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Unz on Meritocracy: David Brooks’ Sidney Award and Other Reactions

Late Monday night I received a most remarkable and unexpected Christmas present delivered straight from august offices of the New York Times, as David Brooks, one of America’s most prominent center-right journalists, named my recent piece “The Myth of American Meritocracy” as one of the winners of his annual Sidney Awards for outstanding articles of 2012 [1].

Just days earlier, the New York Times had run a major op-ed by Prof. Carolyn Chen of Northwestern [2] calling attention to evidence of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in elite admissions and a six-sided forum [3] discussing the same topic, with the former ranking as the #1 most emailed Times article of the day and the latter having already attracted nearly 800 comments. It does appear that the Great Gray Lady of New York City is now turning a highly skeptical gaze to the selection policies of America’s leading universities, and I suspect that many Ivy League admissions departments may have a busy holiday season beginning to answer the worried questions of their various presidents and provosts.

Over the last couple of weeks, other prominent publication such as Forbes [4]The Atlantic [5]The Washington Monthly [6], and Business Insider [7] have also focused their attention on the strong statistical evidence I found for the existence of “Asian Quotas” across the Ivy League, as did AEI’s Charles Murray [8], and quite a number of individual bloggers and pundits [9].

 

Reactions to the broader range of issues I had raised in my lengthy original piece included a wide spectrum of responses. A brief, early posting by free market economist Tyler Cowen [10] provoked an astonishing 365 comments, hotly debating almost all aspects of the article, and several postings by blogger Steve Sailer [11] similarly unleashed many hundreds of additional agitated or angry comments. Meanwhile, Arthur Kling, another prominent free market economist, had a couple of long and thoughtful columns [12], somewhat foreshadowing the focus of David Brooks’ column.

Other reactions have been much more surprising. For example, an Ivy League graduate named Daniel Luzer published a review under the title “Elite College Admissions Are Unfair, Sure…We Still Shouldn’t Care” [13], arguing against any concern with “who goes to Yale or Dartmouth” since “admission to the elite is necessarily unfair.” According to his analysis, although “It’s true that a Yale degree might help a great deal with securing a good job at Goldman Sachs…all we need to worry about from a policy perspective is what you need to be a bank branch manager in suburban Atlanta.” He even termed it “ridiculous” to believe that “If admission to elite colleges are unfair…changing that admissions process will make society more equitable” since “Entrance into a tiny group that controls a disproportionate amount of wealth and political power can never be just” and “Admission to the upper class is, for all societies and throughout all time, unfair.”

Such equanimity with a totally unjust social system for allocating opportunities to reach the commanding heights of Goldman Sachs might seem implausibly arrogant and obtuse if it published in the most reactionary of conservative journals.  But the author is actually an editor at the liberal Washington Monthly and his views appeared in the purportedly progressive Huffington Post. It seems that these days “establishment neo-liberalism” sometimes bears an uncanny resemblence to the privileged musings once found at the royal court of Louis XVI.

These views become particularly bizarre when we consider that over the last few years, the average American family has lost some 47% of its accumulated net wealth, now being poorer in real terms than at any time since the late 1960s. And at least a portion of this economic disaster has clearly been due to the machinations of Luzer’s former classmates now ensconced, fairly or not, at Goldman Sachs.

change_me

As I have been telling my friends for years now, American elite misbehavior has reached such absurdly egregrious levels that I easily foresee the possibility of a sharp “discontinuity” in our immediate national future, perhaps one of a very unfortunate character. The unabashed public views of individual DC “progressives” such as Daniel Luzer certainly do not soften that stark opinion.

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#1 Comment By R.S. On December 26, 2012 @ 11:10 am

I’m afraid most of these commentators are focusing on the part of your article dealing with de facto Asian quotas at elite universities and are not dealing with its corollary – an aggressive preferential policy for Jewish Americans compared to non-Jewish whites.

#2 Comment By Mark in LA On December 26, 2012 @ 11:14 am

As I have been telling my friends for years now, American elite misbehavior has reached such absurdly egregrious levels that I easily foresee the possibility of a sharp “discontinuity” in our immediate national future, perhaps one of a very unfortunate character. The unabashed public views of individual DC “progressives” such as Daniel Luzer certainly do not soften that stark opinion.

Didn’t Alan Jacobs ask why we needed an armed citizenry to oppose the government? Well if what Unz says is true and the government continues to operate only for the elites while using its government armed guards to protect their ill gotten gains, we may find out why the Second Amendment was needed.

#3 Comment By Portents On December 26, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

I’m glad this fascinating, fact- and research-rich article is getting some of the attention it deserves. AmConMag continues to gather steam.

#4 Comment By TomB On December 26, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

Ron Unz wrote:

“As I have been telling my friends for years now, American elite misbehavior has reached such absurdly egregrious levels that I easily foresee the possibility of a sharp “discontinuity” in our immediate national future, perhaps one of a very unfortunate character.”

You ain’t kidding, and it can appear people are noticing it more and more across all kinds of issues.

Just as a latest example perhaps, there’s David Gregory on Meet the Press, lambasting the NRA’s LaPierre, with Gregory appearing to be waving around a gun magazine whose mere “possession” the the District of Columbia has outlawed, with evidence coming in that NBC knew the law well beforehand even.

(And no, the law doesn’t require any specific knowledge of it to make mere possession illegal; if you possess it, you’re breaking the law there, period.)

And then there’s the oh-so-morally inflated Gregory going after LaPierre and his call for armed protection of schools, when Gregory’s kid(s) attend a private one that seems to have about a dozen armed guards permanently on staff.

And that doesn’t include the presumably insanely well-armed Secret Service agents at the school guarding Obama’s kids in yet another predictable bit of the kind of the incestuous of the elites that’s just behind the curtains everywhere today.

So my question is what exact kind of reaction to this sort of chronic elite hypocrisy, incestuousness and indeed blatant double-standard-dealing would qualify as being Unz’s “unfortunate” in character?

How come if you or I even just unthinkingly blundered into D.C. with that magazine in our car (perhaps left there by someone else, with us not even knowing it was there) and it was found out we’d damn well would end up with a criminal record for a gun violation that would follow us around for the rest of our lives, and yet Gregory will no doubt suffer nothing?

So … Gregory isn’t bothered by the idea of me going to jail and living with a bad criminal record and not him—for him *knowingly* doing something even worse than I—and yet I’m supposed to be worried about some over-reaction against him?

#5 Comment By Boethius On December 26, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

There are very few other places on the Web that consistently offer worthwhile thought and analysis, such as Ron Unz’s latest. While it is nice that the quality of the American Conservative has been recognized in the pages of the New York Times, you may be interested to know that I stopped reading that newspaper not too long after I started reading American Conservative – and for related reasons. (I had broken another bad habit, the Weekly Standard, several years earlier.)

#6 Comment By Brendan Doran On December 27, 2012 @ 7:22 am

Would Mr. Unz agree all things considered that Asians cast the decisive vote in the 2012 elections?

I mean decisive in terms of effects, not vote counting.

#7 Comment By Finn On December 28, 2012 @ 7:10 am

Notice how Luzer must incidentally complain that your piece is “very long.” I’ve noticed other commentators resenting the difficulty created by the thought invested in the piece. Can’t these people read???!!!! And they want authority over opinion without the obligation of being informed????!!!! By God, it wasn’t even that long!

#8 Pingback By Meritocracy: Picking Our Elites at Random? | The American Conservative On January 2, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

[…] than as educational institutions was widely distributed and discussed, as was my analysis of the strong statistical evidence pointing to the existence of “Asian quotas.”  However, I more generally characterized our current elite admissions system as “a complex […]

#9 Comment By Janet Mertz On January 14, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

Mr. Unz’s long article, with numerous tables and appendices, is written in a style to give the appearance of a well-researched, scholarly paper. In reality, it is little short of nonsense, reaching conclusions that are the exact opposite of the truth. To obtain the conclusions he desired, Mr. Unz used inappropriate research methodologies and data sets and, in some cases, outright falsified data! For example, there is not a 16%-17% quota on admission of Asian-Americans to Ivy League colleges as claimed; Harvard College’s class of 2014 contains 22% Asian-Americans. Unz obtained his lower number by using an inappropriate data set that included undergraduate students from Harvard Extension, a totally non-selective program. The percent Asian-Americans who achieved PBK as juniors at Harvard in recent years is not close to 49%, even with miscounting foreign Asian students among the Asian-Americans. Likewise, the % Jews on US international math olympic teams did not plummet from 44% in the 1970s to 2.5% in the 2000s. Using his grossly inaccurate method of looking for one of 13 likely Askenazic Jewish names, there was only 1 out of 48 in the 1970s and 2 out of 78 since 2000, similar percentages, not the huge drop he claims. However, he “forgot” to then multiple these percentages by 12 to correct for the fact that this method only identifies a small percentage of US Jews given many Jews Anglicized their names (e.g., Cohen became Kane), inter-married (e.g., a Jewish woman married a Lawrence), have Sephardic or Hebraic names (Oaz Nir), or, even, other European ones such as Schwartz. Thus, the numbers Unz reports to “document” that Jews no longer over-achieve are low by an order of magnitude! Put bluntly, this article is little more than a self-published diatribe that would never have passed peer review to be published in a reputable journal. David Brooks has hurt his reputation as a critical journalist by honoring this nonsensical diatribe with a Sidney Award.