Approaches to Affirmative Action

Apple from the Hills

Consider a hilly area near the Himalayas somewhere in North India. Owned entirely by the local Government, a special variety of Apple grew there. Every year, only a few hundred apple grew and there was always heavy demand for the same. After harvest, the Government, with all its noble intentions, gave away the apples for free – on a first come first serve basis.

Over few years, a section of the citizens started complaining that they never get to have the special apples. It turned out that those who lived near the foot of the hills always managed to get to the Government distribution center on top of the hill before those who lived further down in the plains. Hence the folks from the plains never got to taste the delicious apples.

Medicinal Lake

In another part of the country, there existed a beautiful lake whose waters had special medicinal properties. It never dried throughout the year and always had crystal clear mineral water. A bath in the lake cured people of various types of skin diseases. The success rate was 100% and therefore the citizens of nearby places sought to have bath in this lake to cure their diseases.

Over time, it so happened that the villagers surrounding the lake turned to bullying visitors from far off. They started threatening visitors and prevented many from taking bath. The villagers felt only they should use the lake. The visitors from far off started complaining to the Government that they did not get the opportunity to take bath due to the fear of the villagers and rid themselves of their diseases.

Library for the blind

In yet another region in the country, there existed a library for the blind. Many books, written in Braille, were available in the library and many visually challenged people from around the region made good use of the collection.

Some anti-social elements from the nearby villages turned ruffians and started damaging the library. They started barging into the place and tore up many of the books. Patrons used to be threatened by these rowdies and it became a nightmare for people to sit peacefully and enjoy the books.

Different forms of Social Justice

In each of the three cases, the Government had to come up with some solution to ensure that there was ‘social justice’ or ‘affirmative action’ so that all interested groups, in each case, were dealt with fairly.

What would be the correct/ideal way to provide social justice in each of these cases?

In the first case of the special apples, the resource in question – the apples – were finite. What was at stake was exhaustible. The problem in this case was that of scarcity. The way to ensure that the folks from the plains also get to enjoy this resource was to ensure a fair distributionAn ideal way would be to come up with a list of all interested groups – the plains-folks and the hill-folks – and ensure a pro-rata distribution between them.

In the second case of the medicinal lake, the resource in question – the lake itself – is inexhaustible. The problem in this case was that of access. Therefore the right way to ensure justice in this case was to ensure fair opportunityThe Government could come up with regulation that ensures no citizen who wants to have a bath in the lake is ever denied the opportunity to do the same. Rules about timing of visit, sections of the lake that are open for bathing, fees to be charged can all be decided by the Government and the same can be made applicable equally to all.

In the third case of the library for the blind, the resource in question – the library – was exclusive in nature. The problem in this case was that of danger. The right way to ensure justice in this case was to offer fair protection. The Government could strengthen security around the library and make sure the interested stake holders – the blind patrons – can use the resource peacefully.

Mapping to #Core

The above examples are intended to explain three key demands of #TeamCore.

In the area of #Core2 – the situation is similar to the example of the special apples. Public goods provided by the Government – scholarships, loans, fellowships and so on – are all exhaustible resources. But they are interesting to ALL sections of society. The only fair way to handle them is to distribute them pro-rata.

If you create separate programs of distribution to specific groups, it will lead to favor. And eventually incentivise the non-favoured groups to move into the pampered group.

In the area of #Core1 – the situation is similar to the analogy of the medicinal lake. When resources are non-exhaustible, like in the case of opening and administering educational institutions, the only fair way to handle them is to create EQUAL opportunity/access. If a special favour is extended to some groups, it only means making it tougher for the other groups to access the same. In the long run, it demotivates the losing group from even accessing the resource. In other words, the favoured group takes over the resource.

In the area of #Core5 – the situation is similar to the analogy of the library for the blind. The resource in question is exclusive to a group. Within limits of public peace, health and morality, there must be complete protection for the group to consume the resource (or say practice its beliefs/rituals). Lack of support in this case, for any group, translates effectively to a punishment for the said group.

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