Nathan Glazer
Affirmative Discrimination: Ethnic Inequality and Public Policy
Basic Books, 1975
Reviewed by Gary McGath
Copyright 1979 by Ergo and Gary McGath

This review originally appeared in Ergo, February 7, 1979. I am including this review here to preserve some of the material which appeared then, and which may otherwise be found only on deteriorating newsprint. Ergo was an Objectivist-Libertarian weekly in newspaper format which was published at MIT.

In Affirmative Discrimination, Nathan Glazer presents a generally strong case against Affirmative Action (preferential treatment for certain racial and ethnic minorities). He shows that Affirmative Action policies preclude the treatment of people on the basis of their individual merits, that governmental requirements for Affirmative Action are in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and that such requirements prevent employers from distinguishing qualified applicants from unqualified ones.

Under Affirmative Action, Glazer argues,

"we now attach benefits and penalties to individuals simply on the basis of their race, color, and national origin."

In doing to, the practitioners of Affirmative Action contradict the principle that each person should be judged on his own merits, not on the basis of the racial or national group to which he belongs. Glazer points out that Affirmative Action, even though it is supposed to benefit "minorities," does not mean preference for minorities in general -- all people are members of some minority -- but only for certain arbitrary groups. These groups are blacks, American Indians, Orientals, and (reaching for new heights of absurdity) people with Spanish surnames. Glazer asks why these groups, and no others, should be the beneficiaries of Affirmative Action, and finds no rational answer.

Glazer presents a strong argument that governmental requirements for Affirmative Action are illegal. He cites Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

"703 (j) Nothing contained in this title shall be interpreted to require any employer ... to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the race, color, religion, sex, or national origin or group on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number or percentage of persons of any race, color, religion, sex, or national origin employed by any employer ... "

Government agencies have gotten around this impediment to Affirmative Action simply by ignoring its existence. A member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) staff told the Harvard Law Review that "The anti-preferential provisions [of Title VII] are a big zero, a nothing, a nullity. They don't mean anything at all to us."

The book goes into detail on the kind of requirements that have been forced on employers in the name of preventing racial discrimination. The pattern of these requirements is as follows: an employer does not have a "proportionate" number of employees from certain groups, because relatively few members of these groups meet certain qualifications; the government asserts that these qualifications are racially discriminatory and requires the employer to prove that they are not discriminatory or stop using them.

An employer may, for instance, be required to conduct a validation study on tests used to screen applicants to show "that the relationship between the test and performance on the job is not different for minorities from what it is for others." If the employer does not have enough "minority" employees to carry out the validation, then he must hire enough of them to make validation possible.

The racist nature of affirmative action is made clear in a passage which Glazer quotes from the 1972 annual report of the EEOC:

"Since (1) a substantially disproportionate percentage of persons convicted of 'serious crimes' are minority group persons and (2), clearly it is arbitrary and therefore unnecessary to treat all 'serious' convictions as being equally predictive of future employment without reference to the particular conditions of a particular case, such as job-relatedness of the conviction and the employee's immediate past employment history, we hold that respondent's policy of automatic discharge for any 'serious' crime discriminates against Negroes as a class because of their race within the meaning of the Act." (emphasis added)

The EEOC guidelines offer embezzlement by a person applying for a "position of trust requiring the handling of money or accounts" as an example of a job-related conviction.

The EEOC is using one of the standard fallacies of racism here: it is starting with a statistical statement about the number of "minority group persons" who are criminals, and then proceeding to treat criminality as a racial characteristic of these persons. Judging a person according to his chosen actions (including any crimes he may have committed) is not racial discrimination. Only if criminality were not a matter of choice, but a product of one's racial background -- and, even then, only if a tendency to commit crimes somehow did not affect a person's suitability as an employee -- could discrimination against criminals be properly regarded as racial discrimination. Unfortunately, Glazer does not point out the racist nature of this EEOC requirement; he only mentions the requirement, registering a certain amount of astonishment.

Failures of this type to clearly identify and refute the premises of the advocates of Affirmative Action constitute the major flaw in Glazer's book. He believes that these people are trying to fight disguised forms of racial discrimination. But the examples he cites show that one of the main motives behind Affirmative Action is egalitarianism -- the idea that all people should be treated equally, regardless of their merits. The attacks on testing and on the exclusion of criminals show this motive at work.

Another motive for Affirmative Action, which Glazer also fails to identify, is the belief that all non-"minorities" somehow bear an obligation to make amends for past discrimination by some members of the same race. He mentions that some people regard Affirmative Action as a way to achieve the "correction of a monumental wrong"; but he fails to point out that a wrong is not corrected by making the innocent pay for it.

Affirmative Discrimination could have accomplished much more than it does if it had succeeded in identifying and refuting the ideas behind the policy of Affirmative Action. But even as it stands, it goes a long way toward showing the unjust nature of that policy.

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