When I discuss the injustice of affirmative action programs, some will retort that such programs are necessary because not everyone is as rational as I am. The assertion seems to be that there are people out there who will make decisions on school admissions or job hiring based on racial discrimination, so the affirmative action programs are necessary to counter-act that.
But, do affirmative action programs in hiring and educational admissions encourage or discourage rationality? In actuality, they discourage people from acting rationally by destroying the benefit of behaving rationally.
First, I will start with some definitions:
Affirmative action– are policies by private employers, government employers, or universities in which individuals are admitted or hired over more-qualified persons because of the less qualified individual’s race.
Rationality– is the act of conforming one’s actions to the goal of promoting and sustaining one’s life. Such conformance of one’s actions to that goal requires one to recognize the facts of reality and then act accordingly. Reality, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Ayn Rand summed up the purpose of rationality:
“My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge…These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.” Galt’s Speach, _For The New Intellectual_ Pg. 128, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html)
Justice– is the virtue of judging people in accordance with a rational standard and then treating them accordingly. For example, in a fully free society, a criminal is put in jail because he is judged to have violated the rights of some other person to live and act in accordance with their rational thinking. The criminal is put in jail to restrain him from violating the rights of others going forward into the future. An employer hires the most productive employee he can at a given wage because such an employee will maximize the profitability of his business. The profitability of his business is the rational standard by which the employer judges employees. His act of hiring the most productive employee is treating someone in accordance with that standard.
The best way to see that affirmative action programs discourage rational behavior is by looking at some concrete examples:
(1) Affirmative action in college admissions. There are a limited number of spots for students in each freshman class per year. Affirmative action means a less qualified student will be admitted over a more-qualified student based on the less qualified student’s race. This isn’t necessarily a less-qualified non-white being admitted over a white in the United States. Asians would probably have greater admissions rates at some universities if affirmative action were done away with -which I am fine with. If they are the ones that have the best grades and SAT scores, then they are the ones that deserve to be there. https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/jeff-sessions-justice-department-goes-after-affirmative-actions
Such race-based admissions mean students and their parents are going to be forced to pay for universities through their taxes, and then their children are going to be denied admission based on their race, even though they have studied harder and done things to cultivate their rationality and expand their knowledge. (Leaving aside the fact that many public schools often seem to do the opposite of encouraging knowledge and rationality in their students.)
Students that are more rational will be penalized in favor of students that are less rational. Furthermore, to the extent a four-year degree is required to obtain a professional license for many areas of work, such as lawyers and doctors, those of us in the public will be forced to use the services of less-qualified minority doctors and lawyers who were admitted not because they were the most intelligent or qualified to work in those professions, but because of their race. This means our rational choice as consumers of things like medical services and legal services is thwarted by affirmative action programs in university admissions.
(2) Affirmative action in hiring. This involves a business hiring or retaining a less-qualified employee over another more-qualified employee based on the less qualified employee’s race. Since any one employer only has a set number of employees at a time, it means some people who are harder-working, more diligent, more productive, and, in a word, more rational, will be excluded from employment based on their race.
This doesn’t just hurt the employee who was not hired, but should have been hired if the business went on the basis of productivity of employees exclusively. Business customers will receive a sub-standard product over what they could have had. Investors in the business will receive a lower return on their investment than they could have obtained. Managers at the business who insist on hiring on the basis of productive ability, i.e., the more rational managers, will be penalized for doing so. The affirmative action program in hiring penalizes rationality and rewards irrationality.
Furthermore, if the business is a government contractor producing goods and services for governmental functions, then the taxpayers are being forced to not only pay taxes, but to pay taxes to employ people who are less competent at their jobs than other job candidates, and getting a substandard product in return. A funny consequence of affirmative action programs would be some of the employees at the United States Post Office. A less funny example would be what happens when less qualified people work on things like military equipment, where the lives of soldiers are at stake, as well as the ability of our country to defend itself from enemy attack. Our free and good society’s very existence is put at risk by affirmative action programs in military equipment contracts. Our continued ability to exercise our freedoms and liberties guaranteed under the constitution is contingent on our military’s ability to protect us from invasion by people who would not respect our right to be rational. Affirmative action programs in defense contracts are therefore a huge threat to those of us who want to be rational in order to sustain and maintain our lives.
If you look around, you can see other examples of treating less qualified people better than they deserve because of their race. Some are more subtle than the above and get into complex social dynamics. For instance, what happens when you invite someone to a party because of their race –you don’t want to be perceived as racist- but they are an obnoxious boor? I won’t go through the details, but the party is less fun.
These examples illustrate my overall point. Affirmative action programs discourage and penalize rationality. To claim that affirmative action programs are necessary because “everyone isn’t rational” is the opposite of the truth. In reality, affirmative action programs destroy incentives to be rational because they destroy the principle of justice -of judging people in accordance with a rational standard and then treating them accordingly.