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Equity push is misguided, potentially tyrannical

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

At their June 9 meeting, the Alachua County Commission will consider putting an “equity” charter amendment on the ballot. It exemplifies the type of governing-by-emotion that we’ve come to expect from our local politicians, who behave more like political activists than public administrators.

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Like a child who changes the rules when losing a game, “social justice” warriors want to remake our society and economic system because they think the results are unfair. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, but facts show that race-based equity disparities are not exclusively correlated to race. Therefore any policy looking for racial equity, no matter how well-intentioned, is misguided. Worse, at the heart of any discussion about equity is the implicit threat of tyranny. Most of the proponents confuse equality before the law with equality of outcome. The latter, by necessity, destroys freedom.

Economist Thomas Sowell has made a career out of shattering myths about economic inequality. (Watch him talk about it here.) He despises the vagueness of terms like “fairness” and “equality” and warns that “virtually any disparity in outcomes is almost automatically blamed on discrimination, despite the incredible range of other reasons for disparities between individuals and groups.”

As an example, he cites differences in poverty rates and incarceration rates among blacks with different backgrounds to show that “being black” is not the sole reason for poverty or incarceration:

“The poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits ever since 1994. You would never learn that from most of the media. Similarly you look at those blacks that have gone on to college or finished college, the incarceration rate is some tiny fraction of what it is among those blacks who have dropped out of high school.”

Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute confirms Sowell’s point by using Census data to compare the demographic differences between high- and low-income households. His results have been fairly consistent from year to year since he started in 2013. Perry highlights the major differences between the highest and lowest quintiles (20%), without ever referring to race. The highest earning households have…

  • More earners per household (2.1 vs. 0.4)
  • Fewer households with no earners (4.2% vs. 63%)
  • More likely to be married (77% vs. 17%)
  • Less likely to be single parents (23% vs. 83%)
  • More likely to be in prime earning years, 35-64 (70% vs. 41%)
  • More likely to have at least one adult working full-time (78% vs. 19%)
  • More likely to have a college degree (67% vs. 15%)

These results can also be seen in Alachua County. The data from the BEBR Racial Inequity Report (2015 U.S. Census Median Household Income) show that black household income is only 51 percent of white, non-Hispanic household income, a $25k/year gap. This statistic is often cited in local government meetings, but the word “household” is conveniently dropped.  Much of the gap in household income can be attributed to the number of earners in the household. A median Alachua County household consisting of a single female makes only 32% of the median income of a household with a married couple. (The data are from the Census link above; “Married-couple families” median $82k, “Female householder” median $26k.)

In Alachua County, the percentage of black households that include a married couple is nearly half the percentage for white households (23.6% vs. 43.01% as reported in the BEBR Report p58). Also, Alachua County’s percentage of births to unwed mothers is over 2.5 times higher for black births than white births (80% of black births vs. 31% of white, non-Hispanic births reported in the BEBR Report p57; it comes from this Florida Department of Health site that has 20 years of data.) These facts can explain almost all of the difference in household income. (Age is another factor highly correlated with income because older people tend to earn more. The median age in the U.S. is 44 for whites and 34 for blacks.)

Thomas Sowell’s book, Discrimination and Disparities, shows many more examples where socioeconomic outcomes cannot be explained by a single factor. More importantly, Sowell argues that it is dangerous to attribute different outcomes to malicious actions that need to be avenged.

He was not the first to sound this warning. In 1946, George Kennan warned about Soviet efforts to undermine Western governments by increasing social unrest:

“All persons with grievances, whether economic or racial, will be urged to spelt redress not in mediation and compromise, but in defiant violent struggle for destruction of other elements of society. Here poor will be set against rich, black against white, young against old, newcomers against established residents, etc… Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited.”

That is exactly what the equity push does by attributing all differences in income, housing, employment, education, etc., to skin color alone. Worse, the proposed solutions, just like the solution to every perceived societal ailment, is some form of socialism. Nobody saw more clearly than Alexis De Tocqueville that democracy is an essentially individualist institution that stands in an irreconcilable conflict with socialism. In 1848 he wrote:

“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

Even when people voluntarily submit to socialism (democratic socialism), De Tocqueville called it “insufferable despotism.” Politically-imposed equality of economic conditions “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules… it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Montesquieu warned that a spirit of extreme equality leads a democracy to despotism. He said, “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”

If you question the potential for tyranny, look at education. The educational establishment decries the black/white academic achievement gap, yet it is the reason for the gap. Walter Williams blames the gap on education “experts” who “replaced what worked with what sounded good.” Rather than modeling high-performing all-black schools like Dunbar High in Washington, D.C., which Sowell said, “had unsparing standards for both school work and for such behavioral qualities as punctuality and social demeanor,” educators pursued racial integration as an end to itself. They bused students around like cattle, seeking diversity numbers and ignoring education.

When the Alachua County Public Schools issued its equity plan in 2018, the black/white gap was attributed to “systemic racism,” as if no other demographic factors mattered in education. None of their objectives had anything to do with education; they are just race-related items, like keeping score on suspensions and faculty hires. There was nothing about teaching methods, teacher performance, or student accountability–just a goal to narrow the performance gap by three percentage points per year. (The gap actually widened the year after the plan was implemented, and with no testing this year, we won’t see any more updates until at least the fall of 2021.)

Now we’re starting to see that what educators really want is control. Last summer, The Gainesville Sun Editorial Board discovered that schools with the lowest test scores have the highest absenteeism rates. Their solution: add more truancy officers. Increasing enforcement of government rules that are meant to be good for you… that never leads to tyranny. (Surprisingly, they didn’t suggest forcing high-performing students to take days off to decrease the performance gap.)

More recently, James F. Lawrence wrote about the “intractable problem of parental involvement.” He was lamenting a lack of parental involvement, citing an example where less than half the parents signed permission forms for free dental screenings. He wrote, “something can and must be done to shake this malaise.” It’s easy to transition from blaming parents to dealing forcefully with parents. Consider how long people have been suggesting parental licensing. Or maybe the parents should be removed altogether so the children can be more properly indoctrinated educated. That’s how tyrannical regimes like Cuba did it in the 1960s.

Don’t have kids or don’t care about education? Then consider what the equity push will do with your tax dollars. The City of Gainesville’s Race and Equity Subcommittee is recommending a requirement that city contracts reflect the demographics of the city (not the qualified vendors, but the city at large). This goes beyond affirmative action hiring to “a new racial spoils system,” as National Review called it.

Flint, Michigan, is an example of the type of problems that will result from this spoils system. Flint gave a $22 million contract to a firm with no experience or proper equipment to replace lead water pipes. The contractor dug in the wrong yards and used the wrong techniques, wasting over 20 percent of the city’s federal aid money, yet City Councilman Eric Mays was proud that Flint “broke records for giving black folks money” through contracts.

People who believe in equal rights recoil from such blatantly discriminatory practices like awarding contracts based on skin color. Sadly, the Supreme Court has been soft on affirmative action (Fisher v. University of Texas). That’s not the first time the Court has been wrong on an issue (see Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Buck v. Bell, Korematsu v. United States).

John Yoo and James Phillips at National Review argue that the Court will eventually have to side with the 14th Amendment, which requires government to treat all citizens as equals. They cite Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Sadly, that statement is not as strong as Justice John Harlan’s dissent in the Plessy case: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

Until the courts wake up, we’re stuck with the potential tyranny that comes from the proponents of equal outcomes. Consider wealth inequality. Even if every person receives the exact same education and starts life in the exact same circumstances (same house, car, clothes, job, etc.), there is no guarantee that they’ll have equal results. People are inherently different in ability and desire. Some will favor leisure and work less. Others may work longer and/or save more, so they’ll accumulate wealth faster.

Taking from those who have and giving to those who have not makes great Marxist campaign posters, but it’s fundamentally tyrannical. You are not just taking money and property from people; you’re effectively taking the time they committed to produce or acquire what you take. You’re taking away part of their life.

The equity push is essentially a French Revolution redux. The original French rebels claimed that “a man’s equality trumped his liberty.” It was the antithesis of the American philosophy that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and that governments secure those rights, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man said “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.” The American Revolution led to peaceful governance (even if it took a while to extend those freedoms to everyone), but the French Revolution was immediately bloody and tyrannical. That’s not something we should be trying to emulate.