Thought of the Day
“Quotas in Finance Reform? – An Insult to Those They Purport to Protect”July 30, 2010
A problem with a 2300 page Bill is that almost anything may lurk within its pages, and probably does. On Wednesday, Politico, a political journalism organization based in Arlington, Virginia noted that, “A little-noticed section of the [Dodd-Frank] law grants the federal government broad new powers to compel financial firms to hire more women and minorities – an effort at promoting diversity that’s drawing fire from Republicans who say it could lead to de facto hiring quotas.”
Even in a Democracy old habits linger for a long time. Segregation in this country continued for a hundred years following the abolition of slavery. Not only was such activity illegal, it was immoral, inhumane and divided the nation. The Civil Rights Bill, signed into law by President Johnson almost fifty years ago, theoretically corrected those inequities, but, as I said, old habits die hard. It became necessary for schools, police departments, businesses and others to impose quotas and implement affirmative action plans – not because showing favoritism is a good thing, but because it was necessary to bring balance to an unfair system. In the same way, and coming at the subject from a different direction, profiling is equally distasteful, but if it is a process that, for the moment, saves lives it seems imprudent not to employ it, if only temporarily.
At the end of the day all people should be treated fairly and equally. Laws should not favor one group, nor should it penalize another. Hiring should be based on the needs and wishes of the employer. Advancement should be based on merit, not on the color of one’s skin, not on gender, not on religion and not on any other basis. There is no question that pockets of prejudice persist; there is also no question that some people will forever be biased. There is no way of totally eradicating such behavior. But fifty years after the signing of the civil rights legislation, and in the most diverse nation on earth, our government should no longer have to compel diversity.
Everything starts with education. Yet, yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that less than half of New York City students scored proficient in English and math, suggesting a lot of work remains to be done before these students have the tools to compete. While we are all genetically unique, a sound educational foundation is the most important gift we can bequeath to our nation’s youth. It is also the best system for imposing equality. That should be our focus, not prosecuting some Wall Street (or Main Street) business because they hired three women when they should have hired four. It is our duty to provide the educational basics needed to compete in a global world. Some will succeed; others will fail, but it is the opportunity to succeed that we must provide our young people.
It is equality of opportunity that drives our nation, not equality of outcomes. We are a grown-up people. We have elected an African-American President, a man who won a primary against a woman. We should have moved beyond the need for affirmative action. While there will always be individuals who need help, to assume that whole segments of our society need special privileges is an insult to those people. It is not quotas that we need, but the best and the brightest, no matter their race, their gender or their religion, to compete against the best and the brightest from China, India and Brazil.