Thomas Sowell

Anyone who thinks that business is gung ho for the free market has just not been paying attention to business. Adam Smith knew better, back in the 18th century.

Although he was the patron saint of capitalism, Smith was no fan of capitalists. Any policy advocated by businessmen, he said, "ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention."

In our own time, as in Adam Smith's time, businesses have not hesitated to advocate government interference with free markets. Tariffs on steel and other import restrictions are obvious examples. Many, if not most, antitrust cases begin with some business complaining because a competitor is gaining market share by charging lower prices or offering an improved product.

While businesses will use the rhetoric of the free market when it suits their purpose, they will dump it in a minute when it does not. Against this background, it is not surprising that big business is filing briefs in favor of affirmative action in the University of Michigan case that the Supreme Court will be hearing this spring.

Big business has long been in favor of racial quotas. When an effort was begun back in the 1980s, within the Reagan administration, to get rid of affirmative action, the influence of corporate America helped squelch this effort.

Why does big business want racial quotas? Because it is in their own self-interest.

If a corporation does not have enough minority employees to satisfy government agencies, that can lead to racial discrimination lawsuits. But if they hire by quotas and quotas are outlawed, they can be sued by whites for reverse discrimination. Keeping affirmative action legal solves their problem.

But that is not how it was presented in the January 27th issue of BusinessWeek, where columnist Roger O. Crockett portrayed corporations as courageously "sticking out their necks" for the sake of that mystic thing called "diversity."

Sticking their necks out? Just who is going to do what to them for supporting quotas? It is safer than playing checkers with your maiden aunt.

If there is anything more ridiculous than endlessly repeating the magic word "diversity," it is trying to come up with plausible arguments in favor of the racial quotas that this euphemism really means.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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