Doctors stand defiant

Black doctors and affirmative action
By Walter E. Block - July 12, 2023

According to reports from the usual suspects, black doctors have had signal success with all of their patients and particularly with those with whom they share pigmentation.

What are we to make of these claims? Posit, at least for a moment, that they are true. Should we welcome these, then, facts, or bewail them?

Let us assume the following: that the good health of the patients is the desiderata; that there is a strong and positive correlation between scores on the entrance exams for medical school and the later skills of the physicians into which these students become; and that affirmative action is in force and favors colored people.

We then ask, will this woke policy help or hurt white and black people who are sick?

We answer this in the negative. Why?

Suppose that before affirmative action, candidates for medical school had to score an 80% on an entrance exam. But, due to this policy, blacks, but not whites, would be admitted with a 70%. That is, they were awarded 10 extra % points merely on the basis of the color of their skin.

Let us also assume that these 70% black medicos had a positive marginal revenue product, or productivity. That is, their advice to patients, and actions upon them, had positive results: it better helped the infirm to patronize one of these doctors rather than no physician at all. Does this demonstrate or logically imply that affirmative action improved the health of Americans? No.

For what about white applicants who scored 75%. By assumption, they would have been better clinicians than blacks at the 70% level. But instead of becoming doctors, they opted to their next best alternative: perhaps lawyers or pilots or professors of biology and chemistry.

Thus, at least part of the population was forced to patronize 70% black physicians rather than 75% white ones. Since we stipulate that the latter would have made more efficient health care providers than the former, patients will suffer.

There is one demographic that suffers, apart from the ill: black doctors who scored 80% or more on the entrance exam. Given that they are not easily distinguished from their 70% medical colleagues, they lose out in their competitive struggle with their white counterparts.

There are actually cases in point where even black patients, let alone white ones, prefer white to black doctors solely on the basis of pigmentation. (It was impossible to document this at least not on Google, Fire Fox or Bing; not a single, solitary instance of any such occasion was mentioned therein. It is easy to appreciate the woke reason why not. But the popular television series, ER (1994-2009), depicted such a situation; they would not have done so did it not exist; were they not concerned about this phenomenon.)

What about the black medical men who scored 80%, 85%, 90%, 95% and even 100%. They would be at the very tippy top of their profession in the absence of affirmative action for people of their skin color; they would be help making progress in this field. But due to this policy, there will always be an asterisk near their names; their skills will tend to be denigrated; a pall will hover over their entire careers. This will hurt them, indubitably, and, also, the entire society.

There are now doctors of 70% skill presently in practice who, in a more just world, would be occupying different professions, requiring different skills. Thanks to affirmative action, they are taking the places of those who would be more effective than them.

Do not the people responsible for reducing the average skills of physicians realize that someday they, or their children or grandchildren, will seek help from these less well prepared doctors, with great harm to health, compared to the situation which would have otherwise prevailed in the absence of this evil affirmative action policy? Would they push their wokism so far as to apply to airline pilots? If so, then their death wish would be even the more well established, not that it needs much help given that they urge it to encompass the field of medicine.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. Visit his substack here.