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Affirmative Action

  Affirmative action first emerged as a voluntary code of practice, later enshrined in the American Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prescribed ways to ensure that individuals from groups which had previously experienced discrimination would have better access to employment-opportunities. Affirmative action programmes have subsequently been widely adopted around the world, especially to counter discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, physical disability and sexual orientation.

Weak affirmative action means deciding to hire (or promote) in favour of a candidate from a disadvantaged group when all candidates are otherwise equal on merit. Other forms of affirmative action involve ‘outreach programmes’, to encourage people to apply for jobs which people with their characteristics do not normally apply for, and monitoring the composition of workforces to ensure fair employment. The strongest forms of affirmative action involve setting goals and targets to ensure a better balanced employment profile in an organization.

Supporters of affirmative action contend that it is a just policy because (1) it compensates the victims of injustice at the expense of the beneficiaries of injustice; (2) it redistributes from the best-off to the worst-off; (3) it is socially useful, because it avoids the wasteful under-utilization of talent in a discriminatory society, and creates a fairer, and therefore more stable, society. Supporters of affirmative action usually believe that governmental intervention is necessary to counteract various forms of racial, religious, ethnic and sexual discrimination in both the public and private sectors of modern states. Critics of affirmative action claim that it amounts to reverse discrimination, and that it inevitably leads to ‘quotas’ being set by organizations. They believe that ‘preferential hiring’ policies, in favour of ethnic minorities and women: (1) discriminate against those who have never discriminated; (2) abandon the merit principle in favour of illiberal and ascriptive (racial, religious, ethnic or sexual) criteria; and (3) provoke a backlash amongst the previously privileged. The critics of affirmative action appear to believe that free-market societies naturally eliminate unjustified discrimination. BO\'L

Further reading Robert K. Fullinwider, The Reverse Discrimination Controversy: a Moral and Legal Analysis; , Michael Rosenfeld, Affirmative Action: a Philosophical and Constitutional Inquiry; , Thomas Sowell, Preferential Policies: an International Perspective.



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