** Why Affirmative Action is bad in principle
03 Sep 1994
Here it is, the anticipated Ervan Affirmative Action (AA) mail bomb. Enjoy.
1) Why AA is bad as a matter of philosophy
2) Why capitalism does not discriminate
3) Why AA is always a quota
4) Why quotas do not help blacks economically
5) Why quotas aggravate racist attitudes
6) And on the other topic, why 'morality' is not an objection to my
> [ Even though the implementation of AA may be flawed, how can you
> oppose the principle? It is simply trying to accelerate a slow
> process. ]
I do think prejudice exists and I don't think a government imposed
solution will work. But the latter is merely a pragmatic
I disagree with AA, in principle, for yet another reason: people
should be free to do what they want, to think what they want, to
establish their own values in all things. This, of course, does not
mean that you should be 'free' to deny someone else their equal
freedom. That is, freedom and property are two sides of the same
coin not merely useful things to put together. More specifically,
if someone does not want to associate with blacks, I would not force
them to do so. That I personally find that ridiculous, if not
outright repugnant in some cases, is not relevant. To be free means
to be free to be wrong. It means the 'witches' should have been
free from persecution 300 years ago. It means the Catholics should
have been free from Protestant domination in the 19th century U.S.
It means that blacks should have been free from the torture and
theft (of person as well as property) that they suffered in the
past. It means that people should be free to be gay or smoke
marijuana or anything else. And, yes, it means that racists should
be free to stew in their little pot if they want. That majority
opinion found something intolerable about the minority in each case
I hold of no relevance. Neither truth nor morality can be
established by consensus nor should they be enforced at gunpoint.
I'm not trying here to defend this point of view. I am only trying
to state it, since you asked.
AA has been thrashed endlessly on this debate group before, though
it was before most of the current members joined it. Perhaps it is
time to make a fresh start. I'll just outline some of the issues
here, and let you plow in wherever.
The first problem is defining racism. There seem to be three
different definitions in use:
1) A difference in outcomes demonstrates racism exists, without even finding it.
2) Making any kind of a judgement based on race is racism.
3) Making an irrational judgement based on race is racism.
For me, only (3) is racism. Since I reject (1), I reject
correlation statistics as demonstrating anything at all. For
example, 'Blacks make less than whites therefore racism exists' is
not a valid reasoning step.
Except at extreme levels where boycott effects are relevant,
capitalism is not racist. The individual players may be, but that
doesn't matter. If blacks are underpaid relative to their
productivity (i.e. irrational racism is occurring), by $x, someone
will hire them, pay them $x/3 more (thus luring them away from their
present job), lower prices by $x/3 (thus zapping the racist
competition), and pocket $x/3 as profit for a job well done. The
efficient drives out the inefficient. That may leave some employers
who refuse to hire blacks, but it doesn't matter. If all of the
farmers in Nebraska refused to sell their wheat to Pillsbury, what
would happen? Nothing. Markets would quickly arrange for alternate
distribution with the same net supply & demand leaving the same
This fails only when such a majority is so racist that the non-racist
entrepeneur can find no market, can find no way to mask his production
methods, can find no shell company to hide under, etc. When things
are this bad, government is no help either because the *majority is
racist* and will use its majority position to enforce racism as a
matter of law. For instance, the Davis-Bacon Act is exactly this kind
of thing. It was passed in the 30's under pressure from the unions to
protect their monopolies from the blacks who were willing to hammer
nails and run pipes for next to nothing. It's still the law and it
still has this effect (though to a lesser extent). The racism visited
upon blacks by the government dwarfs anything conceived by capitalism
(we can argue later about why people mistakenly see slavery as an
exception to this).
That particular individuals are often offended by racists or denied
particular opportunities because of racism is repugnant, but it is not
economically significant. I challenge you to present data to the
contrary. I know that even the other moderate libertarians in this
debate group don't agree. So, the challenge is to all of you.
So what is the purpose of AA? Is it to 'break the cycle of
poverty'? Is it to correct for current inequities due to racism?
Is it pure social manipulation to force people to work with blacks
to change attitudes? Or, the most socialist of all, is it to
equalize incomes regardless of ability?
The second one is the reason I most often hear. Let me address it
at a fairly high level. We can get into details later if it
matters. The presumption in this is that there is some standard of
rationality that can be applied wrt to race and that it can be
determined who follows it. Ideally it requires a magic probe that
measures peoples intentions. Such does not exist. In the real
world, AA is nothing but quotas. No matter how much Democrats croon
about not believing in quotas and no matter how much people repeat
as a mantra that affirmative action is just about being fair, the
evidence of discrimination in most court cases is nothing but a
statistical analysis of number of hired blacks versus number in some
sample population. In many ways, this is even worse than an
explicit quota, because there is no clear way to obey the law.
Consider the now famous case of the Daniel Lamp company. This
fellow had one Caucasian employee, his father. The rest were
Latinos (about 60%) and blacks from the neighborhood. Nonetheless,
the EEOC found that 70% of the people in a 12 mile radius were black
and therefore the owner had to pay a fine of $100K+ and advertise to
give back pay to people that never worked for him. In this
particular case, there was a railroad track that sharply divided the
Latino and black communities. This company was on the Latino side
and blacks simply did not like to go there to work. Within a 1 mile
radius, the population was 100% Latino. Maybe with that arbitrary
line he would have been found to have been discriminating against
Latinos for having hired some blacks. His employees testified that
he was in no way racist. None of that mattered of course.
Given that AA is nothing but quotas, the economic aspect of it
becomes clear: it forces more qualified people to surrender their
jobs to less qualified people. This is obviously a net loser for
the economy (though one may justify that in terms of 'equality').
The second economic consequence is that it does not actually help the
people who are the recipients of quota jobs because they are
underqualified. This makes advancement difficult or impossible.
They tend to stick where they are. That are underpaid later (by
lack of pay raises) to compensate for being overpaid now. A very
clear example of this is the drop out rate for quota admissions at
universities. It typically is over 70% (see "Illiberal Education"
for specific statistics). This helps no one. A less obvious
implication is that it saps the spirit of the very people it is
supposed to help because they are 'not going anywhere' (see Shelby
Steele's "The Content of our Character" for a black perspective on
why the psychology of AA is bad for blacks).
Consider the minimum wage. It makes an useful analogy here.
Most people paid minimum wage are paid it as a training wage and
their wages go up later. When the minimum wage is raised,
unemployment rises by less than the number of people who were being paid
beneath the new minimum wage. Supporters point at this as evidence it
works. They are wrong. What happens instead is that businesses
simply take a bigger risk by paying higher training wages for people
they may not eventually hire. They compensate by not stepping up
wages to the next level until the extra amount paid because of the
new higher minimum wage is recoved. Then they also recover the
additional risk cost, further delaying pay raises. Everyone loses.
As for the psychology of AA, it says that people are given jobs
based not on their ability, not on who they are personally, but
rather based solely upon their race. The black person across the
hall got his/her job just because he was black and you lost that
position just because you were white. Even in those instances where
that isn't the case, it becomes the perception. The battle then
moves to Washington to fight over the spoils of the politcal
exploitation. The battle lines are clearly drawn based on race. It
has become a zero sum game, what a black person gains, a white
pseron loses (in sharp constrast to free trade which is not zero
sum). This does not improve attitudes. The second problem is that
it gives whites the impresssion that blacks are stupid because they
consistently perform worse at their jobs than whites. AA creates a
ratcheting effect. If someone could perform at level X, they
instead get a quota job at level X+1. Thus, it tends to move every
quota hiree to where they cannot perform (a Peter Principle of
sorts). Thus, AA, in fact, makes what used to be a mistaken racist
assumption, that blacks are inferior, the truth in its own twisted
way. This does nothing for racism either.
Let me briefly touch on the 'cycle of poverty' argument. If it is
the case that putting more money into the hands of blacks will
improve their educational circumstances and thus their future
economic circumstances, then let's do that instead of AA. Let's not
destroy efficiency in the work force with all of the problems of
AA. If we really believe this works, buried in it is the assumption
that racism is not the problem in any case. And, if this works,
does it work for all poor people or just blacks? If the former,
again, it really isn't a race issue. Not surpsinginly, I don't
think it works either, but I could be swayed by good evidence. For
instance, pupils in Washington, D.C., already get $9,500/capita/year
(that's double the average and much of it is federal money).