Affirmative action in hiring is more controversial than it has to be because of the way it is typically framed.  People who agree with the general motivation object to specific implementations like racial preferences and quotas because of their blunt nature.

Any affirmative action hiring policy entails a compromise because it mandates a distortion away from the employer’s unconstrained optimal practice.  We should look for ways that achieve the goals of affirmative action but with minimal distortions.

One simple idea is turn away from policies that incentivize hiring and instead incentivize search.  Suppose that the employer believes that 10% of all candidates are qualified for the job but that only 5% of all minorities are qualified.  Imposing a quota on the number of minority hires is less flexible than a quota on the number of minorities interviewed.

Requiring the employer to interview twice as many minority candidates equalizes the probability that the most qualified candidate is a minority or non-minority. Across all employers using this policy, the fraction of minority employees will hit the target.  But each individual employer is free to hire the most qualified candidate among the candidates identified so the allocation of workers is more efficient than would be achieved with a straight hiring quota.

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