Wednesday, May 22, 2002
In other reading. I'm reading more than the Wolfram book right now. One other read is Political Numeracy, by Michael Meyerson. It's about the intersection between mathematics and law, pretty much in the USA. He discusses matters such as how the Electoral College concentrates voting power to the individual (by having multiple smaller elections instead of one great big one), the Three-Fifths Compromise which led to the adoption of the US Constitution, and supermajorities for overriding presidential vetoes and approving treaties.
I just finished Chapter 5, which is an analysis of affirmative action. Meyerson's analysis is insightful. He defines "good faith" participants in the discussion to mean (1) that they're honest and open to persuasion, (2) that they're nonracist and don't believe in some intrinsic superiority of any racial group, and (3) that they're nonjingoistic and that they don't believe that members of their own racial group ought to benefit at the expense of members of some other group. (Beyond some introductory examples, he sticks largely to racial matters, but his analysis is extendable to any cohort identifiable by status or behavior.)
He then goes through a nice description of what someone of his definition of good faith ought to desire from employment policy: that the fraction of qualified people who are successful at getting jobs increases, while the fraction of unqualified people who are successful at getting jobs decreases. The he gets to the nub issue: What kinds of measures are used in decision making about job applicants, and how good are those measures at predicting eventual success in the job.
He ends up with the following 10 "points of agreement" regarding affirmative action policy that he believes people of (his definition of) good faith ought to be able to adopt as a framework for discussion in trying to determine the appropriate policy. Quoting, his points are:
As Meyerson says, "a recognition that all systems are imperfect will, at least, remove some of the self-righteousness from the debate. Moreover, acknowledgement that the problem of innocent victims affects both sides may encourage a more concentrated effort to find qualified people whoever they may be."