What can Moneyball teach us about the debate over racial preferences?

October 22, 2014 | By WENCONG FA

Some things are accepted as so obvious that people rarely ask whether they are true. Take baseball for example. There used to be a time when fans and managers alike hyped up a pitcher as a “winner,” a batter as “clutch,” or a player known for making diving stops as a “great fielder.” Then, as the story goes, an enterprising front office in Oakland questioned these assumptions. Perhaps a pitcher’s win-loss record is largely a byproduct of his team, a batter’s clutch hitting is heavily influenced by where he hits in the lineup, and the fielder had to dive because of a slow first step. The Oakland Athletics made the major league playoffs on a minor league budget. The lesson: Just because an assertion is commonly accepted does not mean it is right.

The same is true in the debate over racial preferences. Many of the reasons for racial preferences, accepted as facts of life, are either highly debatable or simply not true. Contrary to popular belief, affirmative action programs do little to remedy past discrimination; current beneficiaries usually have nothing in common with past victims except for the color of their skin (and sometimes not even that). And even those beneficiaries are, in the long run, less likely to succeed than their counterparts. Further, the idea that diversity creates educational benefits has been weakened by studies showing that diversity manufactured through race-based preferences helps no one.

Governmental decisions distributing benefits and burdens based on race impose significant costs. Race-based preferences allow the government to define a person’s race, its role in the person’s life, and its value. Those decisions should be left to the individual.