Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fascinating idea from Taranto

James Taranto put out a fascinating theory yesterday about the "diversity" industry on campuses -- namely, that the "diversity" game is driven by the marketplace. Here's his idea summed up in bullet points; but in case I've misrepresented it, you should go read the original.


  • A smart employee is, ceteris paribus, a better employee.

  • Standard tests for intelligence score Asians on average higher than whites, whites higher than blacks, etc., meaning that to the extent employers hire based on intelligence tests, they'll hire a disproportionately high percentage of Asians and a disproportionately low percentage of blacks.

  • Under the perversities of the Civil Rights Act and subsequent jurisprudence, "disparate impact" makes a firm likely to be held liable for "racial discrimination" even if the firm has no interest in race whatsoever -- and the use of intelligence tests, even (indeed perhaps especially) in a race-blind environment, has the "disproportionate impact" described above. So employers can't be seen to be hiring based on standardized intelligence tests.

  • Employers have therefore switched to using college degrees as a proxy for intelligence -- that is, what the employer values in a Classics degree from Princeton, insofar as he values it at all, is proof that the applicant was smart enough to get into Princeton. (This, by the way, is exactly why Bill Van Deventer hired yours truly and taught me to trade futures -- "I knew anybody who could graduate with honor from Princeton was smart enough to learn to trade," were I believe his exact words in a conversation two or three years after I had stopped being the $15,000/year mail guy and become partner and vice president of Bill Van Deventer & Co., Inc.)

  • But if, say, U.C. Santa Barbara starts graduating six times as many Asians as blacks, it is only a matter of time before some smart lawyer sues a deep-pockets employer for the "disparate impact" of considering a U.C. Santa Barbara degree in the hiring process, and therefore only a matter of time before deep-pockets employers' lawyers instruct their H.R. departments to stop considering college degrees in the hiring process, except where such degree relates directly to the skill set required for the job.

  • And the moment that happens, a U.C. Santa Barbara English degree -- which is already largely worthless from the standpoint of actual educational value, and is entirely worthless from the standpoint of economic value outside of its value as a pure credential -- becomes well and truly worthless.

  • And the moment a modern American liberal arts degree loses its value as a pure credential, is the moment the higher education bubble well and truly bursts.

  • Therefore the massive "diversity" bubble is an economic necessity for the modern university. Q.E.D.



Now I don't know that I buy that -- that's a fairly long chain of reasoning and a lot of places for the reasoning to break, and it implies quite a bit more economic savvy than I think the average U.C. Santa Barbara faculty member possesses. But it's a very interesting idea. The "disparate impact" rule needs to be thrown out anyway; it would be interesting to see whether tossing out that rule would break the diversity industry's grip on academia's revenues.

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