Why are Quotas Bad?

I know this is preaching to the choir here at QC (except for our @Ella-B, who keeps us honest by singing out of tune! :slight_smile:) but I thought the most recent Substack from FAIR was worth highlighting:

From white supremacy to race-conscious discrimination

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Chad Williams

[T]he fundamental assumption of critical race theory is that disparities between racial groups are in themselves evidence of racism. This assumption is faulty because it fails to allow or account for the numerous reasons other than racism that racial groups might have different outcomes. At the population level, these plausible reasons include age, geography, and, of course, culture. Many analysts of group differences are trapped in the false binary that these differences must result from either racism or genetic differences. However, Thomas Sowell and others have made compelling arguments about why this simply is not true. This is not to say that past disparate treatment has had no effect on current disparate outcomes, but it certainly cannot be the only cause for these disparities. Accordingly, a policy that begins from the faulty assumption that disparities equal racism is bound to fail as a bulwark against what actual racism still exists today.

The insistence that disparities equal racism, along with a successful push for race-conscious civil rights legislation, would almost inevitably result in racial quotas. Without such quotas, it is impossible to legislate into existence the conditions needed to ensure equal outcomes. The French historian Fernand Braudel wrote, “In no society have all regions and all parts of the population developed equally.” Achieving equal outcomes across groups would not only entail the development of equal capabilities, but it would also require that all groups have identical preferences of how they choose to use those capabilities. Sowell quipped that this doesn’t even happen among siblings raised in the same household, no less large racial groups that developed in vastly different historical and cultural circumstances. Again, this is not to say that racism has had no impact on outcome disparities, only that legislation has limited means of redressing these disparities.

Why are quotas bad? Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor defined quotas in Grutter v. Bollinger: “A quota is a program in which a certain fixed number or proportion of opportunities are reserved exclusively for certain minority groups. Quotas impose a fixed number or percentage which must be attained or which cannot be exceeded, and insulate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats.” The standard of representation sought by critical race theorists and their proponents is often national demographic proportionality. When they claim that a group is “underrepresented,” they mean in relation to their proportion of the national population. For example, the United States is roughly 13 percent black. Let’s say a school has less than 13 percent black people, black people would be considered “underrepresented” at that school. This reasoning is so pernicious because it necessarily implies a group can be “over-represented.” It’s clear to see how this can lead to all manner of vile thinking. Jewish people, for example, make up about 14 percent of American physicians while comprising only about 2 percent of the general population. A standard based on national demographic proportionality would therefore consider Jews to be “over-represented” in medicine. In and of itself this is fine. But if the assumption is that under-representation is necessarily indicative of discrimination, over-representation might be assumed to indicate that some are “gaming the system.” It is easy to see where this path leads.

Another reason why quotas are detrimental is because they necessarily place a ceiling on high performing groups. For example, some Asian-Americans currently claim that they have been unjustly impacted by the Affirmative Action policies at highly competitive universities. Imagine if a quota system based on national demographics were put in place. Asians make up about 6 percent of the United States’ population, and yet a 6 percent cap on Asians in university admissions would be a crushing ceiling, especially considering their disproportionately high levels of academic performance. It was these kinds of racially informed constraints on individuals that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sought to avoid.

Many proponents of race-conscious policies claim that these policies are unquestionably pro-black. But even for black Americans there are serious drawbacks to race-conscious civil rights law and quotas in particular. For one, race-conscious policies would only be superficial solutions; they would create the appearance of success for black Americans without addressing substantive failures in education and elements of our culture. This leads to a second point, namely, that interracial conflict and anti-black sentiment would likely increase if individual black people were artificially placed into competitive positions for which they were unprepared or unqualified. Such circumstances would likely produce a socio-political backlash that might very well be a net negative for our society, and ultimately for black Americans as well.

Additionally, an explicit quota system poses a serious risk of worsening intraracial conflict as well. Racial categories are fluid and groups can be endlessly subdivided. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario wherein the “black” racial group is further subdivided to Black Americans (or ADOS if you prefer), Caribbean-Americans, Nigerian-Americans, et cetera, and the attendant conflict over how representation would be allocated among these groups. I believe race-conscious benefit allocation and quotas necessarily incentivize these kinds of conflicts.

I am an optimist. I believe that, in time, with certain cultural and policy adjustments, black people can begin to overachieve in academia and business. (We already overachieve in athletics and music, after all.) In my view, our concern as black people should not necessarily be with closing all disparities between ourselves and other racial groups, but rather with ensuring that we become ever safer, healthier and wealthier—a process that may eventually close these gaps on their own. Relative success or failure should not be determined on that metric. We know that individual black people can reach the very top of their chosen professions. To the degree that persistent gaps are due to ongoing racism, the key for closing them is to create conditions that allow each black person to maximize their individual potential. This necessitates creating stable, loving homes and safe communities, which will in turn allow for productive educational environments. This will require sound policies that recognize the reality of incentives. But more importantly, it will require certain cultural changes that cannot be imposed from the outside.

It is my hope that the current conception of racial justice activism evolves into an activism that is less concerned with the ways in which white people have held us back, and more concerned with what history has shown we have the capability of doing for ourselves.


Quotes are good so that people know when you are recounting what someone else said and won’t think they are your words.

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Should there be quotas on quotes? What percentage of a an article must be quotes for it to be authoritative? Are quotes more authoritative when written with a quill or a crayon?

Why are quotas bad?

Because they arise from a (sometimes deliberate) misconception that any Inequality must be a result of Inequity.

Many who espouse the idea are not so stupid that they fail to see the illogic in their argument, they stick to it presumably in the hope of appearing “good” to the rest of the world.

But however impassioned the arguments for affirmative action, or an evening up of the scales, they cannot get past some inescapable truths.

Equality of Opportunity is a laudable goal and should be argued for and worked towards by all right thinking people.

Equality of Outcome is impossible, unworkable and requires inequity against one party to achieve “equality” for the other. This should be argued against by all right thinking people.

Any and all " positive discrimination" for one group requires actual discrimination against another.

Applying artificial quotas in any sector - to try and correct perceived imbalances - almost always leads to resentment from those who feel that not everybody is there on merit and, rather than healing divisions, it actually exacerbates them.


Ahem, I believe I’m one of the rare contributors that has brought this point up repeatedly.

As far as quotas go, no I don’t support them or the hiring of employees without the necessary abilities to perform the required tasks. But all things being equal I do support leaning towards diversity hires if an organisation lacks it & voluntarily chooses to do so.

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In the legal news today, in the US

This is the Asians at Harvard admissions case., and which it appears will be ripe for the Supreme Court to take it up for argument this term, a decision by the end of the spring term.