Monday, March 25, 2013

Disparate Impact


The Wall Street Journal Editorial Report is a weekly program that covers news events in an analytical format.  The 3/24/2013 broadcast had a segment on President Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez for Secretary of Labor.

In the discussion, Jason Riley, editor of Political Diary brought up “disparate impact” as a theory of racial discrimination.  Here is his explanation:

Adherents of disparate impact believe that statistics can be used to prove discrimination. They sort of worship at the altar of racial parity in outcomes. Blacks are 13% of the population? They should be 13% of dentists and 13% of the freshman class of UCLA or 13% of the firemen. And if they're not, then legal action should be taken, and discrimination can be shown on that basis alone.

That’s a powerful concept.  If a policy is in place and it produces disparate outcomes (regardless of how race neutral that policy might be) it is deemed “discriminatory” and action must be taken. 

We see multiple case studies on this effect at the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If “disparate impact” has achieved legitimacy with issues of race, can it achieve legitimacy on issues of politics?  Consider the situation of people with dark skin tone.  In the United States, the odds are ten to one that a given adult from this group is affiliated with the Democratic Party.  “Disparate impact” in matters of race is thus a measure of disparate impact on the Democratic Party, with race being used as a proxy.

Does it make sense to contrive public policy to favor a political party, regardless of the subterfuge?

Maybe.  It is (of course) what politics is all about, but to hide behind a veneer of racial pretense seems awkward.

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