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Michael Barone: In defense of Jason Richwine and Charles Murray

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Immigration,Heritage Foundation

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Charles Murray came to the defense of our former colleague Jason Richwine, who resigned from the Heritage Foundation amid protests about his Harvard Ph.D. thesis, on nationalreview.com. Charles was entirely accurate in stating that Richwine’s conclusion that Hispanics have lower-than-average IQs is accurate and, among specialists in this area, non-controversial. Richwine was careful to say that the average Hispanic IQ might rise over time, as has been observed of other groups’ average IQs. And the Heritage Foundation paper co-authored by Richwine estimating the fiscal cost of legalizing current illegal immigrants (of which the Hoover Institution’s Keith Hennessey has written a sharp critique on other grounds) did not advocate screening immigrants by IQ. He does seem to favor shifting our system toward admitting more high-skill applicants, as do I and many others, and as do the immigration systems of our Anglosphere cousins Canada and Australia. This is not racist; it has resulted in rapidly growing Asian populations in those two countries. It is discrimination based on skills. No nation has an obligation to admit every foreigner who wants to move there.

On the Economist blog a writer identified as W.W. defends the stigmatization of Richwine. He states blandly that “racism has always been predicated on falsification hypotheses about racial inferiority.” I think this is just plain wrong factually: Many people have hated Jews and Asians on the grounds that they tend to be unfairly superior in certain respects, including intelligence. But there’s something more wrong with this line of thinking. It assumes that if ordinary people get the idea that one group on average scores worse on intelligence tests then they will conclude that it’s justified to discriminate against all members of the group. Ordinary people — or at least ordinary Americans — know better than that. They have learned, from school, from work, from everyday life, that there is wider variation with each measured group than between measured groups. Some members of a racially or ethnically defined group that on average scores low on IQ tests score far above average. And some members of a group that on average scores high will score far below average. Ordinary people understand that it is irrational to discriminate according to race or religion or ethnic group, and that it is rational to judge individuals on their own merits.

So the fact that there are differences in average IQ scores between members of different groups does not undercut the case against group discrimination. But it does undercut the case for racial quotas and preferences and for the “disparate impact” legal doctrine which amounts to the same thing. Those cases depend on the assumption that in a fair society we would find the same racial mix in every school, every occupation and every neighborhood. Ordinary people know that isn’t true, but the elites who cherish “affirmative action” want people to believe it is. This is why there was such a furiously negative reaction to Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which patiently explained that intelligence is partly the result of genetics and partly the result of environment: Both nature and nurture play a role. I made points very similar to those here when I wrote this for National Review in December 1994.

CORRECTION: This blog post has been updated to reflect the circumstances under which Jason Richwine left the Heritage Foundation, from which Richwine resigned. The Washington Examiner regrets the error.

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