Ron Unz - Writings and Perspectives Views, Opinions, and Notes Tue, 10 May 2016 11:22:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Asian Quotas in the Ivy League? “We See Nothing! Nothing!” Tue, 27 May 2014 00:00:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

Last week I was invited to speak at the annual conference of the Education Writers Association, with the topic of my panel being the perspective of Asian-Americans on Affirmative Action policies in college admissions. Despite having the only white face among the four presenters, I believe my analysis made a useful contribution.

A couple of months ago, the issue had unexpectedly moved to the fore of the national debate. Democrats in the California State Legislature had unanimously backed SCA-5, a proposed 2014 ballot measure intended to repeal Prop. 209 and thereby restore Affirmative Action, banned in 1996. Since the 1990s, California had effectively become a one-party Democratic state, and many expected the voters would roll back that controversial legacy of the Pete Wilson Era. Every Asian in the Legislature is a Democrat and every Asian had supported the repeal without hesitation.

But once word of the proposal filtered out into the general Asian-American community, massive opposition spontaneously erupted, and within three weeks nearly 120,000 Asians had signed an electronic petition denouncing the proposal. Their intense hostility centered on the restoration of racially-conscious admissions policies for the prestigious state university system, reflecting their widespread belief that this would eventually result in the establishment of “Asian Quotas,” denying Asian students an equal chance for admission to public universities.

When over a hundred thousand individuals unexpectedly join a grassroots protest, politicians pay attention and within a few days every Asian legislator had reversed course and declared opposition to the measure. California Asians are a core Democratic constituency, usually backing that party’s candidates in the 75% range, and the stunned Democratic leadership quickly tabled the suddenly divisive proposal, which threatened to split their electoral base.

During the weeks that have followed, liberal advocates of Affirmative Action policies argued that Asian-American fears of a looming Asian Quota were totally mistaken, the product of dishonest conservative propaganda and misleading coverage in the ethnic media. Indeed, these were exactly the arguments advanced by two of my fellow panelists, OiYan Poon of Loyola University and Robert Teranishi of UCLA. But although my presentation did not focus on the particulars of the recent California controversy, I think I demonstrated the underlying roots of the concern that had so galvanized the Asian community.

In late 2012 I had published The Myth of American Meritocracy, a lengthy critique of the admissions policies of America’s elite academic institutions. One of my central points was the overwhelming statistical evidence for the existence of “Asian Quotas” at Harvard, Yale, and the other elite Ivy League schools.

Over the last twenty years, America’s population of college-age Asians has roughly doubled and Asian academic achievement has reached new heights, but there has been no increase whatsoever in Asian enrollment in those elite universities and indeed substantial declines at Harvard and several other Ivies. Meanwhile, other top colleges such as Caltech that admit students based on a strictly meritocratic and objective standard have seen Asian numbers increase fully in line with the growth of the Asian population. These results were summarized in one of my graphs, soon afterward republished in a contentious New York Times symposium inspired by my findings.


(The public ethnic and gender enrollment history for Harvard and every other American university is now conveniently available on our website).

Ivy League schools admit their students by a totally opaque and subjective process, only somewhat related to academic performance or other objective factors, and leading American journalists such as Pulitzer-Prize winner Daniel Golden have documented the powerful evidence that this system is laced with favoritism and even outright corruption. In recent years, Asian enrollments at all the Ivies have converged to a very narrow range and remained relatively constant from year to year, a remarkably suspicious result that seems strongly suggestive of an implicit Asian Quota. Indeed, the statistical evidence for a present-day Asian Quota is arguably stronger than that for the notorious Jewish Quota of the Ivies during the 1920s and 1930s, the existence of which was widely denied at the time by university administrators but is now universally accepted.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there had been widespread accusations of a similar policy of anti-Asian bias in admissions at the University of California system, but the passage of Prop. 209 outlawed the use of racial factors in admissions, and recent statistics indicate that Asian students are now admitted to leading UC campuses closely in line with their academic performance and without any numerical ceiling on their numbers. Asian parents in California can see with their own two eyes obvious evidence of an Asian Quota at most of America’s top national universities leading to their deep concern that a similar policy might eventually return to the University of California campuses.

Furthermore, Asian elected officials, Asian activists, and most Asian-American advocacy groups have kept silent on the likely existence of Asian Quotas at elite universities, thereby squandering any credibility they might have had during the contentious California debate. My own long article ran over eighteen months ago and despite its original publication in a magazine with a tiny circulation, quickly accumulated over 200,000 pageviews while the analysis was soon widely discussed in the New York Times and numerous other prominent publications. Indeed, Timescolumnist David Brooks ranked the piece as perhaps the best American magazine article of the year. But not a single Asian officeholder or traditional advocacy group took any notice or made any effort to hold the Ivies accountable on a matter of greatest concern to their own community.

In my writings, I have repeatedly noted that although the Ivies freely release their ethnic admissions and ethnic enrollment statistics, they refuse to release their ethnic application totals, data which is freely provided by the University of California and other universities. I strongly suspect that the reason for such reticence is that admission rates for Asians have plummeted relative to all other groups during the last twenty years, a necessary consequence of a determined effort to sharply restrict Asian numbers even while the Asian population has doubled. Asian elected officials or prominent activists could easily apply enormous pressure on the Ivies to release this simple data, but not a single one has chosen to do so.

Such timidity is far from surprising. Most prominent Asian activists are either affiliated with universities or have close ties with individuals who are. Regularly denouncing the perceived misdeeds of “white supremacists,” rightwingers, or even merely Republicans is an easy position to take given that those groups possess negligible influence within the academic community. But Harvard University and its peers dominate higher education like a colossus, and leveling criticism against such targets is hardly conducive to academic career advancement. Thus Asians found in ethnic studies departments readily seek out the most obscure and insignificant examples of anti-Asian discrimination in throughout the wider world but remain totally silent about the massively visible biases in the most prestigious portions of their own academy.

To date, the stonewalling of the Ivies on this issue has largely succeeded and the entire topic has disappeared from the mainstream media and public discussion, although ordinary Asians remain just as unhappy as ever about the obvious racial discrimination their children face in applying to most elite universities. Unless either the media or prominent political figures begin putting pressure on Harvard and its fellow elite universities to reveal their ethnic admissions rates, I see no likelihood that this situation will change. And ordinary Asian families will become more and more doubtful that their interests are being represented either in government or in the media. Hence the backlash over SCA-5.

Meanwhile, most other elected officials seem to pay as little attention to the details of college admissions matters as do their Asian counterparts. For example, Sen. Ed Hernandez, the SCA-5 sponsor, had claimed that his effort to reestablish Affirmative Action in California university admissions was necessary to stem the ongoing erosion of Hispanic enrollment at those institutions. But just a few weeks later, all of California’s leading newspapers carried headlines declaring thatHispanic enrollment had reached an all-time high in the UC system, surpassing white numbers for the first time. Somehow I suspect that Sen. Hernandez would have a very difficult time gaining admission to an elite California university either with or without Affirmative Action.

[Clarification: In this column I pointed out that most Asian-American advocacy groups, including all the “traditional” ones, have kept entirely silent on the issue of Asian Quotas in higher education. Although this is correct, I should have emphasized that some newer such groups have actually been very vigorous on this issue, including efforts to force the Ivies to release their applicant data and recently helping to organize the grassroots resistance to SCA-5 in California, with the most prominent of these being the 80-20 Initiative and one of its founding members, Dr. S.B. Woo, former Lt. Gov. of Delaware. Indeed, Dr. Haibo Huang, another leading 80-20 activist, had persuaded EWA to invite me to the panel and gave his presentation just before mine. Another relatively new Asian-American organization quite active on the issue of Affirmative Action is The Asian American Legal Foundation. My criticism was entirely directed toward the older and more traditional Asian advocacy organizations]

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Does Race Exist? Do Hills Exist? Thu, 22 May 2014 00:00:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

Although my own academic background is in theoretical physics, I’m the first to admit that field seems in the doldrums these days compared with human evolutionary biology.

The greatest physics discoveries of the last couple of years—the Higgs Boson and strong evidence for Cosmological Inflation—merely confirm the well-established beliefs that physicists have had since before I entered grad school. It’s nice that such experimental evidence means that individuals such as Peter Higgs, Alan Guth, and Andrei Linde, whose names have been prominent in the standard textbooks for decades, have received or will surely soon receive their long-deserved Nobel Prizes, but little new has been learned. Or so is the impression of a lapsed theoretician who left that field over twenty-five years ago and who mostly follows it through the pages of the major newspapers.

Meanwhile, human evolutionary biology has been on a tear, partly due to the full deciphering of the human genome over the last couple of decades and our increasing technical ability to effectively read archaic DNA from thousands or even tens of thousands of years in the past. In recent years we have seen shocking discoveries that most humans possess small but probably significant Neanderthal ancestry and that important genetic changes have regularly swept through our genome. On the theoretical side, it was long assumed that human genes had changed little since Cave Man days, but we now understand that in some respects human evolution may have actually accelerated during the last ten thousand years as our rapidly growing population provided a much larger source of potentially favorable mutations, while agriculture and civilization were simultaneously applying strong selective pressures.

Although my other projects have prevented me from following these developments except through newspapers, blogs, and books, such evolutionary issues have long fascinated me. During the early 1980s I even participated in the field, studying under Harvard’s E.O. Wilson and felt that if physics had not been an option, evolutionary biology would have been my next choice. I remember telling all my skeptical friends in 1979 that Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene was probably one of the most important books of the decade, and I stand by that opinion today.

Yet although our understanding of the origins of modern humans and their biologically-influenced behavior has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades, these world-changing developments seem to have received extremely scanty coverage in the mainstream press, meaning that many of them have probably not penetrated into the public consciousness of those who are not academic specialists. The assumptions and world-views of most American intellectuals and journalists often seem stuck in the 1980s, clinging to ideas that are almost completely outmoded and incorrect, much like Soviet biology into the 1960s was still crippled by the Stalinist legacy of Trofim K. Lysenko, who had argued for the inheritance of acquired characteristics and purged all those biologists who disagreed.

America’s own Lysenko is surely the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, whose platform in the prestige media and widely assigned books have massively influenced entire generations of college students and thinkers. Unfortunately, just like his Soviet counterpart, Gould promoted ideologically motivated misrepresentations of reality, sometimes backed by outright scientific fraud, and people who read his books are regularly absorbing falsehoods.

In a further parallel to the Soviet case, Gould and his Marxist circle of friends and allies, including Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and several others, regularly sought to purge or otherwise silence their most honest and courageous colleagues. During the 1970s, Harvard’s Wilson became their particular target for daring to publish his landmark book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, and their wild ideological charges led radical student demonstrators to demand the university fire one of its brightest tenured stars and even to physically assault the mild-mannered Wilson at a meeting of the American Academy of Sciences. Although Gould seems to have been a rather mediocre scientist, some of his radical allies such as Lewontin were first-class researchers, but also ideologues who allowed their politics to dictate their science.

While I was a graduate student at Cambridge University during the mid-1980s, these events occasionally came up in casual discussions across the dining tables. On one such occasion, a former grad student of Lewontin’s said that during the height of the sociobiology controversy he had asked his mentor why he was leveling such ridiculous accusations against a colleague, with the reply being that those accusations were admittedly scientific nonsense, but they served the political interests of Marxism, which was far more important. Meanwhile, given Gould’s strength in words but his weakness in thinking, I find it reasonably likely that he simply believed many of the absurdities he was spouting.

As the years and the decades have gone by, I’ve always assumed that Gouldism was about to lose its grip on American intellectual life, but that assumption has always proven wrong. The totally absurd notion that genetics plays a relatively small role in influencing most human behaviors represents a zombified doctrines, absorbing endless seemingly fatal scientific wounds at the hands of prominent scholars but remaining almost unkillable, more like a religious dogma than a scientific doctrine.

For example, in 2002 Harvard’s Steven Pinker, one of America’s most prominent evolutionary psychologists, published The Blank Slate, an outstanding critique of this incorrect reigning dogma, which specifically included a lengthy debunking of Gould, Lewontin, and their circle. Not only was the book a huge seller and glowingly discussed throughout the MSM, but I was stunned to read an equally favorable review in The Nation, pole-star of America’s political Left. I naturally assumed that the full collapse of Gouldism was underway, an impression enhanced once the august New York Times later published an article describing an important instance of Gould’s scientific fraud.

But a year or two ago, when I heard smart intellectuals still citing Gould, I asked a prominent academic how that would possibly be the case. He explained that whereas in the 1990s, probably 99% of intellectuals believed in Gould, the massive revelations of recent years had merely reduced that support to 95%, leaving Gouldism almost as entrenched as ever. Whereas worldwide support for Stalinism substantially collapsed following Khrushchev’s 1956 “Secret Speech” Gouldian nonsense seems to have largely avoided that fate.


But perhaps that is now about to change.

One of the oddities of American intellectual life is that although a full-fledged scientific revolution in human genetics and evolution has been taking place for the last couple of decades, very little of this has been reported in the mainstream media, perhaps because the findings so totally contradict the numerous falsehoods that so many senior editors presumably imbibed during the introductory anthropology courses they took to satisfy their science distributional requirement as undergraduates.

Indeed, when I consider the major news stories on evolutionary breakthroughs I have read in our MSM over the last dozen years, the overwhelming majority seem to have been written by a single individual, Nicholas Wade of The New York Times, who recently retired after twenty years as a editor and reporter at our national newspaper of record, following previous decades of work at top scientific publications such as Nature and Science.

When I asked around a little, my impression was confirmed. Our nation of over 300 million may be in the forefront of evolutionary discovery, but Wade has long been almost the only reporter seriously covering these fascinating developments in the mainstream print media. Meanwhile, the weekly New York Times Science Section seems to be moving in the direction of People Magazine, with so much of the coverage seemingly focused on phone apps, dieting, and phone apps to assist with dieting. For example, fully half of the Letters page in this morning’s print edition was devoted to a heated debate on the “Science of Overeating.”

But while his former colleagues often focus on the transient and the trivial, Wade has spent the last couple of years producing an outstanding book to bring awareness of the revolutionary discoveries of modern genetic research to a broader American audience. Generations of Soviets had been taught the inheritance of acquired characteristics in their universities, and I assume they must have been shocked to discover it was all an ideologically motivated hoax. I suspect that many complacent American intellectuals may have a similar reaction to Wade’s book, which focuses on the highly touchy subject of the genetic nature of our distinct human races and the implications for society and history, bearing the descriptive title A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. I’d certainly rank Wade’s book as the most important popular presentation of these ideas at least since Pinker’s Blank Slate. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I was also very pleased to see him substantially cite my own major articles from the last couple of years on race, IQ, and wealth and the Social Darwinist roots of modern China.

All too many socially-conditioned Americans have absorbed the Lewontin-Gould mantra that “Race Does Not Exist” which from a scientific perspective is roughly similar to claiming that “Teeth Do Not Exist” or perhaps “Hills Do Not Exist,” with the latter being an especially good parallel. It is perfectly correct that the notion of “hill” is ill-defined and vague—what precise height distinguishes a pile of dirt from a hill and a hill from a mountain?—but nevertheless denying the reality or usefulness of such a concept would be an absurdity. Similarly, the notion of distinct human races—genetic clusters across a wide variety of scales and degrees of fuzziness—is an obviously useful and correct organizing principle, and one which was probably accepted without question by everyone in the history of the world except for deluded Americans of the last fifty years.

Anyway, let us suppose that the Gouldians rising up to denounce the heretic, such asanthropologist Agustin Fuentes, are given their way and the common term “race” is purged from our scientific vocabulary as being meaningless. Well, large-scale genetic population clusters obviously continue to exist in the real world and are an important element in ongoing research, both medical and evolutionary. So it would make sense to conveniently replace an overly cumbersome multisyllabic phrase with a short single-syllabic word now suddenly gone unused, namely “race.”

Indeed, I would suggest that one of the sources of present-day confusion is that the very term “race” has undergone an unfortunate metamorphosis over the course of the 20th century. Today, when people speak of “races” they are almost invariably referring to the continental-scale mega-races such as Asians, Africans, and Europeans. These “races” certainly exist and are highly meaningful and distinct in genetic terms, with blogger Steve Sailer slyly noting that the cover of Prof. Luca Cavalli-Sforza definitive tome on human genetic diversity displays a colored worldwide map looking much like what Sen. Strom Thurmond in his dotage might have drawn on a napkin with crayons.

But I would argue that restricting the term race to merely that small handful of huge groupings is extremely wasteful and we are far better off also applying the term to its traditional meaning, typically aimed at much smaller population groups. One hundred years ago, every educated individual casually used phrases such as “the Anglo-Saxon race,” “the Hungarian race,” and “the Chinese race,” and this is exactly the usage to which we should restore. To be sure, these particular genetic population clusters are naturally grouped into higher-level clusters as well—with Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles all being branches of the larger Slav race, itself a component of the European mega-race, but the word can remain flexible in scale without producing any serious confusion. All these groups are exactly the sort of natural statistical clusters that regularly appear during genetic population analysis, and we might as well use the traditional popular term for them rather than inventing an entirely new one.

As for the full contents of Wade’s book, several reviews have already noted a few small glitches here and there and I myself certainly took issue with some of his arguments. For example, I think he is much too accepting of Gregory Clark’s influential 2007 book arguing that the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain because the British had undergone nearly a thousand years of uniquely strong selection for economic success, a thesis I find extremely doubtful. I also think Wade should have given far more attention to the seminal Cochran-Harpending theorythat the rapid growth of human population after the development of agriculture has produced an equally rapid acceleration in mutation-driven evolution during the last ten thousand years, and Wade’s omission surely explains why the notoriously arrogant and irascible Gregory Cochran published such an unfriendly review on his own blogsite. Certainly everyone should explore all sides of the ongoing debate and a small racialist website has conveniently gathered togetherannotated links to the dozens of reviews across the web, favorable, unfavorable, and mixed. But reading the book itself is essential for anyone interested in the current state of human evolutionary science.

I’d originally intended to publish my own perspective several weeks ago and was delayed by other pressing matters. But I have been very pleased to see that Wade’s book is beginning to receive the major attention it so greatly deserves. American intellectuals must begin shedding a half-century of lies and dishonesty based on the dismally unscientific dogma of Stephen Jay Gould and instead start to discover what modern evolutionary biologists and genetic researchers have all known for years or even decades. A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade of the New York Times may represent a huge step forward in achieving this important goal.

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English and Meritocracy: The Gullibility of Our Political and Media Elites Thu, 15 May 2014 00:00:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

Last week I noted in a column that the California Republicans in the Education Committee of the State Senate had joined an 8-to-0 vote to repeal Proposition 227 and restore Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” in our schools.

The academic performance of over a million immigrant student had doubled in the four years following the implementation of intensive English immersion programs, so presumably the goal of the Republicans (and their Democratic co-conspirators) is now to un-double that performance and restore the system as it was in the past.

Just a few years ago, the educational successes of Prop. 227 were still so keenly recalled that even the erstwhile champions of bilingual programs heatedly denied any intent to restore the disastrous system. But politicians have exceptionally short memories, and with all the bilingual activists and bilingual researchers having spent some time lobbying them in Sacramento about the wondrous benefits of teaching young immigrant children everything in Spanish in order to help them learn English, their empty heads have been spun around and their votes have reversed.

Various other individuals share my amusement about this ridiculous situation. Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, one of America’s foremost psycho-linguists reminded his 126,000 twitter followers about the “Bizarre chapter in educ politics: So-called bilingual education (= keep Eng away fm kids when they can best learn it)” and Francis Fukuyama, another very prominent intellectual, tweeted out my column to his own 29,000 followers, as did Debra Saunders of the SF Chronicle and numerous others.

In general, the reaction all across the Internet to the Republican reversal on bilingual education was scathing, and others shared my view that it might constitute the last nail in the coffin for the dying California GOP that had once dominated the state during the eras of Reagan and Nixon.

Still, it would only be fair to note that the Republican position did receive strong support in certain ideological quarters. Richard Spencer, one of America’s leading White Nationalists, strongly endorsed the restoration of bilingual education and opposed requiring Hispanic children to learn English. Many of the commenters on Jared Taylor’s similarly-hued website took the same position, with one of them very clearly summarizing their perspective:

Good! Anything that disadvantages hispanics vs poor whites is in our racial interest.

Bilingual education often turns into defacto segregation, where whites get to be in normal classes with fewer hispanics. This could be the best thing for white kids trapped in California public schools. The hispanic kids won’t end up learning enough English to escape their educational barrio.

When the hispanics graduate with their worthless bilingual degrees, they won’t be able to speak English well enough to compete with the white kids for jobs. They’ll end up mopping floors and mowing lawns for the rest of their lives.

I’m done “doing the right thing” if it means helping non-whites at the expense of whites. If Jose and Guadalupe want their dumb kids to speak mexican dialect spanish as their only language, I hope the little bambinos enjoy their jobs scrubbing toilets for minimum wage.

Frankly, I regard the current effort to return a million California schoolchildren to Spanish language classrooms more as an amusing bit of idiocy than as any serious threat to the educational revolution of the late 1990s. We must remember that California schools have now been teaching immigrant children English for the better part of a full generation, and nearly all of them have become perfectly fluent and literate in that language, which they obviously want their children also to learn.

Most Latinos are working-class or working-poor and being busy with their own lives, don’t pay a great deal of regular attention to what the politicians in Sacramento are saying or doing. But if they discover that the local schools have suddenly stopped teaching their children English and shifted them into Spanish language classes instead, that bizarre educational change will produce a tidal wave of popular anger and outrage, threatening the gullible politicians responsible with annihilation.

As an approximate analogy, just a few months ago every Asian Democrat in the California Legislature voted to repeal Prop. 209 and reestablish racial preferences in state university admissions. But once ordinary Asians got wind of this development, which would almost certainly would have led to the reestablishment of Asian Quotas in California colleges, the popular outcry was so enormous that all the Asian Democrats immediately reversed their positions and their legislative leaders quickly killed the suddenly divisive measure, which had previously enjoyed near-unanimous Democratic backing.

As an even better parallel, consider the instructive political fate of Nativo Lopez of Santa Ana. His powerful political machine had rendered him a feared local figure to both Democrats and Republicans alike, whom he regularly insulted and attacked with total impunity, even running profanity-laced radio spots against California’s reigning Democratic governorwithout suffering any retaliation. But after he proclaimed himself a diehard supporter of bilingual education and refused to implement the English language programs required by Prop. 227, he provoked a grassroots uprising by angry Latino parents and was recalled from office, losing by a forty point margin in America’s most heavily Latino immigrant city.

Even over a dozen years ago, long before the educational facts were so fully established, “English in the Schools” enjoyed nearly 80% support among Democrats and Republicans, and those numbers and intensity were identical for Latinos. Meanwhile, American popular discontent with the endless failures of our political elites, both Democratic and Republican, is at an all-time high. California Republicans are already on the verge of slipping into minor party status and the reestablishment of bilingual education in our schools might place the Democrats on the same trajectory. Perhaps a non-partisan “English Party” would arise to replace both of them in power.



But if the ignorance and gullibility of most American political leaders are universally acknowledged and the subject of endless ridicule by our media elites, perhaps the latter should occasionally look into a mirror.

Anyone can find a ridiculous article by a lowly and unknown junior reporter and tear it to shreds, so let me instead point to a particularly egregious recent example at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The New York Times stands as America’s newspaper of record and among Timesmen few can match the credentials of David Leonhardt, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and numerous other journalistic awards, spending years as Washington Bureau Chief and recently promoted to Managing Editor of a new high-profile venture applying analytical methods to public policy issues.

For his maiden analytical effort, Leonhardt filled the front page of the Sunday Week in Reviewwith a 1,500 word piece discussing the reason that admission to the Ivies and other elite universities has become so much more difficult for American teenagers over the last couple of decades.

His surprising explanation was the enormous increase in the presence of foreign students since 1994, whose growing numbers have left American applicants to compete over a far smaller remaining pie. Thus, the globalization of top American universities is the true culprit behind so many of those thin envelopes received by disappointed students over the last few months.

Given my own prior research and writings on university admissions issues, Leonhardt’s claims seemed extremely doubtful to me, and their credibility was not enhanced by his total lack of specific numbers on international college admissions. In fact, it took me just a couple of minutes to confirm that his argument was entirely incorrect.

The website of the National Center for Educational Statistics provides thirty years worth of data on the enrollment of international students for America’s 5,000 individual colleges, but unfortunately only the most recent figures are presented in convenient form. Therefore, last year I added a research utility to my own website that immediately provides the 1980-2011 enrollment statistics for any university. A few moments using this tool revealed that between 1994 and 2011 the percentage of domestic undergraduates had merely declined from 93.5% to 89.3% at Harvard and from 95.6% to 89.8% at Yale, with roughly similar changes at most other elite universities. Obviously, a decline of only about 5% in the number of available slots for American students would have had little impact on their chance of admission.

Given that Leonhardt’s only quoted source was Harvard’s longtime dean of admissions, who emphasized the tremendous benefits international students provide to their American classmates, I strongly suspect that particular administrator and his counterparts had provided the original impetus for the article, and their motives may have been largely self-serving. Each Spring, many wealthy and influential families are disappointed at the rejection letters received by their children and deflecting their unhappiness is a crucial goal for top colleges. The sorts of families who apply to the Ivies are exactly those that most tend to favor globalization and meritocracy and if they could be persuaded that the competition of brilliant foreigners was the cause of their children’s distress, they would be much less likely to protest.

My own analysis of today’s admissions policies at the Ivies and other elite universities is very different and was presented in my 30,000 word Meritocracy article and the 30,000 words of columns that followed. Perhaps Leonhardt should read my analysis and examine the extensive data I provided.

As it happens, America’s Educational Writers Association is holding its annual convention next week at Vanderbilt University and I have been invited to speak on a panel dealing with Asian admissions issues, a major theme of my own research. Over the last year or two, I have published quite a number of pieces highlighting the strong statistical evidence for an Asian Quota among Ivy League universities, with my research even sparking a 2012 New York Times forum on the topic.

I have also repeatedly pointed out that the easiest means of addressing these very serious charges of racial discrimination would be for Ivies to release the historical statistics on the ethnic distribution of their applicants, information which they have no legitimate reason for keeping secret. My strong suspicion is that the admission rates for Asian-American applicants have plummeted relative to all other groups over the last twenty years, a drop certainly unmatched by any decline in Asian academic performance, and that this glaring discrepancy explains the unwillingness of our elite universities to provide that data.

The trends may have been so dramatic that if made public they would reach the front pages of the leading newspapers in America—and many in Asia as well—and generate a political firestorm, with the enterprising reporter who somehow obtained the data perhaps winning himself a Pulitzer Prize along the way. In fact, I can think of a particular American journalist ideally situated to achieve this result, with exactly the right mixture of stature, credibility, and university connections to quietly secure the restricted information and then break the story to an admiring public. His name? David Leonhardt of The New York Times.

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Romney, Santorum, and Pawlenty Endorse a Minimum Wage Hike—Do I See a Republican Trend? Mon, 12 May 2014 00:00:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

On Friday, several top national Republicans including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Tim Pawlenty all publicly declared their support for raising the federal minimum wage. Such a dramatic political breakthrough—obviously coordinated at the highest levels—greatly increases the likelihood it will actually happen, and tens of millions of low-wage American workers will see a large rise in their annual incomes.

When I first published my 12,000 word article almost three years suggesting a large hike in the minimum wage as a possible solution to a wide range of our social and economic problems, I stood very much alone.

I can’t think of a single significant Republican or conservative who publicly supported a higher minimum wage at that point. Even most of the more highly regarded economic liberals such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz had long since relegated the minimum wage to the policies of the past, taking its place in the history books alongside violent factory strikes and coal miner organizing, instead focusing their advocacy on more modern means of assisting the working poor, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. And given my self-professed ignorance of economics, the 3,000 words I devoted to making a case for a federal minimum wage in the $10 to $12 hourly range were quite cautious, presenting it as a speculative policy suggestion rather than a ringing declaration.

Although various rightwing bloggers quickly endorsed my proposal and National Review discussed it respectfully, the main support unsurprisingly came from the left, with economistJames Galbraith and the late Alexander Cockburn enthusiastically backing it, whence the idea gradually entered Democratic policy circles, eventually leading to Sen. Tom Harkin and others to introduce legislation in early 2012. Shortly afterward, the New America Foundation asked me to produce a focused policy paper on the same subject, which attracted much greater attention to my ideas, and led to various speaking engagements and follow-up columns in the year that followed. But still nearly all the growing support for a big minimum wage hike came from liberals, with Republicans mostly ignoring or dismissing the idea.

That all began to change six months ago, when I paid my $200 initiative filing fee and launched my effort to place a $12 minimum wage measure on California’s November 2014 ballot. As my campaign drew considerable media attention, prominent conservatives began considering the issue in a new light, noting my arguments about the hundreds of billions of social welfare subsidies inherent in the current system and recognizing that rewarding work while cutting welfare was a traditionally conservative idea. In the weeks that followed, leading conservative figures such as Phyllis Schlafly and Bill O’Reilly endorsed a minimum wage hike, as did ultra-libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel. Even Walmart’s chief spokesman seemed to support the idea in a Bloomberg interview, though he quickly retreated, perhaps under political pressure from the Congressional Republicans.

But although these trends were very heartening, they were confined almost entirely to ideological circles, without any significant backing from Republican officeholders or candidates. Just in the last few weeks, the Senate Republicans successfully filibustered a minimum wage hike, while the House Republicans refused to even consider bringing the measure to the floor, maintaining their phalanx of near-unanimous opposition. The effort to raise the minimum wage seemed dead at the national level, though a wage hike in California and various other states seemed reasonably likely this year.

But on Friday, that settled political landscape was transformed as Mitt Romney, the most recent Republican presidential nominee, declared his support on the MSNBC show of Joe Scarborough, himself a former Republican Congressman. As the most recent Republican presidential nominee and a cadet member of America’s ruling financial oligarchy, Romney stands as a Republican pillar, and given his notorious caution such a his decision would only have come after exhaustive discussion. It appears certain that a major segment of the Republican Establishment has decided to embrace rather than oppose the minimum wage case, presumably after extensive polling and focus group analysis.

I think Romney and his advisers fully recognize that if he had taken this sort of economic position two years ago, he would be sitting in the White House today rather than traveling the rubber-chicken circuit, and perhaps a third major run for the presidency lurks in the back of their minds. One of the incidents that doomed Romney’s 2012 candidacy was his remark that 47% of all American voters paid no income taxes and were therefore deaf to GOP economic arguments. I have pointed out that a $12 minimum wage would shift tens of millions of American low-wage workers into the net taxpayer class, and perhaps Romney’s people have considered this point.

Admittedly, Romney is very much an establishmentarian Republican, whose conservative credentials are mixed at best, and he hardly inspires the party faithful. But Romney’s support for a minimum wage hike was immediately echoed by former Sen. Rick Santorum, a darling of the hard-right and Christian conservatives, whose enthusiastic supporters had enabled his under-financed presidential campaign to sweep several states and give Romney enormous trouble in 2012. When the top two Republicans from the most recent presidential campaign—representing entirely different wings of the party—simultaneously endorse a minimum wage hike, something is definitely afoot. And former governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, also once considered a viable presidential or vice-presidential nominee, quickly joined the chorus.

I think a powerful conventional wisdom may be forming among Republican consultants and pollsters that the economic concerns of ordinary Americans must be forcefully addressed and that the traditional conservative nostrum of cutting taxes on the rich has long since passed its expiration date. As Santorum said in his interview, the Republicans are perceived as the party of Scrooge and that must change if they have any chance of winning a national election.

Raising taxes to fund massive new social welfare programs would be an ideological anathema, but raising the minimum wage and thereby automatically reducing social welfare spending is a different matter entirely and also vastly more popular, both among liberals and conservatives.

In our modern personality-based system, presidential candidates and candidacies drive the political positions of both parties, and if consultants inform the leading Republicans eyeing a 2016 run that they need to endorse a minimum wage hike to maintain their viability, a tidal wave might quickly develop. Nearly every conservative policy expert seeks to attach himself to successful presidential campaign, and if the major candidates support the notion of raising worker wages, so will the thinktanks and pundits. The more dogmatic libertarians have always denounced the very notion of a minimum wage, but except for them, most conservatives have never paid a great deal of attention to the question, merely worried about its practicalities, and if the major conservative policy centers decide that supporting a much higher minimum wage is the truly conservative thing to do, the Republican rank-and-file will quickly fall into line.

House Speaker John Boehner may personally detest a higher minimum wage, but if the likely Republican names at the top of the 2016 ticket endorse the idea, backed by most of the pundits and policy experts, he certainly won’t resist.

The Republican declarations of Romney, Santorum, and Pawlenty on Friday may be the first of many to come, and American workers may soon see annual wages rise by as much as $150 billion, a development that might have seemed beyond the realm of possibility back in 2011.

At the very least, a $12 or $13 minimum wage in California now seems in the cards. How can moderate Democrats resist the effort, thereby placing themselves to the economic right of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Bill O’Reilly?

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California Republicans Vote to Restore “Bilingual Education” Wed, 07 May 2014 00:00:42 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

After almost seventeen years history may be about to repeat itself in California politics, though perhaps with a strong element of farce. Late last week, the Senate Education Committee voted 8-to-0 to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot repealing Prop. 227 and restoring “bilingual education” in California public schools. The long-dormant Language Wars may be returning to American politics, and based on the early indicators, the G.O.P. may have totally abandoned any support for English in the schools, with not a single Republican casting a No vote on the proposal.

Although many might be surprised by this political alignment, I am not. When I launched my “English for the Children” initiative effort in 1997 to replace California’s failed system of Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” with intensive English immersion, I sought to avoid the political partisanship that could easily taint a project touching upon delicate ethnic issues. As matters turned out, I got my wish, and our campaign was among the most bipartisan in state history, being opposed by nearly every prominent Democrat and also nearly every prominent Republican.

Requiring that English be taught in public schools was opposed by the Chairman of the state Republican Party and the Chairman of the State Democratic Party, as well as all four party leaders in the State Senate and Assembly. President Bill Clinton came out to California to campaign against us. All four candidates for governor, Democrat and Republican alike, denounced the measure and together starred in a powerful television spot urging a No vote, ranked by many as the best advertisement of that election cycle. We were opposed by every California union, every political slate, and almost every newspaper editorial board, and were outspent on advertising by a ratio of 25-to-1. But despite this daunting array of influential opponents, our initiative still passed with one of the largest political landslides of any contested measure in state history, winning over 61 percent of the vote.

As is traditional with California initiatives, our critics hoped to win in the courtroom what they had lost at the ballot box and bilingual advocates immediately sued to block the law. However, in the weeks that followed, four separate federal judges ruled in favor of Prop. 227 and the law that had passed in the June vote began to be implemented statewide as the new school year began in September. All of California’s thousand-odd school districts were required to teach young immigrant children in English as soon as they started school, though some bitterly resisted and dragged their feet.

The consequences were quite remarkable. Although nearly every state newspaper had editorially opposed the change in educational policy, once their journalists began visiting the schools to report the results of such a sweeping educational transformation, the many dozens of major media stories produced were uniformly glowing, with teachers, parents, and children all very happy with the change, and everyone surprised how quickly and easily the students were learning English in the classroom.

The following year, academic test scores for a million-plus immigrant students in California rose substantially, confounding naysayers and putting the story back on the front pages of the major state newspapers. And in 2000, immigrant test scores continued their rise, leading to a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times and major coverage in the rest of the national media. The founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educatorspublicly declared that he had been wrong for thirty years and bilingual education didn’t work while English immersion did work, becoming a born-again convert to “English” and appearing on CBS News and the PBS Newshour to make his case.

During the first four years following the passage of Prop. 227, the academic performance of over a million immigrant schoolchildren taught in English roughly doubled, while those school districts that stubbornly retained their bilingual education programs showed no improvement whatsoever. English-learners in English immersion classes academically outperformed their counterparts in holdover bilingual education programs in every subject, every grade level, and every year, racking up performance advantage of 80-to-0.

The political trends showed a similar trajectory, with Arizona voters passing an almost identical ballot measure by an even wider 26 point margin in November 2000 and the electorate of Massachusetts, arguably America’s most liberal state, favoring “English” by a colossal 32 point landslide in 2002, incidentally putting supporter Mitt Romney in the governorship as a political side-effect. Then in 2003, Nativo Lopez, one of California’s most diehard remaining backers of bilingual education, was recalled from office in Santa Ana by Latino parentsoutraged over his opposition to “English,” losing by a 40 point margin in America’s most heavily Latino immigrant major city.

With that last landslide vote over a decade ago in America’s most heavily Latino immigrant city, resistance to “English” completely crumbled and bilingual education largely disappeared from schools in California and much of the rest of the country while even the term itself almost completely vanished from public discourse or media coverage.

For decades since the 1960s, denunciations of bilingual education had been a staple of conservative campaign rhetoric—the so-called “language wars”—but with the provocative educational policy having disappeared, the rhetoric eventually followed and fewer and fewer elected officials or political activists even remembered that the program had once existed. A couple of years ago, Peter Brimelow, editor of the leading anti-immigration webzine, included a rare denunciation of bilingual education in one of his columns, but felt compelled to explain the meaning of the term, which may have become unfamiliar to his younger anti-immigrationist readers.

Meanwhile, virtually all immigrant children in California quickly and easily learned English as soon as they entered school, and no one thought the process difficult or remarkable. Whereas for decades bilingual education theorists had claimed that it took seven to ten years for a young child to learn English—a totally insane claim that was ubiquitous in our schools of education—everyone now recognized that just a few months was usually time enough, with the new goal being for Latino children to learn English in pre-school and therefore become fully English-proficient before they even entered kindergarten.

And inevitably, the Prop. 227 educational revolution has produced a generation of mostly bilingual young adults. After all, a large fraction of California Latinos are raised in Spanish-speaking households, and learn that language as children. Meanwhile, they now learn to read and write and speak mainstream English as soon as they enter school, while often continuing to speak Spanish at home with their parents and other family members. Thus, millions of younger Californians have ended up with complete fluency in both languages, effortlessly switching between the two, as I have personally often noticed in Palo Alto, a town in which perhaps half the ordinary daily workers are Hispanic in origin.

One reason this educational revolution has attracted so little ongoing attention is that it merely served to align instructional curriculum with overwhelming popular sentiment. Even a decade or more ago, while the policy was still under sharp political dispute, numerous state and national surveys had indicated that nearly 80% of all Americans supported having all public school instruction conducted in English, with these massive supermajorities cutting across all ideological, political, ethnic, and geographical lines, and support among immigrant Hispanics being especially strong. Indeed, I am not aware of any contentious policy issue whose backing was so totally uniform and overwhelming.

But politics abhors a vacuum and although almost everyone else has forgotten the topic of bilingual education over the last dozen years, the small number of bilingual zealots have remained just as committed as ever to their failed dogma. I doubt that there ever numbered more than just a few hundred hardcore bilingual activist supporters among California’s population of over thirty million, but their years of unopposed private lobbying and spurious academic research have now borne fruit. California politicians are hardly deep thinkers and term limits ensured that few of them had been prominent in public life during the late 1990s. Hence the 8-to-0 committee vote to reestablish bilingual education in California.

In reviewing the last twenty years of domestic policy battles in America, the replacement of bilingual education with English immersion in our public schools may rank as just about the only clear success for policies traditionally advocated by conservatives and Republicans—at least no other obvious example comes to mind. Meanwhile, the disastrous political choices made by California Republicans during the 1990s have placed what was once the most powerful Republican state party in America on the very edge of irrelevance and a descent into minor-party status.

For California Republicans to back the restoration of failed bilingual education programs would probably mark the final nail in their coffin, and rightfully so.

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The Huge Economic Productivity of Divine Monarchs Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:00:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

When I first began investigating the minimum wage a couple of years ago, one of my early surprises was its sharp decline across the decades, having fallen by roughly one-third in real value since its 1968 peak.

This drop was greatly magnified when we considered the economic growth of American society given that our per capita GDP had roughly doubled during that same period, meaning that the minimum wage had declined by almost 70% relative to average income.  A 70% drop in a crucial parameter of our wage structure is quite remarkable and clearly explains why lower wage workers could generally support their families a few decades ago, but today subsist in desperate poverty despite massive government social welfare subsidies.  I emphasized some of these statistics in my December 2013 New York Times piece on the subject, pointing out that even raising the minimum wage to  $12 per hour would merely make up a fraction of this long lost economic ground.

I was hardly the first person to note these remarkable facts, and earlier that same year Sen. Elizabeth Warren had pointed out that if the minimum wage had merely kept pace with the growth in average per capita income, it would have reached a rate close to $22 per hour.  Given such figures, the increases to $9 or $10.10 advocated by the Democratic leadership in Congress stood revealed as the paltry and pusillanimous goals that they were.

The devastating power of this simple economic point is easily apparent to the business lobbyists tasked with blocking an increase, and they have regularly suggested that this argument is totally misleading because it ignores that the gains in national economic output have hardly been uniform across all sectors.  The doubling in real per capita GDP has been driven almost entirely by increases at the high end, in sectors such as computer software, finance, and biotechnology, with little of it due to changes in the value of the work produced by janitors and waitresses.  They argue that wages must follow productivity and if the output of nannies is roughly unchanged from forty years ago, it is absurd to expect their real hourly wages to double or triple.  On the face of it, this rejoinder seems quite telling, and I have never seen an effective rebuttal provided in the numerous articles and columns by liberal wage advocates I have read on the subject.

However, let us step back a little and ask ourselves to consider the definition of “productivity,” especially for a service-sector worker of the sort we are considering.  Now as both I myself and my sharpest libertarian critics have emphasized, I have absolutely no professional expertise in the “dismal science,” but productivity is obviously directly related to the rate at which economic value is generated and economic value is defined in terms of market prices.  So if the hourly wage of a cleaning lady is $9 and the price charged for her service is $11 (including overhead), those figures represent her productivity.

But suppose the minimum wage were raised to $11, boosting her personal wages to $12 per hour and the all-in cost of her services to $14.  Assuming her job remained in existence, which it probably would, the market price and productivity of her work would have grown by one-third, although her scrubbing and washing remained completely unchanged.  And her new, higher wages would remain just as closely aligned with her new, higher personal productivity as had been the case earlier since productivity is defined based on wages and costs for the service involved rather than the other way round.

Moreover, minimum wage critics have endlessly touted the recent CBO report analyzing the impact of a wage hike.  Yet according to that report, some 98% of impacted low-end workers would see dramatic rises in their wages while only about 2% might lose their jobs as a consequence.  So according to this analysis, the proposed minimum wage hike would raise the economic productivity of 98% of America’s low-wage workforce—could any politician ask for a better talking-point?

Perhaps my self-declared economic ignorance is shining through at this point, and my expert critics in the economics professoriate can seize on these naïve suggestions to ridicule and humiliate me.  I urge them to do so.  But it seems to me that much of modern economics is more intended to obfuscate and confuse rather than enlighten, and the disastrous American economic policies of the last decade or so tend to strengthen my suspicion in this regard.

These days, a large fraction of the more vocal and visible economics experts draw much or most of their incomes from the financial subventions of our Oligarch class, and perhaps coincidentally, their claims and the personal interests of their benefactors seem rather closely aligned.

We have been discussing the productivity of low wage workers, but let us now consider the productivity at the other end of the economic spectrum, which has allegedly risen so rapidly over the last few decades and thereby supposedly justifies the massive financial rewards there accrued.

How do we measure the productivity of a hedge-fund manager, a service-sector worker who annually earns $50 million for his management skills and financial manipulations?  Unless I’m missing something, the only metric available is the market price he charges for his services, namely that same figure of $50 million per year.  So just as has been claimed by those pro-market pundits, his income closely corresponds to his productivity, but his is merely a restatement of the relevant definitions.  If the painter of blotchy canvasses can sell them for tens of millions of dollars, his economic productivity is enormous even if his artistic skills are minimal.

This same argument would presumably apply on the international scale as well.  If an African dictator or the current God-Emperor of North Korea’s Kim Dynasty allocates to himself 5% of the entire national income of his impoverished country, the annual dollars involved may reach into the billions, demonstrating that his economic productivity exceeds that of almost any brilliant American business tycoon, even though the likely benefits he provides to his suffering country are hugely negative.  Perhaps the Sultan of Brunei may spend most of his days playing polo or watching TV, but his ongoing productivity—as manifested in the diligent 24-7 gushing of his oil wells—remains far greater than that of any investment banker or elite lawyer.

So when regular columnists in Forbes or other publications cite the fact that over the last generation or two, the economic productivity of our elites has skyrocketed while the productivity of most other Americans has stagnated, I suspect they are simply restating the leftist claim that the rich have gotten richer while no one else has.  But it’s nice to hear those sentiments coming directly from such a contrary source.


Meanwhile, on a more practical matter, I’ve become much more hopeful that a California minimum wage hike along the lines of that contained in the initiative I failed to qualify for the November ballot may soon be achieved via different means.

A few weeks after my $12 minimum wage initiative began receiving considerable media attention, State Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco introduced a bill in the California legislation topping my proposal by raising the minimum wage to $13 per hour.

I’d assumed the measure had little chance of passage.  Last year the Legislature had been unwilling to consider a figure higher than $10 per hour and leading Democratic constituencies had actually criticized my initiative as unreasonable and unwarranted when it had surfaced.

However, it appears that the huge shift in the political and media momentum on the issue over the last few months, perhaps partly due to my own efforts, may have altered that ideological situation, especially in California.  After recently meeting and talking with Sen. Leno and his staff, I now believe his legislation has a reasonably good chance of being enacted this year at least in some form, which is very heartening.

Obviously, I would have very much preferred that my own initiative be the vehicle for raising the California minimum wage and a successful initiative campaign might have been a powerful means of nationalizing the issue in November.  But with the failure of my attempt to qualify the measure for the ballot, I am glad to endorse Sen. Leno’s effort and will do whatever I can to help it become law.

Although a state-level minimum wage of $13 would be by far the highest in America, the figure is not at all unreasonable.  California’s cost of living is about 30% above the national average, so a $13 rate here is roughly the same as a $10 minimum wage at the federal level, a figure now backed by the Obama Administration and almost all the Democrats in Congress, and even endorsed by conservative Bill O’Reilly on his FoxNews show.

Democrats hold super-majorities in both houses of the California legislature and they only require a simple majority to raise the minimum wage.  So all that is necessary for enactment is that they retain the support of the sizable block of moderate Democrats and Gov. Brown, and this would surely be facilitated by the number of prominent conservative Republicans who have now endorsed a large hike in the minimum wage.  Just within California, influential moderate billionaires such as Eli Broad and Rick Caruso have now also endorsed a minimum wage hike in that range or even higher, as has Peter Thiel, a billionaire who has strongly rightwing views on economic matters.

If my recent initiative drive to substantially raise the California minimum wage helps spur legislation producing a roughly similar result, I’d count my project a considerable success regardless of the particular circumstances under which the result was achieved.

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Raising the National Minimum Wage to (Almost) $12 per Hour Fri, 04 Apr 2014 00:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

Earlier this week unfortunate Americans were shown the advantages of a functioning political system as the German government announced it would establish a minimum wage of $8.50 Euros or almost $12 per hour.

In the past Germany had had a minimum wage, but the extremely high level of labor unionization had ensured very high hourly wages for the overwhelming majority of ordinary workers. However, in recent years, an increasing share of new jobs had not fallen under these agreements, often being low-wage positions in the service-sector, and labor leaders had decided to address this growing problem by establishing a reasonable minimum wage for all workers as their top political priority. Business groups and conservatives initially resisted this proposal, arguing economic damage might result. But after considering the facts and the data, their opposition dissipated, and the cabinet of Germany’s right-leaning government has now adopted the idea, which will soon become law.  Germany has one of the world’s best economies, with unemployment far below the American level and the standard of living well above.

From an American perspective, all sides in this debate behaved in an almost magical manner. On the one hand, the German unions deployed all their political influence to raising the wages of all workers rather than on focus their efforts on further augmenting the dollars and benefits of their own narrow membership. On the other side, business groups objectively considered the facts and decided that any resulting negative effects were too small to be worth waging a major political struggle, leading them to concede the issue. The notion of Capital and Labor cooperating together to advance the interests of society as a whole rather than battle for their own narrow special interests is a very strange idea in modern American society.

Indeed, America’s Democrats had made no effort to raise the minimum wage during the two years that they controlled both houses of Congress and now that they have recently revived the issue, they apparently have little chance of mustering the sixty votes they need to pass a $10.10 minimum wage in the Senate], let alone attracting the majority of Republicans required for a vote in the House. Some Democrats are considering a lower figure, but there is no sign there would be sufficient Republican support for that either. So our own Congress appears likely to remain deadlocked on the issue, while the German minimum wage shoots up to a figure over 60% higher than ours.

There are some efforts to raise the minimum wage in various American states, through legislation or initiative. However, most of these states are small ones and the proposed levels are usually in the eight or nine dollar range, well below even the $10.10 figure being considered in Congress.

The one major exception to this is California. A few weeks after my own proposed $12 minimum wage initiative began attracting considerable media coverage, Democratic legislators led by State Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco topped it with a $13 per hour proposal, which recently passed its first legislative hurdle on a party-line vote.

Given that California’s cost of living is 30% above the national average, a $13 minimum wage for the Golden State is not at all an unreasonable figure. The Democrats hold commanding super-majorities in both houses of the Legislature and since the bill only requires a simple majority to become law, its chances would seem to be reasonably good. Indeed, two of California’s largest cities—San Francisco and Los Angeles—are considering raising the local minimum wages to a figure as high as $15 per hour, and such proposals have drawn the public approval of moderate and politically influential billionaires, whose words carry a great deal of influence in such matters as well as indications of strong public support.

Although I am obviously disappointed at the failure of my own $12 minimum wage initiative to make the November ballot, if my proposal played a useful role in spurring the Legislature to raise the minimum wage to something in the same range or higher, I’ll regard my $200 Filing Fee as having been very well spent.

A renewed focus on basic economic issues by the liberal wing of California’s totally dominant Democratic Party would anyway be a very welcome change from the situation of the last couple of decades in which avant-garde social issues have drawn nearly all the ideological enthusiasm and donor dollars. Meanwhile, the abandoned majority of ordinary California workers suffered under greater and greater economic hardships in their daily lives, leading to Golden State poverty rates that were the worst anywhere in America.

When we consider the initiative campaigns of the last fifteen years, I can’t recall a single one directly aimed at improving the economic lot of our state’s millions of working-poor, as opposed to giving them the right to smoke medical marijuana or send their children to voucherized schools.

Indeed, at the end of the 1990s one of California’s leading liberal consultants told me that the wealthy donors in his circle showed absolutely no interest in funding the sort of working-class economic issues that had once been central to the Democrat Party, and this explained the lack of ballot measures on such topics. Hilda Solis’s 1996 minimum wage measure had barely scraped together the dollars necessary for qualification before winning a landslide victory at the polls. Instead, that top Democratic consultant joked with me that the ideal initiative for attracting liberal dollars would be one entitled “Save the Gay Whales from Second-Hand Smoke.” But perhaps that is now starting to change, though not quickly enough to put my own initiative on the ballot.

Over the years it has become obvious to me that the political world contained a curious paradox, with important issues attracting either heavy funding or large public support, but rarely both. However, this contradiction is more apparent than real and a moment’s thought reveals the simple explanation of this seeming mystery. Any prominent issue that possesses both dollars and popular appeal is quickly victorious and therefore disappears from the political landscape,

Today in California, the polls show overwhelming support for a large rise in the minimum wage, and the idea has now been endorsed by multi-billionaires of the left, right, and center. Let’s hope that such potent combination of dollars and voter sentiment quickly produces enacted legislation and causes the issue to permanently vanish from the political radar screen just as would be suggested by my theory.

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Pelosi vs. Boehner on the Minimum Wage? Wed, 26 Mar 2014 00:00:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

House Speaker John Boehner, the highest ranking Republican in America, has famously declared that he’d rather commit suicide than pass a minimum wage increase.  Meanwhile, California’s own Nancy Pelosi, his opposite number, is a strong supporter of hiking the minimum wage, and her close ally, the retiring Rep. George Miller, is the sponsor of the legislation in the House.

Three months ago, the Democrats announced they would make raising the minimum wage their central political issue for 2014, and with good reason.  Few issues so strongly unite Democrats and draw independents, while splitting GOP voters straight down the middle.  So does that strategy look likely to succeed?

Not really.  Boehner has indicated that unless and until Hell freezes over and the majority of his Republican caucus members back a minimum wage hike, he’ll refuse to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.  No vote on the bill means no pressure on Republicans and no chance of passage.

Business lobbyists are already discounting any realistic possibility of a minimum wage hike, with the national media is reporting that fact and coming to the same conclusion.  Election Day is still over seven months away, and journalists will soon stop reporting on a policy proposal that won’t even come to a vote.  Top Democratic officials and donors everywhere are surely crying: “A Vote, A Vote, Our Kingdom for a Vote.”

But appended below is an important article in yesterday’s Huffington Post providing Democrats a solution to that dilemma.  There’s an easy way for Pelosi and her allies to do an end run around Boehner’s blocking, and get something as good as—or even better than—a simple Congressional vote on the minimum wage.  A quick political strike could turn the tables and make an ongoing Pelosi-Boehner clash on the minimum wage the central issue from now until November.

We’ll soon see whether the national Democrats decide to seize that golden opportunity.

Pelosi’s High Leverage Play
Erica Payne, The Huffington Post

Long beloved by i-bankers and buyout gurus, the concept of “leverage” is just breaking into the lexicon of political strategy. That’s about to change. Or rather it could change, if Nancy Pelosi and a few rich donors seize the best investment opportunity in the political marketplace before it’s too late.

This year Democrats have made raising the minimum wage one of their top national issues. It’s a good choice. Polls show that a big minimum wage hike unites Democrats and sharply divides the GOP. Over 80 percent of Democrats and half of Republicans favor the idea, and it draws huge Independent support. Seventy-six percent of women support raising the minimum wage. More women than men vote especially if they have a good reason to do so — like two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women and a higher minimum wage would decrease the gender pay gap by 5 percent. In short, if voters around the country are focused on the minimum wage when they cast their ballots in November, chances are Harry Reid will remain in control of the Senate. Democrats may even pick up a few seats in the House. But if anything else is top of mind, will-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can start picking out drapes. Given these dynamics, rather than going through the standard election year calculus of deciding which candidates to back and with how much money, this year, Democrats should focus primarily on making sure raising the minimum wage dominates the psyche of the American voter.

Enter California stage left. California is our largest state and a national trend-setter. Thirty-eight million people — 1 out of 8 Americans — live in California. If California was a country, it would have the 9th largest economy in the world. Successful campaigns in California can blanket the rest of the country with the media coverage they generate. In California, Democrats have exactly the kind of high leverage political play they need to prove Nate Silver wrong, but they have to move fast.

Back in late November, Ron Unz, a maverick conservative libertarian launched a California ballot initiative campaign to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour, the highest in the country. With the Golden State’s cost-of-living running at 30 percent above the national average, that’s not an unreasonable figure, and the effort has already attracted significant favorable coverage in the state and national media. Local polls show that it would win by a landslide. But as of right now, the California initiative lacks the funding it needs to get the signatures it needs to qualify for the ballot. And its backer is losing heart, “I’ve been totally astonished at the reluctance of wealthy Democrats to fund a minimum wage initiative so beneficial to their political chances in November and so close to their deepest ideological beliefs,” Unz told me yesterday, “I guess I’ll just never understand how Democrats think.”

Me neither, Ron — but leaving that aside for a moment, the more important point is this: the window to invest in the political equivalent of Google is still open, but it won’t be for long. The ballot initiative needs money and it needs it fast. Unz told me yesterday, “If a million came in by the end of the month with good prospects for the remainder, the initiative could still be put on the November ballot for $3 million or less. But the costs keep rising until the petitioning begins.” That’s where Minority Leader Pelosi comes in.

Pelosi — and maybe only Pelosi — can close the funding for this critical investment. In addition to being the highest-ranking female political leader in U.S. history; Pelosi is also one of the best fund raisers in the country. Better yet, her San Francisco district puts her smack in the middle of a Silicon Valley culture that understands thinking big and moving fast. The kind of money needed for the ballot initiative can’t be raised in $50-100K checks. There isn’t enough time. Instead a few savvy political investors — ones who are smart enough to recognize the unique leverage of this specific initiative and gutsy enough to be decisive — need to pull out their seven figure checkbooks. Pelosi knows those donors, and a phone call from her would get their attention. Such a move would blind-side national Republican strategists who are convinced Democrats are too unorganized to be so cunning, so strategic. Overnight, raising the minimum becomes the top election issue in media-rich California, which in turn propels the issue to the top of the national political stage. Americans in every competitive congressional district in the country will start asking why in a time of record corporate earnings is the minimum wage lower than it was in the 1950s. And Nate Silver’s “slightly favored” Republicans start running scared.

A sudden political strike by one of America’s top political leaders — and a woman to boot — would seal Pelosi’s legacy as a progressive powerhouse and catch Republicans flat-footed going into the November elections. An initiative that originated with a Republican will succeed because of a Democrat. Voters who can’t stand either party will see one of the most powerful Democrats in the country embracing bipartisanship while DC Republicans remain in thrall to low-wage business lobbyists. With the media reporting overwhelming popular support for a $12 minimum wage in California, the $10.10 minimum wage legislation backed by President Obama and Democrats in Congress becomes a moderate proposal. Republican opposition begins to seem completely unreasonable. And with a Republican making the case for a big minimum wage hike right next to a powerful Democrat, even more prominent conservatives will come on board as Bill O’Reilly and Phyllis Schlafly already have. John Boehner and his GOP allies will try to claim that Democrats backing of a minimum wage hike is a cynical political ploy to win votes, but the left-right partnership on the highest profile minimum wage campaign in the country will blow that argument to bits.

The California ballot initiative is highly likely to pass. So regardless of which political party wins the 2014 election, the progressive economic agenda will have won a critical victory at the polls. Post-election headlines will hail the fall of the first domino, shoring up the progressive post-game analysis. Pelosi will rightfully take credit for that victory and for the surge of progressive spirit that will follow this critical win. All of that sets the stage for a progressive economic agenda to drive the 2016 political discussion. Democrats will think twice before tacking to the middle by selling out regular Americans to score points with corporate lobbyists. Republicans just may see the error of their ways and pass a $10.10 federal minimum wage in 2015 just to put the whole thing behind them before the next election.

Democrats have done their best to lay the groundwork for this in other states, placing minimum wage hikes on the ballot in Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota, and elsewhere. But those are small states and won’t help keep the issue at the top of the media agenda on Election Day. A high profile campaign in the most populous state in the country will do just that. If you don’t believe me, believe history. In 1978 California’s Proposition 13 won a landslide victory at the polls. That initiative slashed property taxes and sparked a national tax revolt. Two years later Ronald Reagan was in the White House and the Republicans had gained control of the U.S. Senate.

The California ballot initiatives has the potential to fundamentally re-shape the national political narrative, generate hundreds of millions of dollars of earned media for a progressive economic agenda, and profoundly change the dynamics of the 2014 election. If successful, it will also raise the incomes of low-wage California workers by over $10 billion a year, lifting millions of families out of poverty, all for $3 million. Now that’s leverage.

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Banquo’s Ghost as a Minimum Wage Initiative Tue, 18 Mar 2014 00:00:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

In all respects except one, the last week couldn’t have been better for my California initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour, the highest in the America.

NPR broadcast a remarkably long 14 minute interview segment on my effort. Although the airing of the show had been delayed a couple of weeks, I couldn’t have been happier with the discussion, which provided me an ideal platform to explain in detail the numerous reasons why both liberals and conservatives should naturally endorse a much higher minimum wage. During the previous week widely syndicated columns by Debra Saunders and Thomas Elias had covered similar ground. And just this morning legendary public advocate Ralph Nader published a major column in USA Today recapitulating those same obvious reasons why America should “give workers a raise.”

Unfortunately these positive developments recalled the Banquo’s Ghost scene in MacBeth, when Scottish noblemen drink toasts to honor a delayed guest without realizing that he was longer among the living. On Friday I was still quite hopeful that my minimum wage initiative would win a landslide victory in November and change American history. But by yesterday I was finally forced to send out an announcement that my ballot measure was unlikely to even reach the ballot.

Although people may say that money is the root of all evil, my simple problem was the opposite, namely lack of the funding necessary to qualify the measure. Although exaggerated media accounts had sometimes paired me with Warren Buffett or even explicitly described me as a billionaire, my true financial resources were minuscule by comparison. Therefore, over the last couple of months, I had been urgently seeking the necessary financial backing for the campaign from a wide range of different possible sources. Such financial backing has not materialized, so my effort to raise the California minimum wage to $12 per hour appears dead.

Given the widespread public attention attracted by the effort and the powerful political tide on the issue, this unfortunate outcome is surely shocking to many people, including myself. Last night I spoke to a national journalist who said that he found it difficult to believe that no wealthy and public-spirited citizen would step forward to ensure a November vote on the subject. California alone certainly contains many, many thousands of individuals able to fund the petition drive with a single check and never even notice the cost, and anyone who did that would certainly gain huge national recognition as a consequence. But no such person has yet appeared on the horizon.

A couple of weeks ago I had taken the dramatic step of repeatedly running a full-page ad appealing for financial support in my local Palo Alto newspaper, whose distribution also includes several neighboring communities, together containing dozens of billionaires and large numbers of others just below that level.

Somewhat to my surprise, a person in exactly that category—moreover someone with decidedly conservative views on economics—quickly came forward and proposed making a donation large enough to qualify the measure for the ballot. But although the dollars were totally insignificant to him, the enormous public attention likely to result from such an unusual ideological pairing soon led to doubts and second thoughts, and by the end of last week, the prospect of such had faded away. Hence on Monday I released my announcement that there was unlikely to be a minimum wage vote on the California ballot in November.

Given the campaign’s previous high profile, word of its apparent demise has now quickly appeared in several media outlets, including The SF ChronicleSlateThe Nationand The Associated Press. So I suppose there still does exist some possibility that a wealthy donor will learn of this unfortunate situation and quickly step forward to provide the couple of million dollars necessary to raise the incomes of California workers by an estimated $10 to $15 billion..

I’d hardly consider such an outcome very likely, but stranger things have probably happened in American political history.

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Understanding the CBO Analysis of a Minimum Wage Hike Mon, 10 Mar 2014 00:00:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Republished from The Unz Review

Three weeks ago the powerful political momentum favoring a large minimum wage hike received a major setback as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report indicating that the Democratic goal of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 might lead to the loss of 500,000 jobs.

The CBO is widely respected as non-partisan in its economic analysis, and indeed Douglas Elmendorf, its current head, has a strongly Democratic-leaning background. Republicans and business lobbyists quickly seized upon the conclusions as proof that their longstanding arguments against a minimum wage hike had been correct all along, and that any proposal that risked a half million jobs in these difficult times would be disastrous, amounting to a cynical political effort driven by populist appeal rather than objective economic sense.  Their biting accusation was that desperate Democrats were willing to kill jobs in hopes of winning votes from the gullible.

The immediate Democratic response to the report hardly put these fears to rest. Jason Furman, President Obama’s chief economic advisor, largely dismissed the CBO estimates, suggesting that few if any jobs might be lost if the national wage-floor were raised, and claiming that the estimates were contradicted by numerous academic research studies providing contrary conclusions.  Such an argument is hardly persuasive. All interested parties in the endless minimum wage debate can always cite numerous academic studies to bolster their case, but the CBO is regarded as relatively neutral and impartial, so merely dismissing those official numbers as “wrong” is not reassuring.

Furthermore, any honest advocate of a minimum wage hike must certainly grant that a large increase would surely produce some level of job loss, and raising America’s national wage floor from $7.25 to $10.10—a jump of 40%—is hardly insignificant. The CBO report suggested that somewhere between zero and one million jobs might be lost as a consequence, with the most likely figure being in the 500,000 range. Now I claim no great economic expertise myself and have certainly not reviewed the underlying calculations, but such figures seem perfectly plausible to me. However, I believe that the contending parties and the media have severely misinterpreted their meaning.

First, how substantial is the potential loss of 500,000 jobs relative to the size of the American workforce? One useful point of comparison is number of workers who would benefit from that same minimum wage hike, and when we include the “spillover effect,” most estimates put that total at roughly 25 million, a figure fifty times greater than the likely job loss. So one way of presenting the numbers is that of the low-wage workers directly impacted, roughly 98% would benefit—in most cases by thousands of dollars per year—and 2% would lose. Major changes in government policy inevitably produce both winners and losers, and I would think that any proposal in which the former constitute 98% of the total should be considered remarkably successful.

America’s population of low-wage workers themselves certainly come to this exact same conclusion, supporting a large minimum wage hike in overwhelming numbers. To the extent that they are the population group directly impacted—for better or for worse—should not their own wishes be considered a determining factor?

Consider also that the growing desperation of this exact low-wage population has made them a leading source of government lottery-ticket sales, vainly hoping that a lucky number will improve their miserable economic plight. For most such workers, the fully capitalized value of the proposed minimum wage hike is close to $100,000 cash-money, and such a hike gives them a 98% chance of winning that amount rather than the 0.0001% chance that buying a scratch-off at 7-Eleven might give them. Is it morally right for the elected officials to deny them the former while encouraging them to squander part of their weekly household-budget on the latter?

And how much would the losers really lose? Economic logic indicates that job-losses would tend to be concentrated at the lowest wage-levels since those are the workers for whom an employer would find the jump to $10.10 most difficult to justify in business terms. But bread-winners currently earning $7.25 or $7.50 already exist at the poverty-level and have high employment turn-over, while also receiving enormous social welfare subsidies from the government. So in many cases neither their personal difficulties nor the amount of their taxpayer benefits would be hugely different if their job suddenly disappeared.

Business lobbyists often disingenuously often cite the problem of teenager unemployment as their primary talking-point against proposals for a reasonable minimum wage, and it is certainly true that many teenagers currently earn at or just above the current minimum wage level, meaning that they might represent a disproportionate fraction of those job-losers, perhaps endangering their early chance for advancement on the economic ladder.

But teenagers are merely a minuscule and easily targeted fraction of those workers directly impacted by a large minimum wage hike, suggesting an obvious solution for those greatly concerned with the particular issue. A large rise in the minimum wage would automatically save the government huge sums in existing social welfare spending, and a small fraction of that could be used to fund a business tax credit subsidizing the hiring of teenagers, perhaps even a figure as high as a couple of dollars an hour. The amount of the subsidy could be adjusted to substantially reduce the teenager unemployment, perhaps even to a level below that existing today. Personally, I am no huge fan of such government interventions in the market, but for those who rank teenage unemployment as an overriding concern, the fix is easily at hand.

The contentious issue of immigration should also be considered, though Democrats are very reluctant to do so. Business lobbyists and doctrinaire libertarians might shed crocodile tears over the 500,000 workers whose jobs are endangered by a minimum wage hike, but these exact same groups endorse our very high current levels of immigration, whose economic impact upon existing workers is vastly more negative. During the last decade, over ten million foreigners immigrated here, most being exactly the same sort of lower-wage workers, thereby either displacing existing job-holders or exerting severe downward pressure on wages; the inexorable Law of Supply and Demand is regularly ignored by pro-immigration economists. Indeed, last year I published a piece in Salon specifically arguing that a large minimum wage hike must be included as part of any immigration amnesty passed by Congress, and economics writers at both The New Republic and National Review explicitly endorsed my $12 per hour minimum wage proposal on exactly those same grounds.

The Pew Research Center has estimated that eight million illegal immigrants currently hold jobs in America, probably constituting over 10% of all our wage-earners, and their most recently arrived cohorts, with no American work history and little English, are probably concentrated at the lowest pay levels, being among the few job-seekers desperate enough to eagerly take employment at $7.25 per hour, with businesses forced to violate the law and hire them for exactly that same competitive reasons.

So when the CBO suggests that 98% of low-wage workers will get a raise and 2% might lose their jobs, we can be sure that a greatly disproportionate share of that 2% will be individuals whose employment the government has allegedly been trying to block for years. Most businessmen would rather obey the law than not, and once a minimum wage of $10.10 allowed them to attract job applicants who spoke English and were here legally, they would be much more likely to do so. My own very rough estimate is that between one-third and one-half of the CBO’s 500,000 estimated job losses would fall among the undocumented, thus transforming a minimum wage hike into exactly the sort of immigration-enforcement measure that former Democratic Presidential Nominee Michael Dukakis had once suggested.

Combine this immigration argument with a business tax-credit for hiring teenagers, and it seems likely that the true figure of net lost jobs shrinks to just a fraction of that suggested by the CBO and just a tiny sliver of the tens of millions of legal workers who would benefit from a wage hike. Instead of undercutting the practical case for much higher minimum wage, when interpreted properly the CBO report strengthens it immensely.


Finally, the CBO conclusions seem to totally demolish one of the central economic dogmas presented by ideological opponents of minimum wage laws.

Rigidly doctrinaire libertarians argue that minimum wage laws serve no valid purpose since our free market in labor ensures that employers must pay all workers their true economic value, no more and no less. Thus, they say that if a worker earns $8.50 per hour, that is the approximate value of the labor he produces and his job would disappear at any higher required wage. By contrast, economists who support a minimum wage suggest that low-wage businesses benefit from their “monopsony” position in the labor market, and regularly use that great market power to pay workers less than their true value, much like a monopolist can unreasonably bid up the price of his products.

This obscure technical dispute is central to the theoretical basis for minimum wage laws, and I would argue that the CBO figures decisively resolves this question. According to the CBO, some 98% of those low-wage workers impacted by a 40% hike in the minimum wage would keep their jobs at a much higher rate of pay, thereby demonstrating that their economic value to their employer was vastly greater than their current rate of pay, which had been artificially reduced due to their lack of effective bargaining power. When 98% of workers are paid below their true economic value, any assumptions of a truly efficient market in labor are absurd, and the rectifying impact of a higher minimum wage becomes absolutely justified.

Thus, on both theoretical and practical grounds, the CBO report demonstrated the exact opposite of what the contending parties in the minimum wage debate seemed to suggest. Perhaps journalists will eventually begin reporting this more correct interpretation of the stated facts.

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