Conservative Establishment Fatally Attracted By Enemy`s Argument…

It was only yesterday that
conservatives were crowing that the era of racial
quotas was over. To the contrary, nothing better
reveals the overthrow of equality in law than the use
of "disparate impact" arguments by
libertarians and conservatives to advance their policy

Consider, for
example, the case for privatizing Social Security and
the case for school vouchers.

The Cato
Institute`s Project
on Social Security Privatization
, headed by Michael
Tanner, an excellent policy analyst, has proven beyond
any doubt that the replacement of an intergenerational
income transfer payment with a funded private retirement
is of great benefit to everyone.

To the extent
that evidence matters in public policy, Cato has made
the case. But Mike Tanner is not convinced that evidence
is what matters. In a February 5 Cato report, "Disparate
Impact: Social Security and African-Americans,"

Mr. Tanner argues that privatization is "a civil
rights issue," because blacks are disadvantaged by
lower life expectancy and collect fewer Social Security

There is no
doubt that Mr. Tanner is correct about longevity. White
men, on average, outlive black men, and white women
outlive black women. But the life expectancy statistics
that Mr. Tanner uses also show that women live longer
than men. Thus Social Security also discriminates on the
basis of gender as well as race.

But there would
be no cachet in arguing that Social Security has
disparate impact on, or discriminates against, men. Men
are not a preferred minority
, preferred gender, or
victim group. Blacks, however, are, and the Cato
Institute believes it strengthens the privatization case
to argue that Social Security discriminates against

Mr. Tanner
argues that blacks are primarily dependent on wages and
have little income from capital gains, dividends or
interest and receive little by way of inheritance.
Therefore, Social Security, which is paid from a payroll
tax, takes "a higher percentage of total income
from blacks than from whites." As blacks die
sooner, "Social Security transfers wealth from
poorer blacks to wealthier whites."

Mr. Tanner sees
this argument as adding weight to the case for
privatizing Social Security. However, people who believe
in group rights and
who view society in terms of subordinate and dominant
groups might draw different conclusions from Mr.
Tanner`s analysis.

Mr. Tanner`s
argument can be used to support the case that the
appropriate remedy is earlier retirement ages and larger
benefits for blacks than for whites, and inclusion of
all income sources in the Social Security tax base.

Those who
believe in individual rights should not base their
policies on "disparate impact" arguments. Once
Social Security is seen as part of the hegemonic order
that oppresses a subordinate group, the solution to
Social Security`s disparate impact on blacks will be
the extension of racial privileges to Social Security.
This is certainly not what Mr. Tanner wants.

Public education
also has disparate impact on blacks, with many black
students trapped in failing
inner city schools
. The conservatives` solution is
school vouchers. Vouchers have a Milton
pedigree, which speaks highly of them. As
there are not enough private schools to accommodate a
mass exodus from public schools, advocates rely on
vouchers to increase public school quality through
competition for students.

But all
classroom failure is not due to teachers. In many cases
teaching fails because troublesome students keep classes
in constant disruption. Learning doesn`t take place
when discipline is absent at school and at home. Public
school discipline has become a basis for lawsuits. At
home, discipline is a basis for intervention
by case-hungry bureaucrats in Social Services and Child
Protective Services. 

Vouchers are a
way of seeding orderly private school classrooms with
disorderly students, thus breaking down the education
process. If disruptive voucher students of a preferred
race or gender were expelled from a private school in
order to protect the learning environment, the school,
under the current meaning of civil rights, would be
subject to discrimination charges.

Private schools
work because there is a different culture at work.
Parents provide discipline at home, and parents support
discipline at school instead of seeing discipline as a
civil rights violation and an excuse for a lawsuit.
Self-selection is also at work. Students in private
schools are motivated to learn.

It only takes
one or two troublemakers to destroy the classroom
learning environment. Vouchers might only result in
exporting public school problems to private schools,
resulting in the spread of home schooling.

Schooling will
improve when public policy ceases to destroy families
and lessen control over children. In the meantime,
libertarians and conservatives should realize that
group-based equality of result arguments do not provide
a promising basis for their view of society.


March 14, 2001