As we noted here a few weeks ago, The Economist has gone off the reservation on climate change, and in the current issue it has done so again on the issue of affirmation action and race-conscious policy. The issue is featured on the cover, which means it is the subject of the first “leader” (house editorial), “Time to Scrap Affirmative Action,” as well as the focus of a long feature news story. In particular The Economist takes note of the important original research on the “mismatch hypothesis” by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor.
From the conclusion of the leader (if you’re not a subscriber, you can get access to 15 free articles if you register at the site):
Universities that want to improve their selection procedures by identifying talented people (of any colour or creed) from disadvantaged backgrounds should be encouraged. But selection on the basis of race is neither a fair nor an efficient way of doing so. Affirmative action replaced old injustices with new ones: it divides society rather than unites it. Governments should tackle disadvantage directly, without reference to race. If a school is bad, fix it. If there are barriers to opportunity, remove them. And if Barack Obama’s daughters apply to a university, judge them on their academic prowess, not the colour of their skin.
Inside the news pages, the magazine’s Briefing on the issue mentions what deserves to be the next major scandal in higher education—quotas to keep the numbers of Asians down at leading universities, reminiscent of the quotas to exclude Jews at Ivy League schools before World War II:
Such diversity programmes tend to benefit black and Hispanic applicants; unfortunately, they tend to penalise both whites and Asians. Ron Unz, a software developer and magazine publisher, examined Asian-American enrolment numbers at elite colleges in a 2012 article poignantly titled “The Myth of American Meritocracy”. He found that the proportion of Asian-Americans at Harvard rose from around 5% in the early 1980s to more than 20% by 1993. After that, however, the proportion started to decrease, even as the numbers of college-age Asian-Americans rose. Mr Unz found similar patterns at other Ivy League universities. At the California Institute of Technology, by contrast, a first-rate university with race-neutral admissions, Asian-American enrolment rose.
In 1997 Thomas Espenshade of Princeton analysed the scores on SATs, a widely used test for college admissions, that different races needed in order to get into private universities. He found that Asian-Americans’ SAT scores had to exceed those of whites by 140 points out of 1,600, those of Hispanics by 270 points and those of blacks by 450 points. A study by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank, found that black students with average grades and test scores were almost three times more likely than Asians with similarly average qualifications to get into medical school.
Not mentioned here is that the proportion of Asians declined simultaneously and converged at almost the identical percentage at most of our leading universities, almost as if admissions directors colluded on the outcome. Seems like an ideal subject for an investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or the Justice Department. Don’t hold your breath. More likely the Justice Department will investigate The Economist to find out why it has suddenly become so politically incorrect.