Kevin Drum uses a Paul Krugman column on Glen Loury to illustrate an idea with which I’m in basic agreement.
On one hand, we all believe that individuals deserve to be judged on their own merits, not by who their parents were or what group they belong to. On the other hand, anyone who imagines that a child growing up in the South Bronx has the same chance to make it as an equally talented child growing up in Scarsdale is living in a fantasy world. So merely eliminating current racial discrimination might very well fail to eliminate the effects of past discrimination.
To which Kevin responds,
This is typical of the polarization of political debate today: there is seldom any recognition that there can be more than one answer to a question.
True. While “Scardale” and “the South Bronx” correlate very strongly with race, they’re not race. Under most affirmative action programs, an African American M.D.’s son in Scarsdale gets preferential treatment while a poor white kid in the South Bronx is considered priviledged.
Programs that, for example, grant the top 5% of the graduates of any public high school in the state admission to the state’s elite universities are far less controversial than those that are thinly-veiled racial quota systems, even though they both have very similar effects and intentions.
Kevin extends his point beyond race:
Phonics or whole language? More prisons or inner city social programs? Kill the terrorists or work on improving their economies?
For almost any problem serious enought to deserve our attention, there are both short term and long term solutions. In the case of racism, for example, affirmative action is a short term solution that’s needed to fix an immediate problem–but is entirely rejected by the right. Pursuing answers to “the internal social problems of the black community” (Krugman’s paraphrase) is a longer term solution–but one that is entirely rejected by the left.
I think the right reacts so strongly to affirmative action partly because of the sense that it is not a “short term solution.” I graduated high school 19 years ago, attending seven schools along the way, mostly in the Deep South. It never occured to me, other than during various Black History lessons, that blacks wouldn’t go to school with whites. My parents, now 60, were 11 when Brown ended legal segregation (although it took another decade to fully go away). At some point, we have to quit focusing on race per se as the cause of inequality and focus instead on poverty, poor public schools and rampant crime in the inner cities, and similar issues. Indeed, I’d argue that the Republican party has been trying to deal with these issues for the better part of 30 years.
I would agree that the right, myself included, have been reticent over the years to do much in the way of non-military foreign aid. Frankly, I remain skeptical of our ability to do much good, as aid packages tend to be diverted to the use of political elites in the LDCs rather than actually helping much. Ironically, the exceptions that come to mind are almost always follow-ons to military interventions, as in the cases of South Korea and Mozambique. Indeed, it appears we will have ample opportunity to help Afghanistan, Iraq, and others to “reform their economies.”