Table of Contents

Affirmative Action

In this paper I plan to discuss the arguments surrounding the necessity or non-necessity of Affirmative Action. First, I will consider the views of Thomas Sowell, a senior research fellow at Standford, author of “Affirmative Action: A World Wide Disaster”. He is a strong believer that Affirmative Action does more harm than good. Second I will critique Sowell’s arguments and use supporting beliefs from Bernard Boxill stating that Affirmative Action is something that our society needs based on the forward-looking argument.

Sowell at one point focuses on the idea regarding a proportional representation of the ethic society in the workforce, military, academics and more. Some advocates for affirmative action believe that one goal to work towards is equal representation. However, “it is common for different groups to rely on different mobility ladders” , says Cynthia Enloe of Clark University. Sowell believes that many statistical disparities are a natural result – that will always be present, with discrimination or in its absence. Additionally he brings up the idea that even geographical location can affect the participation rate in some activities. There are cities that draw more of on ethnicity than another and this may result in an over-representation of that ethnicity in activities that are popular in that area. This may then result in that particular ethnicity being under-represented in activities that may be popular in other cities.

Preferential treatment can in reality end up resulting in a net loss, with both the “gainers” and “losers” performing less well as they would in the absence of Affirmative Action. The gainers of the preferential treatment may begin to feel a sense of entitlement and may not perform to the highest ability. “Many students, sense that their future is assured, feel less pressure to perform” . Sowell believes that people will no longer have the sense of urgency they once had or the determination to succeed independent of assistance. The losers, too, may not perform up to their potential as a result of others receiving preference. For example, in Jamaica, many white people withdrew from running for public office because they believed that offices would go to blacks even if they themselves were much more qualified.

The awarding of honors and preference in the academic setting is again something of great negativity. When some people are awarded an honor on double standards, all those who did not receive the award “fall under a cloud of suspicion” . Many will feel that they indeed deserved the award and that the awarding to another is not fair. This is also present in the academic setting, Sowell says. Many times however, the preference in the academic setting expands further than the feelings and actions of students. Sowell brings up the incidence when the media revealed that black students were admitted to Harvard Medical School with lower qualifications than whites. After, white patients began to refuse care by black students. Tainted honors, Sowell believes, are not limited to the academic field.

Some cases of Affirmative Action may end up resulting in the less fortunate members of a group retrogressing, while those who are more fortunate are able to advance. This may end up resulting in a growing gap within the group receiving preferential treatment via Affirmative Action. Many opportunities or resources that are made available to a certain ethnicity to help them succeed, end up only be grasped by those who are fortunate enough to have already advanced above other members of the preferred group.

Sowell continues to defend his stance against affirmative action by touching on beliefs such as, the extending of Affirmative Action policies, the ill-justification of historical compensation, the confusion between causation and reality, among others. As a whole, Sowell believes that affirmative action will cause more harm than good.

Although some aspects of Sowell’s article do seem like valid and supported arguments, I believe that there should, to some extent, be forms of Affirmative Action. I do think that Sowell does make valid claims regarding the representation of minorities in the workforce, government, academics etc. I agree that there may be some cases where it is not natural to have equal representation. I think that there doesn’t need to be preferential treatment not with the goal of equal representation, but with the goal of assisting those who may not have the resources they need to succeed. Bernard Boxill’s forward-looking argument is one that justifies “preferential treatment on the grounds that it may secure greater equality or increase total social utility” . It does not focus on the equal representation of all ethnicities but instead on the necessity to assist those in our society and community so that they may receive resources to help assist in their success that they may not be able to receive on their own. I see importance in helping some enter the workforce or an academic setting. I think that when ethnicities that were once severely under-represented, no longer are, more people will have the motivation and drive to succeed they may not have had before. I think that assisting some members of a group will result in many more members of that group improving their productivity.

In regards to people performing less well as a result of Affirmative Action, I think this will not necessarily be the result. I think that if you help them succeed and help them learn, they will be more likely to continue this path and share their learning’s to others. I do not see one groups successes as a deterrent for others. I believe that there is a higher probability for in increase in utility this way, than by other actions that some, including Sowell agree with. One solution that Sowell mentions is merely providing groups with monetary advancement as oppose to preferential treatment in other ways. I believe that this will result in more dependence and a lack of motivation for those people. By receiving money, these people are not learning the skills they need to succeed. They will be more likely to stop trying to learn these skills and sit back and take the gifts. This may end up resulting in a larger loss of utility to society and again a larger gap between ethnicities. I think this is a great example of the saying, “if you give a man a fish he can eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime”.

I think that overall Sowell provides a strong argument showing the negative affects of Affirmative Action. However, I agree with Boxill to a stronger degree. I think that Affirmative Action does indeed have more positive attributes than negative. I think that as a nation we should try and support one another to a certain extent. I agree with the forward-looking argument because I see importance in increasing overall social utility in our nation. I think that with Affirmative Action, many people will learn and receive resources that will help them and following succeed. There will always be inequality in our nation, however if we are able to increase the workforce we will also be able to help improve the wellbeing of our economy. If we merely provide people with merit advancement, we may not be increasing the number of people in the workforce. If we are able to initiate Affirmative Action policies to increase the number of workers, and decrease our unemployment rate we will be able to help stimulate and expand the economy. In conclusion, I think that Affirmative Action is needed in our nation because it may help increase total social utility and lead to greater equality.


Bonevac, D. (2012). Today’s Moral Issues: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives. Affirmative Action. Boxill, B. Blacks and Social Justice (573-578). New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Bonevac, D. (2012). Today’s Moral Issues: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives. Affirmative Action. Sowell, T. Affirmative Action: A Worldwide Disaster (579-594). New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


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