The Equity Paradox

If a society strives to achieve “equity” for every citizen merely by providing equal opportunity, it would need to accept unequal outcomes. If a society does not accept unequal outcomes, it would need to provide unequal opportunities. That is a circle that cannot be squared. Societies must choose one or the other.

Every major institution in America denies this paradox. Implicit in that denial is the fantasy that designing a society to favor certain groups in order to achieve equality of outcome will not fatally undermine the cohesion and vitality of the overall society. Theoretically, it might have worked several decades ago when “disadvantaged” groups constituted a minute percentage of the American population. Offering special benefits and privileges to a small fraction of the population might have been a manageable burden. But today, the vast majority of Americans belong to a “protected status group.”

The magnitude of this shift in just six decades bears enumeration. In 1960, at the dawn of the modern civil rights movement, the population of the United States was 89 percent white. The social justice programs that were launched at that time, affirmative action and the war on poverty, had a limited impact. If affirmative action released unqualified students into elite universities or unqualified engineers and executives into upper management, it only represented at most a 10 percent displacement. If welfare and other programs initiated by the war on poverty destroyed the work ethic and broke up the families of the so-called beneficiaries, at least only 10 percent of the U.S. population was so victimized.

Today, almost everyone belongs to a protected status group. Social justice advocates now demand proportional representation be extended to include not only blacks but all nonwhites, as well as all women. They demand this “equity” be applied to all university admissions, all hiring and promotions, all government contracts, and even in the number of criminal prosecutions and prison populations. 

For America’s black population, social justice advocates are demanding, via direct “reparations” payments, a leveling of individual net worth. The only people left in the American population who are not protected and offered special privileges are non-Hispanic white males. These men now constitute less than 30 percent of all Americans. Among minors, the percentage of non-Hispanic white males in America is less than 25 percent.

How America moved from extending civil rights to a disenfranchised tenth of the population to extending special privileges to 75 percent of the population is a tale for the ages. It represents a shift from something noble and mildly disruptive into a movement today that is nefarious and catastrophically destructive.

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What Restoring Equality of Opportunity Requires

The standard rhetoric of social justice warriors starts by pointing out disparities in group achievement and then immediately attributes those disparities to oppression. In almost every case, however, other causes can be identified for these disparities. 

Although you will never hear this from Democrats or milquetoast Republicans pandering for votes, the supposed “gender gap” in pay between men and women has been thoroughly debunked. When taking into account hours worked per year, consecutive years in the workforce, the market value of the college majors earned, willingness to travel or relocate, the market value of the job choices made, and several other factors, women in America today actually make slightly more than men.

The incessant drumbeat to advance women over men extends to executive suites and boardrooms, where men still outnumber women. But is it sexism that has denied women proportional representation at the top, or the fact that significant percentages of women do not choose a path in life that requires these particular sacrifices? And why is that a bad thing?

While much of the alleged disproportionality in career outcomes between men and women is actually nonexistent, the disparities between whites and blacks are very real. Blacks have lower rates of high school or college graduation, lower household income, they have lower household net worth, and they have far higher rates of incarceration. But why?

The chief obstacle to black achievement is not racism. Rather, the primary barrier to black achievement in America is a thug culture that undermines, if not terrorizes, black communities, expressed in broken homes, substance abuse, gang violence, contempt for education, and rejection of law enforcement. What caused this, ironically, were earlier iterations of what is now called “equity,” that is, welfare programs that turned fathers and husbands into a liability.

Thanks to welfare and other entitlements that have made black men economically unnecessary for child rearing, over 70 percent of black babies are born to unwed mothers. Multiple generations of black men have subsequently been raised in homes without a strong male role model and have turned to gangs, drugs, and crime. Today, although blacks are barely 13 percent of the U.S. population, they committed an estimated 60 percent of the homicides in 2021, mostly against each other. Black perpetrators are overrepresented in every category of crime in America. Welfare and related entitlements, combined with failing public schools and low expectations, are the reason why. 

This is the equity paradox in real life. Denying the paradox by abandoning the principle of offering equal opportunity and instead leaping to merely making payments and extending privileges in order to provide equality of outcome, has not helped anyone. It has only caused grievous harm to the black community. Instead of recognizing this, social justice warriors, in pursuit of “equity,” are demanding more of the same.

The Upside of a Colorblind and Genderblind Society

The terms “colorblind,” “assimilation,” and “meritocracy” are not code words for racism. They are noble concepts to live by. They are the inclusive premises of American civilization and America’s vitality, and they must be defended at all costs. It is inevitable that in a meritocracy, some groups will perform better than others. But in America today, this has little to do with race.

If white racism is so pervasive in America, how does one explain why Asian Americans have demonstrated economic and academic achievements that outperform the white population?

The reason is simple. Asians in America were willing to support their own communities, embrace the values of hard work, education, and thrift, preserve intact nuclear families, and build generational wealth despite potentially being held back by discrimination. Over time, and with no small measure of irony, when it comes to admission to elite universities, Asians now find themselves, in many cases even more so than whites, victims of discrimination because they produce high academic achievers far in excess of their share of the population.

Vivek Ramaswamy, an extraordinarily accomplished Asian American, multimillionaire entrepreneur, and outspoken critic of woke culture, had this to say in a recent interview

I don’t care what skin color you are, what language your parents spoke, what nation your parents came from, the reason immigrants come to this country is because they want to pursue excellence unapologetically, they want their kids to pursue excellence unapologetically, and right now in America we have this new anti-excellence culture that elevates victimhood, elevates mediocrity, and penalizes excellence itself. The idea that math is racist is a racist thing to say, it assumes that people of certain races can’t do math well, when in fact it is the failure of our public schools to teach math in an equal way that is the actual problem that we should be talking about.

Conservative pundit Larry Elder has put it more succinctly. “If you’re willing to spend two hours a day working on your jump shot,” he asks, “why aren’t you spending that much time working on algebra problems?”

Another purveyor of the tough love of meritocracy is Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald, who argues in The Diversity Delusion that affirmative action not only embitters the many qualified whites and Asians who have been pushed aside but harms the supposed beneficiaries. In an interview at the Hoover Institution, she said:

If our goal is to graduate more black scientists, racial preferences work against that goal. If those students admitted to Duke with over a standard deviation of gap in their incoming freshmen credentials had instead gone to North Carolina University, a perfectly respectable school, where they met the qualifications of their peers, they would stand much greater chance of graduating in good standing with a science degree.

Instead, Mac Donald argues, underqualified black college students either drop out or change from a STEM major to a watered-down nontechnical major. Mac Donald also alleges that a symbiotic relationship has formed between the racial preference beneficiaries and the diversity bureaucracy. As unqualified students are admitted, they can’t compete academically, and they start blaming phantom racism for their intellectual and psychological difficulties.

We are seeing this played out across academia and, more recently, it has become pervasive across corporate America as well. These institutions have been taken over by a gang of woke commissars, committed to imposing “equity” on American society. They are either in denial of the paradox it embodies, or they welcome the prospect of living in a nation where merit no longer matters, and equality of opportunity is erased in favor of “antiracist” racism and “antisexist” sexism to achieve equality of outcome.

It’s tough to sell tough love—i.e., earning your success by competing against immutable standards that are the same for everyone—to members of a population who are being spoon-fed victim ideology and oppressor guilt from the day they were born, but that’s what needs to be done. 

One of the most compelling public intellectuals to get to the root of the problem is Jordan Peterson, who claims that what woke brigades characterize as a history of oppression and victimhood is, in fact, an inevitable and natural process common to all cultures. He identifies Western civilization not as uniquely malevolent but uniquely enlightened because it prioritizes the rights of individuals.

In recognition that you can have equal opportunity or you can have equality, but you can’t have both, Peterson falls squarely on the side of equal opportunity. But equal opportunity is meaningless unless you reward merit, and when you reward merit, you must live with hierarchies of achievement— inequality. “Hierarchies are based on competence, not arbitrary power,” Peterson explains. “If they are not based on competence, they are tyrannical and cannot be sustained.”

This is life in America today. A burgeoning tyranny, engineered by opportunists and fanatics that deny the equity paradox. This denial is a monstrous lie that will drive America to ruin. In pursuit of equality, America’s institutions no longer offer equal opportunity.

The rhetoric of victim and oppressor and the agenda of forced equity must be rejected on every front. Equal opportunity rewards excellence. Equal outcomes require tyranny and are indifferent to excellence. From school board meetings to corporate conference rooms to cocktail parties and everywhere else, the equity agenda must be openly and forcefully refuted.


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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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