Monday, April 17, 2006

No More Little Guys

Question: When is the "Little Guy" not the Little Guy?
Answer: When there are millions of them.

I was somewhat bemused today when I read a letter in the paper about the dangers of Voter Initiative. The writer was particularly worried that that minorities would be hurt by discrimination by the majority and affirmative action would be overturned. Let's take these in order.

There is no doubt that workers (little guys) have been disabused by powerful business interests in the past, and even today in some cases. Unions wre formed to protect those without a voice and have done a good job at it. Unfortunately the 'little guy' is not so little any longer. They are a powerful force, and when it comes to municipal unions, even more powerful than 'management'.

And as their management counterparts used to do, they often have performed equally badly. Unions frequently have exchanged their mission to protect disadvantaged workers and instead try to extract as much as possible from the taxpayer for their members with too little regard for the very people whom they are employed to serve (while taking much of that money from their membership as dues to support their bureaucracy in the process) .

Legislators have caved in under unions' powerful influence; they represent a lot of votes. When taxpayers feel strapped and their representatives fail to help and protect them, they see Voter Initiative as one way to have their voices be heard.

There is always the possibility of tyranny of the majority over the minority in a pure democracy. Democracy means 'majority rule'. Our founding fathers knew this and addressed it so elegantly in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, The Bill of Rights. Nevertheless, laws are interpreted and enforced by humans with all our faults. Slavery was legal until 1862 remember?

On the writer's last point, I fear we don't have affirmative action in this country. At least not in practice. As I understand it, affirmative action applies when candidates of equal qualifications apply for something, preference should be given to the minority. This would help minorities receive fair treatment and is the intention of the law.

Unfortunately, this is not what happens. In order to avoid affirmative action law suites, many organizations reduce the standard for minorities. In this way, they are sure to choose a sufficient number of minorities and thus avoid the risk of discrimination charges. The same happens often in college entrance requirements.

The goal of such laws is noble. We have treated minorities badly and we should demand that this un-American behavior stop. But unfortunately, the well intentioned law has in practice actually done more harm than good.

When standards are lowered, the candidates who are accepted, either for employment or school admission, are less likely to perform at the level of others who are hired under a higher standard. This lower performance only serves to further the myth that minorities are indeed inferior and fuels more discrimination and resentment.

Affirmative action laws have become de facto 'quota' laws and it is this that voters wisely reject.

Voter Initiative is not a panacea. Far from it. And both those for and against have legitimate concerns that should be respected and discussed, honestly and openly. We can only hope that our efforts to govern are the product of the very best we can do, working together, for everyone, equally.

As a great man once said, '... of the people, by the people, for the people..."

But maybe it's just me.