(Book Review) Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study by Thomas Sowell

I was going to commence this book review with the sentence ‘If you’re a Westerner, then you’re familiar with the controversial policies pertaining to affirmative action,’ but I then recalled what this book taught me: affirmative action policies are not exclusively a western phenomenon.

In this book, Sowell evaluates and analyzes the causes and empirical effects of affirmative action in multiple countries: India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and lastly, the United States. Sowell summarizes the causes of the implementations of these policies in these nations, in addition to evaluating their effects through empirical observation and statistical analysis.

If you’re wondering why I am reviewing this on an economics blog, for other than the fact that Thomas Sowell is a famous and influential economist, then you may not understand the economic implications of affirmative action policies. Affirmative action policies whether implemented from government mandates or from private businesses choosing to do so, affects the behavior and outcomes of those in the labor force. For education, it’s not a mystery that institutions of education strongly affect the accumulation of human capital, and consequently, affect the labor supply. Furthermore, affirmative action has an effect on the labor economy, and therefore, is a topic worthy of analysis from an economic perspective.

I will not further elaborate or elucidate my thoughts, conclusions, or convictions in regard to affirmative action policies; such analysis is worthy of its own article that I intend to write at some future time.

My Final Ratings

Difficulty for economically illiterate to understand: moderately easy.

Explanation: This book doesn’t include economics jargon, or introduce abstract concepts. However, for one to understand the effects of affirmative action policies on the economy to the fullest extent, one may need to brush up on their understanding of labour economics. This book does not require a deep understanding of economics, let alone, labour economics. With that being said, a person with no economic literacy will still be able to understand from reading this book the pernicious political and social consequences of affirmative action polices, even if they do not understand the economic consequences.

Keeping the reader interested: keeps the reader mostly engaged.

Explanation: While Sowell doesn’t go off on side-tangents, he does have a penchant for over-elaborating some assertions at times. If you share my affinity for the inclusion of extra details, then this should not be vexing, but you may find it so if you are someone who only wants to get to the point.

Verifiable claims: Sowell verifies his claims.

Explanation: Sowell cites sources for all objective claims and elucidations.

Subfield of economics: this a book about public policy.

Do I recommend this book, and for who? This is a book I universally recommend.

Explanation: With there being no shortage of officious politicians and public policy authors eager to lionize, endorse, and impose affirmative action policies on businesses and institutions of higher education, it is salient to understand the harmful effects of these policies from an economic, political, and social perspective. This book offers several case studies of the effects of affirmative action after they were implemented, and how each and every time, the policy resulted in more harm than benefits. This is a book I recommend to everyone considering the effects of affirmative action are not only economic and political, but social as well. The effects of affirmative action can result in alterations to everyday interactions, and for that reason, it is important for everyone to understand.

Favorite Quote:

People differ – and have for centuries. It is hard to imagine how they could not differ, given the enormous range of differing historical, cultural, geographic, demographic, and other factors shaping the particular skills, habits, and attitudes of different groups. Any ‘temporary’ policy whose duration is defined by the goal of achieving something that has never been achieved before, anywhere in the world, could more fittingly be characterized as eternal.

Sowell, Thomas. Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study.

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Published by Daniel Ballesteros

An aspiring labor economist.

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