« At The Expense Of Real Content | Main | Open Thread: Manhole Covers! »

January 08, 2007

Comments

I still have reservations about affirmative action. My biggest concern is that it doesn't address the underlying problems.

I always compared it to claiming that you're fixing a leaky faucet by wiping up the water on the floor.

Also, Andrew I think here:

certain minimum of candidates from the right ethnicities to forestall costly legislation.

you meant "litigation" at the end.

If I'm not mistaken, (and we have more than enough lawyers to correct me where I'm wrong here), discrimination law already allows plantiffs to use disparate results as proof of discrimination.

You're wrong (you asked people to say if you were wrong). The process (off the top of my head) is (1) Plaintiff shows disparate impact (and this only works in large enough companies that statistics work. Small workplaces are immune.) (2) Defendant shows any colorable explanation for its hiring decisions: any at all. (3) Now the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant's explanation is a pretext, and that the hiring decisions were motivated by discriminatory intent. Discriminatory impact alone gets you nowhere if the company has any explanation for its hiring practices.

But the rest of the post is great. I just jumped on you because of the engraved invitation.

(I should look up some of an old law school professor's work, I've blanked on his first name, but his last name's Benoit. He had some very interesting papers on mathematical analyses of affirmative action, which came out to showing that it netted out to be a good idea.)

No comment on content at the moment, just form: could you add some paragraph breaks? They help my brain.

Affirmative action is basically a quota system.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought it wasn't. A quota system has a set numerical requirement or percentage. Affirmative Action looks at two equally qualified in every way candidates, and will award the job/spot/whatever to the minority applicant. If there are zero qualified minority applicants, there are zero successful candidates.

Ugh,

Yes, that should have been litigation, thank you.

Liz,

Thanks for the correction. I'll update the post.

Doc,

Do you mean in addition to those already there, or are you not seeing any?

LB partially preempted my only quibble, which was: if a business can show that the pool of qualified applicants looks different from the population, it's fine. (How do I know? Because the pool of qualified applicants for the Philosophy positions we periodically advertise -- i.e., the pool of philosophy Ph. D.s, or maybe phil. Ph. D.s who are really good, looks very different from the population at large, especially as regards race. We are not thereby obligated to hire faculty w/o PhDs.)

(Also: my mind didn't leap immediately to AA, except in this sense: I want AA to go away because it's no longer necessary, and I was disheartened to see how far away that seemed.)

Otherwise, though, I heart Andrew. (Though only in a metaphorical sense, which his wife should regard with equanimity.)

Affirmative action will do nothing to fix problems like blacks trailing whites by 22 points in high school graduations.

Well, it certainly won't fix that entirely, but it could help.

As I mentioned on the other thread, improved employment opportunities create an incentive to seek more education, and better employment chances for parents might also help in all sorts of ways by reducing financial pressures, providing more family stability, etc.

(I endorse Doctor Science's position on paragraph breaks, BTW. More, please)

This study, and general experience, tend to suggest that non-whites face a lot of discrimination that people aren't even necessarily aware of.

I imagine those discriminated against notice the discrimination, so count among those instances of discrimination the fact that Andrew seems to use "people" here to refer only to whites (or, those with privilege).

;)

I am not a numbers person, and also have never developed any firm stance on affirmative action, but it was interesting to see you go through the exercise and end up where you did. As far as the policy not addressing the underlying problems (such as the disparate graduation rates), I don't think those who advocate affirmative action necessarily advocate it to the exclusion of everything else: they advocate it as a measure to help prevent some of the effects of racism on hiring adult workers, and may also favor certain measures to help the children of today be in a better position than many adults today are starting from. One needn't pick one policy and one policy only.

Good read and thanks for being open about things, both open-minded and open with us about your thought process. I do love hilzoy's posts, but it's good to see the rest of you get back to some front-page posting as well.

My biggest concern is that it doesn't address the underlying problems.

I don't agree. Working around qualified black employees can help whites become accustomed to that experience, which reduces the chance of discrimination in future.

Of course, if AA is misused so that less qualified, or unqualified, employees are hired, then prejudices are likely to be strengthened instead.

Let's start with some basic premises:

1. This country has had a serious problem with race.

2. White people form a very large majority.

3. People tend to hire people they're comfortable with.

Conclusion:

The results of the study are not surprising. Even if you honestly believe that you are not a racist, you may subconsciously prefer whites to others, especially given this country's history.

Solution:

Not obvious. Most employers are small, so having government oversight over hiring decisions would be tremendously complex and expensive.

Without really thinking the issue through, I'd consider using the tax code. Give an expanded deduction for hiring historically discriminated minorities. (yeah, this would be incredibly difficult to administer. worth considering though.)

To respond to myself:

As far as the policy not addressing the underlying problems (such as the disparate graduation rates), I don't think those who advocate affirmative action necessarily advocate it to the exclusion of everything else ...

To co-opt Ugh's analogy, even as you do actually fix the leaky faucet, you still have all that water on the floor you've gotta mop up.

I mean in addition to the ones that are already there. Shorter paragraphs work better online, though IMHO even offline your paragraph beginning "Those options aren't as simple as they sound, either" needs to be shorter, divided into thought units each of which can be digested individually before moving on to the next.

PS. I thought it was a costume ball.

Francis,

The magnitude of the problem was what surprised me. It's one thing to know you have a cash flow problem, quite another to realize you're short $2 million for tomorrow's payroll.

Francis: Give an expanded deduction for hiring historically discriminated minorities. (yeah, this would be incredibly difficult to administer. worth considering though.)

I predict that this would result in a wonderally diverse work-force, almost instantaneously!

In other words, let's say that if the perfect candidate is a 100, and acceptable candidates are scored at 85 or above, the ethnicity of those who score 85 or higher is probably disproportionately white. Doubtless that comment will get me tarred as a racist...

You're so gunshy, Andrew! Don't be so worried about the PC police, 95% of us are thrilled to debate a well-thought out position on issues like this, and that's all that really matters. (Regrettably for you, the other 5% are in charge of the re-education camps. Tough break.)

I really enjoyed the creative mathematical approach you took in this post. I don't think any of us believe that affirmative action is the perfect solution, but we're still waiting to hear something better. "Wait around and let attitudes shift with time," as some would have it, doesn't really do it for us. And if you think I'm impatient, consider that I'm a white male who doesn't even have skin in the game! :)

Steve,

Perhaps I'm overly bitter, but I've been called a racist often enough that it tends to make me a little touchy on the subject. Particularly since most of those instances were posts where race was tangential (at best) to the question at hand. It gets a little frustrating at times.

I agree this post would be clearer with more paragraph breaks (my fingers kept twitching to put them in, and I had to remind them that it doesn't work that way). I had to re-read it three times.

Excellent: this is the kind of thing I really like to read. Thank you.

...now could you put in the paragraph breaks?

I'm normally good with math, but I think I'm getting lost somewhere here.

So, the 12% of the time this business hires a black, 5.3 of the hires are unqualifed. Had whites been hired instead of blacks, 2.6 of the applicants would have been unqualified, so assuming everyone lines up evenly, we end up hiring an unqualified black over a qualified white 2.7 times. So the odds of a white being passed over for a less-qualified black in this scenario is less than one in 33.

This number seems to be losing data somewhere. Everyone in your hypothetical is competing with everyone else, not just members of other races. If I'm interpreting your statistics correctly, 73% of the time this is white on white competition. I'm not sure it is strictly correct to ignore that. On the one hand, the harm is spread over a broader population, so you can. But on the other hand, when you talking about equally (or unequally) qualified people of one race and how they do against the other races, you should only count the situations where they actually match up.

I'm distracted from the problem now, but I'll try to get back to it.

Perhaps I'm overly bitter, but I've been called a racist often enough that it tends to make me a little touchy on the subject.

Anger is the second stage. Acceptance is the fifth.

Having consulted for several hundred small businesses over the years, I can tell you that there is a very unfortunate "unintended consequence" of anti-discrimination laws. While I am sure there is a good deal of out-and-out racism, there are many small businesses (without HR departments) that are less inclined to hire minorities because of anti-discrimination laws.

Their experience is that many of their hires of all races are unsucessful, and they have to get rid of them. While they can freely get rid of people in non-protected classes (basically white males, under 40), they particularly worry about discrimination claims if they fire people in protected classes. Most small business do not have "employment practices" insurance, so a lawsuit like that is particularly scary.

This is not an argument to get rid of anti-discrimination laws. I don't really have an answer.

I've litigated discrimination cases, and think that the extent to which AA, or the anti-discrimination statutes, lead to quotas is way overstated. There's also a real sense in which one always has to recognize that 'more qualified' isn't always, or even often, really objective.

Suppose I have an opening, and I get two applicants. Let's suppose the white one looks better on paper, although the black one is qualified too. Now lets suppose that my customers keep asking me how diverse my workforce is, in a way that makes me think I'd better have the right answer. Who's more qualified? Who should I hire?

Racism isn't going to go away all by itself. Racism is going to go away (I hope...) because people of different races work in the same jobs, live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same schools. That isn't happening right now. I'm not sure that affirmative action is the best way to address that, but it's a way, and despite its many drawbacks I feel like it's better than doing nothing.

Racism isn't going to go away all by itself. Racism is going to go away (I hope...) because people of different races work in the same jobs, live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same schools. That isn't happening right now. I'm not sure that affirmative action is the best way to address that, but it's a way, and despite its many drawbacks I feel like it's better than doing nothing.

I just want opponents of affirmative action to suggest something OTHER than doing nothing. The objectionable part of affirmative action has been known from the start; proponents are not that stupid as to think otherwise. If it was easy to implement a no-harm solution, it would have been done in the first place.

Suppose I have an opening, and I get two applicants. Let's suppose the white one looks better on paper, although the black one is qualified too. Now lets suppose that my customers keep asking me how diverse my workforce is, in a way that makes me think I'd better have the right answer. Who's more qualified? Who should I hire?

Charley,

I definitely agree that relative qualifications, by the time you get down to two or three candidates, are difficult-to-impossible to measure objectively. But I'd stay away from this case. The problem is that this sort of argument for "rational discrimination" has been widely used to support racist practices.

"I'd hire black salespeople, but my customers really wouldn't like being served by them....."

I liked your article, your conclusions, and the glimpse into your thought process. Thanks for sharing it all.

There's an interesting contrast here with the notions of Akio Morita, founder of Sony, on hiring practices. He said (and I'm not positive if I have the percentages correct) that in terms of percentages, any company will hire 20% of high flyers, and 20% of deadbeats and the majority of adequate workers. He regarded the number of losers hired as a floor, and one shouldn't devote all the efforts to eliminating them merely to get average workers, but that all the efforts should be to try and get the high flyers.

Of course, this was in the context of lifetime employment, in a culture that is still relatively homogeneous and remarkably sexist with a type of racism that is much more profound, but the idea that a certain percentage of your work force is going to be deadweight is something that I don't feel is contemplated in the US except as a sign that something is deeply wrong with the hiring system and if groups weren't forced to hire minorities, things would be better. (not attributing that notion to anyone here, but that is the underlying attack on AA) I realize that a bad hire in a small business can have a much greater influence that on a large concern, but part of the problem with AA stems not from AA itself, but the attitudes that are embedded in hiring, which I think are exacerbated by a system that tends to encourage people to move horizontally in order to move vertically.

Fascinating post, Andrew. Thanks!

About AA, I second the comment that proponents never thought it was an ideal solution. The hope was that it would be temporary one: that society would continue to integrate on all levels (in professions, schools, neighborhoods, etc.), that people would become accustomed to multiraciality, and no longer need the extra goad to hire across racial lines.

What proponents didn't expect was for society to become less integrated than it already was (in the 1970s). Schools, neighborhoods, and social activities have become "re-segregated," reversing the trend established in the late-60s and early 70s.

I don't know why that happened. It could be as much a consequence of economic stratification as racial issues (wealthy blacks seem as inclined to isolate themselves in homogenous enclaves as wealthy whites). It could be the result of polarizing politics, which have divided Americans along so many lines. It could even be a result of 20 years of job-associated mobility, which prevents people from forming community ties with their neighbors in favor of those rising from the workplace.

Whatever the reason, the social changes integrationists were counting on haven't happened.

Its important to point out that affirmative action is largely a system for public employment or businesses with significant work for public entities. Anti-discrimination laws are not anything like affirmative action, and that is all that applies to private business.

And as noted above, you cannot prove an anti-discrimination case based on numerical analysis alone. As I recall the law (very rusty on this subject -- last detailed experience over 15 years ago), you must prove some degree of intent, and statisical evidence alone cannot support the inference of intent (though can support it).

And as noted above, you cannot prove an anti-discrimination case based on numerical analysis alone. As I recall the law (very rusty on this subject -- last detailed experience over 15 years ago), you must prove some degree of intent, and statisical evidence alone cannot support the inference of intent (though can support it).

Though, if I recall my case law correctly, once you HAVE demonstrated intent, the burden then shifts to the employer that any subsequent behavior is nondiscriminatory...

Andrew, this is a good post, but there is something that I honestly don't understand and I'm hoping you can enlighten me.

You start off by stating that "There is no other choice for businesses but to make sure that they hire a certain minimum of candidates from the right ethnicities to forestall costly litigation."

As it happens, your beliefs about the law in this case are very wrong. Whatever; the law is complex and we can hardly expect non-lawyers to be familiar with it in detail. But even without the legal issue, it should have been obvious to you that your assessment was totally wrong.

At least it was obvious to me. I work as a software engineer. My company has far fewer blacks than demographics suggests it should have. In fact, that's been true of every company at which I've worked or consulted. Yet none of these companies have ever been sued out of existence. In fact, none of them have faced anti-discrimination law suits that I know of. None of them have felt compelled to add lots of unqualified minority engineers to their staffs. Now, I don't expect you to have my experiences, but surely you know people who work in science or engineering. For all I know, you work in those fields yourself. Surely you must have, at some point in your life, had a conversation with an engineer or scientist....how is it possible that you (a seemingly intelligent and observant individual) could be so clueless about how businesses work in the real world? I don't mean to be snide, I am honestly confused.

It seems like you've constructed this mental model where Evil Trial Lawyers prowl menacingly for innocent businesses and then DESTROY them if they are not full of minority employees. I just don't understand how someone with your abilities could maintain a picture of the business world that is not only detached from reality, but internally inconsistent. I mean, if the Evil Trial Lawyers really were so powerful, wouldn't you see a lot more black, hispanic or female faces amongst local car dealers or insurance agents?

What am I missing? How did you manage to make it through life with such an incredibly distorted understanding?

I still have reservations about affirmative action. My biggest concern is that it doesn't address the underlying problems.

Reparations. $20,000 from each and every white person in the country = a little over $100,000 for every black person. Do that for a few years and maybe then, affirmative action will be unnecessary. Otherwise it won't, not ever.

"My company has far fewer blacks than demographics suggests it should have. In fact, that's been true of every company at which I've worked or consulted. Yet none of these companies have ever been sued out of existence."

That is because the proper measure is the racial balance of the regional applicant pool for that type of job. (There is a technical name for that but I can't remember it).

Ugh: I always compared it to claiming that you're fixing a leaky faucet by wiping up the water on the floor.

That's true if one only looks at local effects. The (unstated?) goal of AA, though, is precisely the recalibration of what people are comfortable with, and what they consider normal, such that subconscious racial classifications no longer apply to hiring practices. Put baldly, if you've never seen a black engineer you're likely to question whether a black man -- perish the thought that it's a black woman -- can accomplish the requisite goals; whereas if you've worked with several black engineers previously, racial classifications are rendered insignificant compared to the real questions of competence.

Or, to put it baldlier: the purpose of AA is to help us realize that we don't need race in order to find legitimate reasons to hate one another ;)

d: $20,000 from each and every white person in the country = a little over $100,000 for every black person.

My ancestors were slave-owners -- and inasmuch as I can, I apologize for that -- but that's well over my annual salary. You mind taking my allotment from, say, Paris Hilton?

Affirmative action is basically a quota system.

As spartikus has noted upthread, this is actually not true. The courts have fairly consistently ruled that preferential consideration of race is OK, quotas per se, not OK.

This seems like a pretty good timeline:

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html

My biggest concern is that it doesn't address the underlying problems.

I don't think it's intended to do so.

The underlying problem is the ingrained, habitual racism, particularly but not exclusively toward black people, in the US. Affirmative action won't make that go away. It is simply a remedial action, intended to reduce specific, concrete harmful *effects* of racism.

To address Ugh's comment on this:

I always compared it to claiming that you're fixing a leaky faucet by wiping up the water on the floor.

I don't see any claim in any of the executive orders or laws establishing AA that it is intended to be anything but an attempt to wipe up some of the water on the floor. Nobody claims that they will eliminate racism by legal fiat.

AA is a policy of giving preferential consideration for minority candidates as a way of redressing their historical and systematic exclusion. In nearly all cases, when AA programs based on quotas are challenged, they are found unconstitutional.

The rare exceptions are for cases of extraordinary, persistent, and obvious racism, where a quota is seen as being the only thing that will be effective. In these cases, the courts affirm the legitimacy of quotas for those specific situations only.

Thanks -

Seb wrote:
"That is because the proper measure is the racial balance of the regional applicant pool for that type of job. (There is a technical name for that but I can't remember it)."

Yes, I know that. However, it appears that Andrew did not know that when he wrote this post. I am trying to ascertain why he did not know that.

Perhaps Andrew was using national statistics because he didn't want to take the time to dig into regional data.

Reparations. $20,000 from each and every white person in the country = a little over $100,000 for every black person. Do that for a few years and maybe then, affirmative action will be unnecessary. Otherwise it won't, not ever.

Well, no, because then the black people would have all the money & do all the hiring, and the whites would need affirmative action. And welfare, 'coz we'd be broke. Little net gain in utility, I suspect.

Not to mention, it's an immoral idea. My ancestors arrived here 50 years after the Civil War, and faced their own problems with discrimination, so why should they pay, much less me? And there is a good deal to be said for Abraham Lincoln's reparations theory, expressed in his Second Inaugural Address, namely that the several hundred thousand dead and maimed whites who fought in that war was the nation's penance for the sin of slavery.

I don't think that rule is relevant for the purposes of the hypothetical Andrew uses. He is assuming that for purposes of his hypothetical that the proper percentages were the national ones. For the use of the statistics he actually applies, it isn't hugely different unless there is a dramatic disparity in the percentages. (Perhaps in computer programming?)

The concern I have is that the percentages at the end don't weight the fact that much of the competition is white on white. For purposes of deciding how much effect affirmative action would have on the white on black competition I think (but am not totally sure) that you should account for that somehow. I thought about it in the shower last night, and am not sure exactly what the best way to do it is, so I raise it without answer as of yet. My initial thought was that you should count percentages on only the black APPLICANT cases, but that doesn't seem right to me either (and not only because it doesn't count the black vs. hispanic cases.

Sebastian,

There's definitely a lot more work to be done here. I'm a bloody history major/CDAT, after all; I needed a couple of supercomputers just to help me with the math listed here. Had my numbers come out anywhere close to even, I wouldn't have bothered to publish them, but the disparity is so great, it seemed worthwhile to throw the data out there and let smart people chew on it.

The white-on-white numbers seem pretty easy to calculate, though. Since 22% of white applicants are unqualified in this scenario, we can guesstimate that about one time in five a white person will be turned away for a less qualified white person. Using our 74% white hire rate, that means about 16.3% of the time we'll see that happening. I suspect that people with more statistical knowledge could tease the data to figure out what the baseline odds are for losing out, which would then give us a better perspective on the 'baseline injustice,' if you will.

Hmm, see this is where I have trouble. My statistics skills are about 12 years rusty, but I'm not satisfied with the idea that 16.3% is the rate I'm talking about. 16.3% is the rate of a white competent person being passed over for a white incompetent person (with the hypothetical's definition of competence) as a percentage of all hires As a percentage of white vs. white hires I think it should be 22%. But when I try to break down why I think that, I think I'm skipping a step somewhere. [22/100 * 74 positions divided by 73 other applicants]. I think that is right if you ignore the fact that you compete against some other incompetent applicants.

But you can't because 22% of the 73 other slots will be filled by incompetents too. Hmm.

Maybe we can't break it out like that. Maybe we need to track incompetent vs. competent separately by race here. I know you tried to do that, but then when the matching occurs you need to subtract out the white on white competition if you want to look at the 'harm' of affirmative action. I think.

Hmm usually talking through this clarifies things, but this didn't. There is a missing variable or relationship of variables that is important here, that I'm having trouble mathematically making concrete. I think the trouble is in the calculation of the percentages, but I can't tell you why.

I don't understand this part ...

"So we should expect that our fictional business will hire a white 81% of the time, a black 9% of the time, and a hispanic 10% of the time. Using current hiring practices, however, out of every 100 applicants, we will have a workforce that is 86.2% white, 5.5% black, and 8.3% hispanic."

What does "Using current hiring practices" mean here???

.....

I tried, but I couldn't follow everything in the original post. It's not only that I couldn't follow the math -- I couldn't quite follow the train of thought, to understand what the math was trying to show.

But it looked to me like the conclusion reached was something like the following (as brief as I can make it):

Given the following 3 assumptions:

(1): fewer blacks graduate high school / are "qualified" for a particular job;
(2): hiring personnel are completely non-racist (that is, they don't prefer whites over blacks or vice-versa with respect to any particular job);
(3): hiring personnel try to hit overall statistical targets w/r/t race that correspond with the racial makeup of society;

One comes to the following conclusion, after doing a lot of math:

Black people will experience significant discrimination.

Is this a correct mini-summary? Or did I miss somewhere in the post where it says that hiring people are presumed *not* to be color-blind? Or ...???

Thanks.

My ancestors arrived here 50 years after the Civil War, and faced their own problems with discrimination, so why should they pay, much less me?

My ancestors arrived around the same time. Grandpa got a railroad job that no black could have gotten at the time, which enabled him to send his kids to college (where they are also not competing with blacks) and have a secure retirement. Those unfair advantages don't stop with one generation; my sisters and I have benefited from that social capital, and so would our children if any of us had children. It doesn't seem immoral to me to share some of that with the descendants of the people who were getting the shaft, even if "the shaft" were simply a matter of private employment discrimination and not also, for example, the occasional destruction of black neighborhoods in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida and elsewhere; or the gross underfunding of predominantly black elementary and high schools; or the exclusion of (mostly black) domestic and agricultural workers from Social Security coverage and minimum wage protection; or the inability of black veterans to use GI Bill college benefits because of discriminatory admission policies; or the redlining practices of banks and the federal government that kept blacks from buying homes in rising neighborhoods; or . . . I could go on.

Kent,

'Current hiring practices' referred to the survey hilzoy referenced. So your summary is inaccurate. But I was probably unclear; as I was writing the post, I asked the question of how often whites would actually see themselves displaced by less-qualified non-whites, so the rest of the post is somewhat stream-of-consciousness as I tried to puzzle out a first-approximation answer to that question. The bottom line is that non-whites face ~13.5 times more discrimination than whites would under a strict quota AA system.

I can confirm that I know first-hand about a small business that has held off on firings of minorities due to concerns about litigation. This happened multiple times with employees who, if they were white, would have been long gone

That said, I think the argument for affirmative action is still compelling. Also, it seems there's some recent evidence that some "racism" isn't even really racism per-se, but an ingrained biological imperitive, an unconscious preference towards our own group. If this is true, it would mean we'd all be racists even if you threw us in a "blank slate" society. Depressing

Andrew, thanks for the clarification.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad