What people say about Color and Money-

"Anyone interested in the inequities of the selective college admissions process will find Color and Money clear-eyed, hard-hitting, enlightening, and informative."--Rachel Toor, author of Admissions Confidential: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process.
"For those concerned about why the march toward social justice in America has faltered badly for nearly forty years, Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a highly instructive--and greatly disturbing--guidepost." --Richard Kluger, author of Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality.
"An indispensible guide to the debate over affirmative action in the United States."--Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation.
"This book is a must read for anyone concerned with access to higher education, especially to the nation’s elite universities, as well as with larger questions of social policy and social justice."--Terry MacTaggart, Former Chancellor, University of Maine System
"Books on the highly-charged issue of affirmative action are usually one-sided and inflammatory. Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a wonderful exception. It provides an honest and fair examination that is also passionate and illuminating."--Richard D. Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation, and author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

Peter Schmidt is available as a speaker

Peter Schmidt is available to speak at colleges, bookstores, schools, churches, and at gatherings of education associations. His past speaking engagements are listed at the bottom of this Web site. If interested in having him appear, e-mail him at schmidt_peter@msn.com. He also is available as an expert source for journalists covering affirmative action. Those on a tight deadline should email him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.

Hear interviews with Peter Schmidt

Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Public Radio talked to Peter Schmidt about Color and Money in August. You can hear the interview here. Reading the book inspired Jack to write an essay on it, which you can read here. You also can hear Peter Schmidt talk about his book on the NPR program Justice Talking and in a Chronicle of Higher Education podcast.

Color and Money Is a College Course!

Many college professors are now using Color and Money in their classes, but Jack Dougherty, the director of the educational studies program at Trinity College in Connecticut, has gone a big step beyond. He has decided to name a freshman seminar "Color and Money" and to structure the class around the book. He has graciously agreed to share his syllabus, available here, for faculty members at other colleges who may have the same idea.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Election Year Reality Check: Here's a Formula for Measuring the Political Clout of the Rich

We sometimes hear people lament that our federal government does not care much about the little guy, that a rich man’s vote seems to carry a lot more weight than a poor man’s. Candidates for Congress and the presidency often claim they will look out for ordinary Americans, but, once in office, they are almost always accused of catering to the mansion-and-Mercedes crowd.

Are complaints that the rich rule the nation the product of excessive cynicism? How much truth is there to them?

Martin Gilens, an associate professor of politics at Princeton University, sought to find out in a study first released as a working paper in August 2004 and later published in the Public Opinion Quarterly. He looked at the views Americans expressed toward various possible changes in federal policy in surveys conducted from 1992 and 1998 and checked whether the federal government ended up heeding the survey respondents’ wishes. He then broke down the results by income group, focusing his attention mainly on those whose incomes were at the 10th percentile (meaning they had less money than about nine out of ten Americans), those at the 90th percentile (who had more money than about nine out of ten), and those who were squarely in the middle, at the 50th percentile.

In aggregate, Gilens found, a policy that was overwhelmingly favored by people with incomes in the 10th through 50th percentile was about twice as likely to be implemented as a policy that was overwhelmingly opposed by them. A policy that was overwhelmingly favored by people at the 90th percentile was, by comparison, four times as likely to be implemented as a policy that they overwhelmingly opposed.

It’s wrong, however, to look at such numbers and conclude that the wealthy had about twice as much clout as those who are working- or solidly middle-class. That’s because on many questions—such as whether the federal budget should be balanced—both the rich and the poor held very similar views. It’s entirely possible that the government was carrying out the wishes of the poor simply because the rich wanted the same thing.

To get a clearer picture of which income groups had how much clout, Gilens looked at about 300 survey questions dealing with areas of substantial disagreement between the wealthy and poor. They included, for example, questions such as whether the government should enter free trade pacts like NAFTA, and whether it should cut capital gains and inheritance taxes. On such questions, Gilens found, the government’s actions were strongly correlated with the desires of the wealthy, but largely ignored the views of both the poor and middle class. A policy strongly supported by the wealthy was six times as likely to be implemented as a policy that the wealthy strongly opposed. A policy strongly supported by middle-income Americans was only 1.3 times as likely to be implemented as a policy they strongly opposed, and the views of the poor appeared to have almost no bearing on the government’s decisions at all.

Of course, it was possible something besides money was at work. Because both wealthy people and key decision-makers in government tend to be highly educated, maybe what they had in common was being smart and well-informed. But when Gilens tweaked his analysis to compare the highly educated of every income group, he found that money, in itself, still played a key role in determining whether people’s wishes were heard.

Gilens says the key advantage the wealthy have in shaping policy is the wherewithal to donate to parties, candidates, and interest organization. One might wonder, however, if the vast personal wealth of many in top positions in government also plays a role, and the picture would be different if more lower- and middle-income Americans stood a chance of rising to positions of power.

Gilens writes: “There has never been a democratic society in which citizens’ influence over government policy was unrelated to their financial resources. In this sense, the difference between democracy and plutocracy is one of degree. But, by this same token, a government that is democratic in form but is in practice only responsive to its most affluent citizens is a democracy in name only.”

A footnote of interest to readers of Color and Money: Gilens found that the poor were more likely to support affirmative action than the wealthy. The finding, he says, is not simply a reflection of the fact that black people are disproportionately represented at the bottom of the economic ladder. Other studies have found that poor white people are more likely to support affirmative action than people who are white and wealthy.