Compensatory Affirmative Action?

Ilya Somin defends compensatory affirmative action in his interesting post on Volokh, although he emphasizes that his post is not

about the legality or constitutionality of affirmative action…. I am setting aside these well-worn legal issues in order to focus on the policy tradeoffs, and I encourage commenters to do likewise.

They did, and I encourage you to read both the post and all the comments. In case you choose not to read all the comments, however, here is one — it appears almost at the end (as I write now) — which I especially commend to you:

JosephSlater and LogicNazi: Kudos to both of you (and others) for a fine, civil debate. I would like to add one point that I don’t recall seeing addressed here, or elsewhere: the lack of connection between the justification for compensatory affirmative action and the forms affirmative action takes.

Even if we assume that compensatory affirmative action is justified, it does not follow that preferential admission, hiring, promotion, etc., are the forms it should take or, for that matter, that those particular practices are themselves justified by whatever theory one chooses to justify some kind of racial compensation.

If all whites owe compensation to any blacks (or only the slave-descendant blacks), it would seem to make sense to favor compensatory policies that tax all whites, not just particular college or job applicants. “Tax,” in fact, is one example of such a policy: why not tax all blacks at a somewhat lower rate than all similarly situated whites? Or, to be trivial (though I don’t think the underlying point is trivial) let all blacks automatically go to the front of any queue — movie tickets, boarding airlines, etc.

Such policies, of course, are a form of reparations, but they suffer fewer of the problems of most reparations schemes (identifying proper payees, recipients, etc.). And though I oppose our current racial preference policies and think they either are or should be both illegal and unconstitutional, I’ve long thought that some form of reparations could provide a compromise solution: pay a certain amount, in a certain way, for a fixed period of time, after which no one would receive any preference based on race.

Say What? (1)

  1. mj February 10, 2007 at 7:33 pm | | Reply

    It would certainly be better than what we are going to get: all the preferences liberals can hide from the public indefinitely.

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