Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Affirmative Action

Does affirmative action work ? Especially in an economic setting ? News on this theme, from two corners of the world caught my attention yesterday.

In Malaysia, they have eased the minimum Bhumiputra limit on investment in listed companies from 30% to 12.5 %. Bhumiputras are ethnic Malays. They are by far the majority ethnic group in that country although the ethnic Chinese are economically more prosperous. Ethnic Indians also constitute a significant minority. Laws in Malaysia , on virtually every aspect of life, are heavily tilted in favour of Bhumiputras and resented by the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians. In the economic sphere, this requirement of Bhumiputra ownership has brought little economic value.

From the US, of all places, I read yesterday of the incredible legal fight in the New Haven firefighters case. The New Haven fire department conducted a written test as a means of deciding who to promote. The test was mostly passed by whites ; black and Hispanic candidates failed. New Haven was terrified of a legal suit of race discrimination. So they decided not to promote anybody. Now the white firefighters brought a suit alleging discrimination. It went all the way to the US Supreme Court who decided 5-4 yesterday and upheld the white firefighters’ case. It’s a classic situation of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

India , of course has a long history of affirmative action which is caste based. Various politicians stoke this at convenient points in time. In South Africa, Black Economic Empowerment is another race based affirmative action, similar to the Bhumiputra model.

I raise this subject, because China seems to follow a different model, at least on the economic side. While China is overwhelmingly Han, there are 55 recognised ethnic minorities. In economic matters, China seems to favour development of the inputs to the ethnic minorities rather than reserve or favour on the output side. They build infrastructure in the ethnic minority regions. They invest heavily in education in these regions (ethnic minority students get extra points in entrance exams but there is no reservation, I think). They force teachers from other regions to go to these regions as a means of developing education. They provide incentives for companies starting economic activity there. But at the “output” end – in terms of jobs, or promotion or shareholdings, there is equality. No discrimination for or against. Whatever we may say about the cultural or religious situation of China’s ethnic minorities, on the economic side this seems to have worked.

I am no expert on this subject, but China’s approach of heavily providing “inputs” and having no affirmative action on the “output” seems to appeal. Sure, it doesn’t win minority votes, but economically, it seems to be a better model.

18 comments:

Hang said...

Ramesh, you're right. China doesn't have the affirmative actions mentioned in your post. As you said, there is no discrimination for or against at the 'output' side. At the 'input' side, China has done a lot and continues to do so.

On the cultural or religious situation of China’s ethnic minorities, there is going to be a debate between the Chinese and the western world. Personally, I think China has done a very good job in preserving ethnic minority culture and respecting their religious beliefs. There are many preferential policies in favor of ethnic minorities, for example, an ethnic minority couple are allowed to have 2 or more children......I guess I'll stop here. I'm straying from the topic. :)

Ramesh said...

@ Hang - I believe there's a fair bit other countries can learn from China on this issue.

However, the social and religious question is, as you say, an emotive one. I see both sides of the story and have respect for the both the views. But, as you say, that's another matter altogether, which we leave for another blog to tackle !!

Ajay said...

Totally agree with you Ramesh that that the Chinese model is what other countries should also follow. Meritocracy should be promoted. And ample opportunity should be provided for one and all to develop and evolve. Can't see how 'forcing' teachers to teach in backward areas would work in India though. All attempts at affirmative action have come to be abused in due course of time. And once the system has gotten used to affirmative policies, there's no undoing that.
In stark contrast to the judgement in the New Haven case is the year old HRD ministry's (Govt. of India) directive to introduce reservation for OBC too in IITs and IIMs. And, one year hence, most of these reserved seats in IITs are going vacant because students can't even qualify the relaxed admission criterion. Latest was they were planning to introduce reservations for faculty positions too.

A journey called Life said...

ohh this is a nice thing to do..recognizing,harnessing, encouraging and sustaining should all be in the direction of the deserving and not based on caste, creed, race etc.. very informative post (i cross my heart, wont say this statement again ;)

Ramesh said...

@Ajay - The reservation situation in IITs and IIMs is a sorry story on India. Politicians did that just to gain publicity - nobody cared about these great institutions. We deserve the rulers we get !

@ AJCL - Please say all the wonderfully nice things you say. It lifts the heart and I can float for a little while - PPPllleeeaaassseee .... :)

le embrouille blogueur said...

I am surprised at what Ajay mentioned on the IITs and IIMs....and Ramesh you are right where the money is when you talk about "to be or not to be"....great post and the way you finish saying "you are no expert" is ...well,ironic ... if some people who claim they are subject matter experts could catch up to the level of knowledge you possess...well you know things would be different...!!

thethoughtfultrain said...

China's treatment of the people a Input and Output levels really commendable. I do hope that India gets it act back right!

rads said...

A big YAY! to China on this..I think the whole world shud learn from them...atleast on matters like this

Adesh Sidhu said...

Nice observation and as usual great post.

Thomas said...

A Han Chinese friend of my wife grew up in Inner Mongolia and hates the Mongolian minority with a passion, because apparently lots of Mongolians got admitted to her dream college and she didn't, even though her college entry exam score was much higher. To her, it feels like discrimination against Han.

Ramesh said...

@blogueur -Hey thanks. You are wonderful balm to the spirit

@thoughtful train - there's a lot to learn from each other for both countries. I wish we were more friendly

rads - Yes, if we set aside blind patriotism, every nation can learn a lot from others

@Adesh - Thanks

@Thomas - I can understand her point of view as I beleieve additional marks are given to ethnic minorities on account of their status and they could overtake a majority student with better marks. But that's a lot better than complete reservation which is a huge phenomenon in India.

Ajay said...

Just today's headlines in TOI say Kapil Sibbal is still game for reservation for faculty positions in IITs and IIMs. Nobody wants to lose their vote banks.

Ramesh said...

@Ajay - What a pity - and that too coming from Kapil Sibal, who is a top professional in his own right.

Sanjay said...

I am afraid India will never learn or adopt the model that China has.In my opinion for India to achieve what China has done, the entire political system must be overhauled. There must be specific criteria laid down by law to assume office like education, experience in public life, aware ness of the people issues. Infact there must be a institute like IIT and IIM that would produce quality politicans who can then rule the country after being elected on their performance. Only then we would have people who will try to emulate what China is doing on the economic side and perhaps even be better at it. Until then we would have to leave with reservations and favourtism.

Ramesh said...

@ Sanjay - I wouldn't be so despondent. After all economic reforms did start even though it wasn't a vote winner then. I think it just needs a tall and strong leader to emerge.

Sanjay said...

Yes Ramesh that is right. However the political scenario may not allow that anymore. Earlier when MMS was the FM, Congress had complete majority. But today coalition politics is the trend and it would not be possible for someone like MMS to do reforms.

People like Behenji and Laluji are dreaming about sitting in the PM kursi. It is a shame.

Sanjay said...

the political scenario may not allow that anymore. Earlier when MMS was the FM, Congress had complete majority. But today coalition politics is the trend and it would not be possible for someone like MMS to do reforms.

People like Behenji and Laluji are dreaming about sitting in the PM kursi. It is a shame.

Ramesh said...

@Sanjay - Yes, its more difficult in today's political scenario, but I am still optimistic - we are overdue for a tall leader after decades of dwarves like some of those you have mentioned.

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