While in college at Texas, I wrote an opinion piece for The Daily Texan titled “Affirmative Action Exacerbates Racism.” A fan of Thomas Sowell then and now, back then I made a Sowell-informed argument against affirmative action: it enabled the very race-based discrimination that affirmative action proponents claimed to want to remedy, and in the process exacerbated racism by calling into question the admission of the racially favored.
In 2023, I still think affirmative action based on race a bad idea. Just the same, I think the Supreme Court’s decision to ban it similarly a bad idea. Many conservatives and libertarians disagree. Supposedly the Supreme Court decision was “A Landmark for Racial Equality" asserted one editorial, another referenced the ruling as "the end of the battle for equal educational opportunity," but since when do the right-leaning believe government legislation, decrees or rulings can foster laudable societal outcomes?
From there, isn’t the right to freely associate, or not associate, kind of basic? No one reading this write-up is required to allow just anyone into their house, for instance. Call this simplistic, but it’s simplistic because the right of free association is so fundamental to our existence. When we throw parties, we choose whom to invite. And it would certainly be within our rights to dismiss the uninvited.
Businesses put up signs saying “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service,” with good reason. The disheveled can scare off good customers. At lingerie stores, is it unreasonable to only hire female sales associates? The late libertarian scholar Roy Childs weighed something north of 400 pounds. Since no horse trainer would have ever hired him as a jockey, was Childs wrongly discriminated against? Childs didn’t think so.
Why can’t colleges discriminate? Please stop and think about this. So much of what gives college life is tradition, so why shouldn’t colleges be free to favor the children of multi-generational alums? In consideration of how big financial gifts enable better facilities, professors, and scholarship opportunities, shouldn’t colleges be free to discriminate in favor of the children of the rich? Considering sports, it’s no revelation that contributions to Alabama, Clemson and Georgia have soared as a reflection of the success of each school’s football team. Is it beyond the pale if schools adjust admission requirements for brilliant athletes who will boost the quality of the school for everyone else?
Which brings us to preferential treatment based on race. Billionaire Robert Smith forgave the student-loan debts of a graduating class at historically-black Morehouse College. Underlying the gesture was Smith helping black people. Can’t Morehouse discriminate in favor of black students with rich people like Smith well in mind? Can't other colleges do the same? Shouldn’t affirmative action or DEI be decided in local collegiate “markets” over courts?
For the right leaning, isn’t the broader philosophy one of choice, or of entities being “laboratories of ideas”? If so, shouldn’t preferential admissions by race be one of the notions studied and resolved inside these laboratories? Put another way, if race-based discrimination is a bad idea, shouldn’t conservatives cheer the right for universities to be wrong all the while knowing the right to be wrong will vivify why change is needed?
The main thing is that conservatives and libertarians can’t have it both ways: they can’t decry government force to remedy perceived societal wrongs only to cheer the force when it works for them. A government that can ban discrimination can also enforce it is as the horrid Jim Crow LAWS (get it?) remind us. In which case the true path to racial equality is freedom, including the freedom to be wrong about affirmative action. Only when what’s wrong is exposed in action will real change freely come about.