Are We Getting Our Money's Worth from Affirmative Action?

Article excerpt

Government-mandated preferential policies don't work. That's the contention of Thomas Sowell, prolific author, educator and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif.

Sowell has been studying affirmative action programs in India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and back home in the United States. He has found that although government programs offering special consideration to specific ethnic groups take different forms, inevitably, common patterns emerge. Sowell has defined these patterns in his latest book, Preferential Policies: An International Perspective (William Morrow & Co. Inc.) and he summarized them at a recent gathering of the Manhattan Institute in New York:

* Even when adopted as a temporary measure, the programs not only endure but frequently expand.

* Benefits disproportionately favor those people who are already the elite of the recipient group.

* Preferential policies inevitably lead to increased polarization between affected ethnic groups.

* Fraudulent claims of belonging to the designated group develop as excluded people attempt to cash in on the programs.

* Discussion about the programs tends to focus on goals, rationale and mechanisms; results are frequently overlooked.

Sowell focuses on results. He cites statistics which show that blacks made significant economic progress in the United States from the 30s to the 60s. It is only since the early 70s and the advent of government-mandated preferential policies that "the black living standard sputtered to a halt and a huge underclass developed" in our cities, he says. …