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May 15, 2008
Class-based affirmative action would be worse
In a recent blog at American Thinker the author mulls over the idea that Obama could move to a position of being against our current race based affirmative action program, and support replacing it with a class-based affirmative action program. I have seen this suggestion modification put forward with increasing regularity, often put as: "we shouldn't help rich black kids, we should help poor kids no matter what race they are".
I strongly disagree with this notion, now being advance by a nominally conservative publication that "class based" affirmative action is better, or less objectionable than the current system.
In fact it is far worse.
First let us return to the original justification for affirmative action: society needs to make up to a group, initially blacks, for their ancestors mistreatment by society as a whole. In the case of blacks, that includes enslavement. Thus the current AA system is at least nominally grounded in an historical fact. Sadly AA has now grown to include groups with dubious historical claims to maltreatment, at least in the original case there is some logic to it.
What logic applies to using the power of the state to favor the poor over the middle class? Inevitably this supports the leftist intellectual tradition which says that poverty is societies fault, and becomes yet another part of the endlessly increasing culture of welfare payments and dependency. Conservatives used to stand opposed to these notions, and deride them as "cultural Marxism".
In fact it is hard to imagine a more perfectly Marxist notion than favoring the children of the poor for admissions over more qualified children of the middle class. It is a signature of the most hated Communist regimes such as Mao's and Pol Pot's to raise the "peasant" class above the bourgeoisie.
Leaving aside that the people who administer such programs are going to be the same people administering the current race based system, and likely to use it to reward exactly the same people, you would now be favoring, say, a black kid from the ghetto whose mother lives on welfare over a black kid from the suburbs whose mother is a registered nurse.
Now consider for a second that these two mothers are sisters, who shared and identical upbringing. One has worked hard and achieved a middle class existence, the other has made a series of poor choices and now finds herself living in poverty.
Why should the child of the poor mom have preference over the child of the successful mom? The absurdity of this system should be self evident. It creates a perverse system of rewards for failure on the part of parents. Basic economics tells us you will get more of what you reward.
Consider also that in a society that allows massive immigration the children of immigrants are nearly always less well off than the children of long established families. Under the "class based" AA system children of immigrants would mostly be given preference over children of citizens. A very odd system that punishes the people who have worked their whole life to pay for the state schools so that the new arrivals can step in front of them in line.
The traditional American system of families working themselves up the ladder of success over several generations implies, and requires, that some benefit accrue to things like working harder, moving to better neighborhoods, sending your kids to better elementary or high schools. Such as their ability to get into better colleges is enhanced.
As always the closer we get to a meritocracy in these things the better for the hard working, and society as a whole. Conservatives are supposed to believe in the American tradition of hard work, a level playing field, and supporting your family for the good of all members.
While we might imagine some day bringing race-based Affirmative Action to an end, based on the reasoning that X number of generations of blacks have now gotten a leg up and it is time for them to compete nose to nose, it seems there is no possibility of ending class based AA once it has begun.
For all of these reasons "class based" affirmative action is a worse abomination than the race based version it claims to be superior to, and should be vigorously opposed by all thinking Americans.