Affirmative Action: A Dodo in the Nest



Affirmative action was introduced in the USA in the 1960s in an attempt to address previous discrimination. To this day it is a very controversial topic with clear political divisions. Arguments range from the common good to forcing some to accept the sins of the father.

It is an emotive subject which brings bias bursting out as a good kick at a wasps nest might do. Was it a purely political decision to calm and contain the fervour of the period, with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement?  If that is the case then the opposition can claim it had an inherent bias. Others will argue that the Kennedy period was a progressive one.

An important question arises as to whether we can ever right the wrongs of the past. America was a politically divided society then and, things ain’t changed much. Bryan Magee suggests an answer, “[I]f all individuals have equal moral claims it is wrong to sacrifice one generation to the next.”1

However, Noam Chomsky takes a different view when he states that anyone opposing affirmative action is accepting the ‘oppressive’ and ‘discriminatory’ measures of the past. He is 100% wrong! He himself hints at problems when he says “…you find plenty of things to criticize.” 2

A very important point is raised by Chomsky that affirmative action should not, “…harm poor people who don’t happen to be in the categories designated for support.” (p211) That’s probably most of the poorest in society.

The issue of poverty is raised by Michael Sandel when he cites the case of Cheryl Hopwood. 3 This was a young woman raised by a single parent who worked her way through the education system. She gained the appropriate grades and applied to the Texas Law School. Her application was turned down. It emerged that students from minority backgrounds with less impressive scores all gained entrance. Hopwood who is white thought her rejection was unfair; she took the university to court. She lost.

The university won its case by citing its affirmative action policy which committed it to accepting about 15% of entrants from a minority background. A quota? At the time African Americans and Mexican Americans accounted for about 40% of the population of Texas.

That the law sanctioned affirmative action does not by itself make it logical or just. A legal mind is also subject to a political outlook; hence each elected president attempts to have the Supreme Court at least balanced if not skewed in their favour. Political bias can sway the greatest minds e.g. Plato – closed society and Aristotle – slavery.

And so it would seem with legal judgements on affirmative action:

  • 1996 US Court of Appeals ruled that affirmative action could not be a factor on admission decisions as it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • 2003 US Supreme Court upheld that affirmative action can be applied as a mechanism by a vote of 5-4.
  • 2014 US Supreme Court ruled that voters can prohibit affirmative action in public universities by 6 – 2.

It might just be me but I detect some political bias at play in these decisions or am I just being politically biased.

To return to the Hopwood case, it would seem to me that she fitted the criteria that the system should not ‘harm poor people’ as suggested by Chomsky. I am also intrigued by the description of affirmative action by the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“In institutions of higher education affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, such as women and minorities.” 4

I suspect that that was written after the Hopwood case.

The rational of affirmative action is to create a ‘more equitable and just society for the future’ Chomsky, (p211) and to advance ‘a socially worthy aim’ Sandel (p171); who could argue with these sentiments. But is this what Popper would describe as ‘piecemeal social engineering’ (PSE)? Magee (107) And can PSE be justified on any grounds, some may consider it a close relative to fascism. This may seem rather strong but can manipulation ever be justified.

In recent years countries of Europe have taken a different stance: the UK has a clear policy that any discrimination, quotas, or favouritism is illegal. Sweden passed a law in 2012 that says that all students must face the same requirements for entry. 5 This draws us back to the view of Popper and Magee.

A more equitable society would doubtless benefit everyone. However, in implementing affirmative action was it the hope or intention that the minority candidates would emerge to become ambassadors for their ethnic body.

An alternative view would be that they take the money and run. Will they remain in the

Need we say more?

Need we say more?

neighbourhood – unlikely? If successful are they more likely to move to a nice suburb and join the country club – likely, if they have a wad of dollars. A further alternative view is that Hopwood being female and from a modest background would also understand the concept of barriers and may have become a better, stronger advocate of human rights than her minority counterparts.

Perhaps, all along, the plan was to build a middle class of the minority population and thereby secure the future of the system. A new Praetorian Guard? The World Values Survey study by Ronald Inglehart, suggests that the middle class and working class tend to drift apart on most issues. 6

The drift between the classes is no doubt due in part to income differentials, the gap is growing wider and this gets reflected in the social and educational environment. Which basically means that the poor get crapped on from on high. As a society we are pulling apart and as we do so tension grows. Not just between the rich and poor but also in ethnic terms, it’s the old survival syndrome.

When positing the idea that America could become a color-free country Chomsky sadly admits, “I don’t think it’s going to happen”. (p122) The question is why not? There is no political will to rock the boat of the capitalist system. Politicians may do a lot of tinkering but never advocate a serious shift away from the super rich. Politicians are dominated by the theory of the market but perhaps Ha-Joon Chang can open up a new avenue for exploration:

“The economy is much bigger than the market. We will not be able to build a good economy – or a good society – unless we look at the vast expanse beyond the market” 7

We don’t need the overthrow of the system just a better use of the available resources. Joseph Stiglitz highlights one glaring example of where progress can be made when writing about university entrance “Only around 9% come from the bottom half of the population, while 74% come from the top quarter”. 8 Francis Fukuyama also suggests that education is a key to the future. (p451)

Many writers point to the uncertainty that grows with the gap in inequality. In the long-term democracy may be in danger. Thus making politicians more accountable and responsive to the electorate is crucial for the health of a nation.

The new media, the net and social media can play a significant role in opening a discussion with ordinary Joe. A blog that addresses serious issues in a language that all can access may promote greater participation. This would be enhanced by powerful names being associated with the writing. It may generate an army of opposition but then you know it’s working.

Common good thinkers must come from behind their intellectual retreat and reach out to the citizenry. Otherwise they might wither behind their curtain with their frustration, pipe and slippers.

Do some good join Robin Hood!

  1. Popper Bryan Magee (p103) + (107)
  2. How the World Works (p212) + (122)
  3. Justice What’s the Right Thing to Do? Michael J. Sandel (p167) + (p171)
  6. Political Order and Political Decay Francis Fukuyama (p 441) + (451)
  7. Economics: The User’s Guide Ha-Joon Chang (p456)
  8. The Price of Inequality Joseph E. Stiglitz (p24)


To The Barricades!


thROE354NRA future ravaged by revolution, French style where the rich and powerful meet their fate on the guillotine or by firing squad in a Russian type overthrow. The crime will have been the denial of rights to the majority and an utter contempt for the masses. The growing separation through inequality may force the hand of the poor to take action.

There is little doubt that inequality is increasing; Ha-Joon Chang (p333) points out, “Since the 1980s, income inequality has risen in the majority of countries”. He goes on to highlight that this is especially so on the UK and USA, “…which lead the world in pro-rich policies”. Economics: The User’s Guide. Krugman (p73) lends his support concerning the USA “…the income of the typical family grew less after 1980 than before”. End This Depression Now!

This view is shared by Stiglitz (p9) who illustrates his point with a host of data over the last 30 years:

  • Low wage earners – increase over the period          = 15%
  • Top 1% of earners –                                                  = 150%
  • Top 0.1% of earners –                                               = 300%

Over a slightly different time scale Krugman (p76) substantiates the point made by Stiglitz. What this means in reality for the American worker is: an auto worker in 2007 could expect to earn $28 per hour now new hires are taken on at $15 an hour. Stiglitz (p71-72) The Price of Inequality

Another telling point comes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which suggests that, “… the UK economy would have been 20% bigger had the gap between rich and poor not widened since 1980s”. Guardian 2014/12/09

thXB41ZEDFThe disparity is clear the rich have benefitted greatly, the super rich have benefitted fantastically. Over the same period extreme poverty has risen dramatically in the US as between 1996 – 2011 it has doubled to 1.5 million based on World Bank (WB) measures. Stiglitz reckons that 25% of all kids in the US live in poverty. (p20-21)

Two of the world’s rich nations have a damning ratio of inequality; what must it be like elsewhere: India, China and Africa, I dread to think. Moreover, we cannot rely on democracy to iron out the creases in our system, “…the political agenda is biased towards corporate power”.

A statement which is borne out by Chang (p325) “… recent dramatic upswings in inequality in the US and the UK can mainly be explained by deregulation and tax cuts for the rich”. A view supported by both Stiglitz and Krugman.

“Currently, as the wealthiest obtain more wealth, they use a portion of that wealth to reduce the risk of having and obtaining additional wealth. A good example of this is how the tax rate on the wealthiest decreases as they obtain more wealth. The average tax rate for the top 1% in the US is now 17%. The tax rate for the poorest is closer to 50%”. cited in www.larsschall.com2011/06/13/hegels-masterslave-dialectic/


Therefore our politicians are less interested in the electorate. Is it because we are skint? In contrast we have the thoughts of Wang Fuzhi a 17th century philosopher who was critical of the rulers, “…government should benefit the people, not those in power”. A lovely sentiment but can we have it adopted in today’s world. It is a view shared by the 20th century philosopher Karl Popper who thought it essential that we have a society where ‘political institutions can be changed by the governed’. Personally I would have Wang’s statement emblazoned onto banners and paraded everywhere where there is a protest. It should be a mantra for all who believe in equality and democracy.

Unfortunately, we seem to be headed towards a society based on Hegel’s master – slave dialectic and the fight for survival that ensues. ( as above)It would seem that we are outside /beyond the thought processes of the rich. In a study for the WB in 2000 which surveyed 10,000, Can Anyone Hear Us? Deepa Narayan et al. One of the main issues raised by those surveyed was the lack of a voice. Nobody listens! Stiglitz (p21 + 390 notes 69) It’s to their own detriment but the rich cannot understand the concept of fairness.

In elementary psychology the point is made clearly, “It is important for us to feel that we have some control over what happens to us”. Understand Psychology (p119) The rich accept no responsibility for the growing inequality; that is inexcusable. They cause it and then turn a blind eye to the consequences of their actions. According to the philosopher P.F. Strawson it is only natural that we hold others responsible for what they do.

Nobody listens! Especially our politicians except when it’s election time. Then the voters are herded through a narrow alley where they are bombarded with spurious rhetoric and a bucketful of promises. At the other end they are set loose, once again, to fend for themselves against the wolves and other predators. Little wonder therefore that there is a rise of alternative political parties. These new parties have emerged because the people want a voice and because the mainstream parties have stopped listening.

People will make sense of the world in which ever way they can, in the environment they find themselves living; be it crime, gangs or non-participation in general society. However, any notion that such groups should be shut out of the welfare system will result in new sub-cultures with unforeseen consequences.

Moreover, control of the hoi polloi has more tentacles than your average octopus: booze, drugs, and soap operas etc. However, not even the legalisation of marijuana will depress the feeling of unfairness. On the other hand it may actually heighten the feeling of dislocation and anger. And the present fascination of the star-struck dilettantes, dazzled by the glamour will not dislodge the desire for equity.

Reality for most has two edges, work or unemployment. Those in work are generally thRZSGUKD9happier people. Understand Psychology (p256-257). For those out of work various studies have shown a marked deterioration in physical health which exacerbates the problem. Long term unemployment can lead to ‘learned helplessness’ (p118) which can lead to apathy and a resignation which prompts an attitude of ‘why bother’ and, generates a ‘victim mentality’. The consequential costs over generations can prove so severe for society that government should set up training centres and community work to reduce the knock on effects.

The reality of the downtrodden is depressing. It is easier looking in than living the life. Nonetheless, people have a strong tendency to want to help as Chang (p197) suggests, “…people can, and do, pursue enlightened self-interest”. But these are generally ordinary folk who understand that at times we all need a hand because they too know aspects of that life. The rich are too busy flashing their bling in our faces.

M.K. Covey maintains that “Trust is the glue of life”. The Leaders Guide to Influence (p79) The same terminology is used by Stiglitz (p152-153) when he emphasises that social capital / trust is the ‘glue’ in society; that cooperation and trust are important,     “…in every sphere of society”. Without the ‘glue’ without the belief that the economic and political system is fair, society won’t function well. He gives several instances where social capital works exceptionally well and where it has failed.

A poll carried out on behalf of the NYT/CBS News in 2011 found only 10% of respondents trusted their government to do things right most of the time. Stiglitz, (p440 notes 8) The distrust of politicians is widespread. In the UK trust has been steadily eroded by promises never kept and by the scandal of M.P.’s fiddling their expenses. Some have also utilised their position of authority for a fee to business. Obviously, lobbying is not enough for some businesses.

thP0BYI7XHHowever, corruption of politicians is not a new phenomenon as Chang (p338) purports that business “…let’s not mince words- legally and illegally [are] buying up politicians and political offices”. Krugman (p86) is equally forceful in his view, “There is plenty of raw corruption—politicians who are simply bought, either with campaign contributions or with personal payoffs”. Stiglitz (p137-138) weighs in with several instances of ‘dishonest accounting’. It will make your eyes water with anger.

More recently in Brazil, the Petrobras scandal has 54 politicians in the dock and President Dilma Rousseff under suspicion concerning corruption at the oil giant. Federal prosecutors are seeking $1.5bn from 6 construction and engineering companies who are said to have bribed their way to huge contracts with Petrobras.

It’s no different in France where 11 dairy companies have been fined a total of €192.7 million for organising a cartel. www.France242015/03/12 No wonder prices are so high!

So what’s the difference between fraud at the top and fraud at the bottom —–prison?

It needs to be well documented that if politicians do not listen to their constituents then they must accept full responsibility for any downsides in society. They tend to think that every 5 years or so they can tell a different story and blame someone else. They never accept blame themselves. Make them responsible!

Do some good ……join Robin Hood!!!!

Government should benefit the people not those in power



He’s Here!


thCAAXS9NGShush! Don’t make a sound. Don’t stand up! He’ll put you down. Big Brother has arrived. His arrival is much later than envisaged by 1984 author George Orwell, neither did Orwell anticipate that the controlling hand would stem from a democratic rather than a totalitarian regime. Few could have foreseen the rise of the troika, renamed ‘The Institution’.

Poor Greece it doesn’t stand a chance against the might of the EU and its enforcers, the troika, the faceless: the European Commission (E Comm) the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) all unelected. It is their way or the highway.

This is your Europe where democracy does not matter, where decisions will be made for you. The democratically elected government of Greece tried to uphold the principles by which it was elected but has been brow beaten by ‘The Institution’. Greece wanted to opt out of the austerity economic plan followed by the rest of Europe. The new government wanted to reverse the savage cuts imposed on its workers by ‘The Institution’.

As far as the faceless are concerned there is no alternative to their adopted policy. They are wrong, very wrong. I can point them to two Nobel Prize winning economists, a Harvard university economist and a Cambridge university economist who all advocate a positive alternative to the austerity / neoliberal model now in force.

    • J.E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality
  • Paul Krugman, End This Depression Now!
  • Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox
  • Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide


Greece did not cause this mess, though the propaganda would have you believe otherwise. What Krugman p177 calls the Big Delusion when he points out that Ireland and Spain both had budget surpluses and low debt prior to the banking crisis of 2008 but ended in the same bog as Greece. So it was not that Greece spent more than it could afford. Krugman p179 goes on to suggest that the political, financial and banking leaders are deeply committed to their version of events. Others may define their logic as ‘groupthink’.

A large part of the blame rests with the introduction of the € euro currency but they will never admit their complicity in creating a mess. At the time of the discussion to adopt the euro many pointed out that while America had a good model, “Europe fell far short of that model”. Krugman p173   Stiglitz p30 is equally scathing in stating that there was no “…political or institutional arrangements to make it work, and they will pay a high price for that failure”. I think we can all agree they are.

Moreover, it’s not just Greece that’s in trouble: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Italy are trapped in the same bog. These nations have opted to wield the axe and cut the life blood of so many families by cutting jobs by the thousand, cutting welfare, lowering wages and refusing to increase the minimum wage and allowing privatisation which entails job cuts.

Ha-Joon Chang p105 therefore concludes, “With the austerity budget, the prospect for economic recovery in many of these countries is dim”. That they might even face a ‘lost decade’ as Japan suffered in the1990s and Latin America 1980s. The point is supported by Krugman p186, “…deficit countries have been required to impose…draconian…spending cuts and tax hikes—programs that push them into deeper slumps…” Krugman p42 suggests that the ‘Institution’ should look at the work of past economists e.g. John Maynard Keynes, Irving Fisher and Hyman Minsky to find an alternative to the neoliberal austerity package.

Why Austerity?

The IMF, the World Bank and the Federal Bank of the USA are commonly referred to as the Washington Consensus as these are the guys pushing the neoliberal model, free trade and globalization. Rodrik p171 opines that it is a “damaged brand” and has abundant evidence to support his statement.

The role of the IMF is quite confusing:

  • In the years 1978 – 2009 the IMF found 173 cases of fiscal austerity in advanced countries, “And what they found was that austerity policies were followed by economic contraction and higher unemployment”. Krugman p237
  • In February 2010 the IMF document Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy, suggested that central banks such as the ECB in Europe “might be better to aim for 4% inflation rather than the 2% or less that has become the norm for ‘sound’ policy”. A policy of ‘groupthink’. P161
  • In 2011 a study by the IMF found that inequality in income affects the economy on the demand side and suggests that ‘reduced inequality’, the reverse of austerity, can lead to sustained growth. Stiglitz p114

The conclusion drawn by Stiglitz p288 is that, “The worst myths are that austerity will bring recovery and that more government spending will not”. Support comes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “…income inequality has a sizeable and statistically negative impact on growth”. Guardian 14/12/09

Nonetheless we find the IMF as part of the ‘Institution’ that is promoting austerity in Europe. Who are the faceless that they can disrupt the lives of millions and simply walk thILH29564away with their own pockets filled? Stiglitz p290 condemns them as akin to blood letters of the Middle Ages who cut to release bad blood and when the patient didn’t recover argue that more of the same was needed. They are fixed in their opinion. Groupthink!


“Groupthink is one of the most dangerous traps in our decision-making. It’s particularly likely because it taps into our deep social identification mechanisms – everyone likes to feel part of a group – and our avoidance of social challenges. But consensus without conflict almost always means that other viewpoints are being ignored, and the consequences of groupthink can be disastrous”. (p137)

Dr Nicky Hayes, Understand Psychology

A telling point by the author comes with the observation, perhaps tongue in cheek,     “…our understanding of what it is and how it happens doesn’t seem to stop politicians and others from doing it”.

The Greek people were not alone in rejecting austerity the Netherlands and France voted out pro-austerity parties in 2012. A year later the Italians did the same. Chang (p106) It will be interesting as other elections come up how the people will respond but will it make a difference. The ‘Institution’ has set its parameters and seems unlikely to budge. Can people power move them? Or are we powerless against the ‘bureaucratic order’. He’s Here. Are we witnessing the start of the overt rule by the faceless? Democracy, write it in your diaries for your grandchildren to read.

Do some good—————–join Robin Hood.