The Standard mentions the writings of Richard Epstein on racial discrimination and says:
A charitable reading of Epstein’s work is that he believes employment law stopping employers from putting “No Blacks or Jews” on their situations vacant ads is ineffective and counter-productive. Instead, we should allow employers to openly discriminate against people on the basis of race, age and sex because the free market will punish them for their irrational choices.
It’s a very interesting topic on which I’m no expert, so I shan’t wade into the debate on affirmative action. However, the latter sentence quoted just makes no sense from an economic perspective. A free market wouldn’t punish racially biased employers, it would price their racial bias.
Everything has a price, even racism. I’m confident that there is an employee so talented that any employer would hire them, regardless of the employer’s racist bias against them. The question is, how much better does the employee have to be before the employer is willing to hire them? Or, conversely, how much less must the employee charge for their labour in order to get a job? Those questions would be answered in a free market. There would be a wage premium for racially preferred employees which reflected the level of racial bias in the community. Far from punishing employers for being racists, a free market would reflect their preferences across races.
My understanding of Epstein’s work is that he understands all this and yet still favours the abolition of affirmative action. His argument is that you can lead an employer to minority employees, but you can’t make him hire them. While there may be laws against discrimination, it is nigh on impossible to police. If you can’t police them then you’re not going to get anyone hired who wouldn’t have been hired anyway. What you do is prevent the unskilled workers who would have to work at a lower rate than the racially preferred employees from being hired at all.
Is it better that they have a job and are discriminated against, or that they have no job but retain government recognition of their equality? I understand that Epstein plumps for the former, but it is clearly not a question with an obvious answer.