A reader writes:
As you’ve written earlier, I think the value of affirmative action is that it co-opts dissent by including the most intelligent from every ethnic group. This reinforces the ability of the elite to continue discriminating ruthlessly on intelligence for the jobs “that matter” in law, finance etc. As such, it is unlikely that AA would be banned outright. Even a restriction would just push it “into the shadows” – eg, it will still happen, just in another way or form.
Because I think the above is true, it seems like the only way affirmative action would end is if it is taken to its ridiculous logical conclusion, whereby admissions test are made easy and applicants are chosen randomly. A better strategy for folks opposed to AA would probably be to try and achieve these ends – to push on elite institutions with disparate impact (universities and corporations).
The downside case to this strategy, is that there is a social benefit to have a cluster of very smart people in one place, so they can feed off one another and do more interesting things together than they might do alone.
With places that focus on engineering (Stanford etc) this results in tangible and incredible technologies. The ivy league seems to be the font of financial engineering, so clusters can also produce products that more focused on the clever taking advantage of the clueless. (Yes, the economy benefitted from the additional leverage that was available from these innovations, but it has now left us with major structural problems).
The upside case from this strategy, for the folks who are disadvantaged by the practice, is that it would undermine the value placed on “elite” credentials, making the individual’s performance more important. This is a form of equalizing outcomes by lowering the standard. Not pretty, but it would have a big effect.
For society - if smart folks were more evenly spread throughout various industries and fields, rather than concentrated into a few value transference sectors, we might see a very different country 25 years from now.
An alternate way to achieve this last outcome would be to mandate reverse quotas – no single university can have no more than x% of their students from the top y% of scores. This would force the spread of our smart fraction and ensure we have smart people working in more fields. Safer for society since the “next big thing” is always unpredictable.
I can recall visiting Stanford as a high school student in 1974 or 1975 and being suitably impressed Why would anybody want to go anywhere else, I thought at the time, what with the weather, the beautiful campus, the easy grades, and now the rise around Stanford of this thing that was then starting to be called "Silicon Valley," where guys get rich living out science fiction dreams?
As far as I can tell, Stanford has fulfilled my exorbitant expectations of 37 years ago, but has it even moved up in the rankings since then? Not particularly. And that's mostly because Wall Street has sucked up more and more of the wealth, making the Ivy League colleges with the best pipelines to Wall Street ever more desirable, which in turn encourages Tigermothermania and so forth.
The sensible thing would be to take concrete actions to rein in Wall Street, but that may turn out to be politically unfeasible because they are, after all, Wall Street. So, perhaps we could nibble away at the Ivy League via Wall Street?
We're all supposed to be worked up over inequality, right, so why is it so important which college you get into at 18?
The Ivy League takes in about 15,000 freshmen per year out of an annual cohort of 4,000,000. Obviously, they do a pretty good job of selecting people likely to write them big checks in future fundraising drives, but, still ...
Perhaps regional hiring quotas could be imposed on firms in proportion to how much TARP money they took in 2008. For example, Goldman Sachs got a ten billion dollar loan in 2008 from the feds, so why not guidelines for Goldman Sachs about diversifying their hiring, showing that they are now recruiting at Big Ten and at SEC campuses. It's not like Goldman can't afford the airfare.