Life Beyond College

Matthew Yglesias points out that John G. Roberts appointment to the Supreme Court could have serious consequences for affirmative action:

I’m not much of an affirmative action advocate (see, e.g., this), which explains why I haven’t been ringing the alarm bells on this. But surely we have some shrill affirmative action fans here on the left who should be yelling and screaming. But where? Perhaps the feeling is that this is a losing political issues, so people had best keep quiet about it, but the relative silence strikes me as odd since affirmative action is supposed to be one of our legendary “hot button” issues.

Sure, I’ll take on the shrill challenge. The Gregg Easterbook article Matt links to makes the case that attending an elite university really matters less for a person’s career prospects and lifetime earnings than one would think—i.e., not at all. Fair enough. There’s also a just-burgeoning debate over whether affirmative action at law school can hurt the chances of minority students for passing the bar. It’s not a settled debate by any means, but worth considering.

One should note, though, that there’s more to life than college, and more to affirmative action than making sure X number of black students get into the University of Michigan, or whatever. Under affirmative action laws, federal agencies are required to set aside a certain percentage of contracts of minority-owned small businesses. As the Washington Post today reports, that practice seems to be fueling a boom in those sorts of businesses. Then you have affirmative action hiring practices, which, one would think, actually do have a fair impact on a person’s career prospects and lifetime earnings. Whether this is a losing issue or not is a separate debate, but yeah, it’s important.