Posts Tagged ‘The American Conservative’

Report card on the candidates’ foreign policies

February 25, 2016

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Although I call myself a liberal, I find myself agreeing with writers for The American Conservative these days more than I do with writers for supposedly liberal publications such as The Atlantic.

The editors of the American Conservative published useful summaries of the candidates’ views on foreign policy issues, although with their evaluations, which I agree with.

Their evaluations are based on the idea that (1) the United States should not attack countries that do not threaten us, (2) the United States should not intervene in foreign conflicts that do not concern us and (3) the main mission of the American military should be defense of the homeland rather than world military supremacy.

It is noteworthy, though, that all six issues on which TAC editors focus are problems which the USA has created itself – problems that would not exist if Washington did not seek world military supremacy and had not tried to destabilize Ukraine, conquer Iraq, overthrow Libya and Syria and wage cold war against Iran.

There are less urgent, but more important, problems that we Americans should be thinking about:

  • How to manage our economic relationship with China, the main rival for the United States economically.
  • How to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war, accidental or otherwise, with Russia, the only nation that has the power to destroy the United States militarily.
  • How to help Mexico achieve political stability and economic progress, the only long-range
  • How to work with other nations to mitigate (it is too late to prevent) the threat of global warming.
  • How to manage international trade in a way that benefits Americans and our trading partners (the TPP isn’t it).

But The American Conservative editors are not wrong to focus on the issues they do.  The first step toward making things better is to stop making them worse.

LINK

A 2016 Foreign Policy Report Card by the editors of The American Conservative.

The Ivy League as gatekeepers for the elite

December 10, 2012

In my previous post, I wrote about an article by Ron Unz in The American Conservative about admissions policies at Ivy League universities, and their disparate impact on different ethnic groups, in particular the seeming unfairness to smart Asian-American applicants.  In this post, I want to write about a broader question, the role of the Ivy League as gatekeepers to the elite.

I remember a remark by President Obama some time back about how he recognized that hedge fund managers, by and large, were smart people because many of them had been his college classmates at Harvard.  It is an illustration of how the top people in Washington, Wall Street and academia form an inner circle.  Part of Obama’s success is due to the fact that, in spite of his middle-class origins, he was able to make a favorable impression on people in top positions.

Ron Unz in 1999

Ron Unz in 1999

I have a problems with the whole idea of an elite group with gatekeepers who decide who gets in.  This goes against what I was brought up to believe that the United States was all about—that an Andrew Jackson or an Abraham Lincoln could become President, a Thomas Edison could become a great inventor or an Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford could become a great industrialist, without any of them having to produce formal credentials to show their entitlement to a high position.

True, we live in a society in which people in top positions need to have more specialized knowledge than they did in an earlier era.  But that knowledge can be acquired in many places, not just in a few elite universities.  In the past couple of decades, the United States has had an increasing concentration of wealth at the top, a decline in upward mobility among American social classes, and a declining quality of leadership in government and corporate America.   (If you doubt the latter, then you are happier with the American economy and the American position in the world than I am.)   If the elite class and its gatekeepers did indeed produce superior leaders, I wouldn’t be so critical of the process by which they are selected.

The anecdotes in Unz’s article raise the delicate question of “political correctness.”  This does not apply to the sons of privilege, such as Mitt Romney (Brigham Young BA 1971, Harvard MBA & JD 1975) or George W. Bush (Yale BA 1968, Harvard MBA 1975), who are assured an admission no matter what their opinions might be.   But for someone from a more modest background, such as Barack Obama (Columbia BA 1983, Harvard JD 1991) or Bill Clinton (Georgetown BS 1968, Yale JD 1973), a lot would depend on the interviewer’s subjective impression.

I find it easy to imagine, but impossible to prove, that an interviewer could have a political bias that a high school student who campaigned against the death penalty probably was a well-rounded person, but somebody who campaigned in favor of the death penalty was intellectually and morally backward.   I don’t have any direct knowledge of this, and would appreciate comment from anybody who does.  I bring this up only because the comment thread on Unz’s article indicates a widespread perception that this is indeed the case.

Unz proposed a twofold reform:

  • To the extent a university wants to claim that it is highly selective, admissions should be based on test scores.
  • To the extent a university wants to claim that it is diverse and “looks like America,” admissions should be based on a lottery of everyone who meets minimum qualifications.

I don’t think there is any chance the Ivy League universities will accept such a proposal, and I don’t favor the federal government regulating admissions to private universities.  What is needed is a change in attitude, in which people are judged based on their achievements and proved capabilities, rather than their credentials.  This will be a long time coming, because so much of the existing elite was chosen precisely because of their credentials.

Equal opportunity should be provided by state universities, with, as in an earlier era, free or affordable tuition to everyone who can do college work.  And educational and charitable institutions with huge investment portfolios should be required to devote a minimum percentage of those portfolios to their official purposes, or forfeit their tax exemptions.

Click on The Myth of American Meritocracy  for Ron Unz’s full article.

Click on Paying Tuition to a Gigantic Hedge Fund for a sidebar by Ron Unz claiming that Harvard University is more of an investment fund than an educational institution.

Click on Harvard as Hedge Fund: Harvard Replies for Harvard’s reply and Ron Unz’s additional comment.

Click on Quantitative Sources and Methods for Ron Unz’s documentation of his claims.

Click on The claim that Harvard admissions discriminate in favor of Jews? I don’t see it for rebuttal by statistics expert Andrew Gelman [added 2/16/13]

Click on This Man Controls California for a 1999 profile of Ron Unz in The New Republic

Click on Ron Unz – Writings and Perspective | Views, Opinions and Notes for his web log.

Asian-Americans, Jews and Ivy League admissions

December 10, 2012

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Degrees from the Ivy League colleges — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and their peers — are passports to elite positions on Wall Street and in Washington.  This month’s issue of The American Conservative carries an important article by its publisher, Ronald K. Unz,  making the case that the Ivy League admissions process is corrupt and arbitrary, and that their student bodies are neither the best and the brightest, nor representative of the nation as a whole.

december-2012Unz, himself a Harvard graduate, said the admissions process at Ivy League universities is a subjective process, based largely on interviews supposedly to determine whether the applicant is a well-rounded person.  This system came into existence as a covert means to cap the numbers of Jewish students without setting explicit quotas, he wrote; now it is used to cap the numbers of Asian-Americans.

A century ago, students of the Ivy League were predominantly the sons and the white Protestant upper class, who attended as much for social life and sports as for academics.  Unz said applicants from such backgrounds, the children of distinguished alumni or large contributors to the college endowment funds, still get in as a matter of course.   Some provision is made to help black and Hispanic students.  The losers are Asian-Americans and non-Jewish working-class whites.

I am uncomfortable with sweeping generalizations about broad racial, religious and ethnic categories.  Each consists of sub-groups which differ from each other, and each group and sub-group consists of unique individuals with a wider range of traits than the averages of the different groups.  You can’t tell anything about an individual’s intellectual attainments, or anything else, based on their demographic characteristics.  But unfortunately, race, religion and ethnicity matter in American life and simplifications and generalizations are necessary for understanding.

The following tables show the relative rise of Asian-American students and the relative decline of Jewish students in high school math and science competitions.

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f3-largeThe charts above indicate that Asian-Americans don’t get a fair shake, based on their intellectual attainments.  They indicate, more surprisingly, that average Jewish intellectual attainment has crashed.   The percentage of Jewish high school students who win science competitions has declined dramatically in the past couple of decades, but not the high percentage of Jewish admissions to Ivy League universities—in sharp contrast to admissions to California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where enrollment seems to be based more on intellectual merit or at least on test scores.   Asian-Americans stand in the same position in American academic life that the children of Jewish immigrants stood 75 years ago.

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The implication of the data is that the reason for large numbers of Jewish students currently at Ivy League colleges is not that so many of them are hard-working, intellectual super-achievers as in previous generations, but that so many of their parents are members of the upper classes.

asians-largeThe Asian-American population is increasing, but their enrollment in elite colleges—except for Caltech—is not.  The most obvious explanation is that there are quotas—explicit or informal—that are holding them back.

I’m uncomfortable with Unz’s article and the information in these charts, especially the implications concerning Jewish enrollment in Ivy League universities versus white Christian working-class people—implications which will be welcomed by racists and anti-Semites.  But facts and logic are the best guide to truth, not my comfort level.

Ron Unz

Ron Unz

One criticism of Unz’s article is that he counts people in different ethnic groups based on their last names.  This may not be valid, especially when so many Americans are of mixed heritage.   My name is Phil Ebersole.   During my lifetime, many people have made wrong assumptions about my race, religion and ethnicity, based on my name and appearance.

Another criticism is that Unz’s claim of declining Jewish intellectual attainment is based on declining high school science prizes, and this doesn’t take into account attainments in literature, philosophy and scholarship.  Maybe Jewish intellectual interests have shifted from the sciences to the humanities.  Maybe smart Jewish students all flock to Harvard, Yale and Princeton and smart Asian-American students flock to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Caltech.

I think both these criticisms have merit, but do not invalidate Unz’s conclusions.  I’ll be interested to see more commentary on his article.  I’m surprised there has been so little criticism so far.   I will have more to say in my next post.

Double click on the charts to enlarge them.

Click on The Myth of American Meritocracy  for Ron Unz’s full article.   All the charts above are from this article.

Click on Paying Tuition to a Gigantic Hedge Fund for a sidebar by Ron Unz claiming that Harvard University is more of an investment fund than an educational institution.

Click on Quantitative Sources and Methods for Ron Unz’s documentation of his claims.

For rebuttal, click on Meritocracy, Jews and the Liberal Arts by Samuel Goldman.

For more comment, click on The Myth of Affirmative Action by Dan McCarthy.

Click on Harvard as Hedge Fund: Harvard’s Reply for Harvard’s rebuttal and Ron Unz’s additional comment.

For more rebuttal, click on The claim that Harvard admissions discriminate in favor of Jews? I don’t see it by Andrew Gelman.  [Added 2/16/13]

Ron Unz was born in 1961 and grew up in California.  He earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Harvard and studied advanced physics at Stanford University but didn’t get a doctoral degree.  He started a software company called Wall Street Analytics which was bought by Moody’s Investors Service in 2006.  He was active in California politics, and founded English for the Children, an organization opposed to bilingual education.   He became publisher of The American Conservative in 2007.

Click on This Man Controls California for a 1999 profile of Ron Unz in The New Republic

Click on Ron Unz – Writings and Perspective | Views, Opinions and Notes for his web log.