Problems end, solutions go on

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

I enjoyed Steven Den Beste’s Problems End, Solutions Go On a few weeks ago, but I never found the time to properly log it. His thesis:

One of the drawbacks of many solutions to problems is that the solution takes on a life of its own, and may continue in effect long after the problem has disappeared. In the most pernicious cases, the solution ultimately becomes a problem in its own right.

He discusses the March of Dimes (which faced “the peculiar dilemma of having actually won”), rent control in New York City (which “was imposed in NYC in WWII as an emergency measure”), and…affirmative action:

It may be that the problem of discrimination is still with us. It may be that affirmative action still is needed. But eventually it won’t be.

If the problem is never solved through affirmative action, then it means that affirmative action was the wrong solution, and we should probably have tried something else. But if affirmative action actually was and is an effective solution, then it means the problem of discrimination will eventually reach the point of insignificance.

Once that happens, how do we know? And how do we get rid of affirmative action? The people who benefit from it will still argue for it to be kept in place, and they’ll fight politically for it. We still have rent control in NYC, more than 50 years after the true need ended.

Leave a Reply