Among the many critical events that occurred this summer while I was pounding down Shiner Bocks by the busload and watching stupefied as the greatest self-aggrandizer since P.T. Barnum managed to vault to the top of the opinion polls by leveraging a condor's wingspan of hair and a face that looks like someone set it on fire with liquefied steroids and tried to beat it out with a rake into the most SPECTACULAR, FINEST, CLASSIEST, ENERGETIC, and HUUUUUGEST presidential campaign EVERRRRRR, the always amusing Supreme Court of the United States of America was proving everyone but left wing-nuts as wrong as Liz Warren about an Indian chief's skeleton in her family's closet when it determined, after a couple of previous misfires, that "disparate impact," indeed, applied to already shell-shocked residential housing lenders. While the opinion did sow some landmines in the statistical road to government-determined racial diversity in housing, the use of the doctrine itself as a basis to bring baseless actions against home lenders and to squeeze some juice out them for the benefit of those who will tend to vote reliably for the party that puts the chicken in all of their pots, was validated.
An excellent analysis of the decision, and potential legal issues to be considered by interested parties, can be found in this client alert by Joe Lynyak and his colleagues at Dorsey & Whitney. For the moment, I'm more interested in more fundamental concerns regarding the entire notion of "disparate impact." Another person who shares similar concerns is economist Thomas Sowell. He was interviewed in the Wall Street Journal on a wide range of topics, but the following is what Sowell, a man once so poor he pawned a suit of clothes for enough money to buy a knisch and a can of orange soda, had to say about disparate impact:
Or take “disparate impact,” the idea that different outcomes among different groups—say, that there are more male CEOs than female—is ipso facto evidence of discrimination. The Obama administration has used disparate impact to charge racism in housing, employment and other matters. In the absence of discrimination, the theory goes, people naturally would be dispersed more or less at random. Nonsense, Mr. Sowell says. “In various books I’ve given lists of all the great disparities all over the world, and I recently saw a column by Walter Williams in which he added that men are bitten by sharks several times as often as women.”
Differences in outcome is a matter that Mr. Sowell takes up in his new book, “Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective,” out Sept. 8. Its theme, he says, is that “in a sense, there was never any rational reason to believe that there would be this evenness that they presuppose.” Some continents have more navigable rivers and deep water harbors than others. Some cultures value education highly, and some don’t. Underwhelming as the conclusion might sound to those with the urge to reorder society, many disparities arise simply because people are different, and because they make different choices.
Another problem is that the “disparate impact” assumption misidentifies where group differences originate. He sets up an example: “If you have people in various groups in the country, and their kids are all raised differently, they all behave differently in school, they do differently in school. And now they’re grown up and they go to an employer, and you’re surprised to find that they’re not distributed randomly by income.” It’s “just madness,” he says, to assume “that because you collected the statistics there, that’s where the unfairness originated.”
Why do we never seem to learn these economic lessons? “I think there’s a market for foolish things,” Mr. Sowell says—and vested interests, too. Once an organization such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is created to find discrimination, no one should be startled when it finds discrimination. “There’s never going to be a time when the EEOC will file a report saying, ‘All right folks, there’s really not enough discrimination around to be spending all this money,’ ” he says. “You’re going to have ever-more-elaborate definitions of discrimination. So now, if you don’t want to hire an ax murderer who has somehow gotten paroled, then that’s discrimination.”
"A market for foolish things." Yes, we are.