Affirmative action, like labor unions, once served a legitimate purpose. But, as is often the case when remedial measures get institutionalized, having addressed the problems that gave rise to them, they entrench themselves in self-sustaining bureaucracies and set about creating new problems to solve. I’m not suggesting that there are no longer any inequities in pay scales or hiring practices. But inequities will be with us always. Having gotten to the point where we are today, it’s got to be up to individuals to make it the rest of the way.
Crutches are undeniably beneficial when one has a broken leg, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to rely on them permanently. Up to a point, they’re necessary to allow the injury to heal. But using them longer than necessary will eventually atrophy the very muscles that need to be strengthened to effect a full recovery. After nearly half a century, it’s natural to feel some apprehension about laying down the crutches, but the time has come to stand up and walk independently. It may be wobbly at first but, ultimately, the only way to get beyond the need for crutches is to leave the crutches behind.
In a country that’s on the verge of electing a black man as its president, it seems condescending to maintain that a qualified black man can’t get a job without affirmative action. I know a number of highly qualified black men and women in well-paid, highly technical jobs who did not get there because of affirmative action. I think it would be insulting to them to have to work alongside people who were hired because of affirmative action, and have to constantly prove that they weren’t. Affirmative action places a stigma on those who happen to be in a ‘protected’ category, hovering over them like a nagging cloud of doubt as to whether they were hired because of an accidental characteristic or because of their true qualifications.
I’m told that women still only make $.78 on the dollar, compared with men. The assumption is that women and men are always equally qualified and, therefore, should always be paid the same. I question that assumption. Clearly, for many jobs requiring certain physical skills, men will generally be better qualified than women. Notwithstanding individual exceptions, on average, men are bigger, stronger, can run faster, jump higher, etc. There are psychological differences as well, which are reflected in different inclinations, motivations, and other character traits.
There are also different types of intelligence. I know some very smart people who are terrible at math, and I know some incredibly smart engineers who can’t write a coherent sentence. Clearly, different jobs require different types of intelligence, as well as different character traits, motivations, inclinations, and skills. While any individual may possess any given traits to a greater or lesser degree than any other individual, there are fundamental differences between men and women that may impact their respective effectiveness at different types of jobs. That may account for some of the imbalance in wages. Or perhaps women, in general, aren’t as good at negotiating salaries. In that case, they need to develop that skill, not rely on the government to do it for them.
I believe every individual should be paid according to the actual value they provide to their employer. In a free market, that’s exactly what happens. If women who are just as qualified as men are generally making $.78 on the dollar, there are bargains to be had, and there will be savvy employers who are more than willing to pay $.90 on the dollar to get their pick of the most highly qualified women in the work force. Assuming the most highly qualified women really are as qualified as the most highly qualified men, that would give those employers a distinct advantage over their competition. If that isn’t happening, there must be a reason. I can’t imagine that employers would act against their own best interests just to keep women in their place.
The ultimate ideal of affirmative action seems to be to achieve demographically proportional representation in every field. I don’t believe that’s a valid goal. I believe all individuals applying for the same position should be judged by the same criteria, and that the criteria should be determined by the requirements of the position. Job qualifications should not be redefined to encourage diversity. In many cases, that’s where affirmative action leads. It encourages businesses to level the playing field by lowering the bar. That’s not right.