Theory to Practice

According to Wikipedia, “Critical race theory is an academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.  Critical race theory examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate to race and racism.  This theory is loosely unified by two common themes: first, that white supremacy (societal racism) exists and maintains power through the law; and second, that transforming the relationship between law and racial power, and also achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination more broadly, are possible.”

Let us, at least for the sake of argument, accept this theory.  What do we then do?  How do we translate theory to practice?  Consider two extremes.  We could make sure that no one has privilege.  For example, we could work to assure that everyone’s educational opportunities and accomplishments mimic those who attend the worst schools.  Arithmetic would be the highest level of math taught to anyone.  Currently, 16% of high school graduates are “STEM ready” for college.  We could make sure that no one is STEM ready. 

OECD reports that 50% of US high school grads cannot read at an 8th grade level.  We could make sure that this is the highest achievement for all US high school grads.  Taken together, these two aspirations could enable eliminating all advanced placement courses in high schools.  We could also eliminate all summer camps for STEM and coding.  This would enable scaling back requirements that teachers have appropriate education for the courses they teach.  Lots of people could teach arithmetic, especially if all “advanced” operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – are taught with calculators.ß

The implication is that all technically skilled jobs would be outsourced to other countries that continue to produce graduates with leading-edge knowledge and skills.  Our high school graduates would work for them, performing administrative and manual tasks that they have not yet determined how to automate.  These would be very poorly-paid jobs as anyone could do them. 

Consider the following. “In 2018, the top 50% of US all taxpayers paid 97.1% of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50% paid the remaining 2.9%. The top 1% paid a greater share of individual income taxes (40.1%) than the bottom 90% combined (28.6%).”  Eliminating high-performing individuals, over time, would shift the tax burden to the masses of poorly-paid people.  Consequently, government services such as Social Security and Medicare would be dramatically reduced.

Consider the other extreme.  We would right past wrongs, in part, by investing in assuring that all people are healthy, educated, and productive so as to be competitive in the global marketplace.  No one – no child, no teen, no adult – would be left behind.  We would invest in disabled and older adults to enable them to be involved, productive, and contributing to society.  No talents, competencies, and motivations would be wasted.

Consequently, the US would invest heavily in health and education, as well as in R&D to facilitate industry investments in productivity.  As amazing as this may seem, overall government investments in health, education, and productivity would decrease as healthy, educated, and productive people tend to have well-paying jobs and need less assistance.  They also tend to foster healthy, educated, and productive children.  It is a virtuous cycle that can be stimulated and sustained.

Back to critical race theory.  We may be able to broadly embrace it in principle.  However, what are going to do about it in practice?  One extreme would destroy the US economy.  The other extreme is admittedly very ambitious.  Do we really have a choice?  Giving up is predictably awful.  Aspiring to transformation can yield enormous upsides, albeit with some risks.  My bet is that we can make this work, perhaps differently that we currently expect, but with much more upside than folding our tents and retreating to the forests.

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