Social Engineering Fails Again: Surprise!

Government social engineering doesn’t work. It’s rarely just. It is even less likely to be effective. That is the lesson of just about every government attempt to remake individuals and/or societies.

One of the great movements for liberty in American history was eliminating legal disabilities against minorities. The most odious and obvious was slavery followed by the panoply of Jim Crow laws against African Americans. Only in the 1960s did many of these Americans become full citizens of the American republic.

Unfortunately, the desire to remedy past discrimination led to present discrimination, dressed up in the positive phrase “affirmative action.” Also unfortunately, in practice that too often meant discrimination, but this time against non-minorities, though the categories constantly varied. No where has the rush to discriminate been stronger than in academia. The cases of individual injustice are manifold, of course.

But the social impact also appears to have been negative. In the case of the law, for instance, there is evidence that affirmative action at law schools has actually reduced the number of black attorneys. Reports Gail Heriot, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in the Wall Street Journal:

Three years ago, UCLA law professor Richard Sander published an explosive, fact-based study of the consequences of affirmative action in American law schools in the Stanford Law Review. Most of his findings were grim, and they caused dismay among many of the champions of affirmative action–and indeed, among those who were not.

Easily the most startling conclusion of his research: Mr. Sander calculated that there are fewer black attorneys today than there would have been if law schools had practiced color-blind admissions–about 7.9% fewer by his reckoning. He identified the culprit as the practice of admitting minority students to schools for which they are inadequately prepared. In essence, they have been “matched” to the wrong school.

No one claims the findings in Mr. Sander’s study, “A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools,” are the last word on the subject. Although so far his work has held up to scrutiny at least as well as that of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the “mismatch thesis” can be definitively accepted or rejected.

Unfortunately, many supporters of affirmative action appear to fear the likely results of more research, and therefore have made it difficult for researchers. Explains Heriot:

Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Mr. Sander’s data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, they apparently don’t want you–or anyone else–to know.

Of course. For putative social engineers, affirmative action–like communism, income redistribution, CAFE standards, environmentalism, and much, much more — is a matter of faith. In their view, it is better to prevent research than to have to deal with contrary findings. Advocates of the ever-expanding state are the true opponents of scientific research, free inquiry, and open debate.