They Might Not be Economists

But they sure can tell when something devalues what they’re in the process of getting and paying for.  Of students polled at Brown University, one of the most famously left-wing campuses in the country, 58% disapproved of the use of racial preferences in admissions, and only 34% approved.

You see, when you dole out a credential on any basis other than demonstrated ability to earn that credential, you cheapen it, not only for the people who got it on that discounted basis, but also for every other holder.  Dare we hope that these students have figured that out?  Unfortunately, as the article points out, we can’t assume that the students’ opinions reflects any lack of mandatory group-think: None was willing to go on record with a disapproving opinion.

The linked article is brief, so we can’t know whether the polling was done with any statistical degree of rigor, nor are we told anything about the sampling population.  It would be interesting to know.  This may be just some “man on the street” sort of interview.  But however it was done, having that percentage even admit in private to heterodox views on the subject has to be seen as some sort of encouraging.

A short screed here, on the word “merit.”  That word is way too value-laden for my liking.  I have absolutely no way of weighing any other human’s “merit,” either in the abstract or concretely.  I can pretty well tell when someone is unmeritorious, but beyond gross-scale differentiation (e.g., I’m reasonably sure that a senior Taliban official responsible for oppression of females in Afghanistan does not deserve to live, let alone to be enrolled at Yale University in preference to any single other of school’s thousands of applicants), but my ability runs out at that point.  All that I can adequately measure is demonstrated (i) ability, or (ii) achievement in some relevant related human activity.  To the extent that I claim I’m taking anything else into account I’m more or less making it up as I go along.  I mean, how do you make any sort of meaningful distinction between the applicant whose mother was an unmarried crack whore living in a beat-up single wide in, say, Harlan County, Kentucky on the one hand and on the other the Vietnamese boat person’s kid who arrived on these shores with a bundle that could be carried in one hand, not knowing the language, but with an intact family and a phenomenal work ethic?  You can’t; you just can’t.  To say that one is more “meritorious” than the other pretends to a degree of knowledge that humans have never possessed and never will.

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