Very interesting question. Those at cafehayek.com seem to dislike it a lot but don't really back it up which is disappointing. At first glance, it is very easy to see how affirmative action could hurt the economy, and construction a model to show this would also be pretty straight forward.
- See here(paywalll) (Moro & Norman, 2003). There is pretty strong intuition both ways so I'd think that any valuable study would be empirical. This article looks pretty light empirically but does support the view you are looking for and provides a useful model.
We consider a model of endogenous human capital formation with competitively determined wages. Discrimination is sustainable in equilibrium in the presence of two distinguishable, but ex ante identical groups of workers. An affirmative action policy consisting of a quota may ‘fail’ in the sense that there still may be equilibria where groups are treated differently. However, the incentives to invest for agents in the discriminated group are improved by affirmative action if the initial equilibrium is the most discriminatory equilibrium in the model without the policy. The welfare effects are ambiguous. It is possible that the policy makes the intended beneficiaries worse off: even if the starting point is the most discriminatory equilibrium the expected payoff may decrease for all agents in the target group.
Most work in this area suggests that the effects are welfare ambiguous/slightly positive.
- This Paper (Leonard, 1990) discusses the idea that affirmative action does not work.
To borrow from the conclusion:
Direct tests of the impact of affirmative action on productivity find no significant evidence of a productivity decline. However, since the productivty estimates are not measured with great precision, strong policy conclusions based on this particular result should be resisted.
- This paper (Long, 2004) looks at the impact of the removal of affirmative action on college applications.
This paper evaluates the behavioral response of college-bound high school seniors to changes in college affirmative action admissions policies during the late 1990s. After the elimination of affirmative action in California and Texas, the gap between the numbers of SAT score reports sent by non-minority and minority students to in-state, public colleges significantly widened... predicts a large decrease in the number of reports sent by minority students and a large increase in non-minority score reports sent to top-tier public colleges as a result of changes in the students’ probabilities of acceptance.