CLASS-BASED affirmative action, a system of preferences for the economically disadvantaged in education, entry- level employment, and contracting, will achieve the legitimate goals of affirmative action while avoiding the major pitfalls associated with racial and gender preferences. This chapter presents a three-part case for class-based preferences. First, they will help fulfill the promise of genuine equal opportunity. Second, they will indirectly compensate for past discrimination, bring about a natural integration, and provide a bridge to a color-blind future. Third, they should survive the legal and political attack that will, in the end, sharply curtail or even kill race- and gender-based preference programs.
The central and overriding argument for class-based affirmative action is that it will help move us from today's inadequate system of formal equal opportunity toward a more genuine system of equal opportunity under which individuals born into very different circumstances can flourish to their full natural potential. In a society with substantial inequalities of wealth, the notion of equal opportunity is, as University of Texas Professor James Fishkin has written, "the central doctrine in modern liberalism for legitimating the distribution of goods in society."1 Equal opportunity exists when individuals have equal life chances to develop their natural talents to the fullest, should they choose to take the time and effort to do so. Says Fishkin, "According to this notion, I should not be able to enter a hos-