A More Basic Question


Paul Mirengoff has a post over at PowerLine with A Question for Joe Biden. Biden showed some backbone during the last debate by refusing to apologize for his position on forced school bussing of children across communities for the purpose of achieving racial balance in school. During the Obama administration, HUD promulgated regulations aimed at  “affirmatively furthering fair housing.” AFFH has the goal of moving whole families across town to new neighborhoods to racial balance neighborhood populations. The Trump administration has reinterpreted those regulations, effectively putting them on hold.

Here’s Miregoff’s question for Biden—

I’d like to hear Biden say whether he supports the idea of the federal government conditioning grants to localities on their willingness to require that a certain amount of housing in mostly White neighborhoods be occupied by African-Americans. If Biden says he does this, and I think he almost has to, I’d like to hear him explain why it’s a good idea whereas busing was a bad one.

One possible answer would be that the goal of racial balance is good and that having minority children spread through the community eliminates the need for such bandaids as forced school busing.

I have a more basic question. Is racial balance for its own sake always a good goal? The last census data is almost a decade old, but it’s what we’ve got for now. It showed that blacks make up about 12.6 percent of the U.S. population and that Hispanics make up around 16.3 percent. Should NBA teams be forced to staff their benches with more Hispanics than Blacks? Or should the Lakers have different quotas from the Celtics because of the different balances in their cities? Or should we force families to move from LA to Boston in the name of balance?

Or should we let NBA teams hire on the basis of merit? If we allow a meritocracy in sports, why not in other businesses? Why not elsewhere?

The problem of sorting for merit is that half the population is below average. As a result, any system that sorts for merit tends to disproportionally reward top performers. As a rule of thumb, roughly the square root of any population will do half the work. (This may also be stated as 20 percent of the customers drink 80 percent of the beer.) That rule implies that in a country the size of America about 18,000 people would control half the wealth—and that about a dozen would have control of ten percent of the wealth. That’s not too far off from what we see in the Real World.

So here’s a yet more basic question, if we want to allow the best to rise to the top and given that the Marxist experiments of the 20th century all ended disastrously, what can we do to provide humanely for those among us who aren’t successful?

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