Affirmative Action

As your typical wasp kind of guy, I’m not sure how clearly I can write about affirmative action. My knee jerk opinion is to not like it, for all the reasons the conservatives provide. On the other hand, few people of any political stripe would deny that the U.S. has had (and continues to have) a problem getting many blacks and other minorities into the American social and economic mainstream. On balance, I come out against it in its overall concept. However, there are certain parts of it that are needed to fix some obvious problems, and I cautiously accept the necessity for them.

  • The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, with President Johnson issuing an executive order saying that governments must take “affirmative action” in hiring, contracting and so on, to help blacks (later including other minorities and women) overcome decades of discrimination. Curiously, and perhaps significantly, no affirmative action law was ever passed by Congress. There has never been a national referendum on it. The polls I’ve seen reflect the country’s ambiguity about the topic. At the ballot box, several states I think of as more liberal (California and Washington) have voted to roll it back. I think it fair to say that the program, at least as a whole, is quite unpopular.
  • While certain parts of the program have produced good results, other parts have led to widespread resentment and a continuing saga of court cases. In general, after 30 years, it hasn’t solved the problems it started out to solve. At some point, it becomes counter-productive to continue.
  • I would prefer to focus on making it easier for everyone to get whatever they need so they can effectively compete for positions. The suggestions below sound too liberal for my taste, but as strictly a practical matter we ought to be encouraging people to join the workforce, and providing these types of services would make it practical for more under-advantaged people to do so.
  • We ought to improve the schools for everyone, but especially inner-city schools, so that over time everyone is more equally qualified to join the workforce. Schools, and school vouchers, are a different topic.
  • We ought to provide some form of minimal health care for everyone, allowing more employers and potential employees to participate in a lower-cost job market. Again, this is a different topic.
  • We ought to provide some form of day-care so single mothers can afford to go to work.
  • We ought to provide better public transportation from living areas to working areas.

January 2, 2003

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