Alabama football coach Nick Saban preaches that it all begins with recruiting. Lesser talents bring the team down. In Saban’s own words, “mediocre people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like mediocre people.” Blackstone co-founder Stephen Schwarzman observed in his memoirs that As hire As as it were, while B hires frequently go for Cs. Bs need not apply.
These anecdotes keep coming up while reading the rather giddy commentary from conservatives and libertarians about the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling. Once in favor of limited government, it seems all-too-many members of the right no longer pay it much mind. So long as a majority on the Supreme Court favors their point of view, government force is seemingly ok. Which is too bad.
The right disdains affirmative action in college admissions for it pitting races against one another, and for it favoring certain applicants based on the color of their skin over the talent they bring to the school. Their dislike of affirmative action is difficult to argue with, while their embrace of government force to stop it is very disagreeable. That is so because big, powerful government doesn’t suddenly become palatable when it favors what we agree. And then elected officials invariably change, as do judges.
After which, precisely because affirmative action has such obvious demerits, why not let it fix itself? Or not fix itself? Think about it. Members of the right not unreasonably point out that in allowing race to factor large in admissions, Harvard is in some instances rejecting more talented students. Ok, but if so it’s not as if the rejected are going to wind up at the local community college if Harvard takes a pass. More realistically, what Harvard rejects will end up at other selective colleges, only for Harvard to have to suffer the potential future agony of watching billionaires it passed up on sending funds elsewhere. More on this in a bit.
What’s important for now is that what’s true for colleges is similarly true in sports and business. The cost of not recruiting the best is steep. Despite the obvious market-based costs of discrimination, we presently have an editorial page more prominently associated with free markets than any other warning “corporate America to get right with the law” on the matter of race-based hiring.
Why the need for force to change how colleges admit people, and how businesses hire? There’s bemusement here because the same individuals cheering on a way-too-powerful Supreme Court are the same people who routinely say “let the markets work.” They’re right, let the markets work. If allowed to, they expose the abject stupidity of recruiting and/or hiring without regard to merit very quickly.
To see why think Saban and Schwarzman yet again. Saban’s top priority is luring the best of the best to Tuscaloosa, in which case there’s no room for bigotry. This is particularly true for Saban in that he not infrequently has to coach against those whom he rejected.
As for the private equity space that Blackstone thrives in, the pay of the individuals in Schwarzman’s employ reveals loudly the cost of not hiring the best of the best. If Blackstone or any business rejects based on race, those rejected will soon enough be taking business and talent from them.
Which brings us to a call from a rejected Harvard applicant to the head of admissions there. He told them they’d made a mistake, that “I’m going to be very successful.” The caller was – yes – Stephen Schwarzman. Force quite simply isn’t necessary when the cost of discrimination is so powerfully evident.