Asians suddenly became more prominent at university in the place of unqualified others. I think that would improve the institutions and the outcomes for our country, not because of the addition of Asians or the absence of blacks or whoever, but because of the subtraction of unqualified people and the addition of more qualified ones.

What if we had affirmative action that helped just people like me? I don't want it. Never did want charity, nor was much inclined to accept it.

Posted by: Grim at June 26, 2013 02:28 PM

I would expect more white men (indeed more men generally) to apply to a competitive institution than to an institution that operates on caring-and-let's-not-offend principles.

I don't accept that formulation, Grim. I never got a single A for caring (or not offending anyone). That's simply not how schools are run.

Tests don't measure empathy. They measure whether you know the answer to the question or not.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 02:40 PM

I do, however, agree with this :)

I certainly wouldn't be terribly bothered if Asians suddenly became more prominent at university in the place of unqualified others. I think that would improve the institutions and the outcomes for our country, not because of the addition of Asians or the absence of blacks or whoever, but because of the subtraction of unqualified people and the addition of more qualified ones.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 02:42 PM

I never got a single A for caring (or not offending anyone). That's simply not how schools are run.

Well, things here have changed for the worse since you were in school. You won't get an A for caring, but you'll get tossed out on your butt for making remarks that offend a protected demographic -- even if they are made in the course of scholarly research with respectable work.

Indeed, even at a conservative think tank, academics must adhere to this standard. In the war of ideas, one side has been forced to disarm and stand down.

It happens to be a conservative faction, though not my own; but it really wouldn't matter which side it was. The point of the story is that the game has changed. It requires a different mindset, one built around great caution for the feelings of social groups, and that's a mindset with which men are less likely to be comfortable. It shouldn't be surprising to think that this would cause a certain percentage of men to dismiss college from their considerations.

Posted by: Grim at June 26, 2013 03:05 PM

I do, however, agree with this :)

It's nice to agree once in a while. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 26, 2013 03:06 PM

Yanking your chain? Moi? I should act offended! But the uncomfortable reality is that many, if not all, of our cherished principles are principally informed by self-interest. (See what I did there?) Can you imagine it being otherwise? Granted, we mainly employ such principles as boundaries - lines from which we will not, cannot retreat further without the surrender of our (or our society's) self-interest. To "abandon ones' principles" is to invite scorn. Indeed, we will often defend those principles we hold dear even when doing so may work against our immediate self-interest. (Are there more famous last words than "I don't care what happens to me, it's the principle of the thing"?) But unlike physical laws, human principles are not immutable. Humans adapt principles to benefit human society, and thereby promote human self-interest. The greater the self-benefit, the more likely we are to adhere to such principles. What greater human principle is there than that not to cause harm to others? Yet we will unhesitatingly rain hellfire down on anyone who dares to threaten "our way of life." (Animals are pretty tasty, too, even if they present no threat to us. So, you know, we find a little leeway in our principles when it suits us.) I see the affirmative action debate as apples arguing against oranges and vice versa. On the one hand, proponents of AA argue that the discrimination benefits societal self-interest by promoting classes of persons over individuals, thus lifting all boats. Anti-AA argues that discriminating in favor of class harms society in the long term because society advances through the efforts of the self-interested individual. Both are arguing self-interest as principle, however. The only difference is that one side has the additional moral suasion of historical disadvantage, against which appeals to individual self-interest are largely impotent, because self-interest.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 26, 2013 03:20 PM

And while we're at it, anybody want to argue against the principled self-interests displayed in today's DOMA decision?

Posted by: spd rdr at June 26, 2013 03:39 PM

This is why you never invite an attorney to debate :p

I think you may be describing enlightened self interest. Reading your comment, I was reminded of a quote I read a long time ago. Here's the meat of it, but the entire (short) post is worth reading:

It is as impossible for a society to be formed and be durable without self-interest as it would be to produce children without carnal desire or to think of eating without appetite, etc. It is love of self that encourages love of others, it is through our mutual needs that we are useful to the human race. That is the foundation of all commerce, the eternal link between men. Without it not a single art would have been invented, no society of ten people formed.

Link:

http://archive.mises.org/12675/voltaire-on-enlightened-self-interest/

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 03:44 PM

Boy, that Voltaire feller sure does talk pretty.
So "enlightened self-interest" is action taken ostensibly to benefit the interest of others, but which ultimately benefits the interests of one's self. "Unenlightened self-interest" is the same thing, only without throwing the nod to the middleman. The former is "good" self-interest because, gee whiz, society benefits. The latter is just plain ol' greed, a cardinal sin for which you can win an eternal soak in Beelzebub's Hottub.

Uh, yep. I'm definitely talking 'bout the enlightened kind.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 26, 2013 04:25 PM

You won't get an A for caring, but you'll get tossed out on your butt for making remarks that offend a protected demographic -- even if they are made in the course of scholarly research with respectable work.

Academia has never been particularly tolerant of those who challenge the orthodoxy/received wisdom of the day. There has always been a bit of a herd mentality, and also tolerance of some groups/ideas and banning or persecution of others. Galileo could tell you a thing or two about this :p

Colleges have always had a political side, and have been vulnerable to meddling by powerful interests. This isn't new.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 04:27 PM

OK, maybe I'm unbearably naive, but I always understood enlightened self interest to be a recognition that (our great love of The Individual aside) no man is an island.

That which benefits society and the human race in the long run can often be said to benefit the individual, even when it hurts the individual in the short run. Or, put another way, you lose here but gain there.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 04:30 PM

I do think find your naivete the least bit unbearable. In fact, it's refreshing. Cynicism is a constant peril of my profession, however. For, at law, all men are islands. I like yours better.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 26, 2013 04:46 PM

If I knew how to curtsey in a comments section I would do so, mr rdr :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 05:01 PM

Or to paraphrase that inimical scribe who wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas?", who complained about the people of Kansas voting against their real "self-interest".

So, "what's the matter with those numb-skull racist conservatives", who oppose Affirmative Action.
Or, "what's the matter with those stupid liberals who want to wreck universities by undermining standards".

And that may be the nub of the matter that few care to examine too closely. People do indeed operate largely in their own self -interest, but are frequently loathe to openly define what that actually is, and cloak it in the fashionable altruistic platitudes of the day.

I posit the following:
Conservatives (being one, sort of) are appalled by Affirmative Action because it represents the Visible Hand of interference from "society's gatekeepers", i.e. "THE ELITES" which are anonymouse and about reproach. Actually they feel this is an attack on their true freedom. That's how I perceive the argument, underneath all the gas. I don't exactly hold that view myself.

The liberals believe that past injustices must be rectified, and that especially the interests of millions of African American Democrat voters must be appealed to. Their specific actions at trying to be social gatekeepers is something that they do to try and buy votes.

The whole chimera of "affirmative action" is supposed to mean a positive action to right an old wrong of discrimination, but it is, again, to me, vote buying. That does not mean that discrimination does not exist, or would not return WITHOUT Affirmative Action (because people are tribal in nature, and discrimination against "the other is, in fact natural).

But there is, in my mind, a real problem at the heart of this, that I once discussed with an African American friend of mine, who favored affirmative action.

The Black Americans with the brains and ability to get into college, will get into college. In fact, the will be highly bid for by various Universities.


It is the marginal (potential) students that probably don't belong in College that will be drug into the system of higher education, then fail, then be bitter about it. This is a frequent outcome for "scholar athletes" who are recruited for their various athletic prowess.

I look at my own younger son, who is really not college material, and really shouldn't go to college because he is a poor scholar and not focused on studying or doing homework (in high school). College for him will be a waste of time.
He is not dumb, just academically "lazy".

There are legions of young African American children (teenagers) who, because of affirmative action, will be encouraged to go to college, and it will be a big waste of time. For the same reason.

But the underlying "self - interest" is to get "credentialed" to gain employment. And the political class wants the votes for being all about "affirmative action".

This may or may not actually be some unhealthy social distortion, but the Sun will still rise in the morning whether or not this practice continues.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 26, 2013 05:44 PM

These are my principles. If you don't like them, well, I have others.

Posted by: Don "Groucho" Brouhaha at June 26, 2013 05:46 PM

I look at my own younger son, who is really not college material, and really shouldn't go to college because he is a poor scholar and not focused on studying or doing homework (in high school). College for him will be a waste of time.
He is not dumb, just academically "lazy".

Don, the Blog Princess was just like that, once.
She screwed up her own life, and only then did she prize what she had so casually thrown away. I honestly believe that it's better for many kids to get out into the world and work before going to college. Sure, it makes going back harder, but often it results in them having a purpose when they do. That's how it was with me.

I have a theory about kids. We work so hard to imprint our values upon them, but as that verse I love to bore you all to death with states so well, they will interpret all we seek to teach them through the lens of their own experiences, needs, wants, and abilities:

"You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts."

I have two 'boys' over the age of 30 now. Hard to believe. Watching them grow and develop is one of the greatest joys of a mostly happy life. But they each have their own schedule.

It took me a while, but I turned out OK in the end (if only after years of frustrating and disappointing my beloved father and mother). I know that I was a big disappointment to my parents, but the seeds they planted while raising me eventually sprouted (if perhaps not in the way they expected). Your son has a fine father, and the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree most of the time.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 26, 2013 05:59 PM

Galileo could tell you a thing or two about this :p

In Galileo's day, it was also true that most men didn't choose to go to college. :)

See also here.

Posted by: Grim at June 26, 2013 09:05 PM

OK, I'm going to double back to the original issue; is Affirmative Action a net good to society? Please be advised, this is only personal experience, and I have no appropriate more broad based data available.

I dropped our of the University of Washington for personal reasons, and enlisted in the Navy in the late '70's. Fairly quickly I decided that both I and the Navy would be better served in a different capacity, and in a couple years was accepted to a undergraduate program sponsored by the Navy. To the best of my knowledge, I was a 'test score' admission, invited in order to boost statistics.

Though that school has a fairly good academic reputation, as a student I did not find academics challenging . . . and gained a reputation for sleeping through the latter half of study hour.
. . . "Well rested is well tested" was my motto.

I have great strenuous objections to the idea that people are inherently different in any significant way due to race, and in my own personal experience I've worked with folks of many races that were well qualified, worked hard, and were successful in their position (the co-captain of our HS Chess Team senior year happened to be 3rd (?) generation Japanese-American, and he was clearly a better guy than I.

But at my 'highly selective' undergraduate institution, it was plainly clear who was admitted for 'diversity,' and quite a few struggled mightily to meet minimum academic requirements, and they failed out academically at a much greater rate than average. The institution also bent over backwards (again and again) to provide counseling, tutoring, and 2nd/3rd chances for those folks.

Those admission slots were valued at a fair chunk of change at the time, and it was apparent to me that more than a few slots were 'given' to those that had a low probability of success.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 26, 2013 11:18 PM

I have often wondered how long members of Congress and their staffs spend on coming up with the names for these various laws. It would be funny if they were bound by truth in advertising laws.

Affirmative Action-Discriminatory Action.
Patriot Act-Don't blame us for 9/11 the Government Doesn't have enough power Act.
Affordable Care Act-Escalating Premiums Act.

Of course they might be just a bit harder to sell if they were named properly.

Posted by: Allen at June 27, 2013 10:53 AM

Or:

Affordable Care Act - "You can't keep your old policy act" :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 27, 2013 11:54 AM

I'm an alumnoid of MIT. You want to see a lot of Asian kids, walk around the MIT campus. Now, MIT would like "diversity". But, how to produce it without either being absolutely inundated with Asian kids or putting in quotas?

What they do is create TWO classifications of minorities. "Minorities" - without modifier - refers to all races/non-Caucasian ethnicities that are a minority in the U.S. population (we'll ignore the 10% of MIT students that come of outside the U.S. borders). "Underrepresented minorities" are those minorities whose percentage of the MIT student body is less than their percentage of the American population.

All students must meet certain criteria - scores, class rank, a decent essay, evidence of a life outside of school, leadership qualities, etc. Once a student is over the bar, anyone who is an "underrepresented minority" is automatically admitted. The rest - including minorities that are not underrepresented, such as kids of Asian heritage - all go into the same bucket and stands the same chance of admission.

Kids who are an "underrepresented minority" who don't look like they're going to make the cut academically don't get admitted, unlike at other schools where the affirmative action admits are less academically qualified than non-AA students. They do a good job. The graduation/matriculation ratio for "underrepresented minorities" is a bit lower than for other kids, but only by two or 3 points or so, not the huge disparity you see at schools that use out and out "affirmative action".

Posted by: RonF at June 27, 2013 03:48 PM

To fill in a blank in the above - Asian kids are by far NOT an underrepresented minority on the MIT campus, and are unlikely to ever become one. So they compete with the white kids for spots, and do quite well.

To my knowledge, no group that has ever been an underrepresented minority has ever lost that status.

Posted by: RonF at June 27, 2013 03:52 PM


Kids who are an "underrepresented minority" who don't look like they're going to make the cut academically don't get admitted, unlike at other schools where the affirmative action admits are less academically qualified than non-AA students. They do a good job. The graduation/matriculation ratio for "underrepresented minorities" is a bit lower than for other kids, but only by two or 3 points or so, not the huge disparity you see at schools that use out and out "affirmative action".

That sounds like a great system, Ron.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 27, 2013 05:00 PM

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