An International Perspective
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Sowell (A Conflict of Visions, 1986, etc.), the controversial economist from the Hoover Institution, now examines and indicts affirmative action on a worldwide basis. Sowell begins by weighing the preferential policies that majorities have instituted for themselves. In Malaya under the British, for example, the politically dominant Malays received free education while the minority Chinese had to develop and pay for their own. The result, not unexpected to the author, was a greater number of Chinese college graduates--particularly in the hard fields of science and mathematics--than Malays. In today's world, however, most preferential policies exist for the betterment of previously disadvantaged segments of society: blacks and other minorities in the US; the lower castes in India; Maoris in New Zealand. Although most of these policies had clearly established cutoff dates, none has ever been abrogated. When Pakistan was created, for example, an affirmative-action program was begun for the East Bengalis. Although the Bengalis have long since established their own country, the program continues unabated in Pakistan. Aside from their continuity, Sowell finds, preference policies for both majorities and minorities have in common an inability to work. He cites statistics showing how it is the elite of the minorities, those people who need it the least, who benefit the most. He dwells on India because India has the longest history of preferential policies (begun under the British); has experienced the most polarization because of it; and has suffered the most violence from it. Sowell warns of increasing polarization in all countries if present trends continue, repeating how little we truly know of the causes of poverty, and stressing the need for examining results of programs rather than their motivations. Perhaps not the last word on affirmative action, but valuable in pointing out how empirically unproven much of the current thought on that issue is.
Pub Date: June 27th, 1990
ISBN: 0688109691
Page count: 228pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1990


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