LOS ANGELES, (UPI) — Is the Supreme Court’s decision endorsing race and ethnicity as valid factors in choosing law students at the University of Michigan just a fading echo from the past?

According to conservative commentator George F. Will, a tidal wave of Hispanic immigration is washing away “a vanished America’s problems with a binary, black-and-white understanding of its racial composition.” In his June 24 column headlined “A Crude Remedy for a Disappearing Problem,” Will also rejoiced that, “Rapidly rising rates of intermarriage further the wholesome blurring of the picture of the nation.” He summed up, “Demographics, not constitutional litigation, are determining the destiny of a post-racial America.”

But the same broad facts can suggest a much more disturbing picture — one illustrated by the title of a 2002 book published by the late University of California-Santa Barbara historian and political scientist Hugh Davis Graham, “Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America.” The message of Graham’s book is that without reforms, mass immigration will make ethnic preferences an increasingly contentious and racially divisive issue for future generations of Americans.

The key variable in judging how disruptive reverse discrimination might eventually become is the “racial ratio.” This measure refers to how many whites there are to shoulder the cost of preferences relative to each legally protected minority member. Other things being equal, as the proportion of whites to other races shrinks due to the very demographic changes that Will celebrates, the higher the cost of preferences rises for the individual white. And if the burden of preferences grows seriously in this way, white Americans are likely to feel more resentment whites toward minority beneficiaries.

What exactly are these costs? The direct costs of preferences to whites include being passed over by a college in favor of a less qualified minority applicant; losing a government contract to a higher bidder who is of a favored race or ethnicity; or missing out on a job because a private business imposes a quota on itself to avert a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When aggregated over the entirety of white Americans, these various preferences impose real costs on real individuals who get turned down in favor of less-qualified protected groups –though individuals may never know that they have lost out in this way.

There are other costs to race preferences, of course, notably that they may cast doubt on the qualifications of minority applicants. But these costs have been widely debated, whereas this whites-per-minority concept is rarely used in discussions of race preferences — even though this racial ratio is directly analogous to the well-known ratio of workers per retiree that is central to debates over the future of Social Security. In the debate over Social Security, moreover, the fact that payers and payees are each other’s children and parents alleviates some of the bitterness of the conflict. In contrast, fewer family ties exist to temper racial and ethnic struggles, which is why they are so rightly feared.

If the current rules are maintained the racial ratio will plummet for the rest of the century. Simultaneously, due to demographic change, the electoral power of white Americans will fall too, making it harder for them to obtain redress of their grievances through normal political channels.

This portends a volatile future for the country. How did we start down this road?

The Nixon administration invented racial quotas in 1969 to integrate segregated craft unions. At that time, there were almost eight whites for every black, so the average cost per white of giving a boost to blacks in payback for generations of exploitation during slavery and Jim Crow was relatively small.

In the 1970 Census, African-Americans made up 90 percent of the then-recognized minorities, and Americans to this day still tend to think of preferences as applying primarily to blacks.

In 1973, however, the Nixon White House created the Asian racial and Hispanic ethnic categories. Meanwhile, in 1965, Congress had loosened immigration measures after restricting it tightly since 1924. Almost no one thought about the long-term interaction of immigration and quotas. So, federal bureaucrats driven, according to Graham, “not only by the country’s history of past discrimination but also by the vagaries of chance, historical accident, logical contradiction, and inadvertence,” extended affirmative action to Asians and Hispanics.

Nobody offered much of an explanation for why immigrants who chose America, presumably warts and all, should immediately qualify for special treatment at the expense of many native-born citizens; but, then, not many people bothered to ask, either. Americans just found it more interesting then, as now, to argue over affirmative action for blacks.

The 1980 Census found 181 million non-Hispanic whites and 46 million “protected minorities,” resulting in a racial ratio of 3.9 whites for every minority.

Today, the majority of the beneficiaries of racial/ethnic preferences aren’t black. Indeed, the Census Bureau recently reported that Hispanics (38.8 million) now outnumber blacks (38.3 million). Only 42 percent of protected minorities are African-American. There are only 2.2 non-Hispanic whites per minority member.

In some fields, Asians now bear the burden along with whites of paying for preferences, which eases the racial ratio somewhat. For example, Northeast Asians get no benefit in college admissions. If you lump all Asians in with whites, then the racial ratio of the legally unprivileged to the privileged is currently 2.6 to 1.

On the other hand, Southeast Asians sometimes receive a helping hand when applying to universities. Moreover, Asians sometimes benefit from minority enterprise loans and programs that let minorities win government contracts despite submitting higher bids. That why South Asian immigrant businessmen successfully petitioned the Small Business Administration to change their race from Caucasian to Asian in 1982.

Finally, the 1991 Civil Rights Act placed the burden of proof on private employers, forcing them to show that any statistical deviations from racial and ethnic proportionality in their work forces was justified by the strict standard of “business necessity.” Some Asian groups such as Chinese for Affirmative Action support racial preferences, in part because preferences help Asians break through the “glass ceiling” that they blame for their tendency to cluster in technical rather than executive jobs.

Still, no matter which side of the equation Asians fall upon, the racial ratio is likely to decline sharply over the next several generations.

In January of 2000, the Census Bureau released its official projections for the 21st century. Over the next 25 years, according the bureau’s best-guess Middle Series estimate, the number of non-Hispanic white benefactors will rise from 197 million to 210 million. In contrast, minority beneficiaries will increase from 92 million to 135 million, reducing the racial ratio from 2.2 to 1.6. By 2050, white payers will barely outnumber minority payees. And, four generations in the future in 2100, there will be 230 million white Americans for 341 million minorities, for a racial ratio of 0.7. That would be an order of magnitude more burdensome per white than when affirmative action began 34 years ago.

Unfortunately, when preparing these projections, the Census Bureau underestimated the U.S. population by 6 million, in large part because the 2000 Census found 8.7 percent more Hispanics than expected. This means the middle projection for Hispanics may be understated.

Further, from 2000 to 2002, the number of Hispanics grew almost 10 percent — as fast as the Highest Projection trend line. In 2002, the actual Hispanic population exceeded the bureau’s highest forecast by 9.1 percent.

This implies that the most likely outcome might combine the highest Hispanic projection with the middle trend for the other groups. That leads to even more lopsided racial ratios. By 2050, there would be 213 million whites and 240 million preferred minorities. By 2100, there would only be two whites (230 million) for every five nonwhites (563 million, including 413 million Hispanics). Compared to 1969, this racial ratio of 0.4 would be almost 20 times more onerous on individual whites.

Gender preferences for women increase the burden on white males even further. Preferences for women haven’t been quite as controversial, because they take from men but often give to their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. So, the net effect on a family as a whole tends to be more mixed than in the case race and ethnic preferences, where individuals are battling over the treatment not only of themselves, but of their children and grandchildren. Still, these gender preferences do add to white men’s frustrations.

In an ideal world, the impetus for reverse discrimination would disappear because legally privileged groups would improve their performance enough that they could achieve equality of results under equal rules. Women, for example, have moved ahead so quickly that they now outnumber men as undergraduates, making gender preferences outdated at that level.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor opined in her majority decision in the University of Michigan Law School case that, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

This is of course not a time limit, as many have claimed, but simply an empirical prediction. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made toward narrowing the academic performance gaps between different ethnic and racial groups over the last 15 years. So there is little or no evidence for the idea that preferences will simply wither away on the grounds that they are no longer needed.

Will not interracial marriage solve the problem then? In general, intermarriage does tend to ease racial tensions, but the current U.S. policy for classifying the offspring of such marriages is actually likely to exacerbate the racial ratio problem.

Census respondents in 2000 could, for the first time, identify themselves as belonging to more than one race. This change posed problems for the Clinton administration’s political allies, such as the NAACP, which wanted to maintain the old Jim Crow “One Drop of Blood” rule that counted anyone with any visible sub-Saharan African background as being simply black. This maximized the number of black Americans and thus maximized the numbers covered by preferences.

After struggling for years, the Clinton White House announced on March 9, 2000, that it would indeed let people who are part white and part minority check two (or more) boxes. Yet, for use in civil rights enforcement (in other words, in calculating preferences), the Office of Management and Budget bulletin announced, “Responses that combine one minority race and white are (to be) allocated to the minority race.” In other words, the government simply ignores the white box.

This procedure increases the number of minorities for the purposes of discrimination lawsuits. People who are so slightly black that they identified themselves before as white are now counted as only being black. And that in turn means that companies will impose still larger preference programs upon themselves.

President Clinton even extended the One Drop rule from part blacks to those to whom it hadn’t applied even under Jim Crow, such as part American Indians. (For example, Winston Churchill’s American grandmother was welcome in high society despite being one-fourth Iroquois.) Similarly, the Clinton policy applies the One Drop concept to Hispanic ethnicity, which isn’t defined by blood at all.

The upshot is that under this rule, the more that whites intermarry with minorities, the faster the size of the preference-eligible minority population will go up and the faster the white population will go down, thereby increasing the preference burden on the remaining whites.

Besides, in the 2000 Census, 97.6 percent of respondents designated themselves as monoracial, suggesting that race mixing still has a long, long way to go.

Can and should anything be done to keep the racial ratio up in the interests of keeping racial disharmony down? Some possible steps are: Count part white people as white, not minority, or at least as half-white; put Pakistanis and Indians back in the Caucasian racial group; cut back immigration; exclude immigrants from racial preference programs; limit preferences to blacks and American Indians; or dump them altogether.

If reform is needed, it had better come soon. For at present non-Hispanic whites cast four out of every five American votes. After another generation or two, the electoral arithmetic will be very different — and proposing reform will be like asking retirees to cut back on Social Security.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.