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Is it ever okay to discriminate? A look at Affirmative Action

Posted by Chance on April 6, 2006

We are all familiar with the positions that the two parties have on affirmative action.

The liberal view: It is the role of the government to take an active role in improving the positions of minorities in the workplace and academia. There appears to be 3 primary reasons
1) to ensure diversity as an end in itself
2) balance out and/or prevent racism against minorities in making hiring decisions, or admissions/scholarships in the case of learning institutions
3) correct past wrongs suffered by minorities.

It seems that reason 1 has become more popular lately, perhaps in response to the meritocracy argument (the best should get the job/college acceptance).

The conservative view: Discrimination is wrong, no matter what. Although discrimination has taken place in the past, two wrongs don’t make a right. Affirmative action is just reverse discrimination. In terms of academia and the workplace, people should be selected on the basis of merit. Conservatives typically rally against mandatory affirmative action in academia and government posts, and I assume that they support anti-discrimination legislation that still ensures minorities are not rejected for the fact that they are a minority.

There is a lesser known, third view, that most libertarians have. They focus not so much on the virtues and vices of various discriminations (old fashioned or affirmative action), they look at it in terms of the Constitution, and through the freedom of association.

First of all, they argue that affirmative action in the public arena (that is, public colleges or government jobs) cannot discriminate, based on the Civil Rights Act and/or similar legislation.

In private arenas, however, they argue that private companies or private colleges can implement their own affirmative action policy, based on what is called “freedom of expressive association”, which is essentially the freedom to associate with who we want. While this belief leads to voluntary affirmative action, it also opens the door to discrimination against minorities as well. While libertarians view discrimination as immoral, they believe that the government should not force any type of relationship, business or personal. They also argue that a free market is color blind, and although some discrimination may initially take place, ultimately, the color green overrides any other color. They commonly point to the fact that most past segragation was implemented by government, not by businesses.

I have held the conservative view for some time, but I wonder about the libertarian viewpoint. The idea that businesses are allowed to discriminate against who they hire based on their age/sex etc… is a little bit troubling. However, the idea of freedom of association makes a little bit of sense, just because I don’t think the government can effectively force people to join into relationships they do not want. For instance, if there is a white boss who does not want to hire a black man for a certain job, it may be actually better if that black man is not hired for the job, based on discrimination he could receive from the white boss, such as bad treatment, or him hitting a “glass ceiling.” Things could be worse for him if the boss is forced to hire him. At the same time though, I imagine that discrimination is still bad in many parts of the country, and I could imagine it being terrible around the time that equal rights were being established. Also, extensive anti-discrimination laws could be very intrusive into businesses.

Either way though, I am against mandatory affirmative action.

What about voluntary affirmative action? Is discriminating every okay, even if it is to help disadvantages minorities. Here are some thoughts I wrote the other day. They were kind of stream of consciousness, so sorry for any poor grammer, ramblings, etc…

“Is discriminating against whites ever okay?
a) Is hiring a minority for the sake of them being a minority okay?
The conservatives use a meritocracy argument against AA, but there is no law in the Bible that says you have to hire the absolute best person for your company. The owner of a company needs to understand though, that their company depends on the people they hire. They have to take into account any risk by not hiring the very best person. But still, is AA morally okay? Would it be okay, if I, as a businessman, to hire a black person that is a little less qualified, because perhaps he had a tougher background? That’s a tough call. It is troubling if I hire people based on their need for a job, rather than what they can provide me. That may be selfish, but businesses must operate on what will keep it running effectively. Hiring someone because they had a harder background could become a troubling pattern. Is it okay to do it once in a while? Perhaps if its in an area where blacks are discriminated against regularly, I would want to give that person a chance. Perhaps there is a situation where hiring a minority for the sake of them being a minority is okay. I’m sure many minority groups have banded together to help each other out through hiring decisions.

b) Hiring a minority for other reasons. However, I believe there is some cases in which hiring a minority is okay, for the sake of what they can contribute. Diversity can help a business. At the risk of sounding like an anti-WASP liberal, hiring a bunch of white males could harm a business. But hiring many people from any single demographic could be harmful. People from different walks of life can contribute many different viewpoints. It is no secret to any person not bound by political correctness that men and women are different, and even white, black, and Asian people can be different. Various racial and ethnic groups have their own subcultures, and there is no reason why these subcultures cannot contribute different things to the workplace. One has to be careful with this philosophy though. Don’t assume that hiring a woman will automatically contribute a warm and nurturing personality to the workplace. Don’t assume that some Native American will treat co-workers to tails of Pow-Wows and underwater basket-weaving.
c) other cases of special treatment. Back to the argument of meritocracy. This is a conservative argument that someone should hire the best person for the job, regardless of ethnicity, sex, fetishes, etc… However, there are many cases where people will argue that this isn’t the case. How many family owned businesses have hired a son or daughter to inherit the company, even though there is a distinct possibility they are not the very best person? In many foreign cultures, family hiring is done more often, and is done so because the father trusts the son more than anyone else, for example. If its okay to hire a family member, or even a friend, then it weakens the meritocracy argument somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, businesses should hire the best people, but if its okay to hire a friend or family member, why not a minority, because you care about helping him or her? “


2 Responses to “Is it ever okay to discriminate? A look at Affirmative Action”

  1. The Prophet said

    Good Post, although I don’t know if the “It doesn’t say anything in the Bible…” argument should exist if you believe in the separation between church & state (i.e. reasons for not wanting the Govt’s stamp of approval on gay marriage).

    Here’s an idea for a movie:
    A small town in Illinois is started by midgets. Everyone in the town is a midget, even though they are as diverse as we are in race, religion, economic status, sexuality, etc.

    The movie could either take one of two approaches:
    1. People who aren’t midgets visit the town and love the great views, scenery and location, so they try to move in, only to become discriminated against in being allowed to live there.
    2. The movie stays just with the midgets living there, but shows the discrimination that occurs within the midget population, who without “Midgetsville” would be discriminated against by average sized people on a day to day basis.

  2. Chance said

    Thanks for the comment. I suppose you are right (even though I don’t always like the term “separation of church and state” because it is used to justify banning anything religious in the public domain). My main thing was that, people, including myself, typically use the meritocracy argument against affirmative action, but this is not a full-proof argument, just because, sometimes, people in charge don’t always hire the “very very best”, but hire someone based on a recommendation of a friend, someone they know, etc… Is this wrong? I don’t think it is always, because the person in charge of the company is responsible for its well-being, and if they make a bad hire, they pay the price. Maybe it ultimately comes down to, a person hiring who they want to hire, with the understanding that the well-being of the company depends on it. However, this opens the door to discrimination, so…I don’t know what to think.

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