In 1993, media mogul Walter Annenberg donated $100 million to the Peddie School, a then not-so-prominent boarding school in New Jersey. Annenberg wanted to attend Princeton, New Jersey-based Lawrenceville, but he was turned down on account of being Jewish.
Annenberg’s story is a reminder of the ugly nature of discrimination, but it also explains the quickest fix for what is ugly: freedom to discriminate. Yes, you read that right. Only when what is ugly is freely practiced will societies, teams, businesses, and schools see up close the foolhardy nature of it.
Think business. For the longest time U.S. investment banking was the preserve of a Protestant elite. Think grand old names of finance like Brown Brothers Harriman, Dillon Reed, and Alex, Brown. To a high degree individuals of Jewish descent were locked out of these financial institutions. From these exclusionary practices investment houses populated with the discriminated against like Goldman Sachs emerged, only for them to gradually kick the teeth in of the once dominant investment banks.
Investment banking is integrated today due to progress, but also thanks to profit-motivation. When markets are allowed to work, they expose the stupidity of hiring practices informed by race, gender, and class too.
Considering Goldman Sachs again, it famously grew its London, England-based investment business by hiring the scrappy kids who’d not graduated from the traditional feeders to England’s oldest investment houses: think Eton, Harrow, Oxford, and Cambridge. Its extraordinary “City” prominence today is a remnant of its past recruitment of the discriminated.
In sports, it used to be that college football teams in the South recruited black players lightly, if at all. Then the 1970 University of Southern California Trojans traveled to Birmingham to play Alabama. The final score was 42-21, and aggressive recruitment of black players began in the south. The markets at work? Yes.
Fast forward to the present, imagine if there were no laws against discrimination and some hateful restaurant owner in Alabama were to put up a WHITES ONLY sign. Rest assured that the errant individual would either take down the sign or be out of business due to a lack of white business between breakfast and lunch. See above to understand why. Markets once again at work.
It’s something to keep in mind as conservatives cheer the Supreme Court’s decision to “level the playing field” for college admissions by banning affirmative action. Yes, conservatives and libertarians are cheering governmental force to stop “reverse discrimination” whereby certain races enjoy preferential treatment over others on the matter of college admission. Without defending the racial preferences for even a second, the smug glee of the right raises eyebrows. Supposedly government isn’t meant to legislate morality or positive social outcomes, but it should if the outcome pleases us? Dangerous stuff.
Worse, they justify their glee with a resort to legalese: the equal protection clause within the 14th amendment forced the Supreme Court's hand, and apparently excuses Clarence Thomas literally setting the terms of Harvard’s admission policies. So a clause within the 14th amendment renders moot private property and the right to free association? But wait they say, Harvard takes federal money. Sure, but all manner of businesses either explicitly take federal money, or do so legislatively. Will the Supreme Court next dictate their hiring practices?
Members of the right are blithely ignoring that the SCOTUS decision they’re lionizing is a big government response to the big government they’ve long decried. And it’s needless. If colleges are discriminating against the talented as the right allege, don’t run to government, just – yes – let markets work. See Annenberg above if you’re confused.