Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Thomas Sowell Wrong on Diversity

Update, next day, 7 pm:

This wasn’t a very good post – it made a weak case for the business value of diversity, relying on too much that was personal. Instead I should I have linked to articles from serious business sources like Forbes, Enriching The Data: Driving Business Value With Diversity And Inclusion, ABA, Dollars and Cents: The Business Value of Diversity and Inclusion, and McKinsey and Company, Why diversity matters. They study this subject and have said it better than I can.

-- 
OK. Here's a Thomas Sowell quote I just came across. It's very typical of his arrogance and preachiness, and also short-sightedness.


His claim about diversity is easy to refute. How many tools and systems have been designed and built only to learn that they don't work for left-handed people, and have had to be rebuilt? How many computer programs were written only to learn that older people couldn't see them? Couldn't respond with mouse commands in time? My mother had me buy her a really nice computer setup -- she had to have the best, she said, and, being a restaurant manager, she always knew someone who would give her a deal -- then hardly used it because she couldn't see both the screen and the keyboard out of her glasses at the same time. They were meant to correct far-sightedness, but she also had near-sightedness. She kept having to flip her glasses up and down every keystroke or two. They were just cheap glasses she bought at the drugstore, because she was too vain to go to an optometrist. Could the computer designer have done better? She was new to computers -- was she really supposed to be able to dive into the settings to configure all the visual settings for herself? I'm terrified of my wireless laser printer going offline, because I have no idea how I got it to work a year ago, what directions I followed -- I just worked on it for two days, trying this and that, then what something the company suggested, and at some point it worked, and that's all I know -- nothing after that. And I'm supposed to have lots of experience and understand these things. Instead, all I have is a big mystery and a prayer it never breaks again. Why can't Brother, my printer's manufacturer, write very explicit instructions for me and people like me, have people they employ, a diversity of people, who understand why older people find this so hard to figure out, instead of having 20-something engineers writing the instruction manuals, which, sure, they know all about how it works, because they designed it.

How many man-hours are wasted at this kind of thing, Mr Sowell? You're a fool if you think it's zero.

Another time I worked for a company, MCI, which was at the time the second-largest long-distance company in the US (this was ~ 1993). I was assigned to a project to build an toll-free 800 service that worked in both the US and Canada and across the border, one number that covered both countries. Not as easy as you might think. Our US team worked a lot with a team from Bell Canada, but there was always this quirk that all our documents needed to be translated into French to satisfy the Quebecois of French Canada. At first it seemed like an unnecessary chore (MCI was all about cutting corners and moving very fast), but eventually I came to respect the Canadian's inclusivity, tenderness and respect for other parts of the country that were a little different -- the south for the west, New England for the midwest. We'd all be better off for it, and better for seeing that everyone's views were included. 

So, yeah, I do think diversity matters, and I do think companies recognize this these days, even if Thomas Sowell in his ivory tower doesn't. 

32 comments:

Tony Lee said...

Bifocals?

Layzej said...

There are plenty of studies that show that that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. For example:

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters#
https://www.piie.com/publications/working-papers/gender-diversity-profitable-evidence-global-survey
https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

Companies that disqualify candidates based on genitalia or melanin content have artificially shrunk their talent pool and just aren't finding the best people.

Layzej said...

Bit of a sloppy thinker that Sowell: Climate statistics show that, with all the “global warming” hysteria today, our temperatures are still not as high as they were in medieval times. Those medieval folks must have been driving a lot of cars and SUVs.

Thomas said...

I thought it was lack of respect for diversity that led to bloodshed, not diversity by itself.

Layzej said...

they employ, a diversity of people, who understand why older people find this so hard to figure out, instead of having 20-something engineers writing the instruction manuals

Reminds me of this instructional video by GE on how to operate their light bulbs: https://digg.com/video/ge-smart-bulb-reset-video

It baffles the mind.

David in Cal said...

Layzej wrote: Companies that disqualify candidates based on genitalia or melanin content have artificially shrunk their talent pool and just aren't finding the best people.

This point is actually an argument against diversity, as the term is now understood.

70 years ago and earlier, this comment would have been a valid criticism of organizations that discriminated based on race or sex. I saw it in my own industry, where capable Jews, Roman Catholics, Hispanics, Asians and blacks were excluded from management. Companies suffered from weak management.

Today, it's exactly the opposite. Today, it's the organizations that seek "diversity" which are using an artificially shrunk talent pool. Consider, e.g., Biden's commitment to choose a female running mate. A lot of capable men are artificially excluded. Here in CA, there's a ballot proposition that would allow racial discrimination by the state government. It's purpose it to allow state colleges and other state agencies to give preference to minorities of lower merit and capability.

Cheers

David in Cal said...

David, you're conflating diversity of product with diversity of employee. A right-handed person can design a left-handed an opener. A person with normal vision can design eye-glasses that correct for near-sightedness. A Canadian can design a telephone system that works in the US.

Most people make comments like Sowell's based on POOMA, and they're refuted on the same basis. However, Sowell does real research. His comment is based on extensive research in a number of countries that practice ethnic preferences involving several different ethnicities.

I will repeat the point I made to Layzej. Sowell is referring to mandated diversity -- giving ethnicity more weight than ability. Would a capable left handed engineer design better products for righties than a less-capable rightie? I think so.

David

David Appell said...

Update, today, 7 pm: I put his atop this post:

This wasn’t a very good post of mine – it made a weak case for the business value of diversity, relying on too much that was personal. Instead I should I have linked to articles from serious business sources like Forbes, Enriching The Data: Driving Business Value With Diversity And Inclusion, ABA, Dollars and Cents: The Business Value of Diversity and Inclusion, and McKinsey and Company, Why diversity matters. They study this subject and have said it better than I can.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/deanstoecker/2020/03/31/enriching-the-data-driving-business-value-with-diversity-and-inclusion/#5dfab3076e1b
https://www.americanbar.org/groups/business_law/publications/blt/2016/08/02_sempertegui/
https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters#

David Appell said...

"However, Sowell does real research."

Has he published any actual research?

Is any of that reflected in his conclusions that formed the basis for his quote that I posted?

Does Sowell have any experience in business? No -- other than a couple of jobs in labor, in the military or as an intern, he has spent his entire life in academia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sowell

David in Cal said...

David - yes, Sowell's research is published in his many books. I presume he has published journal articles as well, but I haven't looked at those.

The Forbes article has weak evidence of the value of diversity. It merely says, "companies with higher executive-level gender diversity worldwide are 21 percent more likely to outperform their peers in EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) margins and are 27 percent more likely to outperform peers in long-term value creation" But, correlation is not causation.

The ABA article starts with a statement of intent, which is far from reality.
Diversity and inclusion discussions have traditionally focused on creating equal opportunities for everyone, especially those in the minority based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and/or disability.
That may be its traditional focus, but in many cases, "diversity" is not about equal opportunity. It's about satisfying quotas. Years ago, a black summer intern from Yale worked for me in the actuarial dept. His low level of competence was shocking.

The McKinsey article does have more evidence.

Perhaps Sowell exaggerated slightly. But, bear in mind, that none of your sources addresses legally mandated diversity, which is what Sowell was talking about. And, one can find a lot of cases where forced diversity harmed an organization. I read a book whose name escapes me about the fall in quality of the New York Times. E.g., in the old days, you couldn't find an error. Today, the Times is full of errors. The author attributes the decline to hiring less competent people, in order to fill racial quotas.

Legally mandated diversity increases animosity between groups. That has been a problem in many countries, as Sowell's research points out. Most of us are entirely ignorant of how racial and ethnic preferences are applied in various countries throughout the world.

Cheers

P.S. Obviously one cannot judge the quality of Sowell's dozens of books and articles based on a single quote pulled out of context.

David in Cal said...

David - the book I was thinking of is
Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism
by William McGowan

Cheers

Layzej said...

DiC,

Why do you think that diverse companies do so much better? If it's not because they are meritocracies, then what is it?

David in Cal said...

Here's a longer quote from Sowell on this topic

If there is ever a contest for words that substitute for thought, “diversity” should be recognized as the undisputed world champion. You don’t need a speck of evidence, or a single step of logic, when you rhapsodize about the supposed benefits of diversity. The very idea of testing this wonderful, magical word against something as ugly as reality seems almost sordid.

To ask whether institutions that promote diversity 24/7 end up with better or worse relations between the races than institutions that pay no attention to it is only to get yourself regarded as a bad person. To cite hard evidence that places obsessed with diversity have worse race relations is to risk getting yourself labeled an incorrigible racist.

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the government has a “compelling interest” in promoting diversity — apparently more compelling than the 14th Amendment’s requirement of “equal protection” of the law for everybody.

How does a racially homogeneous country like Japan manage to have high quality education, without the essential ingredient of diversity, for which there is supposedly a “compelling” need?

Conversely, why does India, one of the most diverse nations on Earth, have a record of intergroup intolerance and lethal violence today that is worse than that in the days of our Jim Crow South? Even to ask such questions is to provoke charges of unworthy tactics, and motives too low to be dignified with an answer. Not that the true believers in diversity could answer anyway.

David in Cal said...

Layzej asked -Why do you think that diverse companies do so much better?

Here are some possibilities to consider:
1. Maybe companies that are doing well can better afford the burden of greater diversity. That is, maybe the causation goes in the opposite direction.

2. McKinsie says, "for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent." It's unclear whether the 0.8% rise is as a percentage of sales or a percentage of EBIT. If the former, this is a substantial number. If the latter, it's a small change.

3. It's hard to address the next point without being called a racist, but here goes. Different ethnic groups have different abilities, on average. Asians on average are a year ahead of whites in school. Blacks, on average, are 3 or 4 years behind. For a knowledge-based business, adding a bunch of Asians is not the same as adding a bunch of blacks.

Cheers

David in Cal said...

David - I don't understand why you denigrate Sowell's academic background. His long, distinguished academic career does not erase his jobs in labor, in the military or as an intern. Academia is perhaps the area where diversity is most controversial. Based on his experience and on research done by himself and by others, Sowell concluded that affirmative action hurts blacks more than it helps them.

Cheers

Layzej said...

It's hard to address the next point without being called a racist, but...

Yes. I think you've defined racism with your comment.

David Appell said...

David in Cal said...
>> David - I don't understand why you denigrate Sowell's academic background. His long, distinguished academic career does not erase his jobs in labor, in the military or as an intern. Academia is perhaps the area where diversity is most controversial. Based on his experience and on research done by himself and by others, Sowell concluded that affirmative action hurts blacks more than it helps them. <<

Without agreeing with Sowell's conclusions about AA... academia is not the real world. Isn't this what conservatives are always saying about leftist academics? (It is.) The skills needed to succeed in academia do not fully overlap with those needed to succeed in business, not by a long shot. Business is about selling products to customers. Customers are a diverse group. Why wouldn't you want a diverse team to design products for a diverse group of potential customers?

David Appell said...

David in Cal wrote:
>> 3. It's hard to address the next point without being called a racist, but here goes. Different ethnic groups have different abilities, on average. Asians on average are a year ahead of whites in school. Blacks, on average, are 3 or 4 years behind. For a knowledge-based business, adding a bunch of Asians is not the same as adding a bunch of blacks. <<

This is racist because you've categorized races into one narrow category, "years ahead/behind in school."

Do you really think this one number fully defines each race, let alone each member of each race?

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

"there was always this quirk that all our documents needed to be translated into French to satisfy the Quebecois of French Canada. At first it seemed like an unnecessary chore"

So that's what they speak up West in Abit'ibi .

David Appell said...

If I got something wrong about the Quebec language or culture, please let me know.

David in Cal said...

Although Sowell gave up his regular opinion column, he has one today. It confirms a question David asked about Sowell's research.

My recently published book, "Charter Schools and Their Enemies" has more than 50 pages of data, comparing test scores of students in more than a hundred New York City schools, cited by name. These are all charter schools and traditional public schools housed together in the same buildings, and serving the same communities. But the charter school students score overwhelmingly better.

https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/black-minority-lives-improve-politicians-charter-schools-thomas-sowell

Republicans are accused racism based on frivolous grounds. Meanwhile Democratic policies hamper the education of poor black Americans.

Cheers

J. D. said...

DiC said: It's hard to address the next point without being called a racist

It's hard not to see your argument as anything other than racist. If you are going to compare different races and come to conclusions based on the colour of their skin then you have to make sure that they have been treated the same by the society they live in. As an example first born children tend to perform better at school and have better careers than their siblings. Probably because they were given more attention and encouragement especially early in their lives.
So you would have to find a different race to compare them i.e who were released from slavery only to have every obstacle put in their way for many generations. For that reason anecdotes about relatives doing well in spite of being poor immigrants or that you yourself felt discriminated against in your line of work are not persuasive.
Apart from anecdotes you've quoted Thomas Sowell in this thread and Candace Owens elsewhere.. Sowell is employed by the conservative liberterian Hoover institute. You can see from the post by Layzej that on the subject of climate science he's perfectly willing to stick to the party line even when it's a subject for which he has no expertise and which is not supported by consensus science.
Owens is employed by Prager University which is a propaganda organisation. Even the name is deceptive. It's not a University and they peddle both climate science and evolution denial.

J. D. said...

BTW, there is an article here about the influence employees of the Hoover institutes and Stanford University are having on research influencing the debate about action to minimise the effect of the coronavirurus pandemic.
https://www.thenation.com/article/society/stanford-lost-soul-coronavirus/
The article doesn't detail all the red flags highlighted by other researchers regarding the study. For instance according to the specifications provided by the manufacturers of the test they used its accuracy was such that all the people who tested positive for antibodies could actually have been negative. That didn't stop the Conservative media promoting it as proof that we could safely end lockdowns as they said many more people had been infected than previously known.

David in Cal said...

When truth is taboo, policies will be based on fantasy, and they won't work. It's a fact that Asian students ON AVERAGE, are about 5 years ahead of black students and 1 year ahead of white students. Affirmative action programs that ignore this fact have put many black students in colleges where they cannot keep up with STEM courses.

It's also a tragedy that people wrongly believe that racism is the cause of blacks lagging ON AVERAGE. I think Sowell is right that the cause is culture. American black culture is less conducive to success than American Asian culture. One piece of evidence is that fact that black immigrants from certain African countries outperform whites. See "Why Nigerian Immigrants Are The Most Successful Ethnic Group in the U.S." https://medium.com/@joecarleton/why-nigerian-immigrants-are-the-most-successful-ethnic-group-in-the-u-s-23a7ea5a0832 Rather than fighting racism, we would have more success if we promoted a healthier culture. No doubt crititicizing black culture would be considered racist by some, even though it leads to an approach that would improve the lives of black American.

Cheers

Layzej said...

Joe Rogan: "You clearly see that there's a big difference between people coming over here willingly and doing so in order to better their lives versus someone whose ancestors were dragged over here to be sold as property and then dealing with the repercussions of that being your family history and redline laws and all the other things that were put in place to sort of keep them in very specific areas which to this day remain crime-ridden gang-ridden deeply impoverished communities" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMI4uoNVuxM

David in Cal said...

Layzej - Rogan's excuse is bullsh*t. Black culture promoted success in the 1950's and 1950's. There were stable families, children raised by two parents, people who made serious efforts to be successful, against great big obstacles. The culture had overcome the dreadful effects of slavery and Jim Crow. What went wrong after Jim Crow ended? What happened in the sixties that changed things?

In my opinion, it was the unintended consequences of liberal policies. Welfare for poor mothers required that there not be a man in the house. That rewarded the breaking up of families. It also encouraged poor women to have illegitimate children, because they could earn money by doing so. Meanwhile the liberal establishment encouraged the wrong type of behavior. The TV show "Murphy Brown" glorified single motherhood. Liberals blasted VP Quayle when he correctly pointed out that this set a poor example.

Liberals more and more glorified victimhood, rather than success. Liberals used victimhood as a way to promote the Democratic Party. E.g. Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas had high success, overcoming many disadvantages. They should be very prominent role models. Instead, they're ignored, at best, and unfairly criticized.

What are Democrats doing today? They just want to give stuff to black people. They're buying votes. So, Democrats pursue plans as ridiculous and divisive as slavery reparations. Meanwhile Trump is pursuing policies that encourage better education and more employment opportunities for poor blacks. That's why he has growing black support.

Cheers

Layzej said...

What went wrong after Jim Crow ended?

Red Lining (That is to say, more of the same) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redlining#:~:text=Credit%20card%20redlining%20is%20a,of%20operating%20in%20those%20areas.

David in Cal said...

Yes, some redlining continued after it was made illegal 50+ years ago. That was wrong. What do you conclude from this fact, Layzej?

Cheers

J. D. said...

Meanwhile the liberal establishment encouraged the wrong type of behavior. The TV show "Murphy Brown" glorified single motherhood

Them damn Liberals have got a lot to answer for. However, If a sitcom which I think most people can work out isn't real life can cause so much harm I wonder how much the example given by the person elected to the highest office in the land can have.
I would say that the last president was a pretty good role model. He made good from humble beginnings and has an idyllic family life and appears to be a devout Christian. Which you would think would be plus points to evangelicals and conservatives.
The present one has had three wives, many affairs, lies constantly, posts tweets every day with kindergarten insults aimed at anyone he's taken a dislike to. At his rallys he encourages his adoring supporters to chant that his political opponents should be locked up but the cruder he is the more they adore him. I'm pretty sure they are not liberals. What kind of example is all that for children? What kind of people enthusiastically support him?

David Appell said...

JD, that's a really interesting article in The Nation. Thanks for posting it.

David Appell said...

David in Cal wrote:
"I think Sowell is right that the cause is culture. American black culture is less conducive to success than American Asian culture."

David, you simply can't ignore the influence of income.

Here are median household incomes in 2018:

Asian $87,000
White $66,000
Black $41,500

US $63,000

Asian households make over twice as much as black households. Black households earn only 2/3rds of the national median.

These are big differences that of course heavily influence education and "success," and it's self-perpetuating as well.

Layzej said...

What do you conclude from this fact, Layzej?

You folks have spent the last 200 years creating this situation. Segregating people into ghettos. Concentrating wealth according to skin colour. Your glib "they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps" comments aren't going to solve anything.