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Affirmative Action

Conflicts between anti-discrimination law and presumptive constitutional rights were discussed Monday’s SCC post. Another avenue for such conflicts is when anti-discrimination efforts interact with other policies to foster a perverse spiral of encroachments upon presumed rights. In a post entitled “Immigration and Equality“, Nicholas Rosenkranz asserts that affirmative action programs not only discriminate unfairly against “unprotected classes”, but that their interplay with an open-borders immigration policy makes these reverse discriminatory effects far more pernicious.

I favor a liberalized immigration policy, provided that it is accompanied by security at entry to ensure health and public safety, and without subsidizing either potential employers or the immigrants themselves (except perhaps for short-term settlement assistance). Most critics of liberalized immigration focus on negative employment and wage impacts for established residents, but this piece in The New York Times Magazine debunks that notion. Alex Tabarroc adds some great points on the subject here. In essence, the evidence suggests that the short-run economic impact of immigration is not negative, and the long-run impact is unambiguously positive. The always passionate Don Boudreaux makes a case for liberalized immigration, and he is skeptical of the assertion that immigrants, once endowed with voting rights, will always support statist policies.

Yet as Rosencranz argues, affirmative action policies may attract flows of immigrants to the U.S. that are not supported by the labor market and general economic conditions. In this view, the contention that immigration is an always beneficial flow of productive resources is erroneous. Instead, the policy may attract an excess supply of immigrant labor that truly would undermine wages and employment for established workers. It could also give rise to other negative consequences such as skewed college admission decisions.

Federal anti-discrimination law has roots of varying depth in a few different parts of the Constitution, but the “protected status” conferred to specific classes or minorities is statutory, based on several federal laws, beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Government and private affirmative action programs favor hiring or advancement of members of protected classes to eliminate discrimination against them, or as a form of reparation for past discrimination. Rosenkranz has this to say about these programs:

American law and policy will discriminate in favor of most immigrants — those of favored races such as blacks and Hispanics — and their children, and their children’s children. Correspondingly, American law and policy will discriminate against Americans of disfavored races — Asian Americans, Indian Americans, Caucasian Americans — and their children, and their children’s children.

Rosenkranz believes this creates a “natural bargain”, a political compromise involving immigration reform in exchange for an end to government affirmative action programs, which have institutionalized “discrimination on the basis of race“:

Democrats believe that immigration is a winning political issue for them; they believe that it makes them look compassionate while it makes Republicans look churlish. Affirmative action, on the other hand, is a political winner for Republicans; polls overwhelmingly oppose it, and it allows Republicans to argue for the ringing principle of equality under law, while Democrats are left to defend the status quo of institutional discrimination and racial spoils.

I seriously doubt that such a compromise can be reached, but it’s a nice idea.

On a related note, the federal judge who placed a hold on President Obama’s immigration order has denied the administration’s request to lift the hold, and in rather dramatic fashion.