In Defense Of Affirmative Actionby Barbara R. Bergmann
"Bergmann...combines good, compassionate sense with first-rate professional competence and a wonderful capacity for getting and organizing the relevant information."
A distinguished economist cuts through the incendiary rhetoric surrounding affirmative action to show that these programs are necessary and that they get results.
Opponents of affirmative action claim there is no longer widespread discrimination against women and minorities; that affirmative action treats white males unfairly; that it elevates less-qualified candidates; and that it reintroduces the kind of quotas once used to discriminate against Jews and other minorities. Bergmann offers what is in essence an extended legal brief, considering these and other arguments against affirmative action in light of the evidence, and then presenting her case on affirmative action's behalf. She cites surveys proving the continued existence of discrimination and offers numerous examples of affirmative action no one finds objectionable: the preferences colleges show to children of alumni and to athletes, for example; or the way business owners may overlook more qualified candidates to hire members of their families. Bergmann maintains that programs aimed at improving the status of women and minorities promise far greater dividends, including a society made healthier by reduced poverty and an easing of tensions between races. Such dividends, she writes, justify occasional losses inflicted on individual white men by "affirmative action's removal of white men's privilege of exclusive access to high-paying jobs." She also argues that they justify numerical goals in hiring and admissions, because no other remedies have proved effective in ending discrimination. She acknowledges the "quotalike aspects" of such goals but insists that quotas used on behalf of the excluded are not the same as quotas used to exclude.
Thanks to Bergmann's legalistic style, her book is not riveting. It is, however, convincinga significant contribution to the debate over affirmative action.
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Meet the Author
Barbara Bergmann is an economist at American University and author of The Economic Emergence of Women, 1986.