The laws of affirmative action

Commentary has made most of its terrific April issue available online. The lead article in the issue addresses intelligence and the war on terrorism. On the right side of the Commentary site the magazine has collected an outstanding set of related articles it has published in years past by authors including Richard Pipes, Edward Jay Epstein, and James Q. Wilson. All in all, a wealth of riches.
One of the best pieces in the current issue is Carl Cohen’s review of the new book by Thomas Sowell, Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study: “Groupthink.” From the review it appears that Sowell’s new book continues the exploration Sowell initiated in his pioneering 1990 book Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, although Cohen does not mention the earlier book. In the new book it appears that Sowell narrows his focus somewhat to explore the history and consequences of ethnic preferences in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and the United States.
Cohen derives one painful lesson from the experience of each country surveyed by Sowell. From the account of affirmative action in India Cohen deduces: “Race preference does not wind down; it winds up. Proliferation is the rule.”
From the account of affirmative action in Malaysia Cohen deduces: “We learn that the inferior performance of some ethnic groups is not always a consequence of discrimination against them. On the contrary, even the imposition of discriminatory advantages favoring a majority cannot obscure the fact that some groups prove less competent than others.”
From the account of affirmative action in Sri Lanka Cohen deduces: “Deliberately exacerbating racial tensions for the sake of political gain…promotes hatred of a kind and of a degree almost impossible to reverse. What begins with race preference ends with race riots.”
From the account of affirmative action in Nigeria Cohen deduces: “When racial balance is advanced by granting preferences that are deeply resented, diversity produces not greater racial harmony but greater racial conflict.”
And from the account of affirmative action in the United States Cohen deduces: “The appropriate lesson(s) here? All of the above.”

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