There are basically two types of people in America: those who believe that the country is best off if we leave individuals free to pursue their own goals, and those who believe that society should largely be directed by the power of government.
Of course, that’s a simplification, but the distinction between the former, Hayekian belief in spontaneous order and the latter, Keynesian belief in central planning applies to more than just economic policy. It applies to a great many other questions as well, and one of them is “diversity.”
Spontaneous order folks think that government’s role here is simple – just don’t get in the way of any individual’s striving to enter a field of study or work. People will naturally tend to pursue whatever they are most interested in and best suited to. There is no need at all to concern ourselves with the racial, sexual, ethnic, religious, or any other group proportions in a field.
It never occurs to them to think, for example, “Do we have enough Hispanic violinists in orchestras?” or “Do we have too many Jews as judges?” All that matters is individual competence, not aggregate statistics about irrelevant data about those individuals.
But with central planners, such questions have become an obsession. For reasons that are hard to fathom, they think that it is very important for those on top to make each and every field “diverse,” which is to say, they must try to ensure that there are “appropriate” percentages of people from a number of social groups in fields of study and work. They worry that something is amiss if, say, the percentage of black students at Harvard doesn’t match the percentage of blacks in the population, or if the percentage of women dentists is lower than the 51 percent of the population that is female.
Exemplifying such thinking is the push to make our STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) more “diverse.” The planning types have noticed that various groups are “underrepresented” and that has them on a mission to correct that supposed problem.
As we read in this Campus Reform article, the National Science Foundation has announced an array of new grants with the overall objective of “developing STEM talent from all sectors and groups in our society.” Author Toni Airaksinen informs us that one of the programs is meant to “promote math skills among Native Americans through that ‘Native Nations Math Circle model,’ which incorporates ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ into math education in schools.”
If that actually improves the ability of young Native Americans to grasp math concepts — which is doubtful since math concepts don’t depend on anyone’s culture — then it should be adopted for that reason. And if the person who has come up with this idea really thinks it will work, let him seek the funding from private sources.
Another federal grant goes for a program to “increase diversity of Ph.D. graduates from the top producers of computing faculty.” In other words, the planners think we don’t have enough people who have already chosen to pursue studies in a STEM field going to our most prestigious universities.
Here we encounter two of the obsessions of social engineers – diversity and the belief that graduating minority students from the most elite school possible helps improve social justice. So they think it’s important to switch students pursuing graduate studies in computer science from, say, North Carolina State, to, say, Princeton.
The problems here are that going to a more prestigious university doesn’t necessarily mean any better education or career path, and that since places in PhD programs are limited, if we “help” one student get in, that must mean that another will have to go somewhere else. The “diversity gain” is a mirage.
But the most fundamental problem with all of this is that it’s pointless to worry about the diversity of a profession. That’s because people interact as individuals. When you need a doctor for an operation, you don’t care about the “diversity” of the medical profession – you care about securing the services of a highly competent surgeon.
If you need to hire a computer technician, you’re not concerned with his ancestry, much less how varied the ancestry of all computer technicians might be. You’re concerned with that individual’s ability to do the job.
The obsession that America’s planning types have with group diversity is useful only to themselves, especially when they can haul in hefty federal grants to pursue their peculiar dreams.