Thomas Sowell‘s latest column at National Review Online challenges the concept of using “disparate impact” to prove unlawful discrimination.

“Disparate impact” statistics have been used for decades, in many different contexts, to claim that discrimination is the reason why different groups are not equally represented as employees or in desirable positions or — as in this case — in undesirable positions as people arrested or fined.

Like many other uses of “disparate impact” statistics, the Justice Department’s evidence against the Ferguson police department consists of numbers showing that the percentage of people stopped by police or fined in court who are black is larger than the percentage of blacks in the local population.

The implicit assumption is that without “discriminatory intent,” these statistics would reflect the percentages of people in the population. But no matter how plausible that outcome might seem on the surface, it is seldom found in real life, and those who use this standard are seldom, if ever, asked to produce hard evidence that it is factually correct, as distinct from politically correct.

Blacks are far more statistically “overrepresented” among basketball stars in the NBA than among people stopped by police in Ferguson. Hispanics are similarly far more “overrepresented” among baseball stars than in the general population. Asian Americans are likewise far more “overrepresented” among students at leading engineering schools like M.I.T. and Caltech than in the population as a whole.

None of this is peculiar to the United States. You can find innumerable examples of such group disparities in countries around the world and throughout recorded history.