A critique of ‘The Myth of American Meritocracy’

I never believed Ron Unz’s Myth of American Meritocracy article and am alarmed by the number of people across the alt-Right who cite it uncritically. It was cited recently in an article by Anatoly Karlin and was cited uncritically by Kevin MacDonald back when it was first published.

Meritocracy claims that the “most discriminated against group” in terms of admissions to Ivy League Universities are White gentiles. They are discriminated against in favor of Jews and even Asians.

Unz’s case is based on his estimates of the ethnic makeup of NMS semifinalists. From surname analysis he arrives at a figure of 6 percent Jewish, “65-70” percent White, and “25-30” percent Asian for the “highest scoring” students in America. This is what the distribution would look like in a “meritocratic” elite university.

Meritocracy suffers from numerous problems. He claims that “Jews are X percentage of Y population,” when his only real evidence is that “people with Jewish surnames are X percentage of Y population.” This is the key to his contention that Jews are over-represented relative to their academic merit. Even if you assume that Jews are indeed overrepresented relative to what he calls their “academic merit,” Unz does not consider other factors besides ethnic discrimination which may explain this fact. In addition to criticism of Meritocracy, this post also offers my own thoughts about an alternative system of education and college admissions.

The difficulty of identifying Jews from their names

It is well known that many Jews have surnames which are not stereotypically Jewish. What proportion of the total Jewish population has these non-stereotypical surnames? 10 percent? 25 percent? This is not a question Unz asks. Here’s what he writes in Meritocracy:

(…)Although Jewish names are not quite as absolutely distinctive as East or South Asian ones, they can be determined with reasonably good accuracy, so long as we are careful to note ambiguous cases and recognize that our estimates may easily be off by a small amount(…)

You’ll see this kind of claim again and again in Meritocracy, Unz acknowledges that his methods are not exact but claims that they will only be slightly inaccurate. But if 35 percent of young, academically elite Jews have names like Jon Stewart his estimates will be off by a non-trivial 35 percent. This is systematic, not random, error.

Unz points out that using surname analysis you will find that the proportion of Jews as NMS semifinalists and among winners of certain academic competitions has declined from 1970s and 1980s. He does not consider that it may be a result of people changing their names to less Jewish sounding names, or, probably more important, of intermarriage. Rates of Jewish intermarriage have been near 50 percent for quite a while and while many of the children of intermarriage “leave the Jewish community” many others don’t. Furthermore, I would expect a disproportionate number of those who don’t leave the community would be the children of White man/Jewish woman couples, in these their children are Halakhic Jews and have gentile surnames. Consider that a kid who was 18 in 2012 would have been born in 1994, an era when intermarriage was quite common. Those Jews who are academically elite may be more or less likely than the Jewish population in general to intermarry. On the one hand they are more secular but on the other hand they are more intelligent and liberal and more likely than other Jews to associate with a heavily Jewish milieu of intelligent, liberal ‘Whites.’ Academically elite Jews would also be more likely than poorer, more religious Jews to change their names for reasons of assimilation or crypsis.

Unz notes that in 1987 Weyl surname analysis indicated that “over 8 percent of the 1987 NMS semifinalists were Jewish, a figure 35 percent higher than found in today’s results.” But there were a lot fewer Asians in 1987. I would think the number of Whites in the semifinalist list also declined has also declined since 1987 due to Asian competition, though I did not have access to the original source by Weyl.

Unz claimed in Meritocracy that during the years since 2000 just 2 out of 78 of the Math Olympiad winners were Jewish. But the unreliability of this method was shown when Unz admitted, following criticism, that the real figure was 12%. Unz tries to dismiss this as inevitable error, random error, he implies:

Obviously, large statistical errors are unavoidable when simple surname analysis is applied to such tiny sets of names.  If Prof. Mertz were willing to extend her exhaustive research methods from the several dozen individuals she investigated to rigorously determining the precise ethnic background of the more than 4,000 winners of Olympiad, Putnam, and STS competitions from the 1930s to the 2000s whose surnames I examined, I would be very interested in seeing her findings.

Yet look at how Unz ended up underestimating the Jewish proportion by a factor of more than 4. He missed names like “Daniel Kane,” “Brian Lawrence,” and “Alison Miller,” who are full or half Jews. Seems to me like there are going to be a lot more half-Jewish Alison Millers than non-Jewish John Goldbergs. Systematic, not random, error.

The True Proportion of Jews at Harvard

Unz claims that Jews match or outnumber non-Jewish Whites at Ivy League universities. His source for this data is Hillel, which he says is the best data which exists and is cited by the MSM. But the Harvard Crimson did a survey and found that 9.5% of Harvard students were Jewish by religion. Unz later claimed in a comment that “9.5% of Harvard freshmen are Jewish by religion seems reasonably consistent with a 25% estimate by (self-identified) ethnicity, given that academically-elite Jews tend to be highly irreligious.” A closer analysis of the data shows that this claim is unbelievable. Jews by religion are 14.9% of the ‘Whites’ of the Harvard class of 2017. Christians are 46.4% while Muslims are 2.4%. The remaining 36.2% are atheists, agnostics, and “others”(who I assume are secular Whites uncomfortable with the ‘atheist’ label). For Jews to equal the population of Christian-descended Whites they would have to be nearly all(93.5%) of the ‘White’ atheists, agnostics, and “others” at Harvard. This proportion is absurdly large. If you assume that half of the ‘White’ atheists, agnostics, and others at Harvard are Jewish Whites still outnumber Jews by a factor of almost two. I would think that 50% of the ‘White’ atheists/agnostics/others being Jewish is far too high. It’s true that elite Jews are likely to be irreligious but so are elite Whites and elite Whites probably feel a lot more alienated from their religious heritage than do Jews. If you assume Harvard Jews are just as likely to identify themselves as atheists/agnostics/others as Harvard Whites then Jews are 20.3% of the ‘White’ population.

Nurit Baytch analyzed the Harvard directory and performed surname analysis on it, finding a similar proportion of Jewish surnames as Unz found in the NMS semifinalists. This directory can only be accessed by Harvard students or alumni. Unz, who believes Baytch to be “mentally ill,” wrote in a comment that he tends to “distrust detailed statistical analyses allegedly performed on private datasets by mentally ill individuals.”

[[Edit January 19 2015: Baytch has since pointed out to me that she also performed Weyl Analysis on a publicly available Harvard directory, she explains how to do it in her critique of Meritocracy here. I did it myself but it may not be a reliable method of estimation, see my blog post about it here. It should also be noted that Ron Unz’s characterization of Baytch as “mentally ill” is base wholly is his personal impression of her, see his comment explaining it here. I personally wouldn’t give it too much credence.]]

Hillel is a generously funded Jewish organization, how does the central organization determine how much funding branches will receive? Well, part of it might involve how many students the organization might “serve.” And how to determine that? You see the issue. I wouldn’t consider Hillel numbers to be very reliable due to this conflict of interest. There is another reason Harvard’s numbers in particular might be “off.” Due to higher Asian, international, and URM enrollment it is likely that Jewish enrollment has declined along with White enrollment, but the Jews in charge of Hillel, almost certainly people supportive of affirmative action and non-White immigration, would not want to admit that their favored programs might be having a negative impact on their ethnic group.

I saw the Hillel numbers for my own college and would be quite surprised if it is really as Jewish as they claim. You can search Hillel’s database here. Referring to relatively low enrollments at Berkley and UCLA, Unz wrote in an endnote:

Evidence that these low Jewish enrollments are due to meritocratic admissions factors rather than merely lack of possible applicants may be seen if we compare different UC campuses. Berkeley and UCLA are the most selective, and at those Jewish enrollment averages about 9.5% or about one-quarter the Asian total; meanwhile, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara are much less selective, and the Jewish percentages are nearly twice as high and also close to the local Asian figures. Jewish enrollments are also very substantial at the lower-tier California State University system, with numbers being much higher both at CS Northridge than nearby UCLA and at San Diego State compared to UCSD. Large numbers of Jewish students also attend the schools in the lowest-tier community college system as well, such as Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley. If these Jewish students had had higher academic performance, most would almost certainly have selected the much more prestigious University of California campuses.

Searching ‘California‘ on Hillel’s website I found similar proportions. However, this begs the question, if Jews are just 3.2% of California’s population, older than average, and considering the fact that these schools include many people who come from outside California, is it really realistic for the Ivy League to be 1/4 Jewish, Berkley, UCLA, ect to be ~10% Jewish, and the other UCal and CalState campuses to be 10%+ Jewish?

Unz on Anti-Asian Discrimination

Unz presents the following chart of Asian enrollment at elite universities:


The data Unz uses for this chart can be found in a hard to read chart in the Meritocracy appendices. I found a strange pattern in this data when I added up the totals for Harvard’s demographics:

unz numbers

There seems to be a major problem with the data, which is probably not applying a consistent methodology over the 31 years. Note in that the 3 years when the Asian proportion at Harvard doubled were the same 3 years when the totals increased by a very similar percentage. Possible explanations include students who are multiracial, the international students being double counted, or students of unknown race being double counted as White. Unz points out that “prior to 2009, the “unknown race” population included mixed race individuals.” Unz has no category for them, it appears he simply left them out. This may explain why the 2010 and 2011 numbers are so far away from 100. A  very similar pattern can be seen in Yale’s numbers. The pattern of very high totals between 1990 and 1993 is absent in Princeton’s totals, perhaps not coincidentally Princeton is the university which has seen the largest gain in Asian numbers between 1990 and 2011.

What race are the “mixed race” individuals who in 2011 were 4% of Harvard population? I doubt many Black individuals would identity as mixed race. I’d think that the “mixed race” individuals are mostly Asian or Hispanic.

There is also the question of the unknown race population, about which Unz says:

As mentioned earlier, over the last couple of decades widespread perceptions of racial bias in admissions have led a significant number of students to refuse to reveal their race, which the official statistics classify as “race unknown.” This group almost certainly consists of Asians and whites, but it is impossible for us to determine the relative proportions, and without this information our above estimates can only be approximate.

But maybe the group which perceives itself as suffering the worst discrimination(Asians) are the ones most likely to refuse to disclose their race?

The unknown and mixed race populations are not a small percentage of the population by any means and the result is that there are probably many more Asians in the Ivy League than that chart reveals. The chart should be regarded with caution.

Unz states that Asians face a “de facto quota” system in Harvard in Meritocracy, based largely on his dubious graph. He later repeated this claim in an article in National Review and in the New York Times. And yet it is interesting that in neither place did Unz explicitly state that Asians are discriminated against when compared to Whites and Jews. He showed the same chart he did in Meritocracy, which strongly implies discrimination. Many readers of Meritocracy, perhaps because they didn’t read the entire long article, believe that it stated that Asians were discriminated against. Several passages in Meritocracy might lead one to that conclusion, such as this one:

(…)Extrapolating these state results to the national total, we would expect 25–30 percent of America’s highest scoring high school seniors to be of Asian origin.32 This figure is far above the current Asian enrollment at Harvard or the rest of the Ivy League.

But you expect the enrollment for Asians to be less than 25% due to affirmative action for URMs, the presence of international students, and mixed/unkown race students. Disregard the mixed and unknown race cases and compare the ‘White’ to ‘Asian’ population. By the numbers in the Meritocracy appendices for 2011 Asians are 27.7% of the Whites+Jews+Asians at Harvard, 24.4% at Yale, and 26.4% at Princeton. So even taking Unz’s numbers at face value they are no evidence of ‘discrimination’ against Asians apart from general affirmative action for URMs. Unz made a similar calculation in Meritocracy:

When examining statistical evidence, the proper aggregation of data is critical. Consider the ratio of the recent 2007–2011 enrollment of Asian students at Harvard relative to their estimated share of America’s recent NMS semifinalists, a reasonable proxy for the high-ability college-age population, and compare this result to the corresponding figure for whites. The Asian ratio is 63 percent, slightly above the white ratio of 61 percent, with both these figures being considerably below parity due to the substantial presence of under-represented racial minorities such as blacks and Hispanics, foreign students, and students of unreported race. Thus, there appears to be no evidence for racial bias against Asians, even excluding the race-neutral impact of athletic recruitment, legacy admissions, and geographical diversity.

I do then wonder why, given this explicit denial, Unz took to National Review and the New York Times strongly implying that the Asian enrollment in Ivy League universities is below where it should be. Perhaps it was because he knew the New York Times and the Neoconservative Review would never give any intention to Meritocracy’s actual finding, the supposed discrimination against non-Jewish Whites.

In an article for the American Conservative Unz contrasts the idea of racial discrimination with the idea of “quotas:”

Over the last fifteen years, Republicans have steadily retreated on their longstanding opposition to racial preferences, with Bush’s 2000 public advocacy of “affirmative access” being merely a notable signpost.  Efforts were made to mask this surrender through the gradual replacement of substantive positions by poll-driven phrases, and conservative political consultants soon discovered that although the term “affirmative action” had considerable popularity, “racial quotas” were widely disliked.  Thus, opposition to “quotas” became the sound bite regularly dropped into the speeches of Republican candidates and office-holders, allowing them to check off that particular box on their conservative score-sheet.

The problem with such an approach is that “racial quotas” are already illegal in America and have been for decades, and their use in college admissions was explicitly prohibited under the original Bakke ruling.  So conservatives have been safely attacking what almost no Democrat will publicly defend, which hardly indicates any real desire to change existing social policy.

“Mainstream” conservatives argue against quotas so that they don’t have to argue against racial discrimination in favor of URMs, which everyone agrees exists. Unz, on the other hand, is arguing against a “quota” even as he explicitly claims that there is no discrimination. He of all people should be aware that when he argues against an Asian quota everyone will think that he is alleging racial discrimination. This incongruity was noticed only by Kevin MacDonald and a few others.

Referring to its relatively low Jewish proportion Unz claims that “an ethnic distribution much closer to this apparent ability-ratio is found at Caltech, whose admissions are purely meritocratic, unlike the completely opaque, subjective, and discretionary Ivy League system.” Unz also cites MIT as being more meritocratic. Yet at Caltech Asians are 64% of the American White+Jewish+Asian population(the 3% “two or more races” category in the link is exclusively made up of people of White and Asian descent). At MIT the figure is 38.6%.

Far from showing discrimination against Asians Unz’s data and assumptions seem to show discrimination in favor of Asians in America’s leading engineering universities.

What is “Merit?”

Unz treats “merit” as synonymous with test scores.  But there are many other factors which are taken into account when admitting students to college such as GPA and “extra-curricular activities.” I am well aware, being a recent high school graduate, that GPA ends up measuring effort rather than ability, that teachers show favoritism in grading, and that high school students cheat all the time. But GPA is nevertheless “meritocratic” in the sense that teachers rarely give out excellent grades on the basis of race, at least when you are talking about Whites, Asians, and Jews. There are a large number of kids out there who have Ivy League level test scores but relatively low GPAs and who lack the internships, “volunteer work,” and extracurricular activities which are practically mandatory for Ivy League acceptance. I’m pretty sure these kids aren’t evenly distributed by race. To give an anecdotal example of the highest scoring students in my high school class it was the Asian who had the highest GPA. Surprised? I had the lowest GPA, a consequence of my couldn’t-care-less attitude toward schooling that no Asian mother would have tolerated.

GPA is going to be influenced both by innate personality and by parental expectations. Maintaining a GPA that’s near 4.0 is a whole lot of work no matter how smart the student is. Asians have a big advantage over Whites in this department and I’d think that rich Whites and Jews are going to have an advantage over middle class Whites. The mentality among middle class Whites is that a 3.5 is a great GPA.

Due to the importance of factors other than standardized test scores Unz’s estimation of the ethnic proportion of “top students” should be revised.

Though I think his surname analysis method of estimating Jews is unreliable it is likely his estimates for Asians are more correct, though they, too, probably underestimate the true proportion of Asians due to intermarriage producing half-Asian children with non-Asian names. Amy Chua’s children are named Rubenfeld, for example. But there is no way to quantify the Asian advantage in GPA, though we know it exists. Unz previously suggested that MIT and Caltech are much more meritocratic than the Ivy League, perhaps they could tell us what a “meritocratic” system would look like. They are both engineering schools so their Asian populations would be more than what you’d expect from elite universities in general. At Berkeley, which Unz also cited as being more meritocratic, Asians are 63.8% of the White+Jewish+Asian population in fall of 2015 but this is California which has a lot of Asians. I don’t know what the number is but it’s probably quite larger than both the current Asian enrollment in the Ivy League and Unz’s estimate of Asian “merit.” Based on this I think it’s likely that Asians are “discriminated against” in the Ivy League, at least indirectly through preferences to legacies, athletes, and the children of the rich and famous.

All this matters because while Unz claims that Asians are discriminated against relative to Whites+Jews he claims that Whites are discriminated against even more. This is based on both his inaccurate estimates of the Jewish population of NMS semifinalists and his assumption that test scores, not GPA or other factors, are the only thing that “should” matter in elite college admissions. The contention that Whites make up the majority of the “top students” in America, a percentage higher than their percentage of the college age population, and thus are getting massively screwed over by the elite university system is the reason for Meritocracy’s appeal to the alt-Right and the more wackjobish WN elements.

Alternative Explanations for the high(er) Jewish enrollment in Ivy League Universities

A common criticism of Meritocracy is that Unz didn’t account for the importance of geography. There is an arrow of causality problem with this criticism, though, if Harvard discriminated against White gentiles a low proportion of it’s students coming from Wyoming is exactly what you’d expect.

Unz points out that, based on Hillel numbers, which, at Harvard at least should be interpreted as being unreliable, Jews are a much lower percentage of the population at more “meritocratic” UC Berkley and UCLA. These numbers seem to be a great difference: 9.5% at Berkley vs 25% at Harvard. But this is to a high extent a result of higher White enrollment in Harvard than in Berkley. We know that Unz’s claim that Jews equal or outnumber Whites at Harvard is not true, if Berkley Hillel numbers are taken at face value, divided by Berkley’s White numbers(24.8% in fall 2013) Jews are 38.3% of the ‘Whites’ at Berkley. “More meritocracy, more Asians” seems to me to be a much stronger pattern than “more meritocracy, less Jews,” as Unz claims.

Unz points out the corrupt nature of American universities in rewarding the wealthy and powerful. Might this explain the high Jewish enrollment as Jews are an affluent population? Consider that Jews, or those with Jewish blood, have regularly made up around a third of the Forbes 400, according to a list compiled by race/history/evolution notes.

He compares the more “meritocratic” admissions policies of Caltech and MIT with the less meritocratic Ivy League schools. The former have more Jews than the latter. Yet he doesn’t consider that there may be more Jews in Ivy League universities than engineering schools because Jews will be less attracted to engineering. This is consistent with their relatively higher verbal and lower mathematical and visual-spatial IQ. It also fits with what I would think with regards to class. Engineering requires a lot of effort for even the most intelligent of students. Why not major in political science instead if your family is wealthy and so you know you won’t have to worry about money? Plus, the field is full of nerds. Whereas someone who is in the middle class will have no family or connections to fall back on. I’ve read a lot on the internet, and heard some real life stories, about a common life path:

  1. Individual is from a rich  and/or well connected family.
  2. Individual goes to an Ivy League college and has a liberal arts major.
  3. Individual spends five or six years after college in “internships,” which pay little or nothing. Individual might write for a website or work for a political campaign or a charity, again with little or no pay. Yet individual lives in an expensive place like New York City. Individual affords this due to financial support from their parents.
  4. Individual eventually uses social and/or family connections to snag a well paying job, often a job where they don’t really produce anything of value.

But for the middle class that career path looks hazardous, much better to become an engineer and guarantee yourself an upper middle class income, at least for a time.

There is also the case that some people, especially those who live far from the Ivy League, do not want to go there. They want to be close to their families or go to the same school as their friends and romantic partners. They may not have a high opinion of the Ivy League, seeing it as expensive and a hive of elitism and liberalism. Now, this isn’t to say people with 4.0 GPAs and perfect SAT scores are going to state U in large numbers. Rather, since Harvard is never their goal they don’t see the point in turning in every piece of homework in their geography class, taking the SAT or ACT more than once because a 1448 just isn’t high enough, or playing a sport they don’t really like.

So to conclude my points about Jews in the Ivy League I’ll present the following estimates: Jews, instead of being 6 percent of the NMS semifinalists, are probably something like 10 percent due to Weyl analysis not counting Jews with non-Jewish surnames. If Asians are 30 percent then Whites are 60 percent, assuming no URMs. Thus Jews are 14.3% of the White+Jewish high scoring population. But Jews have advantages in terms of GPA, extracurricular activities, wealth, liberal political views, and legacy status. They are also more likely to want to major in the liberal arts and more likely to live in the northeast. Jews are probably something like 20-25% of Harvard’s White+Jewish population, based on the Crimson survey. Nothing here requires ethnic discrimination though of course it cannot be ruled out.

Asian Performance

I took the top 1% of the White mean score on a theoretical IQ test and made that the cutoff point for the top scoring population, then compared White, Asian, and Jewish performance based on commonly reported IQ ranges.(White=100, Asian=105, Jewish=110) This gives a top scoring population,ion which is 73.5% White, 15.2% Asian, and 11.2% Jewish. This is a lot less Asian than Unz’s estimate of 25-30% of Asians being NMS semifinalists, itself an underestimate because of some Asians having White surnames and the way the NMSQT works.(NMS semifinalists are the highest scoring students in their state, not nationally) And 105 is an overestimate for Asian IQ, being the commonly reported figure for Northeast Asians, the total Asian population includes lower-scoring populations such as the Hmong and Vietnamese.

Unz writes in Meritocracy:

This pattern of third or fourth generation American students lacking the academic drive or intensity of their forefathers is hardly surprising, nor unique to Jews. Consider the case of Japanese-Americans, who mostly arrived in America during roughly the same era. America’s Japanese have always been a high-performing group, with a strong academic tradition, and Japan’s international PISA academic scores are today among the highest in the world. But when we examine the list of California’s NMS semifinalists, less than 1 percent of the names are Japanese, roughly in line with their share of the California population.62 Meanwhile, Chinese, Koreans, and South Asians are 6 percent of California but contribute 50 percent of the top scoring students, an eight-fold better result, with a major likely difference being that they are overwhelmingly of recent immigrant origin. In fact, although ongoing Japanese immigration has been trivial in size, a significant fraction of the top Japanese students have the unassimilated Japanese first names that would tend to indicate they are probably drawn from that tiny group.

Those of recent Asian immigrant origin game these tests. They “study” them with inputs of effort that no White kid would ever consider. Understand that these tests are IQ-proxy tests that don’t measure knowledge beyond a certain level. I highly doubt that this process of “studying” actually improves their intellectual abilities. Asians are much more likely to take test prep than Whites and they gain much more. For White kids, “test prep” might mean a few days, for a recent Asian immigrant it can mean a few months. See Educationrealist on Asian cram school.

Group % Taking Test-Prep Course Post-Course Gain in Points on SAT
East Asian American 30% 68.8
Other Asian 15% 23.8
White 10% 12.3
Black 16% 14.9
Hispanic 11% 24.6

I think that this is how those at elite universities justify their discrimination. The Asians aren’t really as smart as their test scores indicate. There’s also a sense of unfairness in what the Asians do, recall the uproar over Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. As Education Realist wrote about the matter:

Amy Chua isn’t kidding. If a white parent tried to drive her kid the way Amy Chua did hers, the kid would end up in therapy, and the therapist would make the parent stop. Asian parenting techniques are abusive in white people world.(…)

Of course discriminating against Asians leads them to push their children even harder to compete with one another.

An Alternative Education and College Admissions System

I would replace the highly corrupt and subjective measure of GPA with a system of national subject tests, similar to AP tests but including many more subjects such as algebra and geometry and also including a higher range of grades. A student will largely take these subject tests in his junior and senior year. Whether a student passes or fails classes he takes before that will be based on a similar test but his grade on that will not be displayed on his transcript, just whether he passed or failed. For all his courses he will receive a “grade” based on classwork but only he and his parents will be able to see the grade. Students will see their grades not as an object of value they need to acquire but as an honest indication of their knowledge of the material. However it is desirable to give teachers a way to penalize troublemakers and those who refuse to attend class or participate. Teachers should be able to add a “black mark” or two to a student’s transcript for a class, regardless of their subject test score.

These, combined with the SAT or a different test,(ideally one less game-a-ble) will be the only thing colleges will be allowed to use for admissions. The relative weight given to this or that test will vary but it will be assured that no one with better qualifications will be rejected in favor of someone else to be admitted. To make sure there is no “altering the rules during the game,” those tasked with making admissions decisions will not have the names of individuals being considered, just their transcripts.

This is system would reward effort* and the effort would be spent learning something useful instead of doing homework one doesn’t need to do** or learning how to game an IQ-proxy test.

*Which is desirable, what use is IQ if you are unwilling to use it?

**Under the current system there are many kids who say they don’t need to do their homework and go on to prove it by not doing their homework and doing good on the tests. The system figures they should still be punished for laziness.

This system needn’t be perfect and could include affirmative action for URMs or prefrences for athletes and still be much better than the current corrupt, subjective system.

The losers under this system would be the children of the elite who benefit from corruption and kids who work very hard and thus get high GPAs since their effort is rewarded but end up learning little and retaining less due to low cognitive ability. The latter are a highly sympathetic group. The mythology of America is that anyone can achieve the “American dream” if they work hard and play by the rules. Since the American dream now seems to require a college degree there’s a not unreasonable feeling that people who work hard deserve college degrees. I’m sure a lot of these college admissions officials know they are admitting kids who know less but work hard over kids who know more but are lazy; they believe that is the just thing to do.

The result is that students with low IQs who are wholly unprepared for college are pushed into it. The process will be quite difficult with many dropping out with large debts and no degree. Liberals and many conservatives seem to have a religious belief in the value of “education” so that learning material wholly irrelevant to what you will do in the future will improve your productivity by some magical process. This is all heavily subsidized by the state, and results for the graduates in four or more years of missed productivity. It’s a very wasteful system.

Much of the problem with university admissions is a symptom of a wider disease, that of class inequality. People not suited to academics would not be pushed into it if there were an abundant number of high paying jobs that did not require a college degree. This class inequality is not only economic. Much of the desire to make more money is not to use it to buy material possessions but to use it to live in a place where you don’t have to live around low class people. The undesirability of living around low class people is largely caused by their behavior, behavior that has gotten worse over the past half century. While at the other end the top 1% has taken a high proportion of the nation’s wealth. “Tiger mothering” is not irrational behavior considering the high degree of inequality in American society.

My ideal society would have a higher degree of equality, both of the economic and non-economic kind. Everyone would be assured that they could have a job which pays a living wage and the government and the culture would act to suppress the obesity, drug use, and decline in morality which plagues the lower classes.

That is all a dream for another country, another time. The Left doesn’t care about class inequality anymore. Consider the case of legacy preferences. Whenever a liberal brings up the subject of legacy preferences he is very likely to be talking about it in the context of affirmative action and how it supposedly benefits Whites.(Ignoring the benefits it delivers to Jews) Apart from their supposed opposition when that comes up they don’t seem to care much. Consider that if liberals oppose legacy preferences it is quite strange that the Ivy League, solidly controlled by liberals, continues to do it with virtually no opposition from it’s students, professors, or the MSM. The “Right” is also useless. Cultural conservatism has given way to an inherent suspicion of any “social engineering” while many conservatives cling to the delusion that “getting the government out of the way” will bring the 1950s back.


Ron Unz, The Myth of American Meritocracy, The American Conservative, November 28 2012 http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/

Anatoly Karlin, The USA as a Communal Apartment, Unz Review, November 25 2015 http://www.unz.com/akarlin/usa-as-communal-apartment

Kevin MacDonald, Ron Unz on the illusionary American meritocracy, The Occidental Observer, December 13 2012 https://web.archive.org/web/20150327054714/http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2012/12/ron-unz-on-the-illusory-american-meritocracy

Ron Unz, Unz on Meritocracy: Admitting My Mistakes, RonUnz.org , Feburary 19 2013 http://www.ronunz.org/2013/02/19/unz-on-meritocracy-admitting-my-mistakes/

Class of 2019 by the Numbers, Harvard Crimson, 2015 http://features.thecrimson.com/2015/freshman-survey/lifestyle/

Ron Unz from comments in Who Knew Haven Monahan Had Transferred from UVA to UCLA?, Unz Review, March 8 2015 http://www.unz.com/isteve/who-knew-haven-monahan-had-transferred-from-uva-to-ucla/#comment-891954

Nurit Baytch, A Critique of Ron Unz’s Article “The Myth of American Meritocracy” https://sites.google.com/site/nuritbaytch/

California,” Hillel College Search, searched December 7 2015 http://www.hillel.org/college-guide/search#keyword=california&radius=10

College Navigator: Harvard University, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011 https://web.archive.org/web/20121016133142/http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?q=harvard&s=all&id=166027#enrolmt

Ron Unz, Racial Quotas, Harvard, and the Legacy of Bakke, National Review, February 5 2013 http://www.nationalreview.com/article/339778/racial-quotas-harvard-and-legacy-bakke-ron-unz

Ron Unz, Statistics Indicate an Ivy League Asian Quota, New York Times, December 19 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/12/19/fears-of-an-asian-quota-in-the-ivy-league/statistics-indicate-an-ivy-league-asian-quota

Ron Unz, The Minimum Wage, Immigration, and Affirmative Action, The American Conservative, Febuary 8 2013 http://www.theamericanconservative.com/2013/02/08/the-minimum-wage-immigration-and-affirmative-action/

Kevin MacDonald, Why has Ron Unz stopped talking about discrimination against non-Jewish Whites, The Occidental Observer, February 12 2013 http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2013/02/why-has-ron-unz-stopped-talking-about-discrimination-against-non-jewish-whites/

Fall Enrollment 2015-16, Caltech Office of the Registrar https://www.registrar.caltech.edu/academics/enrollment

Freshman Class Profile For The MIT Class of 2019, MIT Admissions http://mitadmissions.org/apply/process/profile

UC Berkeley Fall Enrollment Data, Fall 2015, Berkley http://opa.berkeley.edu/uc-berkeley-fall-enrollment-data

2012 Forbes 400 by ethnic origins, race/history/evolution notes, April 4 2013 http://racehist.blogspot.com/2013/04/2012-forbes-400-by-ethnic-origins.html

Scott Jaschik, East Asian Advantage, Inside Higher Ed, January 19 2012 https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/01/19/study-finds-east-asian-americans-gain-most-sat-courses

Educationrealist, An Alternative College Admissions System, Education Realist, December 10 2012 https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/an-alternative-college-admissions-system/


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5 Responses to A critique of ‘The Myth of American Meritocracy’

  1. JH says:

    You’ve seen Andrew Gelman’s takedown of Unz’s article, right?


    Overall, this a great post, and synthesizes a lot of things I’ve thought about affirmative action/admissions.


  2. Pingback: Ron Unz to run for Harvard’s “Board of Overseers” | Jason Bayz

  3. Pingback: Meritocracy: Weyl Analysis on the Publicly Available Harvard Phonebook | Jason Bayz

  4. Dom says:

    “I doubt any black individuals would identify as mixed”

    Realistically no ‘black individuals’ would identify as mixed. Perhaps you have some data supporting this? Quite contrarily I refused to choose black or white on demographic charts until they made it into a multi-selection format. I think that statement is truly dumb.


    • jasonbayz says:

      I wrote many, not “any.” I don’t have any data on it, I just thought that, when compared to Asians and Hispanics, few mixed race Blacks would pick the category “mixed” over “Black” due to the one drop rule. I do know a guy who is part-Black who prefers to identify as “multiracial.” He is very light skinned and very culturally White.


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