David Leonhardt of the NY Times appraises some alternatives to race-based affirmative action, and deliver a classic of the "people are too dumb to respond to incentives or look out for their children" genre.
He opens with some good news on the legal front:
Affirmative action as we know it is probably doomed.
When you ask top Obama administration officials and people in the federal court system about the issue, you often hear a version of that prediction.
Five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices have never voted in favor of a race-based affirmative action program. Already, the court has ruled that such programs have the burden of first showing “that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”
The issue appears to be following a familiar path in Chief Justice John Roberts’s court. On divisive social issues, the Roberts court first tends to issue narrow rulings, with the backing of both conservative and liberal justices, as my colleague Adam Liptak has noted. In later terms, the five conservative justices deliver a more sweeping decision, citing the earlier case as precedent. With affirmative action, last year’s case involving Texas could be the first stage.
So what could replace it? Apparently the trick is to find a basket of proxies that collectively substitute for race. Incone alone doesn't work because there are too many poor whites. That leads to this proposed solution:
The insight of both books is that the obstacles facing many black and Latino children can be captured through a set of variables that are, on the surface, race-neutral. A system based on these factors, rather than race per se, would be undeniably constitutional and more politically popular.
The most obvious of the factors is income — but it is not the most important. Supporters of today’s affirmative action often point out that a strictly income-based version of the program would produce much less racial diversity, and they’re right. Fewer than one-third of households making $40,000 a year or less are black or Latino, according to census data.
But income alone understates the challenges facing many minority children. Black and Latino students are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than white and Asian students with similar incomes. Black and Latino families are also less wealthy than white and Asian families. And black children in particular aremuch more likely to be growing up without two parents in their home.
Proponents of a new kind of affirmative action prefer an approach that focuses on wealth, neighborhood and family structure, as well as parents’ income, education and other factors. Doing so steers clear of the legal restrictions on racial classifications — and, in the minds of most Americans, is fair. Is an affluent teenager with a 1,300 SAT score really more accomplished than the valedictorian of a troubled high school with a 1,250? No.
So the key insight here is to reward current dysfunction. Parents may not want to quit their jobs or dissipate their wealth, but the benefits of a quick divorce are obvious. Set one parent up in a separate, poor household (that "divorce" was nasty) and boom - little Johnny or Sue, who never did succeed in becoming a recruitable athlete, is now a recruitable kid from an impoverished, broken home.
Take the War on Marriage from the tax code and the ObamaCare subsidies, tell people that getting and staying married will keep their kids out of good colleges, and the progressive/feminist struggle against the patriarchy will have another advance. Brilliant.
MORE: Scouring the archives I notice that David Leonhardt has belly-flopped on Affirmative Action before. But he's Keeping Hope Alive!