my discussion with one of the little rock nine (or irrationality in politics)

little rock nineAround 2004, I was taking a college class in Discrimination and Law. The purpose of this class was to examine the legal rules and processes behind discrimination lawsuits. The content of this class was very infuriating, describing burdens of proof that are placed on individuals if other individuals have prima facie evidence of discrimination. The entire set of laws is designed such that the state can destroy people’s lives based on unsubstantiated claims. In discrimination law, it is not innocent until proven guilty; it is guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

Around this time, also, I was reading heavily the works of Economist Thomas Sowell. Sowell is a visionary man with a remarkable mind. He also has the distinction of being the only person I ever voted for to be president (as a write-in candidate). He is strong at weaving together historical narratives and statistics, interpreting the data rationally. His book Basic Economics should be the starting point for anyone interested in thinking beyond the superficial.

Concurrently with the class, I started reading Sowell’s Affirmative Action Around the World – An Empirical Study, in which Sowell argues that Affirmative Action has been very destructive, despite the “noble” intents of their authors. This theme is similar to other books he has written including the A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles and The Vision of the Anointed Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. When the government tries to fix problems, there are always unforeseen consequences. With the static and politically motivated government at the helm, the cure is almost always worse than the problem (see on the progressives hurting the poor).

At this point in my life, the internet was not widely accessible. I would bring Sowell’s book to class every day so that I could reference his statistics which I had laboriously highlighted during previous readings. Most of my classmates were inclined to believe the state had a legitimate and achievable (two different things which they conflated) role in passing laws about discrimination. I argued that such programs fail, and often escalate the problems they are trying to solve. The free market is, historically, the best mechanism at destroying discrimination. Discrimination quickly becomes expensive. When the state becomes involved, the result is more discrimination because price is removed from the equation (for example, a higher minimum wage allows employers to be more selective as to whom they hire allowing their racism, rather than their wallet, to be the determining factor)

Attempts by the state to end discrimination inevitably creates more discrimination towards the groups they try to help. It increases tension, jealousy, and bitterness between groups. The statistical results also show a failure to achieve the stated goals.

I tried to argue to my unsympathetic class that their policy preferences would lead to failure like they have every time they were tried throughout history. This was not well received. People’s good intentions usually override empirical real life effects when talking about politics. People tend not to care about what has been tried before and how the results have fared.

Enter Minnijean Brown-Trickey. Trickey became famous for being a part of the Little Rock Nine. These were the nine students who were forcibly integrated into a school in Little Rock in the 1950s. She was the keynote round table participant for one final project for the Discrimination and Law course. The round table discussion, of course, was on the modern landscape of discrimination legislation. I was looking forward to this discussion because I was very interested in how Trickey would handle various points by Thomas Sowell (who used historical and global data on the issue). She had the life experience to make interesting comments and counter-points. There could have been a meaningful and rational discussion of the issues, but, what resulted shocked everyone.

The other participants were students from the course, myself and others. We each stated our own area of considerations per the topic. A few of us stated we were interested in Affirmative Action. Trickey became visibly upset. When it came to her, she adamantly claimed that there was no such thing as Affirmative Action in the United States. She claimed no one was using Affirmative Action and it was a non-issue. Everyone at the table (and probably in the room) sat stunned. The Supreme Court had just ruled in favor of Affirmative Action (Grutter v. Bollinger), and here is an activist that denies it even exists. Over the course of the discussion, it became clear that Trickey was detached from reality in a strong way. After the event, several students privately circled papers describing her highly unprofessional and irrational rants. The class was unanimous in agreeing with those sentiments (a mostly progressive socialist set of students, nonetheless) although the professor urged us to be more reserved in our criticism.

My real take-away from this event (my life lesson) was that those who are ingrained in politics, who get paid to lobby or legislate, tend to be detached from reality. This summarizes my entire experience with Washington DC federal employees and politicians (I traveled to Washington DC and had met all sorts of famous politicians). The political class is drawn disproportionately from those who are irrational. Worse yet, they have no check on the limit of their irrationality and often command highly paid government jobs subsidizing their irrationality. They tend to have zero concept of the real world and are insulated from the real life effects of their pet policies. To top it off, they actually believe they deserve the money they are getting paid and are ungrateful that they are not getting more. Government jobs tend to attract this sort, as performance is near impossible to gauge, let alone, reward or punish.

The solution to both cultural and economic issues of our day is to advocate organic solutions; solutions not involving the mechanics of the state. The state should be made irrelevant through crowd sourced innovation. We should not empower irrational people to control our lives.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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