Affirmative action and racism. What is the difference?

Everyone agrees that some kind of action is required to help the poor and the weak, and the disadvantaged generally. But what is the most effective way to help?

With the decline of classical liberalism the focus shifted from private charity and individual effort to various forms of intervention by the State, including the affirmative action programs of recent times. This means that the criteria of merit and objective need are trumped by the criteria of gender, race or ethnicity. In the US this means that white trash have to make their own way while the members of favoured groups get a leg up with race-based “set asides” or quotas for higher education.

One of the first principles of public policy, articulated by the Critical Rationalist Scholar No 5, Karl Popper, is that policies should be regarded as experiments and their outcome should be checked to find if  they are producing the desired effects. Ludwig von Mises applied this “falsificationist” approach to State interventions of many kinds, notably socialism, and found that they usually produced bad outcomes, even by the criteria of the interventionists. That is why he persisted with classical liberalism for many decades and did more than most to bring it back to life.

The results of affirmative action

Thomas Sowell would probably be regarded as a “coconut” in some local circles. He is a black conservative based in the US at the Hoover Institute. He investigated the outcome of affirmative action programs around the world and reported the results in a book that was  reviewed in Quadrant.

He looked at the various forms of preferences, for the dominant group like Apartheid and the US deep south, preferences for majorities where minorities dominated (Malaysia) and minority preferences where the majority dominate like the US at present. Before his work nobody paid much attention to the outcomes, and the depressing similarity of outcomes that he found. Writing 20 years later it seems that people have not taken much notice of his findings!

Generally the demand for preferential policies comes from well educated, ‘new class’ members of supposedly disadvantaged groups. The same people also become the main beneficiaries of preference policies which tend to further disadvantage the majority of their bretheren. This was clearly demonstrated in Malaysia where the gap between rich and poor Malays widened in the wake of preference policies for ethnic Malays.  A leading advocate of preferenceconceded the evidence but claimed that the poor Malays preferred to be exploited by their own people.
 
The most destructive result of preference policies is the polarization of whole societies, as in Sir Lanka, Nigeria (with the attempted Ibo breakaway movement to from Biafra) and some Indian states. The Sri Lankan experience is especially instructive because at the time of independence the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority lived side by side in harmony despite their different religions and languages and despite the greater educational and commercial advancement of a section of the Tamils. The elites of both groups tended to be English speaking, mixed freely with each other and were committed to non-sectarian policies. All this changed with one demagogue, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. English-speaking, Christian and Oxford-educated, he became a champion of the Sinhalese language, Budhism and preferential treatment for Sinhalese. This resulted in an upset electoral victory for his party in 1956, followed by legislation to make Sinhalese the official language, restriction of the leading teacher-training college to Sinhalese only, and the first of many bloody race riots directed against the Tamils. The downward spiral continued as radical Sinhalese elements demanded stronger forms of preference and groups of Tamils launched a violent secession movement.
 
Affirmative action as racism

Practically everyone deplores racism. And if racism means giving out unequal treatment, based on race, then affirmative action (racial preferences) is clearly racist.

So why do it?  To help the disadvantaged of course (stupid).

But what about the disadvantaged who do not belong to the preference groups?  What about applying the Pauline Hanson principle of welfare according to need rather than pigmentation?

In the light of the Bolt case and also the actual outcomes of affirmative action policies it is time to think again about using racist policies to combat racism.

On the evidence of experience, they are not going to work. They convert social problems into brutally divisive political conflicts with “winner take all” outcomes rather than win/win.  They become a vehicle for the perversion of the justice system to support sectional  interests (rather than the even-handed rule of law). Wake up Australia!

We may or may not be able to agree on what the ideal, or even a viable, policy must be. What we can agree on is far more fundamental: We can agree to talk sense. That will mean abandoning a whole vocabulary of political rhetoric which pre-empts factual questions…It will mean confronting issues instead of impugning motives…Perhaps more than anything else, talking sense will mean that policies must be examined in terms of the incentives they create, and the results to which these incentives lead, rather than  the hopes they embody. It will mean that evidence must take precedence over assertion and reiteration.

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40 Responses to Affirmative action and racism. What is the difference?

  1. Rococo Liberal

    The biggest problem I have with the whole ‘racism’ debate is the manner in which too many people on the left seem to confuse the motive with the crime. If A kills B because B is white, then the crime is the killing. If A just hated the fact that B played loud music all night and killed B for that, then the crime would still be the killing.

    The best way to tackle racism is to praise the individual and forget the stereotype. The real racism thee days is usually the left-wing sort where anyone in a victim group has to think the same about every issue or be labelled a coconut. The easy way to deal with this is to emasculate the left hard and often: bang their heads together, metaphorically with logic each time they make stupid, sophistic comments.

  2. bruce

    Few realise that India has been grappling with ‘affirmative action’ policies for over a century, called Reservations

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reservation_in_India

    They recognised the problem of unintended consequences which they colourfully call, ‘The Creamy Layer’

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creamy_layer

    Some effort is afoot to avoid welfare going to the already well-off, including necessity of obtaining a certificate that one is not a member of The Creamy Layer!

  3. Rafe

    Yes. The problem is the time and energy it would take to challenge them, given the numbers.

    Parallel to that is direct personal action, like the coaching program set up in Adelaide in the 1960s which recruited people, mostly uni students, to coach young Aboriginals. I never knew the full extent of the scheme but for a few months before I left town I spent an hour a week helping a 8/9 yo girl called Gloriasummer with arithmetic and english. She was in some kind of institution, probably a church organization. If this kind of thing was replicated in different forms across the country by all the people who cared we would have got better results than the waste of billions of dollars while things got worse rather than better in some places.

  4. john malpas

    There are other views here.
    The massive immigration into the UK was “good” according to some professor I heard on the radio because it produced “evolution”
    – he was referring to the number of half cast children in Camden UK.
    After all there must have been some motive that made london 30% non white.

  5. coz

    The problem with ‘racism’ is that it sends conflicting and opposite messages, so it’s no wonder people are confused, and tricked by ‘racism’. It’s the old ‘come here! no go away!’ thing. On the one hand it says ‘ignore my race, be race-blind’ and on the other hand, and, at the same time it says ‘notice my race, respect my race!’

    I think we need to seek clarification of which of these two opposite messages we are supposed to believe.

  6. m0nty

    Practically everyone deplores bad journalism. And if bad journalism means giving out unequal treatment, based on lies, then bad journalism (deliberate falsehoods) is clearly bad.

    So why do it? To help the bad journalist of course (stupid).

    But what about the subjects of the bad journalism who do not belong to News Limited (oops Australia)? What about applying the Pauline Hanson principle of ploise exploin?

    In the light of the Bolt case and also the actual outcomes of ratings for the Bolt Report it is time to think again about using falsehoods to construct right-wing media.

    On the evidence of experience, they are not going to work. They convert social problems into brutally divisive political conflicts with “winner take all” outcomes rather than win/win. They become a vehicle for the perversion of the media system to support sectional interests (rather than the even-handed rule of law). Wake up Australia!

  7. ken n

    m0nty – I have no idea what you are trying to say.

  8. Can I just say, as part of the “everyone” – I absolutely do NOT support any form of welfare. Any form. Begars should beg and those disposed to help them should help them.

  9. Jim Rose

    Generally the demand for preferential policies comes from well educated, ‘new class’ members of supposedly disadvantaged groups.

    so true, as with occupational regulations and other forms of perferment, the wealth redistribution must be linked to some sort of costly to acquire and change tag to keep costs down to thereby reduce resistence from the taxed groups. a higher level of skill is such a tag.

    if most workers in the minority are unskilled, the programme is much more costly, and the largess would be spread more thinly.

    also, the growing size of the group could make the organisation of a pressure group more difficult.

  10. jtfsoon

    In the case of Malaysia, AA was justified by racism, at least according to its former PM, Mahathir, but rather unflattering racism directed at its *beneficiaries*

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/article/2003/sep/08/00020/

    Perhaps only a Malay leader could write that in “early Malaya, no great exertion or ingenuity was required to obtain food. … Under these conditions every one survived. Even the weakest and least diligent were able to live in comparative comfort, to marry, to procreate … the hot humid climate is not conducive to either vigorous work or even to mental activity.” In any case, the British colonial administration encouraged Chinese (and Indian) immigration—in great part because they could not get Malays to work hard in the tin mines. But the new immigrants changed the country completely. Wrote Mahathir, “[W]hatever the Malays could do, the Chinese could do better … before long the industrious and determined immigrants had displaced Malays in petty trading and all branches of skilled work.”

  11. coz

    Practically everyone deplores bad governance. And if bad governance means giving out unequal treatment, based on lies, then bad governance (deliberate falsehoods) is clearly bad.

    So why do it? To help the bad governers of course (stupid).

    But what about the subjects of the bad journalism who do not belong to News Limited (oops Australia)? What about applying the Pauline Hanson principle of ploise exploin?

    Why is Bolt supposed to meet perfect standards politicians and lawyers don’t meet. It’s more of this ‘do as we say, not as we do’ hypocrisy from the political and legal elites.

  12. coz

    oops forgot to substitute in that last para

    But what about the subjects of the bad governance who do not belong to Australia Inc (oops Australia)? What about applying the Pauline Hanson principle of ploise exploin?

  13. m0nty

    Why is Bolt supposed to meet perfect standards politicians and lawyers don’t meet. It’s more of this ‘do as we say, not as we do’ hypocrisy from the political and legal elites.

    Bolt is not an elected representative, thus he can’t invoke parliamentary privilege. Outside the parliament, politicians are subject to the same laws.

  14. coz

    ? Gillard lies blatantly and unrepentantly, why should anyone be required to be more perfect than the highest position in the land.

  15. coz

    The bar is set very low in terms of ‘professionalism’ and it’s politicians who set that bar.

  16. C.L.

    Case laid out for prosecution of the ABC:

    Practically everyone deplores bad journalism. And if bad journalism means giving out unequal treatment, based on lies, then bad journalism (deliberate falsehoods) is clearly bad.

  17. C.L.

    Not sure if this was posted somewhere else on the site but it’s about a very good anti affirmative action protest the other day by the Berkely Republicans:

    Racist Cupcakes? Berkeley Erupts over Affirmative Action Satire.

    The U.C. Berkeley College Republicans struck a national nerve today by holding a bake sale with racially discriminatory pricing: Higher prices for white and Asian students, lower prices for black, Hispanic and female students. Why the intentional discrimination? To protest a pending new statewide law, SB 185, which attempts to re-introduce Affirmative Action into university admission standards, something that was banned years ago with California’s Proposition 209, a popular constitutional amendment requiring race-neutral admissions.

    The purposely inflammatory gag was very clever: the goal was to make everyone point out how racist the cupcake prices were, at which point the young Republicans reply, “Exactly! Racial discrimination is unfair. Thanks for making our point for us!”

    But the leftists on campus and around the state instead flew into a blind rage: The joke was too effective, so Affirmative Action proponents simply pretended to “not get it.” Accusations of racism flew back and forth and before anyone knew it we had a major FUBAR situation on our hands.

  18. C.L.

    Barack Obama got his cupcakes for 1 cent each.

  19. Rafe

    Yes I thought that was a very effective effort! And amusing with it.

  20. Simon

    The main problem with positive discrimination is that it’s done by middle class “try hards” desperately seeking endorsement for their own mediocrity. If it was done by society’s winners, even in a small tokenistic way, it would produce radically different outcomes. An example of this would be the ten best schools of a state/country being forced to take 10% of their students from the bottom 10% of the education system(not those with biological/emotional problems just those doing badly) at full price comped by the government. Successful capitalist idols not just status academics and beaurocrats should be accepted as the true role models for these disenfranchised individuals, the contacts you make and the associations you acquire will provide more security than any amount of positive reinforcement from the vain mediocrity. After saying all that I would like it known that positive discrimination sucks in the most hypocritical and pointless way.

  21. Rafe

    Simon you will be pleased to know that one of the major private schools in Sydney has done what you suggested and enrolled a regular intake of Aboriginal students from the top end. The Government has no involvement in the scheme as far as I know.

  22. Jim Rose

    rafe,
    See Borcherding, Thomas. “An Economic Approach to School Integration: Public Choice with Tie-ins.” Public Choice, Fall 1977, 53-77.

    Argues that a reason for racial or ethnic discrimination in the public sector is politics permits and even encourages the coercive transfer of income from the racial, religious or ethnic group without political control to that with political influence.

    Race can be used as a means of organizing coalitions to lobby for fiscal and economic discrimination in favour of even a previously unprejudiced group.

    Preferences of each group to locate in a common geography and the severe control over entry or exit from the group that such things as skin color, language, caste, and religious dogma impose make the organization of racial or ethnic coalitions by political entrepreneurs fairly cheap and minimise free riding and defection.

    Prejudice may reinforce the solidarity of each group and help to monitor via custom, mores, and folkways the behavior of those that would attempt to bring persons of other groups into the former coalition. Further, prejudice may also serve as a device to rationalize exploitation of another group by fiscal or other means.

    Borcherding argues that integration, racial balancing, quotas, and busing of school children take on a new logic when income transfers can be tied to fairly immutable characteristics such as race.

    Mixing of children by race reduces the ability of a white dominated school board to differentially favor its own partisans’ children and to discriminate against those of blacks.

    This paper anticipated Becker’s point that the competition among pressure groups for political influence for looks for lower cost ways of redistributing wealth so as to as much as possible limits the largess as much as possible to the pressure groups that lobby for it and their allies.

  23. Rococo Liberal

    Rafe

    There are actually at least 3 top private schools who provide scholarships to aboriginal pupils.

  24. Mother Hubbard's Dog

    Everyone agrees that some kind of action is required to help the poor and the weak, and the disadvantaged generally. But what is the most effective way to help?

    Address the actual problem. If there is anyone out there who really thinks that (for example) being aboriginal is a genuine disadvantage, I pose the question, how do you intend to make this person a non-aboriginal? If the actual problem is in fact something else, just deal with it. Don’t pretend that aboriginality is the problem.

  25. Rafe

    Yes! Thanks RL. Better and better!
    I like to ask lefties what they are personally putting in, apart from playing politics.

  26. Nanuestalker

    Affirmative action…
    United States – First Black President
    Australia – Firist Ranga PM

  27. kae

    Welfare, assistance to those who need it.

    I agree with Pauline Hanson with regard to this. There are people with ability and skills who are fettered by poverty or disadvantaged by their situation. Assistance of any kind should not be based on race, religion (if it’s publicly funded), or any other reason except need and ability.
    It’s a shame that much of the assistance given includes dumbing down of pass grades and exceptional assistance as far as education and employment for people of a certain race.
    I wonder when I see someone identifying as aboriginal whether their skills/abilites actually warrant their position.
    I wonder why that is?

  28. Boris

    I think racially based policies like affirmative action have a clear logic. People of a particular racial or ethnic group has been disdavantaged (on average) for historical reason. So if, for instance, an aborinal kid is doing bad at school, it is, at least in part, as a result of their background. If a white kind is doing, bad, it is hius fault. I am not sure I agree with this, but this is the logic. Also, there is an element that success of a even a few aboriginal people in high-level jobs will inspire others to follow their example, and thus from the purely pragmatic point of view, it is useful to give them a relative advanage (even at the expense of fairness). After all, Aborigenees are such a small proportion of the population, that this won’t affect the job market materially.

    It should be also pointed out that Affirmative Action as it was initially conceived did not mean quotas etc. It meant that if there are two candidates OF EQUAL merit, then a member of a minority group should be chosen. Yes this is inequality, but it is designed to correct for past injustice. From this perspective, it is not affirmative action as such that is the problem, but its implementation. I heard this from a number of Americans holding kind of centrist if not center left views.

  29. Matt D.

    The government subsidizes energy to make it cheaper, then inevitably starts to tell us how to use it.

    Walter Williams has argued minimum wage and licensing have hurt blacks in America, and he has corroborated this with a lot of empirical studies. Yet, then the government turns around and tries to force people to hire blacks. It’s really a kind of schizophrenia that these policy makers are practicising.

    Yes, they should just mind their own business. Focus on protecting properly laws and defending people when they are victimized (whether it’s for skin color or some other reason.)

  30. Rafe Champion

    Boris, I know the logic, I worked in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board.

    But how do you think that the program of affirmative action has worked out, given the experience that we have gained, including Sowell’s international survey?

  31. Peter Patton

    RL

    Rafe

    There are actually at least 3 top private schools who provide scholarships to aboriginal pupils.

    That is quite wrong. They ALL do. And I think it is an excellent way of securing the assimilation of ALL our Aborigines.

  32. Peter Patton

    These elite Xian private schools have also done some first class work in de-Islamizing – or at least domesticating them – such as Wally Ally, Irfan Yusuf, and so on.

  33. Thanks Peter, now you mention the elite Xian schools, I met my first asians at the Launceston Church of England Grammar School for Boys (the oldest continuous private school in the country – though it is probably not necessary so mention that, everyone should know). The first arrival (a Hong Kong chinese) became a good friend, even though he was two years older and dethroned me as the table tennis champion of the form.

    One of the others turned up in Adelaide and persuaded me to move out of Lincoln College and share a house with him in Colonel Light Gardens. So I learned to cook some very basic chinese meals. You could call that reverse domestication under the influence of the outsiders:)

  34. Peter Patton

    Rafe

    There is a LOT of really good work being done by business leaders with real money hooking up with real Aboriginal kids all over the country.

  35. Blogstrop

    Racist! – it’s such a worthless term now, having been thrashed to death over the simple, everyday recognition of race or colour rather than actual denigration. Races exist and it is ludicrous to deny their existence. The term has become even further devalued by its reckless invocation whenever cultural groups (such as muslims) are discussed, and where race is not really involved at all.
    I’m amazed that there’s still any carry-on about things like fans dressing and colouring up like footballer Samo, who took it correctly as a bit of fun and a compliment.
    Saying that Scots are tight with money is a generalisation, an exaggeration, but not likely to get you into any more trouble than saying country people talk slowly.
    But, as Mark Steyn incisively showed, cause offence to some “special” minority, even if the offence is taken on no sensible basis, and the laws of various countries can be found wanting.
    Affirmative Action is an artificial construct which seeks to tilt the playing field in favour of a minority which the proponents say has suffered negative results from some form of discrimination. I’d say it usually gets applied to groups whose failure to achieve has more causes than mere discrimination, but it becomes PC to do the Affirnmative Action thing regardless, forming a counter-discrimination which addresses the symptoms rather than the causes.

  36. Rafe

    Peter, maybe private enterprise has to get involved to fix up the mess created by state interventions!

    When you discover the problems that bureaucrats and local powerbrokers create for potentially helpful programs for the remote communities, you realise that for some people keeping control is more important than helping the people.

    The Samo incident is a classic in missing the point, lack of a sense of humour, political correctness gone mad. George Orwell was onto something in “1984” where you teach people to believe that black is white, good is evil etc.

  37. Peter Patton

    Rafe

    I agree. And the results must have an incredible network – geometric – effect on those communities hooked into any of these schemes.

  38. Peter Patton

    I’m not very policticall correct, as you might have worked out by now. In my opinion, these Aboriginal kids should be studying the Greeks myths before they bother with Biame, sea serpents, “indigenous knowledges” and such.

  39. Rafe

    There was a discussion on another site about what languages to teach Aboriginal children, given the push to keep dozens or scores of native languages alive.

    There was a grudging acceptance of the need to teach English. Half joking I suggested Latin as well as English for everyone. That got a remarkably positive response, for the same reason that you suggest Greek myths.

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