Tuesday, October 6, 2020

On Re-Education Programs

On Sept 22,  the White House put out an "Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping." Media coverage has been curiously spotty. Reading the primary source is revealing.  

One expects an executive order to consist of a short list of things that can and cannot be done, like a regulation. This one is more of an investigative report, with a philosophical preamble. 

What's in the training programs?

Federal agencies are already implementing programs, on a wide scale. The order tells us a lot about what's in them. No, it is not an unbiased evaluation. But its selection of facts are nonetheless facts. No critic that I have seen has claimed otherwise. 

... the Department of the Treasury recently held a seminar that promoted arguments that “virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism,” and that instructed small group leaders to encourage employees to avoid “narratives” that Americans should “be more color-blind” or “let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.”..

Training materials from Argonne National Laboratories, a Federal entity, stated that racism “is interwoven into every fabric of America” and described statements like “color blindness” and the “meritocracy” as “actions of bias.”

Materials from Sandia National Laboratories, also a Federal entity, for non-minority males stated that an emphasis on “rationality over emotionality” was a characteristic of “white male[s],” and asked those present to “acknowledge” their “privilege” to each other.

A Smithsonian Institution museum graphic recently claimed that concepts like “[o]bjective, rational linear thinking,” “[h]ard work” being “the key to success,” the “nuclear family,” and belief in a single god are not values that unite Americans of all races but are instead “aspects and assumptions of whiteness.” The museum also stated that “[f]acing your whiteness is hard and can result in feelings of guilt, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, or fear.”

The  regulation, which only comes at the end of the document, is likewise enlightening. Referring to federal contractors, 

The contractor shall not use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating, including the concepts that (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term “race or sex stereotyping” means ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex, and the term “race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.

Similar language applies to federal agencies, and recipients of federal grants. Watch out universities. I am also told by friends that the Federal Reserve Board is implementing such training.

On a lake near Chicago I once saw a sign that said  "no radioactive dumping." Well, that's comforting you might say. On second thought, why did they have to put up the sign? 

Now, to an average American, of either party, I think this is all unobjectionable. That's why this document is more an investigative report than an executive order.  However, the banned activities are pretty much also entirely mainstream in the middle of Critical Race Theory. The order pretty much says, Critical Race Theory may not be taught in any training required of federal employees, or employees of federal contractors. (Before you get hysterical, there is nothing forbidding teaching, writing, etc. on CRT, so no first amendment issues. The order only forbids mandatory training in federal agencies, contractors, and grant recipients. In fact, I think the opposite holds -- the order will make it much harder for trainers to force people to say things they don't believe in.) 

What's the point?

Also interesting: The White House's main objection is that these programs contribute to the problem they claim to remediate. The title of the order is "Combating race and sex stereotyping," not, say, combating political indoctrination programs. The first paragraph says the point is 

"to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating. "

They object to the programs because 

Such activities also promote division and inefficiency....

 Indeed, the order explicitly encourages diversity training, a fact that I doubt will be accurately reported. 

Executive departments and agencies (agencies), our Uniformed Services, Federal contractors, and Federal grant recipients should, of course, continue to foster environments devoid of hostility grounded in race, sex, and other federally protected characteristics. Training employees to create an inclusive workplace is appropriate and beneficial. The Federal Government is, and must always be, committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals before the law.

[My emphasis] My left-wing friends may say this is all a lie, that it's really a smokescreen to promote racism and white supremacy. But at least it is interesting that this is the first and most important argument the White House chooses to make. 

OK, there is a hint at objection to political indoctrination

... training like that discussed above perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint. Such ideas may be fashionable in the academy, but they have no place in programs and activities supported by Federal taxpayer dollars. 

But the bottom line remains, it's counterproductive

Research also suggests that blame-focused diversity training reinforces biases and decreases opportunities for minorities.

The order does not footnote the "research." Here is a link to extensive research (HT Sergiu Klainermanton) finding the opposite -- that 
"these training programs generally fail at their stated goals, and often produce unfortunate and unintended consequences." 

Perhaps that compilation is biased -- I welcome links to good research that shows these programs work to their stated objectives. (As an economist I naturally suspect they do work, just to a different objective.) 

Philosophy -- who are we as a country and where are we going? 

The order also objects to the underlying philosophy, 

... this is contrary to the fundamental premises underpinning our Republic: that all individuals are created equal and should be allowed an equal opportunity under the law to pursue happiness and prosper based on individual merit.

Indeed, the order has an unusual philosophical and historical preamble:  

From the battlefield of Gettysburg to the bus boycott in Montgomery and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, heroic Americans have valiantly risked their lives to ensure that their children would grow up in a Nation living out its creed, expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”.... it is what inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to dream that his children would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

You would think that this too is not objectionable. And indeed, I would bet that a vast majority of Americans of all parties would sign on. But in the current environment this is a radical statement. For example the University of California official Rubric for evaluating diversity statements instructs scorers to assign 1 out of 5 points if someone 

"states the intention to ignore the varying backgrounds of their students and `treat everyone the same.'"

Don't quote Dr. King on your diversity statement. 

The order goes on to describe the deeper vision

Today, however, many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.

This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world....

Unfortunately, this malign ideology is now migrating from the fringes of American society and threatens to infect core institutions of our country. Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors. 

The words "pernicious and false," "destructive," "misrepresentations" "malign" tell you how the White House feels about it, but absent that value judgement the summary of the Critical Race Theory worldview proffered seems accurate. The point of the order is really just to let people know what's going on. 

Our laws reflect this older conception of equality. And actions advocated in this "training" are also illegal. 

... 5 U.S.C. 2301, call for all employees to “receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to” race or sex “... Instructing Federal employees that treating individuals on the basis of individual merit is racist or sexist directly undermines our Merit System Principles... Similarly, our Uniformed Services should not teach our heroic men and women in uniform the lie that the country for which they are willing to die is fundamentally racist. Such teachings could directly threaten the cohesion and effectiveness of our Uniformed Services.

My emphasis again. Well, "lie" tells you where they stand, but it does seem likely that people who fight and die for this country believe the country worthwhile, and they won't do it if they believe otherwise. I believe to the far-left this is a feature not a bug. 

The future

Will this be the first executive order that the Biden-Harris administration overturns? Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes an administration wisely and quietly lets its predecessor's work stand. The predecessor did the dirty work, why cause trouble? If they are smart, they will let Betsy DeVos's work on Title IX courts stand, and this one too. I suspect they won't enforce it much, but as long as it is in place people can sue to stop egregious parts of such programs. 

Moreover, if anyone actually reads the text of executive orders it would be awfully hard to stand up in a group of average Democrats and say the actual text of this order is objectionable, and the kind of "training" it bans should be reinstated. 

Academia is going full bore for these sorts of programs, and receives federal money. The implications are not yet clear. 


Our second reading for today is Princeton Is Not Racist, but Race-Obsessed by Sergiu Klainerman. Sergei also wrote an earlier Newsweek oped

In case you haven't been following, Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber wrote a letter stating that 

“racism and the damage it does to the people of color persist at Princeton” and “racist assumptions remain embedded in the structure of the university itself.”

Klainerman characterized the letter humorously as a 

virtue-signaling competition with leaders of other top U.S. universities. 

I think it was intended in a more religious but equally non-serious mode, "we are all sinners."  But when your professed sins violate Federal laws, maybe announcing them with too much precision is not such a good idea. "We are all sinners," yes. "We robbed a bank yesterday" not such a good idea. The Department of Education noticed, as racism is  illegal. Kerfuffle ensues, though this one, involving investigation by the DOE will surely stop the minute the new Administration is in place. 

Anyway, Klainerman has been thinking about the question "is Princeton racist?" since the Newsweek Oped. (BTW, you're not allowed to be not-racist. In the current jargon you are either racist or anti-racist. Later, a quote from Ibram X. Kendi’s Twitter account:

We are either being racist or antiracist. Is that clear for you? There’s no such thing as “not racist.” The term has no meaning other than denying when one is being racist. )

I recommend Klainerman's article for his main conclusion, which helps to understand what's going on.  

Though Princeton is not racist, it certainly is race-obsessed — that is, obsessed with racial considerations in determining university policy and in its communications about race on and outside campus.

That seems like a good characterization. A group of almost entirely rich white people who live in an almost entirely rich white suburb, are obsessed with their own attitudes about race. 

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, almost all of our nation’s colleges and universities have embarked on a massive regimen of mea culpa and self-flagellation for failing to uphold racial justice, as if somehow Derek Chauvin’s sadistic action was a direct result of what we teach or fail to teach in our classrooms.

Or, more properly, who does the teaching.  

Most educational institutions appear to be on the verge of abandoning their policy of making decisions concerning admissions, hiring, promotion, and the like based on achievement and demonstrated promise, in favor of racialist ones based on group identities. 

This is a good point, and I use the word self-obsession purposely. George Floyd's tragic life was untouched by any of the activities of the Princeton English department. Yes, he wanted not to be murdered by the police, (See, if you have the stomach, the full video, HT Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Legal or no, you can see  many for the cops to take a breath and let the situation calm down.) He wanted a job and a normal American life, far more than he wanted well-off white academics to attend CRT self-education sessions to read the works of other well-off academics.  

It's actually not "on the verge," it has been in place for some time, and worth pondering just how 40 years of such efforts have, apparently, failed, and how if so more of the same will help.  

... This system is sustained by large bureaucracies dedicated to implementing it and a dubious ideology ... called Critical Race Theory (CRT)....

The ideas:  

As the main determining factor in understanding human actions, antiracists have replaced the Marxist concept of class with that of race. Like classical Marxists, they embrace equalitarianism [egalitarianism] and reject capitalism,...
In the words of Ibram X. Kendi, the present intellectual leader of the movement, “Racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities in this country and in the world at large” and “to be antiracist is to reject cultural standards and level cultural difference.” Kendi,...also declares, “Capitalism is essentially racist” and “racism is essentially capitalist.”

 Implications abound

Does that imply that teaching the principles of market-based economy is also racist? Should such courses be banned? Is socialist economy OK, i.e., antiracist? In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo, the other guru of the movement, claims that “attributing inequality between whites and people of color to causes other than racism” is a form of racism.

So, fellow economists, think hard about how you are going to handle the capitalism questions at your mandatory diversity training sessions. How do you handle research that actually tries to empirically understand the sources of inequality? If our society is indeed systemically racist, but that racism is found to lie in the teachers' unions strangulation of education for Black children, not in Princeton's admission and faculty promotion policies, how are you going to handle that paper, or the person who wrote it, or its presence when asked to demonstrate your familiarity with data on these issues? 

...In the name of racial equality, the antiracists call for the elimination of universal norms and standards in favor of racially determined ones. Many have gone so far as to claim that individualism, hard work, stable families, logical thinking, and scientific objectivity are characteristic of “white” people and that any attempt to assert that they are universal virtues must itself be viewed as racist. Such statements have appeared recently, for example, in a graphic display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

You will have to stand up and affirm all this. 

... Will Princeton deal honestly with the issue of under-represented minorities not by instituting artificial quotas and meaningless morale-boosting bureaucratic measures, which often produce opposite results, but instead by addressing head-on core issues such as the shamefully deficient pre-college educational system? 

As above. If Blacks are, indeed, 1% of all Math SAT takers with scores between 700 and 800, after going through our shameful educational system, just how is every field in academia along with every business competing with each other to hire that 1% going to help? Well, perhaps it will. Economics suggests, there should be an immense wage premium for high-skill Blacks as everyone tries to hire them, which should drive supply into charters and other alternatives, and perhaps apply political pressure for more charter and voucher schooling. But I don't think that's the mechanism proponents have in mind! 

In his fascinating article “Suicide of the Liberals,” Gary Saul Morson makes a powerful parallel between this widespread support of antiracists among liberals today and the support received by Russian revolutionaries (intelligents) from the educated classes (liberals) before the 1917 Communist revolution....

I conclude by noting the remarkable fact that CRT, once a marginal academic theory within academia, has now become pervasive throughout society at large, including not only the mainstream media, such as the once-formidable New York Times, and most cultural institutions, but also major corporations and even top government institutions such as the State and Treasury Departments, FBI, the military and various national research laboratories. ...fighting to preserve the integrity of our universities is also, in the larger scheme of things, a fight to preserve the integrity of our most cherished American ideals.

More on this later. Wokeism has indeed taken over the institutions of civil society, a far more potent force than electoral results suggest. This is political indoctrination, and my allusion to Chinese re-education camps is not all that far-fetched. 


A few interesting links:

Miles Kimball has a thoughtful post, as usual, trying to find suggestions for training that might be effective. 

Helen Pluckrose ask Is Critical Race Theory racist? 

An interesting aspect of wokeism is the volume of new made-up words one must master to signal virtue. Getting allergic to this, I shy away from the term  "diversity training," I use quotes, and I attempt a new label "Re-education programs" on the title of this post. I especially dislike the new words that are, just as Orwell predicted, directly contrary to fact. These programs are designed to produce conformity to a set of ideas, not diversity. The White House order advocates, well, actual diversity training, that just is not imbued with Critical Race Theory. Perhaps we can use the word for that -- or find another. 

Warning, I anticipate updates to this blog post. 


Another evaluation of training programs, sent by a correspondent. There is an effect, which melts away in days. 

Mulling it over, I am now for widespread mandatory programs in universities. Most of my colleagues have a correct and well meaning general idea that we need to do better, and I agree with them. But they have little idea what CRT is all about, what these training programs are really all about. And that administrators force students, who are really voiceless in the power structure, to undergo "training" that the faculty is unwilling to undergo, or that administrators are unwilling to impose on faculty, has its own problems.  Let us all see, first hand, what it is really all about, and then we are more likely to come to a considered judgement whether it is a good idea, rather than as now have the whole business sneak in and slowly percolate. 

Update 2:

The WH issues a clarification memo. Agencies must review training materials. 

Reviews of specific training curriculum materials can be supplemented by a broader keyword search of agency financial data and procurements for terms including, but not limited to: "critical race theory," "white privilege," "intersectionality," "systemic racism," "positionality," "racial humility," and "unconscious bias." When used in the context of diversity training, these terms may help to identify the type of training prohibited by the E.O.


  1. Yeah, good luck regulating or legislating morality that delivers outcomes. Education of the youth matters, particularly from parents, makes a difference in how people perceive their "place" and "role" in society, especially as they mature into adults, some of which end up running and maintaining institutions. Can't just take a class or two, pass them, and pass some other diversity test that will guarantee these desired outcomes.

    Meritocracy was used as an illusion to sweep all sorts of injustices under the rug, panning to the idealism that a person's character and work ethic determines their lot in life. But, it takes resources to do well in school: a stable home life, access to resources (teachers, mentors), and solid social capital to move up the ladder. One rarely does it on their own. Society is breaking down because we've largely abandoned morality at it's most basic level. We construct these ideals that sound good, but in practice in has fallen flat on its face. We haven't delivered the outcomes, no matter what laws have been put in place.

    People make the difference. Laws just try to codify them into a set of established norms so we have something resembling opportunity and stability. How have we fared, hmm?

    What can economics do about it? More content on economic history and trends amongst groups in the US through time. Labor econ was particularly dark when my textbook, written by Cornell Professors, said quite bluntly, "historically, blacks have been the last to be hired and first to be fired." Ouch. Cornell's ILR School didn't pull punches in their labor history and labor economics classes. They stated facts, based on data, but did not go the extra step as to explain why. Maybe they didn't think that's their job, but just to bring reality to the forefront.

    Is diversity a pipe dream? Maybe. The problem is like scratching a wound - the more harsh attention you give it, the more it bleeds and festers.

    It's up to families and parents to indoctrinate children into society in such a way that promotes justice and opportunity. The government can help with resources for education, dare they invest...

    There's a Pandoras Box waiting to get opened with all this and I certainly don't want to tip the lid open, for it will reveal how fundamentally rotten we've become, I'm afraid...

    1. We've largely abandoned morality at it's most basic level? Is that true?

  2. I am a Mexican American of the Castizo race and today Eric Holder was invited to speak via Zoom by the tech company that employs me. We were encouraged to invite our friends and family to be indoctrinated. In the spirit of wokeness they invited someone condemned by the US congress and the Mexican government for his cover up of the Fast and Furious gun walking program which led to the murder and maiming of over 100 Mexicans and US citizens.

  3. For some reason this resonates with Savonarola and the Bonfire of the Vanities. First Savonarola convinced the rich to burn their "vanities" (books, paintings, jewelry, etc) and when they came to their senses they burned Savonarola.

    I recall the 60s and 70s when it also seemed the country was tearing itself apart. Yet we had shows like "All in the Family" that opened a dialog. Go back and watch the reruns. See if you can do so without flinching. That show would never see air time now.

  4. From Is Critical Race Theory Racist?

    Du Bois argued that the idea of race was created to provide a biological justification for the enslavement, mistreatment and exploitation of African-Americans. He was right.

    He was wrong. Slavery has been as old as humankind. No need for a justification. It took white men's and women's resources to compensate slave owners for freeing their slaves in the British Empire. It then took white men's lives to free slaves in a bloody civil war in the US of A.

    Let's kep the whole story in mind.

  5. The quoted passage in the blog that defines 'white' culture as comprising "...individualism, hard work, stable families, logical thinking, and scientific objectivity ... ." is reasonably accurate. If all cultures that imbue those characteristics with value are deemed to be 'white', then the term 'white' is truly a broad and encompassing term, contrary to the notion that the author apparently intends his words to invoke.

    One can easily see how this might perplex a university governor or president. On the one hand (he's an economist, perchance) he is faced with the term 'white' denoting 'pale-face' and the term 'black' denoting the converse, and, on the other hand (he's still an economist, mind you), he's faced with a definition of 'white' in terms of cultural values which, if he is honest with himself encompasses more than simply the 'pale-face' students studying at his college. So, he finds himself facing a primal conundrum: damned if he does; damned if he doesn't. What should he do? (M.B.A.s in the crowd--don't all raise your hands simultaneously...!)

    As my grandfather would have said, were he still alive and kicking, albeit in saltier language, "It's rubbish; just plain rubbish." And, so it will prove to be, in time.

  6. Just a brief comment on,
    "states the intention to ignore the varying backgrounds of their students and `treat everyone the same.'"
    I would just say that totally ignoring the background of individuals is not likely to lead to the best outcomes and may not be the most "meritocratic" approach either. To some degree, you should be able to account for additional hardships someone endured and account for that when comparing the merit of individuals. Just like for 100m sprinters, they will take into account the strength and direction of the wind to adjust the time for purposes of records. So the real issue is determining what issues to adjust for, and how much.

    1. At the same time, they will not adjust for the amount of hardship they endured on the road to Olympics finals. Winner is the one fastest day the finish line, irrespective of how intersectional his background is.

    2. Yes, because obviously wind conditions are identical for everyone on the track at the same time...
      But if your goal is to field the strongest team for the olympics and you only look at their times without trying to figure out who has the most potential to succeed, then you are doing a bad job.
      For the specific example of which students should a university admit, their perspective is obviously much closer to the coach determining who makes the team, rather than determining who to award the olympic medals to. The university wants to admit people with the most potential to achieve success during their lifetime. SAT scores are not the end goal, just something to help evaluate potential.
      That being said, it would obviously be stupid to throw out or ignore a useful method of evaluating potential...

  7. I did read the executive order, cover to cover (tedious that was), and was left with the impression that it is a self-contradictory stream of incoherent nonsense of which no part would hold up if challenged in a court of law.

  8. Excellent reading, thank you Dr. Cochrane for addressing this. The purpose and nature of the executive order was sadly lost during the first presidential debate. Our society has determined what is too "far right" politically, but we've yet to do this for the far left. I think it's why these theories like CRT are left to advance unquestioned.

  9. "these training programs generally fail at their stated goals, and often produce unfortunate and unintended consequences."

    The unintended consequence in Australia is that I now describe myself as an Australian of "Indigenous European"descent as DNA shows I have distant Scandinavian ancestors. Descriptions can work both ways leading to divisions, tribalism and strong identification with like people.

  10. I feel for George Floyd and am outraged by his death, but I find it curious how much he's being praised as a heroic martyr given his extensive criminal history. Do we really want to be naming streets after such a person?

  11. Would be curious to get your take on how your own university it doing in the "virtue-signaling competition with leaders of other top U.S. universities":


  12. The Democratic Party and the left wing used to take up the cudgels for and lionize people who worked for a living. Now....

  13. I think racism is an ontological subset of "The Other." Examples of intra-racial "others." Whites referring to other whites as trailer trash or white trash. I lived in Israel and observed some secular Jews disparaging ultra-orthodox Jews. Islamic Shia and Sunni conflicts go back over a millennium. How does any administration address the larger problem of the "other?"

  14. Based on my limited understanding of critical race theory, it highlights privilege engendered in existing social structure as a source of socio economic inequities. It highlights the role of these social structures as an extractive institution (to borrow from Acemoglu & Robinson) in determining economic and day to day life outcomes for people who do not belong to the privileged class. The argument that if we do not talk about these structures that perpetuate privilege then they will automatically go away is akin to the argument often made against talking about ills of the caste system in India. It speaks a lot that most of such arguments are made by people who belong to the privileged class in both these cases. I agree that the CRT perspective puts the privileged in an awkward spot as many of them would like to believe that they are not perpetuating systemic racism- they are woke. However, this need not be awkward if the trainings are designed to foster compassion through understanding. While this compassion could help in easing the burden of day to day living for the underprivileged, changing the system will require collective deliberation and action. Silence on CRT will definitely not help in this regard.


Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.