January 10, 2024
It’s a striking aspect of how out-of-fashion Diversity-Inclusion-Equity has suddenly become in the wake of Claudine Gay’s ouster as the president of Harvard that the most prominent person to take to Twitter to defend DIE has been Mark Cuban:
DEI does not mean you dont hire on merit. Of course you hire based on merit
Diversity – means you expand the possible pool of candidates as widely as you can. Once you have identified the candidates, you HIRE THE PERSON YOU BELIEVE IS THE BEST.
I was going to analyze a trove of data to falsify Cuban’s contentions. But then I realized that was like breaking a butterfly upon a wheel. Cuban is not a major intellectual in the human sciences.
Instead, that bumptious billionaire is more or less the center-left equivalent of the center-right Donald Trump, with whom he has long carried on a public envy-resentment feud. For example, just as Trump appeared on World Wrestling Entertainment, throwing WWE CEO Vince McMahon (with the Trump Administration eventually becoming the most memorable spin-off of the WWE Extended Universe), a couple of years later Cuban wrestled Sheamus. But because Cuban by nature strikes people as a heel, the WWE writers decided to have him tossed through a table.
Cuban got rich during the 1990s Internet Bubble, selling his Broadcast.com start-up to doomed Yahoo for an exorbitant sum. He prudently cashed out his Yahoo stock and instead bought a Gulfstream G550 private jet and the Dallas Mavericks NBA team. He paid $285 million for the Mavs in 2000 and recently sold 73 percent to Sheldon Adelson’s widow for a return of 1,100 percent.
Cuban made himself notorious for razzing NBA refs, much to the dismay of his star center Dirk Nowitzki, who complained in 2006:
“We can’t lose our temper all the time on the court or off the court, and I think he’s got to learn that too. He’s got to improve in that area and not yell at the officials the whole game.”
To his credit, Cuban shut up in 2011 and let the big blond Nowitzki carry the Mavs to the NBA title.
On the other hand, owning an NBA team is hard to square with an evident belief in the importance of expanding the pool of job candidates. For instance, the roster of Cuban’s Mavericks this season is composed of seventeen blacks, one German, and one Slovenian (his highest-paid player, Luka Doncic). He has signally failed to expand his Mavs candidates to include South Asians, East Asians, or New World mestizos (although the Mavs did employ a Mexican-born player, Eduardo Nájera, a couple of decades ago).
Nor is owning a private jet conducive to promoting diversity. Prudently, Cuban’s personal pilot is a white guy named Tony Marotta.
The Pentagon has frequently inquired why it hasn’t been able to diversify its pilot ranks as much as it wants. A 2018 Rand Corporation study concluded, basically, that that was because white men tend to be the best pilots.
This is not to say that blacks are untalented. Historically, they’ve done very well in fields emphasizing improvisation, such as jazz and running with the football. Thus, in the 2012 move Flight, in perhaps his greatest performance in the Transportation Disaster subgenre, Denzel Washington portrays an airline pilot who awakens from an alcoholic stupor to save his malfunctioning aircraft by improvising a barrel roll at 300 feet.
Because it looks cool.
In reality, of course, pilots don’t succeed by making up maneuvers on the fly, but by carefully executing their playbooks.
Like Trump in 2015, Cuban is best known for appearing on a reality TV game show: He’s been on ABC’s Shark Tank for fourteen years.
I don’t watch much television, but from the couple of hours I’ve seen in my life of Shark Tank, in which small-time entrepreneurs pitch their get-rich-quick schemes to Cuban and other successful investors, I rather like the role the show plays in familiarizing the public with basic concepts of business, such as “cash flow.”
My general impression is that business talent is more randomly distributed in the population than is, say, scholarly ability. For example, Cuban grew up in a Jewish working-class family in Pittsburgh. His father was an upholsterer. (As John Travolta explains in Hairspray: “If you want to be famous, learn how to take blood out of car upholstery. That’s a skill you can take right to the bank.”)
That the gift for entrepreneurship, while not common, is also rather surprisingly widespread has been the conclusion of quite a few of the more worldly American novelists, such as Tom Wolfe in A Man in Full.
Or consider the great noir novelist James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, which explains in plausible detail how a common housewife turned waitress during the depths of the Depression, much to her surprise, gets rich starting chicken and waffle restaurants. Cain’s depiction of the opening night of Mildred’s first restaurant—with the inevitable trouble and the contingent triumph—is one of the great accounts of entrepreneurship in literature. Yet, Joan Crawford’s movie version downplays the business side of the story in favor of sex and family melodrama: The percentage of people interested in business, while not tiny, is smaller than the fraction fascinated by more mundane concerns.
On the other hand, to succeed in business it also helps to have a close relative who can explain it to you. For instance, Cuban’s mother, an Ayn Rand fan, wasn’t very successful, but she was constantly scheming to make money, which I doubt is terribly true of many people’s mothers.
Starting a business is much less daunting if you are familiar with the basic concepts that have been laboriously worked out over the millennia. But our culture isn’t particularly good at inculcating these notions in young people who don’t happen to have a parent, uncle, or family friend who can show them the ropes. America has one of the more entrepreneurial cultures ever, and yet a large majority of young people are more or less without a clue about how to start a company.
After all, your schoolteachers can’t teach you how to make a bundle. If they knew, they wouldn’t be poorly paid teachers, now would they?
Hence, I think it’s a good thing that there are adolescents out there watching Shark Tank and memorizing the terminology. So, I’m not going to pick on Cuban too hard.