The Problem With Affirmative Action

Janet Yellen may soon be a victim of affirmative action.  I know that sounds odd, but I think it is true.

To preface, I have no preferences in the competition to become the next head of the Federal Reserve, and assume that Janet Yellen and Larry Summers are equally qualified.   I don't think the immense power the Fed has to screw with the economy can be wielded rationally by any individual, so it almost does not matter who sits in the chair.  Perhaps someone with a bit less hubris and a little more self-awareness would be better with such power, which would certainly mitigate against Summers.

But Yellen has a problem.  When this horse race first emerged in the press, many in the media suggested that Yellen would be a great choice because she was a woman, and qualified.  Most of the press coverage centered (probably unfairly given that she does seem to be quite qualified) on her woman-ness.  This leaves Yellen with a problem because many people were left with a first impression that the reason to choose her was primarily due to her having a womb, rather than her economic chops.

This is the downside of affirmative action.


  1. Russ R.:

    The same could be said of the White House, and the first Affirmative Action President.

    But with one difference... Yellen actually seems to be qualified for the role.

  2. jimcraq:

    You beat me to it.

  3. Joe_Da:

    Another good example/ bad example was the hiring of Terrell Bolton as dallas police chief in 1999/2000. He was fired in 2003. It was obvious that he was an affirmative action promotion. never had the intellect, never had the skill set to even work in a supervisory capacity, yet promoted to police chief in an affirmative action promotion. Unfortunately, bad promotions will taint the good promotions.

  4. Billford:

    Consider NFL quarterbacks. It seems awfully strange that it took so long to integrate this position, given the demographics in the league. Hundreds of the most qualified people probably lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 30 years, and hundreds of less-qualified people probably received hundreds of millions worth of the windfall of the owners' and coaches' bias. There is probably also bias against white running backs and wide receivers. You've got Woodhead, Welker, and Nelson right now, but I can't really think of any other three household names playing at the same time in the last 20 years. It seems odd that they are so underrepresented (I am not saying the fact there is under-representation at these positions is odd, just that the degree to which they are underrepresented is odd; you would expect probably a few more given demographics in the league and in other professional sports).

    The point is that bias (of all kinds) affects hiring, even in very competitive industries. Also, many people who oppose affirmative action assume that in its absence the most-qualified candidate would be most likely to get hired, which is a pretty big assumption. If there is absolutely no affirmative action whatsoever, and top positions are filled according to some combination of connections, talent, and inherent personal bias, who is to say whether the most qualified person will win out more often than the most connected?

    The reasoning above is why I cannot bring myself to feel strongly against affirmative action.