Truth In Between
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Truth In Between

Affirmative Action 2021

Moving forward or sliding backwards?

The fact that I’m underrated or whatever doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’d rather be the underdog. That way, people usually underestimate you. -Dalila Eshe

As our Rotary Club’s Director of Programs, I was thrilled when economist Jon Haveman reached out offering the expertise of the NEED Delegation. The group is basically a bunch of bad-ass economists sharing their wealth of knowledge on a variety of issues, including trade, climate change and health economics. On the list of available presentations was also the Black White Wealth Gap. For our regular readers, you know I jumped on this one right away. I’m always looking to gain deeper insights into issues of race and inequality, and Jon himself offered to deliver this presentation.

Towards the end of the conversation, we turned our attention to affirmative action. Given the disparities that Jon outlined in his presentation, he stated his support of affirmative action. Me? I’m not so sure. I’m always trying to see both sides and much of what I’ve read suggests that affirmative action doesn’t really help the intended people. For example, wealthy black Americans, immigrants and white women are often the benefactors of affirmative action policies.

And then, for me, there is the question of meritocracy in general. I’m kinda cool with the idea of a meritocracy, but with limits. However, apparently meritocracy has now been labeled as racist. But here’s the deal… I lived in China as it was still struggling with its communist identity within a capitalist transition. It was a fascinating experience. Many people I encountered still had the “iron rice bowl” mentality. That is to say, they had job security and therefore there was no reason to excel. If you excelled, you still received the same security as someone who chose not to excel. The lack of inspiration infused the society and social interactions, creating a figuratively, and literally, drab environment. And so, I saw inspiration and innovation in meritocratic societies where a mindset of achievement was rewarded.

However, the focus on Ivy League and elite schools as the meritocratic ideal still baffles me. As Americans, we like underdogs. We love the stories of people like Steve Jobs who dropped out of college to start one of the most innovative companies on the planet (for anyone who has been living under a rock, that company is Apple). It’s one thing to strive, but another to only see achievement in elite degrees. Meritocracy fails when it adheres to norms dictated by Ivy League and elitist diplomas and networks. It becomes uninspiring.

And so, when I look at affirmative action and its emphasis on Ivy League and elite colleges, I think something is missing. There are studies that show that students with sub-par grades and test scores often fail out of universities where they cannot compete (Jon points to other studies on our podcast, showing instead that students often rise to the challenge, and I love that… go underdogs!). But I wonder, why our focus on affirmative action is on these schools that represent elitism more than actual grit and know-how. Does this really support the efforts of equality?

My other co-host, W.F. Twyman, Jr., finds affirmative action itself, uninspiring. In our attempt to right historic wrongs, he says, we often end up erasing heroic black achievement, as we search for the lowest common denominator instead of setting our sights on models of resilience and uplift. He believes the focus should be on the “bottom of the pyramid”. That is to say, we need to make sure our children all have the same starting point and imbue them with visions of opportunity, otherwise the push for equity is simply a thinly veiled revenge for the past and nothing more. At the end of the conversation, we all land on this need for getting equity right from the very beginning of a child’s life, across the racial and socio-economic spectrum.

Join us again in a few weeks as we discuss Affirmative Education as a solution for building a more equitable society.

In the Hold My Drink Podcast — navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility — Episode 18, Affirmative Action 2021— An economist and a lawyer walk into a bar… and discuss affirmative action. Economist Jon Haveman believes that equity and efficiency are the results of affirmative action. The life experiences of former law professor, W.F. Twyman, Jr, suggest the path is not necessarily as linear. All of us agree that we need to ensure everyone has a more equitable starting point. All discussed with a chaser of civility, of course, and a shot of brandy.

Hold My Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we discuss what it takes to imagine a new American identity, together.

Find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or watch the conversation unfold on YouTube, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What Jon is reading:

Black-White Wealth Gap, NEED Delegation Presentation, Jon Haveman

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in 20th Century America, Ira Katznelson

What Wink is reading:
Both Things Can Be True: Bias and Bad Fundraising Advice, This is Going to be Big, Charlie O’Donnell

How Meritocracy Harms Everyone — Even the Winners, Vox, Sean Illing

What Jen is reading:

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance

The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine our Culture, Heather Mac Donald

Jon Haveman is widely considered to be one of California’s leading experts on the economics of seaports, goods movement, and international trade policy. He is also an expert in regional economies and local economic development. He is currently a Principal with Marin Economic Consulting, a boutique consultancy providing reports to government agencies, economic development organizations, and other organizations, in addition to providing expert witness services in legal proceedings. Prior to joining Marin Economic Consulting, Dr. Haveman was the Chief Economist at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a founding Principal at Beacon Economics, and the Director of the Economy Program at the Public Policy Institute of California. He has been a Senior Economist with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and an Economist with the Federal Trade Commission, and he has held a faculty position in the Business School at Purdue University. Dr. Haveman holds a Ph.D. and Master of Science in Economics from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Wisconsin.

W.F. Twyman Jr is a former law professor and descendant of George Twyman I (1661–1703), W. F. Twyman, Jr. lived on Twyman Road in then-Chesterfield County, Virginia until the age of eight. Everyone living on Twyman Road was a Twyman. Twyman is the author of essays and articles in the South Carolina Law Review, the Virginia Tax Review, the National Black Law Journal, St. Croix Review, the Pennsylvania Lawyer, the Intellectual Conservative and the Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience. His self-published works are On the Road to Oak Lawn: Truth, Reconciliation and the Twymans (December 1, 2018) and Gotterdammerung (July 3, 2019). A lawyer, writer, husband, and Dad, the author lives in San Diego, California with his wife, Schuyler a descendant of Congressman Joseph Hayne Rainey (1832–1887).

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