Thursday, August 24, 2006

 

Affirmative Action

Why have it? Anyone else have a huge problem with government-mandated racial/gender outcomes? Also, if you see no problem with that, why not handicap everyone to the same "level playing field" based on other factors besides race that are out of their control (IQ, height, attractiveness, etc). Jenna's suggestion of Harrison Bergeron is relevant here.

I just had a debate this morning with two people who think it's a good policy. Any takers here?

Comments:
Are you saying that people support affirmative action because it is a way of "handicapping" certain people (white men?) so that minorities and individuals of a certain gender (women?) can catch up (to "even" the playing field)??

Wow. Those affirmative action folk you were talking to sound like some very racist/prejudice people if they really think women and minorities need to hold back others to get ahead.

Of course, I'm sure their argument was more subtle. As I understand it, most supporters of affirmative action believe that smart women and miniorities are not getting "good" jobs because of prejudice hiring practices.

If this were the case, would affirmative action be a good idea? From the natural-rights-libertarian perspective it would be an evil policy because it violates the natural rights of prejudiced business owners.

Of course, you can make a lot of arguments using natural rights. And this is where it gets fun.

As Tyler Cowen pointed out, in Lockean property rights theory, you only own physical things and not the values of those things.

Realizing this, My advice to minorities would be to steal the prejudiced business owner's car, burn the shit out of it, give it back, and dare any mutha fucka to violate your rights by sending you to jail. THEN Let's see how long it takes the prejudice suns a bitches to change their hiring practices.

(I just watched Snakes On A Plane, last night. :) Can you tell?)
 
On a serious note, I am concerned with prejudice/racism to the extent that they prevent individuals from fulfilling their life's ambitions.

To what extent should the government be involved, if at all? It all depends. In the book Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell makes some good arguments that the profit motive will eventually erode racial barriers (it isn't good business to turn down good resources). He also lays out evidence that these barriers were already falling apart before AA ever came along.

But I have hard time believeing that markets will eliminate prejudicial hiring practices in a timely manner in every situation.

Bucking social norms is costly. Hiring "undesirables" might cost the employeer social connections or might even lose him business directly.

So we shouldn't expect, in a society with strong aversion to mixing genders and races at work, for predjudice hiring practices to end until the benefit of hiring "undesirables" exceeds the cost of wages plus the cost of breaking the social norms.

This is one reason I don't expect to see too many female CEOs comming out of Saudi Arabia anytime soon.

And the problem is only compounded when we it occurs in a situation where minorities recieve a worse education than the majority. Without a good education or marketable skills, minorities would have little to offer employeers even if they were not prejudice assholes.
 
The problem is you "timely manner".

They have an incentive to in the long run. In some areas there is a greater incentive structure than others. In some other geographic contexts, there may be no incentive at all. I don't think any of that legitimizes interference in the labor market though. Why shouldn't someone be able to hire whom they so choose?

While the amount of CEOs and upper management is related to education attainment and associated measurements, other measures of wealth and success such as entrepreneurship are not.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
"Wow. Those affirmative action folk you were talking to sound like some very racist/prejudice people if they really think women and minorities need to hold back others to get ahead.

Of course, I'm sure their argument was more subtle. As I understand it, most supporters of affirmative action believe that smart women and miniorities are not getting "good" jobs because of prejudice hiring practices."


First, does this only apply to smart people and to good jobs? That would be ridiculous.

Second, what's the difference? The desired effect of AA programs is to bring outcomes closer together based on superficial categories like race and gender, which is just a crude system of handicapping.

"So we shouldn't expect, in a society with strong aversion to mixing genders and races at work, for predjudice hiring practices to end until the benefit of hiring "undesirables" exceeds the cost of wages plus the cost of breaking the social norms."

I disagree with the bold section and agree with the rest. Is the aversion really that strong? And isn't the cost of breaking the norms partly a function of the policies that we institute? For example, a certain type of person (race, gender) might get a bad reputation or even become a target for hate due to AA policy because they are able to get jobs that they are in fact underqualified for, and in turn bump out some workers that are more qualified than they are.

If there were a magic wand that could do what you say, I would probably wave it. As it is, I think AA ensures that racism will persist (even in the long run), which makes it a horrible policy in my opinion.
 
Travis,

Actually, it was my impression that AA was about breaking down prejudicial barriers that keep qualified minorities and women out of certain jobs, not about providing charity to individuals that aren't qualified for those positions.

The difference between our two descriptions is that one assumes that the only people that recieve AA assistance are underqualified, the other description does not.

You seem to make this mistake again later in your second set of comments.
 
Let me make it clear that I am not supporting a continuation of AA in the United States. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my impression that most of the barriers facing women and minorities 40 years ago have since been eliminated.

Rather, the point of my posts is to illustrate that the argument for intervention in the labor market isn't as weak it was made out to be.

AA, at it's heart, is about discrimination and not equalizing people based on superficial characteristics like height. And we can clearly imagine situations where discrimination would persist over time.

Whether this warrants market intervention depends on complex matters of political philosophy. And that is a much harder nut to crack.
 
"AA, at it's heart, is about discrimination and not equalizing people based on superficial characteristics..."

Maybe, but if you look at the actual policies, they usually say something like: at least 25% of your company's workers must be classified as "minorities." So the policy is in fact setting quotas (trying to equalize outcomes) based on race, which is a superficial characteristic. Does that do anything to discrimination? Does that, regardless of what's at its heart, do any real good?
 
Travis,

Are you sure?
I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I think quotas in affirmative action were found to be unconstitutional waaay back in 1978

Maybe there is more nuance to the court's ruling than I realize.

Either way, I would agree with you that quotas would not be the best way for AA to accomplish its goals. But I'm not sure if that criticism is relevant today.
 
No I'm not sure. What is the enforcement mechanism for AA policies, then? Do you just get taken to court if someone thinks you're discriminating against them?
 
Travis,

My impression was that litigation was the main tool for addressing discimination in the workforce. But I could be wrong.
 
Ok. What about college admissions? From talking with people and from personal experience, it definitely seems like it's easier to get into college if you're a minority applicant. How does that work without quotas or at least targets?
 
The reality is that they do still use a set quota based on sex and race. It is not explicit, but rather an implicit policy.

As in the current policy for state government hiring, Easley said that we needed more participation from Hispanics, so guess what? More hispanics will be hired, not based on qualifications but on skin tone and familial background.

All in the name of "equality", or rather "equity"....
 
Travis,

I am 80-90% sure we don't have any sort of offical quota in academic admissions.

Whatever approach is taken, I think, depends on the school you're talking about.
 
I've been wanting to comment on this for a while, but my computer has been haywire and I'm getting back into the swing of school, so I've been awol. My apologies - I know you've all missed my insights and witty repartee.

That said, quotas in higher ed are illegal as of Grutter v. Bolinger and Gratz v. Bolinger (I'm too lazy to link them and they're too boring to read, anyway). However, the court also said that affirmative action for the sake of diversity is legal as long as other means are used.

Regardless, I don't think it's a good policy. It tries to fight discrimination based on race, sex, etc. by discriminating based on race, sex, etc. It's idiotic to think that purposefully drawing distinctions between people based on superficial distinctions between them will result in anything but superficial changes.

The policy should be color-blind. And gender-blind. Then, people can be sure that discrimination is not occuring. Any other policy won't work and might actually make things worse.
 
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