Race: a modest proposal
I’d like to think one of the pleasures of reading UR is learning about reality before the rest of the world catches up. Alas, there’s a downside: it is catching up. (And the Old Ones, twitching, slumber yet.)
Consider, courtesy of Arnold Kling (through whom the dark realities are now available in two clicks from both Yglesias—bully me, young Jedi!—and Instapundit), Angelo Codevilla. In a UR-sized piece widely gasped at throughout the conservative blogosphere, unused to even flashes of the actual sun, Professor Codevilla somehow gets away with this jaw-dropper:
In this clash, the ruling class holds most of the cards: because it has established itself as the fount of authority, its primacy is based on habits of deference. Breaking them, establishing other founts of authority, other ways of doing things, would involve far more than electoral politics.
(My italics.) And Lee Harris, on Herbert Hoover’s soapbox, seems to have read his James Burnham:
It is rather the revolt of common sense against privileged opinion makers, and, by its very nature, it can only be carried out by men and women who are not constrained by the standards of intellectual respectability current in polite company. … What is needed is the revitalization of a very old attitude—the attitude shared by all people who have been able to maintain their liberty and independence against those who would take it away from them: “We do not need an elite to govern us. We can govern ourselves.”
A strong argument can be made that this attitude is based on a delusion. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot perish from the earth, because none has ever existed on the earth. Orwell’s Animal Farm famously tells us that some animals (humans included) will always be more equal than others, which means that every society that has claimed to be a democracy has in fact been managed by an elite, or juggled among a competing group of elites. Sometimes the elite has governed openly, sometimes covertly. Even in ancient Greece, critics argued that the veneer of popular democracy was merely a mask for the cynical manipulation of plutocrats. Twentieth century thinkers such as Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, and Robert Michels have argued that every functioning society will inevitably be governed by a ruling class, just as every business enterprise will be governed by its executives—it is what Michels has dubbed “the iron law of oligarchy.”
(My italics.) Holy crap! I can’t see anything. There’s some kind of nuclear explosion on the other side of that door. Better slam it fast, and get back in Plato’s Cave—or we’ll all go blind. Professor Codevilla:
The grandparents of today’s Americans (132 million in 1940) had opportunities to serve on 117,000 school boards. To exercise responsibilities comparable to their grandparents’, today’s 310 million Americans would have radically to decentralize the mere 15,000 districts into which public school children are now concentrated. They would have to take responsibility for curriculum and administration away from credentialed experts, and they would have to explain why they know better. This would involve a level of political articulation of the body politic far beyond voting in elections every two years.
School boards! And Lee Harris, even more precious:
All this may be perfectly true. Elite rule may be unavoidable. But this conclusion does not mean that the delusion of pure democracy should be tossed into the trash bin of history. On the contrary, the iron law of oligarchy is itself the best reason for keeping the democratic delusion alive and well. The American philosophy of pragmatism has long recognized that an idea can be an illusion and yet still play a vital and wholly positive role by motivating people to act on it.
Mr. Harris, I have a Mr. Carlyle on the line. “No, at all costs, it is to be prayed by all men that Shams may cease.” Not my italics. And it will not be done by “pragmatism,” or school boards.
But to the point. Along with all this, we’ve learned that America’s race problem is—is it possible?—not quite solved. UR readers, slightly more Machiavellian, may be reminded of the real meaning of diversity. But why babble on about the problem? Old news it fast becomes. The likes of Harris and Codevilla are excellent, for the most part, on the problem.
No—it’s solutions we want. And here at UR, we remain a step ahead. Here is my modest proposal for healing the open sore of race in American society. This solution, though some may find it shocking, has two key advantages. First, it’s a Pareto optimization—it makes life better for everyone, or at least everyone honest. Second, it is reactionary to the bone, freezing your soul with its deep Sith chill. You may feel it’s wrong. But can you say why?
The solution comes in two simple steps, each of which could be taken tomorrow.
Step A is formalization. It’s a reality of modern American life that race confers privilege. As a reactionary, how can I possibly object? A society without hereditary privilege is like a cheeseburger without cheese. There is no difference between a privilege and a right. Is your right to American (or other First World) citizenship a right? Or a privilege? No person is illegal!
But there is a significant legal problem with the modern American system of race rights: it is informal. It relies on self-reporting and eyeball consensus. Frankly, this just doesn’t scale, and it opens the door to the growing issue of race fraud. How prevalent is race fraud? We just don’t know. This alone should worry anyone concerned with the rule of law.
We can guess, however, because we know what the incentives are. For instance, Professor Espenshade, of Princeton, has performed an invaluable service in quantifying the race rights of college applicants. America’s bright young people get squat for being Asian, 150 SAT points for being white, 300 for being “Hispanic”, and 450 for being black. That’s, um, a lot. College admission is by no means the end of race rights in America today, but let’s just focus on it.
For instance, a young lady of my acquaintance, with perfect grades and SATs, just ended up at UCLA. An accomplished young woman—but alas, a full-blood Chink. In retrospect, could Eileen have passed as black? Possible. But difficult. Any white person, however, can pass as Hispanic, providing a substantial if not overwhelming career advantage. Surely quite a few do. This is race fraud. It’s revolting. It has to be stopped.
Therefore, so that all Americans (except Chinks—who form, so to speak, the baseline) can claim their race rights, the rule of law demands a formal registration process. Are you a proud black man? Are you not afraid to stand up and say, I am of pure white blood, and no damned coolie?
If you participated in the 2010 Census, you already have. The forms are on file. We need merely forward them to the new Department of Race, and make the declaration legally binding—with an amnesty period for repentant phonies. A drop of spit snares all remaining snakes. And the new race registry (a true New-World Almanach de Gotha) is public, open to Harvard and everyone else. Presto: no more race fraud. Whew!
Race, of course, is hereditary by definition. With a formal definition of race, we can define the race of any child by the race of the parents. Our informal rule today, as with the “one-drop” principle for blacks, is that children inherit the race rights of the most privileged parent. By historical standards, perhaps a little lax—but it’s a permissive society, after all.
So that’s step A: formalizing “affirmative action.” No serious person could possibly object. Technically it’s not quite a Pareto optimization, but only if you’re committing race fraud.
We move on to step B, which will warm the cockles of Hayek’s dead heart and bring happiness to liberaltarians everywhere. Advancing from status to contract, we take our newly-securitized race rights, and make them transferable. Let a sweet wind of capitalism blow!
Consider all the African-Americans who will never even apply to Harvard. They have a privilege of almost incalculable value: 450 extra points on their SATs. They may be too old to go to college, but their children aren’t. And their children’s children, ad infinitum. Of course, not even their children’s children may want to go to Harvard—or there may be other goods they prefer. Goods that could be provided, just as ad infinitum, by a prudently-invested nest egg.
Now look at Eileen—and her mother, who escaped penniless from the American-made chaos of China’s century of revolution, and has saved and slaved to bring her daughter the best Meiguo can offer. Alas, through no fault of hers or her daughter’s, that best does not include Harvard.
Here, surely, is a natural economic exchange. Why shouldn’t Eileen’s mother take out a second mortgage to assure her daughter, and heirs indefinite, all the privileges of being technically black? Why shouldn’t a poor African-American youth, with no particular use for race rights, give them up in exchange for a substantial trust fund which can free him to pursue his dreams? Being officially Chinese is no skin off his ghetto ass. And here are some real reparations—color, green. By definition, voluntary trade benefits both parties. I.e., it’s a Pareto optimization.
In the long run, of course, transferable titles of hereditary nobility will end up in the hands of those most capable of capturing them. Even if they initially do not correspond to actual nobility of the blood—a reality confirmed again and again by 21st-century science—this in the end will be the result. And the natural order of civilized society, ulcered so long, heals at long last.
Thus, harming no one (except the fraudsters), America transitions seamlessly from phony, embarrassing “affirmative action” to authentic and lasting reaction. What’s not to like? Embrace the change.