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Richard Kahlenburg, The Remedy (Basic Books, 1996)  

From Subject
"Bina M. Patel" <bmpatel@ilstu.edu> The Remedy(Patel)
hobbes2@ice.net Bina's review/Kahlenburg
Dave Larsen <dlarsen@.ilstu.edu> The Remedy (Larsen)

Date: Wed, 26 Feb 1997 14:17:26 -0600 
From: "Bina M. Patel" <bmpatel@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: The Remedy(Patel) 

Richard Kahlenburg, THE REMEDY(Basic Books, 1996)

reviewed by: Bina Patel mail to:bmpatel@ilstu.edu  

As the saying goes "money makes the world go round". This is an interesting quote to ponder, especially when reviewing The Remedy. Throughout time there have been different forms of discrimination, and different means in which to alleviate such practices. The most notable in this era is affirmative action. Designed to create a color-blind society, affirmative Action has been criticized for doing just the opposite. Issues like reverse discrimination and preferential treatment are just two of the many arguments against affirmative action. In hopes to readdress discrimination and affirmative action, the author focuses on class based, rather than race based, affirmative action.

He begins by tracing the beginnings of affirmative action, with the support of Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King,and several other prominent politicians during the 1960's. Class based affirmative action was the original intent to create equality. Martin Luther King sought to bring equity among the races not through race, but through economics. Leaders at that time sought to elevate all those that were poor, not only those that were black. Then, moving on explain what caused the shift in affirmative action, the Bakke case is referenced. Pointing out that the shift can be seen when addressing the issue of diversity versus compensation. Compensation was to correct past wrongs, diversity emerged in order to address the race factor. Those favoring diversity were out to alter the long-term views of society regarding people of color. This is important to note because at the heart of the affirmative action is this very issue. The author emphasizes four major points of diversity based affirmative action: 1) diversity based affirmative action "circumvents the heavy burdens placed by the Supreme Court on racial compensation schemes"(p38), 2) eliminates the question of when affirmative action will end, 3) extinguishes the moral claims against affirmative action("white males should not pay for the sins of their fathers..."(p40), and 4) diversity includes a greater spectrum of those that are discriminated against, including women and gays.

Next he critiques the current affirmative action plan. In this way, he attacks compensatory and diversity based plans. One of his fundamental points is that diversity affirmative action does not compensate those that should be and might compensate those that should not be. The diversity model includes more people, but at the same time, including more people for the sake of diversity is not the goal of affirmative action. Citing examples from various universities and Supreme Court cases we see that this sort of affirmative action is not effectively addressing the issues facing those that are discriminated against. (He assigned the current system the grade "C")

His proposition is to create a class-based system of affirmative action. The main point is that this sort of affirmative action will avoid the "pitfalls associated with racial and gender preferences"(p83). Class-based affirmative action will allow for those that are economically disadvantaged to move up the ladder, so to speak. However, opponents say that this sort of system will provide a "caste" lens in which to view inequality instead of the race lens in that is currently in place. The author refutes this point by providing ample examples and statistics on how people need a new alternative to be mobile, and from this will stem equity, not a caste system. He moves on to address other issues facing class-based affirmative action. He shows that legally and politically, eliminating the race card will allow for greater support of anti-discrimination and equity movements. The time is now for action, as affirmative action in any form is in danger, and there must be some sort of alternate plan for those suffering.

One of the most enlightening sections on the book was the section on myths of class-based affirmative action. He offers six myths, then goes on to refute them. One of the outstanding myths is that class-based affirmative action is going to start an internal class warfare. He points out that a similar argument can be made against diversity affirmative action, and that this new form of affirmative action will instead grant opportunities for those who otherwise would not have gotten into college. It also removes the "shame" factor by establishing a new set of criterions. Poverty and poorness is an obstacle that can be overcome. Race is not an obstacle to begin with, and that is what needs to change.

In his chapter about the "Mechanics of class-based affirmative action", he points out numerous cases and examples to show how class based policy would work better. He points out that class needs to be defined, and there are several ways in which to do so. Education, net worth, income and other factors play a significant role in determining class. He also points to the cutoff for such policies. He includes college graduates, and teenagers ready to go to college. The bulk of class based aid would go to those who are lower class.

While Kahlenburg provides an alternative to affirmative action, he does so in a fashion that is meant to revolutionize society. His proposal for class based affirmative action is drastically different from the current system, and I think it would be more effective if he addressed the problems of inequality that way. Meaning, his ideas seem less of affirmative action and more of reformed, widespread welfare. The ultimate goals are the same, true, but perhaps the means need to be altered. His writing is loaded with examples of how diversity based affirmative action lacks results, which provides a nice backdrop for his ideas. The timing of this book is exceptional. The trend against affirmative action in America is growing and the need for an alternative is clear, but what the author fails to do is provide a NEW alternative.       Back to top...

Date: Thu, 6 Mar 1997 07:35:40 -0600 
From: hobbes2@ice.net 
Subject: Bina's review/Kahlenburg 

Response to Bina Patel's review of Kahlenburg's THE REMEDY  

As the author is opposed to today's practice of Affirmatice Action, it is surprising that Kahlenburg does not levy even more complaints against the current use of "diversity Affirmative Action." Assuming that this "diversity Affrimative Action" is essentially today's trend toward multiculturalism, the author appears to have missed some of its benefits while over-estimating others.

Kahlenburg is likely correct in asserting that diversity-based Affirmative Action includes "a greater spectrum of those that are discriminated against," such as women and gays. It is indeed a step in the right direction if more people are made aware of the struggles that nearly all minority groups face in our society. It is also true that diversity Affirmative Action "does not compensate those that should be," nor does this program effectively address the larger question of continued discrimination in the United States.

However, it appears that Kahlenburg would have difficulty arguing that diversity-based Affirmative Action "circumvents the heavy burdens placed by the Supreme Court on racial compensation schemes." Efforts at multiculturalism are not free of judicial or even constitutional challenge. University speech codes are a case in point. In an attempt to foster multicultualism and tolerance, some colleges and universities have adopted codes regarding proper speech etiquette. For example, the University of California at Santa Cruz has sought to ban phrases such as "a chink in his armor," "a nip in the air," and "call a spade a spade," for these contain words that in other contexts have been used to express prejudice. While the High Court has not to date addressed similar instances in the university setting, federal and district courts have ruled on codes at the State University of New York, Central Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and George Mason University. The ACLU has also challenged speech bans at the University of Connecticut, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of California. Indeed, the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1992 case of R.A.V. v. St. Paul would likely govern any judicial action regarding these plans. (In R.A.V., the Court struck down a St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance as "content-based," for it made "criminal expressive conduct that causes only hurt feelings, offense, or resentment.")

Lastly, Kahlenburg is overly optimistic in suggesting that diversity-based Affirmative Action "extinguishes the moral calims [by white males] against Affirmative Action"- claims that they should not have to assume responsibility for the "sins of their fathers." While diversity Affirmative Action does not result in compensation in the traditinal sense, to many white males, the multicultual approach often appears to be something that is forced upon them. Whether this is true or not is beside the point.  What matters is that the aims of diversity, like those of Affirmative Action, are undermined when these feelings only lead to greater resentment and defensiveness. Understanding and tolerance are thus lost.

-- Pam Ashworth Illinois State University hobbes2@ice.net  
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Date: Thu, 01 May 1997 11:22:38 -0500 
From: Dave Larsen <dlarsen@ilstu.edu>
Subject: The Remedy (Larsen) 

Richard D. Kahlenberg The Remedy New York: Basic Books

ISBN 0-465-09823-1 Hardcover Published in 1996

Reviewed By: Dave Larsen <mailto:dlarsen@ilstu.edu>

Always controversial, affirmative action programs have come under increasing fire recently, and in the case of California's Proposition 209, repealed. Prominent politicians are calling for an end to such programs, while others claim a "mend, not end" approach is needed. Is this outcry merely an expected venting of majority group frustration, or a warning sign current programs aren't achieving their intended goals? In THE REMEDY, Kahlenberg argues the latter.

The notion of "affirmative action" was first mentioned by John Kennedy, but never formalized until Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, alling for "federal contractors to take =D4affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin'" (9). This order was meant to address the legacy of unequal opportunity, the legacy of colour-consciousness, and legacy of segregation. Later, under Nixon and several Supreme Court rulings, affirmative action was extended to all corporations doing business with the federal government and institutions receiving federal funding, including colleges and state/local governments.

According to Kahlenberg, the programs had three goals: 1) genuine equality of opportunity, 2) long-term colour blindness, and 3) reduced prejudice and greater social harmony. Over time, the programs have evolved to focus on equality of group result and promotion of diversity; goals that have increased, rather than reduced, colour-consciousness and racial prejudice/tension. This deviation undermines the original intent of the policies, and although they have managed some improvement in equality of opportunity, the associated drawbacks warrant an examination of a new alternative: class-based preference programs.

Kahlenberg draws on an arsenal of statistics to make his case. Endless surveys demonstrate most Americans don't support permanent race-based preferences, minority groups and women don't feel they need to be helped, people believe merit should be the overriding factor in employment and college admissions decisions, and so on. He presents research that shows Blacks, as a group, have higher average incomes than Germans in Pennsylvania, and correlational studies that show class is related to SAT scores and that parental income is a good indicator of offspring's future income. He cites legal experts who believe current affirmative action programs will be overturned by the Supreme Court in the near future (106). Together, he builds a thoroughly documented, well-reasoned argument for class-based, rather than race-based, affirmative action programs.

Kahlenberg's alternative is guided by three principles: 1) providing a system of genuine equality of opportunity, 2) a system that can be administered, and 3) a program that is politically viable. He would target individuals at what he calls "meritocratic crisis points," or moments in time where the direction and future potential of a person is at stake. For Kahlenberg, these are economically disadvantaged people in their late teens applying to college or entry-level jobs (123). Class would be determined according to a sophisticated formula of income, education, occupation, wealth, schooling opportunities, neighborhood influences, and family structure. Finally, benefits would be administered on a relative scale. That is, a middle-class applicant to an elite college would be disadvantaged relative to an upper-class applicant, and should therefore be afforded a preference.

Most of the criteria for implementing and administering this system already exist. Various government agencies, including the Census Bureau, already have formulae to determine socioeconomic standing, and some colleges have "class plus" admissions criteria that could be duplicated in other contexts. Political acceptance of this plan would hinge on it being a replacement of the current system, most likely over a short transition period. Moreover, Kahlenberg believes this approach will be adopted because, "[u]nlike formalistic equal opportunity, it corrects for background injustice. Unlike racial preferences, it does not hit poor whites with a regressive tax; does not benefit advantaged minorities; does benefit poor whites; and does benefit poor people of color" (101).

Initially, Kahlenberg promises that "class preferences provide a genuine form of equal opportunity for all individuals" (XII), but later acknowledges, "there are limits to the usefulness of a preference for a naturally bright and personally driven child who has nevertheless had an abysmal education and is completely unprepared for rigorous study, since it is cruel to admit a child to an elite university who has no chance of succeeding" (150). Rather than expending extra effort to provide benefits earlier in life, or extending greater preferences to this group, he proposes excluding them altogether, since favouring them "does no one any good" (150). Instead, he proposes that programs identify individuals who posses the nebulous promise of "future potential" yet are not so disadvantaged as to be unsalvageable.

It seems the key strength of Kahlenberg's plan is not that it will be more effective in combating all inequalities or less complex to administer, but that it will be more legally and politically palatable and less expensive than the current system. In reality, his plan replaces one set of drawbacks with another. More lower/working class people of all ethnicities will enjoy a preference for initial employment and college admissions. To the extent that minorities make up a substantial segment of these classes, they will benefit the most, just as they do under current programs. However, shifting to class criteria abandons middle-class minorities and women, who may have only been able to achieve or retain social mobility through ethnic or gender preferences. Furthermore, class-based frameworks are more difficult to implement outside university and initial employment recruitment programs. Promotions within organizations would not be covered, possibly concentrating minorities in entry-level positions. His assertion that the anti-discriminatory 1964 Civil Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of 1991 will be adequate to prevent systemic discrimination (158-160) has not materialized thus far. But he is on the right track.

The problem with most affirmative action programs, even voluntary ones, is that they are reactionary. That is, they attempt to correct for inequities with historical foundations (legacy of discrimination) or that are currently in place. Whether approached from an economic (ie Kahlenberg) or historical/ethnic perspective, both sides wait until individuals attempt to enter the workforce or college before helping, and neither side attempts to remedy the deeper causes of inequality. Class-based criteria helps most Americans in lower socioeconomic classes gain admission into college or into entry level positions and race/gender-based criteria assists most minorities and women gain entry into college or entry level positions _and_ attempts to ensure they will continue to advance. Consequently, using class based affirmative action to complement, rather than supplant, existing programs is probably a more complete approach. In addition, broad-based social reforms will help ensure any affirmative action initiative is ultimately temporary, as their framers intended.

Kahlenberg presents what he believes to be myths about class-based affirmative action, and includes among them the notion mentioned above -- that class preferences alone will fail because they ignore root causes. However, rather than refuting this objection, he points out "because preferences are less expensive than social programs [...] they are more likely to be more politically sustainable than providing equal opportunity through social programs and education" (179). However, it is a mistake to equate "correct" policy with "popular" policy, as some of history's most critical decisions met with tremendous public indignation. Politicians are called upon to be politically courageous, not merely reflections of the electorate's transient whims.

We are rapidly approaching an age where personal biological characteristics will have little impact in daily societal functions. MCI contends that this future is the internet, where "there is no race, there is no gender, [and] there are no disabilities," but the internet is only part of the larger technological transformation society is experiencing. Already, bank ATM transactions are processed with the same speed and priority be the customer old or young, male or female, one ethnicity or another. E-mail is delivered instantaneously without regard to geographic location. Goods and services from anywhere in the world will be accessible from anywhere in the world. In short, it won't matter who or what a person is, because the predictable and consistent wheels of automation will serve all comers - with one exception. E-mail can only be sent and retrieved if internet access is available and affordable, and people can only use ATMs if one is nearby (and if they have money on deposit). Status in the new societal order will depend on financial and educational, rather than ethnic, gender, or orientational factors.

As each era of technological advance threatened to exclude large segments of the population, the government stepped in to bridge the gap. The Tennessee Valley Authority built hydroelectric dams to provide affordable electricity to the South. The Rural Telephone Board extended telephone services to isolated areas. Various communications laws mandated cable television access to remote areas unserved by broadcast stations. Today, government again faces the responsibility of providing internet access to libraries and public schools across the nation, and mandating higher capacity telecommunications linesin all areas of the network -- not just in affluent urban areas. In addition, they must ensure access is affordable. Without these steps, they risk creating a rift between rich and poor far exceeding the perceived gap between black and white.

Recently, Jesse Jackson appeared on ABC Television's Good Morning America program to speak in favour of class-based (though not specifically Kahlenberg's) affirmative action coupled with broader social welfare programs. Echoing Lyndon Johnson's view that "[a]bility is not just the product of birth, [but] is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in -- by the school you go to and the poverty or richness of your surroundings," (6) he talked about Clinton's call for high-tech "smart" classrooms across the country, and asked how decaying inner-city school buildings, where reliable electricity and running water were rarities, could ever hope to meet the challenge. "We must pay for our dreams, or live with our nightmares," he said. Without access to high-quality education, individuals (regardless of personal characteristics) cannot be productive members of society, and are more likely to be a drain on it. Acknowledging that such broad social welfare programs would be expensive, Jackson responded, "It costs less to send a child to Yale than to send them to jail" (2/25/97). Shifting the costs from the back end to the front end is more beneficial, and ultimately less expensive over time.

Can we count on technology and education to eradicate all inequities? As critics correctly point out, the answer is "no." However, in a merit-based society, this isn't really the goal. Rather, universal access and education promises equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. To extend an analogy employed by Lyndon Johnson, it is not enough to simply bring the disadvantaged to the starting line of the race. We must also provide them with the same access to pre-race training to ensure true equality. Although the best approach is a combination of both, class-based affirmative action, more than racial preference programs, meets this goal.      

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