Friday, November 12, 2010

Affirmative Action Bake-Sale

So, I caught an episode of Stossel, a libertarian talk show on Fox News. I’m not a big fan of John Stossel, but sometimes he presents interesting ideas. In this episode he had a racist bake-sale to challenge Affirmative Action. He was selling (or pretending to sell) cupcakes at different prices for people of different races, higher-prices working as punishment for being successful in society. Asians were charged $1.50, whites $1.00, and Latinos/blacks $0.50. He was doing it as sort of a double protest, of Affirmative Action as well as of anti-hate-speech policies of some universities after some students trying to do the bake-sale idea were shut down themselves.

A lot of people (many black) got angry at him for having a blatant display of racism; though he did succeed in getting at least one woman agreeing with him that it’s a legitimate exercise of free speech. Everyone asserted that the best policy is to charge everyone the same amount. One black/Latino person got really offended by the idea that she would pay a different price—even a better price—because of her race.

I suppose I would be in her position. If he was charging less for less for white people, I would be offended and might pay the top price on principle if I didn't just boycott it. But I'm not a racial minority, so I can't relate exactly. Though the bake-sale is appalling on the face of it, it makes a certain sort of sense to give benefits to lesser-privileged races, and I find it interesting that this woman felt this opposition to the racist bake-sale as a minority.

I also find it interesting that there was such a negative reaction to the bake-sale as opposed to the real Affirmative Action. Maybe it has to do with familiarity, in that everyone’s familiar with Affirmative Action but not racist bake-sales. Granted, Stossel never really talked about Affirmative Action, so it’s unclear if the people he talked to support it, but he usually gets a liberal response from his man on the street interviewing.

I believe the demonstration’s point is that Affirmative Action is racist and therefore wrong, using the bake-sale to illustrate how its discrimination works on a smaller, easily-understandable scale. Although the bake-sale is a bit alarming to look at, I actually don’t see anything wrong with it on its small scale. Stossel is just a guy selling cupcakes. You don’t have to buy from him. You can buy from some other store that sells fair prices. Or if you’re black/Latino, you can take advantage of his lower prices. As Stossel points out, some bars have ladies’ night gimmicks where women get lower prices. It’s just a function of capitalism. It’s when government gets involved that there’s a problem, ala Jim Crow. If government was imposing the racist pricing upon corporations, that would be the real problem.

I kind of like the idea of Affirmative Action, but I don’t like that the government makes it mandatory. It’s the use of force I find objectionable. If there was a meme among consumers that supported Affirmative Action, corporations would endorse it voluntarily. Stossel’s bake-sale raised controversy for having Affirmative-Action-style racism on a small scale. It’s important to recognize that on his own he’s just (playing) one racist guy, but if the government had a law that imposed the racist pricing it would be like Jim Crow, and that Affirmative Action is closer to those racist laws than Stossel’s bake-sale.

Here’s Stossel on the O’Reilly Factor:

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