Assessing our responsibilities outside the Ivory Tower

February 22, 2005 Articles, Princeton writings
Having a moral conscience is harmful to your wallet; it urges you to fight for social justice, often at the expense of a lucrative career.  For this reason, I wish that I were not held back by the mortgage of guilt in the inequality and destitution that I see in society. Although I have little sympathy for adults who make bad choices and end up on the short end of life, I cannot help but feel despair for those born into poor circumstances or saddled with bad luck in life. But why should I care about the welfare of strangers?  I am not burdened by the guilt of privilege.  I am neither tall, nor white, nor rich, nor blessed with beauty — traits that confer positive rewards to their owners.  If anything, the world has left me to die — literally and figuratively — more than once in my life (but I'm still kicking, although the lack of NHL hockey on TV is making me go insane!). Why should I fight against policies that will hurt the poor?  Regressive measures would have hurt me when I was young, when I was growing up as a poor immigrant child, but now…

Talent comes from many economic backgrounds

February 2, 2005 Articles, Princeton writings
If you are reading this article, you likely belong to the richest quartile of the country.  According to an April 2004 New York Times article, three quarters of Harvard's class of '03 came from the top quartile of the income distribution; only 6.8 percent came from the bottom.  The figures for Princeton are similar.  If Princeton is truly interested in being "in the nation's service," then not only is it failing its mandate, but it is also exacerbating inequalities.  For higher education to be a means of social mobility, the playing field must be made more level for the less affluent. Let's face it:  Princeton is a bastion of privilege.  The problem faced by elite institutions, then, is how to attract and admit qualified students from more diverse economic backgrounds. Growing up, I belonged to the bottom quartile.  Aside from the disadvantages of poverty, my parents also played no role in my schooling, and my teenage years were spent in and out of the courts.  I graduated from high school at the age of 20, after dropping out once and being expelled twice. My acceptance into Trinity College (University of Toronto) came as a surprise in spite of my eventual…

Admissions policies unfair to Asians

November 29, 2004 Articles, Princeton writings
Fifteen percent of Princeton undergraduates are Asian-Americans (among domestic students).  Compared with peer institutions, this is actually a low figure.  At Yale and Harvard, Asians make up 17 and 19 percent of the population, respectively.  Although these are high numbers, enrollment would actually increase if not for current legislation. What would happen to the number of Asians at elite schools if admissions were truly race-blind?  In the California school system, race is prohibited by law from being a factor in college admissions (although statistics still point to bias against Asians).  A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the increased enrolment of Asian-Americans in California schools after they passed proposition 209, SAT scores and historical extrapolation based on quota-like discrimination against Jews pre-WWII, shows that if not for race-based preferences, Asians would account for about 30 percent of the population at schools like Harvard and Princeton.  This would certainly change the landscape of higher learning. Should schools like Princeton support programs like affirmative action?  First, let me critique affirmative action.  It should not be cloaked as a tool to overcome historical discrimination or slavery.  For one, this implies that Asians do not face discrimination or past prejudices (e.g., the Chinese Exclusion Act…

Our peculiar northern neighbors

November 3, 2004 Articles, Princeton writings
Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving Day in October.  How many of you knew that? If you are like most Americans, then you are probably unaware of this fact.  Indeed, ignorance of Canadian matters is an acute problem in the United States.  According to a dated CNN poll, only two percent of Americans know the name of the Canadian prime minister. Why are Canadians invisible in the eyes of Americans?  It seems rather strange since Canada is a prominent member of the international community — e.g., it is a member of the G7 countries.  It is also the second largest country in terms of land mass.  And being just north of the United States, it's hard to miss on the map, although one in four Americans did, according to the same CNN poll.  Also, if not for Canada, how would Americans satisfy their craving for maple syrup-coated pancakes on a Sunday morning? Canadians are everywhere.  They live among you.  They are your classmates, your professors and even 'Prince' columnists (gasp!).  They are also scapegoats for life's little annoyances — "Blame it on Canada!"  But for all the jokes and rivalry, Canada remains a mystery to most.  Yet oddly, this phenomenon has become a…

Economic inequality is unjust

October 14, 2004 Articles, Princeton writings
I had a discussion with an economics professor about the growing inequality of American society last year.  My theme in that conversation was that the United States, like Brazil, is embarking on a path of becoming a nation of haves and have-nots. The Gini coefficient — familiar to economics students — is a widely quoted measure of the inequality in a nation.  A value of zero represents a perfectly equitable society, whereas a value of one describes an economy in which one person owns all the resources. Japan and the Scandinavian countries are the world's most income-equitable countries.  They have income Ginis of about 0.25. On the other hand, Brazil's figure is 0.61.  Closer to home, Canada has an income Gini of 0.32, while here in this country it was 0.41 when last measured in 1998 and it is growing quickly.  By most estimates, this number now probably stands close to 0.45. But all these numbers are really abstract.  What exactly does it mean for a country to have a Gini of .25 as opposed to .61?  To get a sense of the disparity between rich and poor, in Japan the richest 10 percent earns five times as much as…




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