Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview
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Concluding observations on policies of positive discrimination

In this final chapter of the book I draw on the preceding theoretical and empirical comparative analysis of positive discrimination in the US and India to present concluding observations on the rationale for positive discrimination policies, the optimal design of such policies, and the consequences of the policies actually implemented in the two countries.

On the rationale for policies of positive discrimination in favor of ethnic identity groups

Positive discrimination (PD), as I have defined the term, means preferential selection of members of a group to positions in the larger society in which that group is under-represented. In this book I have addressed PD policies favoring members of ethnic groups (defining ethnicity broadly to include race, caste, and tribe), whose shared ethnic identity is involuntary and rarely alterable. The under-representation of such groups in positions commanding respect and authority is not necessarily but almost always associated with members of these groups being of a low average socio-economic status, as compared to that of the rest of their society's population. Positive discrimination in favor of under-represented ethnic groups (UREGs) is one of many possible kinds of social policy intended to enable people of relatively low socio-economic status to gain greater opportunities for social, political, and economic advancement.

The actual or prospective use of ethnicity-oriented PD policies thus raises two fundamental questions. First, why should a social policy be oriented to ethnic identity rather than to socio-economic class, with ethnicity rather than socio-economic disadvantage serving as the criterion for eligibility for benefits? Secondly, why should preferential selection policies be utilized rather than other kinds of social policies designed to improve access to opportunities for advancement on the part of people whose opportunities have been limited in the past? The possible alternative policies include redistributive transfers of income or wealth in favor of such people and development programs that increase their capacity to participate in the life of the society-e.g. programs that improve their health, education, or living environment.


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