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Discrimination and Affirmative Action

Are minority set aside programs morally acceptable?

The aspect of affirmative action constitutes a major area of controversy in the present-day context of the Americas. Before the matter of its moral acceptability, or otherwise, is considered, it is necessary to venture into the pros and cons of professed discrimination and affirmative action.

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The main aspects that affirm minority set aside programs could be seen in the context of constitutional laws that protect the interests of minorities in terms of entry into educational institutions, employment opportunities, and achievements of other major life’s goals. At one stage it was necessary to protect the weaker and minority sectors from exploitation, especially those of non-Whites and women.

It is also seen that minority communities are not well represented among high earners, due to limitations in terms of earnings, the scope of employment, and other social constraints that thwart them from being competent enough to take up highly paid careers. Thus to contain covert discrimination and other forms of prejudices against minorities, It became necessary to create incentives during granting of contracts, employment ventures, and entry into educational institutions, etc.

The main complaint against minority set aside programs stem from a misnomer that minorities or women are less competent, or less meritorious than whites or men are. However, this is without basis, since the level of competence depends upon factors other than minority, or gender.

The next aspect of affirmative action could be seen in terms of the fact that mere indifference to race or gender will not solve the problem. Moreover, affirmative action means that positive action needs to be taken. “Ostensible measures of ‘merit’ may well be biased toward the same groups who are already empowered. Regardless of overt principles, people already in positions of power are likely to hire people they already know, and/or people from similar backgrounds.” (Encyclopedia: Affirmative Action India. 2003).

Advocates of positive affirmation feel that such programs help surmount conventional monetary disadvantages minorities have borne and endorse financial expansion and growth within marginalized communities and women.


As mentioned earlier, the issue of affirmation has been the focus of feverish debate over the years, in support and condemnation of this, and finally ending up in vociferous court cases. One of the better-known litigation has been the Adarand Constructors v. Pena 515 U.S. 200 (1995) In this case, the Court held that the issue at hand was not a race, but whether disadvantage had accrued to one party, to the detriment of another. In this case, the favor was shown to one minority contractor, Gonzales Construction, not due to merit but because laws provided opting for a minority subcontractor. However, the question arose “whether the presumption of disadvantage based on race alone, and consequent allocation of favored treatment, a discriminatory practice that violates the equal protection principle embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?” (Adarand Constructors v. Pena. 2009).

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The answer to this question was answered in the affirmative, and the Courts, through a 5:4 majority ruled against the award of contract to the minority.

Aspects of utilitarian concept in minority set aside programs

It is seen that this could be seen from the following perspectives:

  1. Employers
  2. Employees
  3. Community
  4. Government
  5. National interests.


It is seen that if affirmative action were to be encouraged, the aspect of merit in business, education, or life goals could be severely compromised, and group or community considerations would gain preference over merit or lowest bidder. This could be disastrous for business in terms of business profits, and also, it would mean paying higher wages to accommodate lower productivity. Since workforce performance is directly linked with profitability, it would be lowered, if ineffective and incompetent people were hired just to fill in minority quotas, reservations, or set aside.


Employees have been hired not out of merit considerations or performance, but to assuage set aside. It would be an affront to their selves, that they needed to seek minority or gender protection to avail employment or contract delivery. When the demands of employment are not met, this could spell disaster for employees.


The community is the net effect of the employers, employees, and others. When profitability is reduced and costs increased, the growth of the community would be threatened, and these could potent deleterious effects on it.


The incomes derived from the individuals, communities, and business houses in the form of direct and indirect taxation form a major part of revenues of the Government. In the event profits and cash flows fall over time, due to escalating workforce costs and lowered productivity, it would have economic impacts caused by low tax and revenue collections. This could, to a certain extent, influence the working of an efficient and citizen-focused government.

National interests

The Government is responsible for the formulation and execution of policies and laws, keeping the best interests of the citizens in mind. It is necessary that laws need to be progressive, growth-oriented, and not designed to provide unequal treatment to its citizens, by which one class of citizens receive protection and benefits that are denied to others. This would be a gross violation of US Constitutional laws.

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Aspects of deontological concept in minority set aside programs

Now, it is necessary to consider the deontological aspects.

This is in line with the fact that racial and gender discrimination has been a part of American history, and has been instrumental in the promulgation of many laws seeking to protect minority interests. Since it deals more with the concept of duty, actions done out of duty can be done constantly by all humans reflect moral acts.

There is one particular school of thought that believes that recompense to those who have been earlier maltreated is a part of one’s social obligations and that making amends for earlier misdeeds is a duty that should be executed by all people, then such actions must be ethically correct and acceptable, and is termed as compensatory justice.

However, the other aspect that needs to be seen is that, under affirmative action, an incompetent or unmerited person may get a job, thereby depriving a better and more competent person of his employment opportunities. This could give rise to rancor and bitterness, in that many aspects of life goals are derived through considerations other than merit, competencies, and low-cost bids (in the case of commercial contracts). Therefore, the right person must be put in the correct job, and this is also advocated by the deontological concept.

“As a result, discrimination against such individuals is morally unacceptable, and thus, affirmative action programs provide the steps to ensure this “duty”, to provide the “right” for employment if one is qualified, is a morally acceptable action.” (Papers on Set Aside Programs and Similar Term Paper Topics: From the Paper. 2009).


It is seen that over the years the concept of affirmative action has undergone many changes, due to changes in the socio-political, economic, and cultural milieu. This is accentuated by the fact that the aspects of racial discrimination have reduced considerably in the 21 st century and now the main aspect that needs to be tackled would be in terms of filling the gaps due to racial and gender barriers. The answer to the question as to whether minority set aside programs is morally acceptable needs to be seen in the wider context of its applicability and special circumstances. It would be neither judicious to favor it or to condemn it, but it would be necessary that the facts of the case be seen on a logical and rational basis.

Moreover, in the matter of Americas, laws differ from State to State and it would well be tedious to impose or institute Federal laws in all States given the complex legal and administrative machinery that needs to be geared up to achieve this end. Therefore, consistency in making and enforcing robust laws becomes a challenge for the administration and its execution for the judiciary.

However, considering the case of affirmation it needs to be determined if its benefits surpass its disadvantages and it could be well controlled and administered.

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The Administration also needs to be competent enough to withdraw or revoke inconsistent action, if and when it is deemed necessary to do so.


Adarand Constructors v. Pena. (2009). Oyez: US Supreme Court Media. Web.

Encyclopedia: Affirmative Action India. (2003). Nation Web.

Papers on Set Aside Programs and Similar Term Paper Topics: From the Paper. (2009). Aca Demon: Term Papers and Essays. Web.

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