The Pollyanna party


I was surfing the internet the other day and came across this article about a group of conservative students in Texas who had a bake sale designed to highlight how bad affirmative action is. Indeed, I hear things all the time about affirmative action is really just reverse racism. People should be hired or admitted to place based on merit, not the color of their skin or their gender. Indeed, here’s how the students described their bake sale:

“YCT is a truly colorblind organization,” the Facebook event reads, “and believes that all government institutions are constitutionally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race in all circumstances, including affirmative action.”

Well, that’s certainly nice in principle. I do happen to agree that people should be judged based on their individual accomplishments and merit, not on the color of their skin. However, unlike these students and other conservatives who make similar arguments, I also live in the real world.

Racism still exists, kids. Sorry to burst your bubble.

I’d like to live in a world where there wasn’t discrimination, but the fact of the matter is that we still live in a country where people will throw away our your application or resume just because of your last name, your address, or the color of you skin. So is affirmative action a perfect system? No. But is it better than the alternative? In my opinion, yes.

And this instance is a prime example of why I just can’t ever get behind conservatism, particularly the libertarian flavor: I live in the real world where people aren’t perfect. Conservatives seem to believe that we can trust businesses to always do what’s best and that individuals will always take care of each other. While that’s certainly a warm blanket of happy feelings, that isn’t the world we live in. As much as I’d like it to be true, you can’t trust businesses and individuals to act altruistically all the time. Will the majority of people always act in a manner that benefits others? Maybe. It probably depends on what we’re talking about specifically. In the case of racism, it’s pretty evident that there are still a good number of people out there who hold minorities and other races in disregard.

So no, I don’t trust people to be colorblind. I don’t trust businesses to place environment or people over profit, or any other warm fuzzy thing conservatives think about people and free markets. Because history has shown that this isn’t the case time and time again. And it’ll probably continue to be that way for a very long time. So yes, we need regulation. Yes, we need oversight. And sadly, yes, we need laws that prohibit people, businesses, and institutions from acting on any inherent racism they might have.

In a way, conservatives kind of remind me of Pollyanna, always seeing the world and people through rose colored glasses. Which really made me think of a famous scene from the 80s/90s prime time soap opera, Knots Landing:

I agree with you, Michele Lee. Nice should be the norm. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t.



23 thoughts on “The Pollyanna party

  1. I’d say I’m a Liberal (mostly) and agree with the conservatives on this one, but I also see your point. I’m not sure what a good alternative would be either. I’m firmly in the equal opportunity camp and think people should get jobs etc based on merit. I think it’s inconsistent to decry racism and say judging people based on arbitrary characteristics like race and gender is bad, but then do it in the name of ‘the greater good’.

    Interesting post mate!

    1. Gracias, sir! It’s not an ideal system, I agree. Unfortunately it seems like we often have to settle for the least crappy solution to our problems. Although, I will admit that with each generation it seems to be getting better in terms of tolerance and empathy.

  2. I agree this left a bad taste in my mouth. However, you already agreed that people should be hired/accepted into positions based on their skill, character and expertise. Racism does still exist, yes. Everywhere, unfortunately. But then you decide to show your qualms against other factors that have little to do with racism or hiring people, like a broad statement against an economic system that nearly every country is adopting now. Under this economic system, people are being hired and gaining some foothold in life and making money for their children.
    Affirmative action is polarizing, to say the least. Pros and cons, would agree? An example is that a group of 16,000 students scored over 700 on their math scores for college entrance exam but another group of 700 students scored above that 700 mark. Which group of students had more acceptance letters vs the other? Generalizing here, Asian-American students had a higher population of those scored higher than African-Americans but more African-Americans were accepted into college. They have a higher population (African-Americans), obviously. Not saying that either group scored higher in other areas or expertise but this was unfair for Asian-American students that had essentially higher scores and more of them. Their population was smaller. This was an example of Affirmative Action. An appeal to liberals and liberal politicians to certain groups of Americans a chance but it still backfires.
    Interesting you can’t behind conservatives even though The GOP attempted several times to start the civil rights acts but were denied several times throughout the 50’s and 60’s. The GOP has been pro-business since its foundation, too. Only until a few years later, Liberals attempted to pass those policies and they did in fact pass. Odd. Maybe conservatives have a good heart but usually don’t have the best form of initiative when it comes to race relations, I’ll give you that. But don’t merely blame an economic system on something the government did.
    Then you decide that you don’t have trust in the free market or businesses to make these decisions when I just mentioned the above statement about affirmative action. So, does this imply that you have more trust in government making these decisions, even though several groups of citizens were disenfranchised from Affirmative action in the first place?
    Even when students are accepted into these college programs (that did not score well), regardless of race, do not do well in college. Much higher dropout rate. Then left with college debt and no career to pay it off. I don’t think that is fair, do you?
    Before the Civil Rights Act, a large majority of African-Americans were bringing themselves out of poverty, getting jobs. After Affirmative Action-type laws started, this dwindled and there was no direct (no net increase) in the amount of African-Americans getting out of poverty. If this worked so well, why is there hardly a budge…even more so, why did it get worse?
    I think you’re right that those young conservatives crowd sent the wrong message about a bake sale. That’s ridiculous to me. I am sure you agree.
    Furthermore, Sweden has a capitalistic-focused economy as well but that have a large government that controls several industries. Seeing how that is true, then why are so many people are disenfranchised in Sweden? Why are so many Middle Eastern citizen of Sweden having difficulty finding jobs or becoming citizens? Could it be that their government promotes such a high nationalistic mentality that racism exists in Sweden? That is possible. Could it also be that the recent influx of immigrants coming from the middle east do not have the same set of skills to work in their specific economy mixed with ore, communication and focus on exports?
    Other countries have Affirmative action as well but there are still riots in the streets with police being hurt and several immigrants still destroying businesses and property because they are having difficulties with finding a career. Are you saying the French and German government should just hire them anyways, even though Germany has a focus on promoting people to find careers? Germany has essentially two different levels of education: if you’re smart enough, you go to college for a higher degree and more pay but if you don’t, then send you to vocational type schooling for a blue collar job. Many Germans might agree with it but several don’t as they didn’t do well on their tests and now have to pay for college themselves. Is that fair?

    1. There’s a lot to unwrap here, so I’ll try to respond to you point by point.

      1) Saying that I don’t have faith in people or businesses regulating themselves isn’t the same thing as being anti-capitalist. *Some* level of regulation is necessary. And you and I both know that there’s no such thing as an economy that is 100% capitalist, socialist, communist, whatever.

      2) You raise an interesting point about test scores. In a broad sense I can see where you’re coming from. It may shock you, but I’m not a fan of using standardized tests as a measure of merit, intellect, or ability. Mainly because this completely ignores the fact that everyone learns differently, and the ability to regurgitate things onto a scantron isn’t an accurate way to show critical thinking. As for the drop out rates, I can only speculate that when you haven’t really received adequate support for your entire educate that you’d naturally flounder when you get to college; if you do poorly on standardized testing, that won’t change once you get to college. Or perhaps it’s the case that not everyone will succeed with identical college experiences and paths, because again, everyone learns differently. But I will certainly agree with you that not everyone is cut out for college for various reasons. However, I see no reason why race should factor into that. Culture, perhaps (Asian parents may push their children harder and from an earlier age), but culture isn’t the same thing as race, and they two shouldn’t automatically be tied together.

      4) I’m glad that we agree about the bake sale!

      5) I wouldn’t argue that racism doesn’t exist in Sweden. Or anywhere else in Europe for that matter. Because racism is a human condition; it isn’t uniquely American.

      6) No, obviously I wouldn’t advocate that the government hire criminals, as is the case with immigrants who destroy private property. But that’s not what this post was about.

      7) The reason this seems to be all over the place is because affirmative action is just one example of what I see as a systemic problem in conservative philosophy–the idea of laissez faire. If you leave things alone, they’ll correct or work themselves out. I personally don’t think that this is true. At least not all of the time.

      I probably missed some of your points because you wrote a lot. If there’s something I didn’t address, please let me know!

      1. 1) I know you’re not anti-capitalist but we do have a regulated economy. Several industries like healthcare (for better or for worse) have more regulations that other industries. It’s often said that a skilled nursing facility has more regulations than a nuclear power plant. Not entirely true, but a good perspective in many ways. Regulations are in place. Before OHSA was founded (to promote less work related injuries) work-related injuries were already on the decline and in fact, the rate of decline tapered and almost increased afterwards. Not saying it did or didn’t work, but the net effect was minimal to say the least. The ACA did not spur any decrease in healthcare spending and in fact increased it, surpassing the already increasing numbers. In fact the net amount of people getting health insurance is relatively small, not just comparing the projected amount that were supposed to use it. The drastic effects have led to almost as many people having to switch to more expensive premiums but are not using the actual coverage. Not to mention the large amount of people not being able to afford their original plans/HMO’s/primary care providers and having to switch to medicare (which is lackluster). What is worse is that insurance companies don’t have a huge profit margin to begin with and over the course of several years, several of them don’t exist…reducing the usual competition and price reductions that go along with that. Now, we are getting a heavier dose of corporate and large business oriented industries as a result. Not a fan. 😦

        2 and 7) Test scores are annoying yes. Even more so is not knowing who can/will succeed with no basis to go off of. My point was the Affirmative Action was supposed to help those that “should” go to college and instead, they flunk out and end up with debt. This also applies to my generalized statement about African-Americans actually doing better overall before these laws were set in place. Now, there is hardly a difference. It’s almost as if those laws didn’t do anything at all. They were fairing much better before it started, or at least their incomes and wealth were rising at a faster rate before it started. So we can agree that simply affirmative action in this case does not in fact work. Community outreach to minorities has been shown to be better than simply a generalized idea of affirmative action.

        6) I didn’t say that any of them criminals and I’m sure you didn’t imply that either. I was merely making the point that several countries that have affirmative action (or similar laws) have not helped their differing populations, hence the rioting, vandalism, etc. Europe has it rough right now in this sense. Many of these poor immigrants want a better life but have different skill sets that do not equate to getting jobs etc in these countries. Their examples of affirmative action are making it worse, similar to our country that believing people are equal at one set point in their lives and having some government official enact laws that are supposed to help them get jobs. Instead, they do not do well in those positions or end up flunking their classes at much higher rates.

        Glad you could clarify. Sorry it took me so long to reply to all of these. Hahaha

      2. In many ways it does seem that Europe is less racially tolerant than we are. At least from what I can glean from the media (which isn’t always reliable, as I’m sure you’d agree). I’m not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I think Europeans have every right to say, “Your beliefs are in direct conflict with our principles, and if you want to live here you’ll have to do some things differently.” I admire that ability to stand by one’s own values. On the other hand, that’s how you piss people off to the point that the riot (or worse). But I digress lol.

        It might surprise you to know that I do think regulations can be stupid, and there can definitely be too many of them. I’m not for over-regulating things, I’m for smartly regulating them. The thing about OSHA is that is exists to protect employers as much as it does employees. Beyond that, I can’t really say whether or not we can really do with less OSHA. Some people are always going to be stupid enough to injure themselves no matter what, though. So there’s that.

        And yes, health care. Ugh, what a mess. You’ve worked for the government, I currently work for it. It’s messed up. I can’t argue against that. As it stands, healthcare is over-regulated, in my opinion. A lot of the rules and standards put in place have good intentions, but really aren’t efficient and do get in the way of patient care.

      3. It is sad that liberals, progressives, conservatives have these good intentions but their outcomes are different. People want the same thing: they want people to be happy, be in good health, have a good job but just differ on how to get there. That is why I am opposed to almost every socialist or socialist-inclined policy, even if it sounds awesome. Noam Chomsky, a known critic to anything remotely libertarian or conservative, has often touted that Venezuela would be the newest and best example of modern socialism, heavily regulated industries, policies to promote inequality, etc but about a few decades of decline and inflation coupling that with a depression and rampant inflation, he is silent. Why does this form of ignorance keep spreading when it is clear that these ideas do not work. Nearly EVERY single country that follows these ideals have to either deal with stagnation, low birthing rate or depression/recession or they roll back and move towards free trade ideals again. Sweden is a great example of this. Our Millennial generation believes that voting for a socialist or communist candidate would benefit the American people. The same crowd equates the death tool of Stalin to G.W.Bush.

        Ryan, I am confused as to why people still believe in these things, rhetoric aside. Why do people believe in such nonsense or be completely wrong about history?

      4. I think that’s a good question. I do have an answer, but I’m afraid it isn’t very satisfying.

        You know that, unlike you, I do not oppose socialist or socialist-leaning policies. I fully supported Bernie Sanders, and would vote for him in an instant if he were on the ballot tomorrow.

        But to answer your question: history isn’t always doomed to repeat itself.

        Now, I’m aware that I’ve argued that there’s a historical basis for the things that I argue, and that I just said that things won’t improve anytime soon, at least with regard to racism or human nature. But that isn’t to say they’ll never improve or that they won’t change at all.

        Despite my leftward leaning, I would never argue that we should institute a form of government that looks exactly like Venezuela. Because it didn’t work.

        Each country, now and throughout history, has essentially been a giant experiment. One country does something right, so the others emulate it. One country does something wrong, we know not to do that again.

        I believe, and people like me believe, that the best system is going to take the best parts of all that have come before and integrate them into a different hybridized system. Europe does do some things well that we don’t, and conversely we do some things well that Europe doesn’t.

        In that sense, the failure of a socialist state isn’t a failure of socialist principles that could be exported and added to other systems, much the way that one could argue that just because people abuse capitalism doesn’t mean the whole system doesn’t have any merit.

        As for people who do advocate to the extreme swings of the pendulum, I’d say that they do so out of ignorance and anger. If a system isn’t working for the people, they’ll buck against it, even if it means choosing an option that isn’t good for them. Just look at Trump and Clinton. They’re symptoms of a system that isn’t working for people.

        So, in short, I guess I would argue that socialist principles continue in this day and age people people think they just haven’t dialed it down tot he right level where they balance the forces of capitalism that can be so easily manipulated or abused.

      5. That again, is where we differ in our readings. Regardless of the state or industry, socialist-inclined policies have led to decline in favorable outcomes. Virtually, every country that has adopted these ideals…either as a whole or for particular industries. Sanders was different, I’ll give him that. He often touted Scandinavian as an example but leaving out their situation is different. Their examples are different. There is no actual minimum wage law in Sweden, however in the up rise of their economic growth, people were getting paid more and there was less unemployment. This only occurred after they privatized several industries like their banking sector, energy and even education. Even their education is still “paid” for like Bernie would often say, because of socialist-type (centralized vs decentralized ideas) countries would provide better education. He said this mostly because of the ridiculous debt that student accrue here. However, Bernie did not fact check himself: Swedish graduates end up with as almost as much debt as American students. Interesting because often said it was free….but it wasn’t. What is also interesting is he doesn’t realize their debt burden is actually higher due to their level of individual income taxation and what they actually receive from it. Their interest rates are lower but their incomes are also lower, with or without those bigger taxes. As far as Venezuela goes, even the most staunch socialists were inclined to believe it was headed in the right direction. Economists….however, projected they would fail. That country is now in a deep depression. The Socialist intellectuals would have us believe that this would be the best example of modern day socialism…but now, they are all very silent. Some of them have said something along the lines of, “well, it wasn’t the best example of it” which is confusing. Especially since economists knew it would happen all along. This is where I differ from progressives and liberals to that degree. Sure, regulation and some form of a mixed economy fairs better. But the inequality and wealth concentration occurs in these countries as well, even more so.
        In other examples, almost every country that adopted free trade (decentralized economies) or turned away from their socialist-inclined ideals (centralized) have done far better. Being able to lift themselves out of poverty, fair better during recessions and some even had growth during the global recession. Not to mention the higher rise in the standard of living as well. It has drawbacks, obviously but the pros outweigh the cons, IMO.
        Germany is a great example. Since WWII they have done very well for themselves. Let me rephrase, West Germany has done well….after the fall of communism and the wall crashing down, you could see a stark difference between the two. Now, Germany as a whole is doing very well for itself. To be fair, that particular communist regime was oppressive and horrible but…..they still allowed people to work, own businesses and conduct their affairs. Just on their socialist terms. Ghana vs Ivory Coast, Burma, Thailand, Venezuela, Chile, China, Hong Kong, India….all of them have changed in some way, for better or for worse and it shows the outcomes as vastly different. Russia is example of a country that is stuck in their own bitter economic ways but ever-so slowly changing. Not so much under Putin’s leadership, however. Their old ways are stifling the new ones.

      6. Well then it would appear that the debate for most people boils down to exactly how mixed the economy should be. And I don’t mean just for Americans, but for other countries as well. I happen to think that a government is only as good as the people to elected to it, which means that essentially a government is only as good as its citizens.

      7. I agree but in our case, government officials with good intentions have made healthcare and other industries worse off. Once these policies are in place, no matter how bad the results are, they are hard to get rid of. That’s why so many people were opposed to the ACA. Not the dumb conservatives but the intellectuals that knew what would happen as a result. Warned the government. However, I digress. We already agree healthcare has taken the bat in the head from socialist ideals or being over-regulated. Many industries that do not have this are doing much better, too. So, IMO…when it comes to mixing, I vote for less of one thing and more of the other. 🙂

      8. As far as educating the population, the government has been in charge of spending with this, with the state and local government in charge of it as well. Not too mention the vast amounts of influence it took to get there, again…. those in charge.

      9. Although, to be fair, every system can be corrupted, as Venezuela clearly shows. Ultimately, the problem is people. People just suck (sometimes).

  3. To make point even better….there was a time when a lot Harvard students were “accepted” into the college with a lot of help. It was not affirmative action but it’s an example that shows a lot of these students although were accepted, also flunked out at a higher rate than those that scored better for their tests.

  4. Also, to make a point about our country. Healthcare, as we already agreed on, is in turmoil when it comes to spending and overall. Now, with that said… it’s also one of the most heavily-regulated industries in the country. Not just HMO’s or insurance companies, but everything that associates with it. It has been trending towards this path for several decades now unfortunately. You discuss about changing the forces of capitalism but in this case, it has done nearly the opposite. It has promoted more corporate influence in politics and prices are still going up with people losing their insurance. The same ideas like this have been promoted and sold in several different countries in several different industries with relatively poor results. Now, industries doing the opposite (with some obvious consumer protection laws in place) have done far better.
    I am not trying to convert you or change your views but I do think we should talk more about it. Especially regarding one post about inequality rising due to certain presidencies, etc. 🙂

  5. Well said Ryan. And your point in the comments about it not being perfect is also correct. But what else is one to do in the face of blatant discrimination? Such laws are necessary and we can hope that they aren’t use to promote discrimination in reverse. There was that ended earlier this year where some girl tried to sue the University of Texas for not being admitted, claiming that affirmative action prevented her from being admitted. Even though there are tons of students who are admitted because their parents are big donors who take places of students with better grades. We don’t see anybody complaining about that, only affirmative action. Money talks. Personally I have not seen affirmative action work in the way that conservatives imagine it does. All things being equal is usually when affirmative action kicks in, not when there is are strongly disparate qualifications among applicants. We also have to ask when are things equal? If you say we are going to accept all students into a program with SAT’s over 700. How much difference is there between someone with a score of 760 and 720? Probably not a lot? As it turns out SAT scores are not as strong a predictor of success as we think. Also we have to ask what is the value of diversity to a particular field? Someone with perhaps slightly lower qualifications but that provides a unique and seldom heard perspective may end up being of more value. And indeed the long term value of giving increased chances of success to minorities that have been discriminated against historically will benefit those populations in the long run making the entire country more productive as a whole. It’s funny how very few white males complained about how things were done when plenty of less qualified people were hired only because they were white, or because they were Christian, or because they weren’t gay, or because they were male. But now…affirmative action…that’s a big problem. Give me a break.

    1. Spot on! As usual, I really appreciate your insight, especially on this issue since you’re a college professor. You make a good point about how money plays into admissions. There have been plenty of average students who got into places solely based on their family name–even some presidents (I’m looking at you, GW Bush). Whenever that happens, it’s, “Well they’re just taking advantage of the system. It’s not illegal, and anyone else would do it if they could.”

      Well, affirmative action is an advantage that these people are taking, isn’t it? The only difference is the color of their skin.

      1. Yeah, that comment I made about Harvard students being “accepted” into the college was a fine example of this. They often did poorly in the school anyways. Also, about those students? There were plenty of students that scored high enough and without parents paying for college to be accepted but another minority of students (with a much higher population than the former, and well below the accepting standards) were accepted. Also, many of them flunked out as well, leaving them with college debt. That was an attempt at using affirmative action when it actually made those students worse off.

      2. Interestingly, another blogger recently picked up on this post and provided his own take. He detailed a policy in Texas where the top 10% of students got automatic admission into certain schools. I thought this was a good idea, because then you’re not only guaranteed diversity (the top 10% of predominantly Latino and black schools also get admitted), but that truly seems to be based on merit, or at least taking the kids who are most likely to succeed. It would be interesting to see more states adopt similar policies.

  6. I remember a speaker going to some college and one of the students kept bringing up “privilege.” When the speaker asked if he would give up his position to a minority student, he didn’t have much to say about that… it was as if the “privileged” student kept touting about it but would decline to really answer his question about giving up the position he worked for to someone that may have been less qualified.

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