Deregulation and discrimination

I don’t like racism or sexism or other discrimination of that nature. I think it’s illogical, stupid, damaging and counter-productive. But as a libertarian*, I firmly believe it should not be illegal.

Public institutions absolutely should not discriminate – they are meant to represent or serve all citizens regardless of sex, colour, race, culture, etc. People and private groups, on the other hand, should not be prevented from discriminating. To do otherwise impinges on freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of association and disassociation. And they’ll do it anyway, they just have to be sneaky about it.

Previously, when people would say to me that allowing discrimination by employers, for example, was unfair or inequitable, the cynic in me wants to say, “Well, the world is unfair and unequal. That’s life.” That’s true, but it’s also inadequate. So instead, I would explain that, short of mind control, discrimination is impossible to eliminate by force, and that we should let the sum of voluntary individual actions (aka ‘the market’) work to reduce it.

The economic logic goes like this. One particular racist employer will not employ people of a certain ethnicity. That means he reduces the pool of possible employees, in other words the supply of labour. Reducing supply increases the cost, so his profit goes down. The employer who does not discriminate like that has bigger profits, and out-competes the racist. The same logic applies to sales or purchases.

In short, it’s in a person’s interest not to discriminate. It doesn’t matter if they behave counter to their interest – if they stubbornly stick to racism, they will go out of business, or at least reduce their market share and thus their ability to make life miserable for whoever they irrationally dislike.

It’s a strong argument, but of course the logic only holds if the market is competitive. Government laws and regulations that serve to protect established businesses will diminish this positive aspect of market forces. Reducing that regulation should improve things**, and I’m happy to report that this effect been verified empirically.

An extract: “when American states liberalised their uncompetitive banking markets between the mid-1970s and 1994, one of the little-noticed side effects was a reduced wage gap between blacks and whites…their results suggested that about 22% of the racial gap had been “competed away”.”

Yay for the profit motive!

* Moderate libertarian actually. So not an anarchist.

** This is not to say that deregulation will eliminate discrimination, only that it will reduce it. Getting a genuinely tolerant society is a long and slow project. Free markets will help (by the above mechanism, and also by reducing social tension through increased wealth), but the rest will have to come from education and debate and changing social mores over the long term.

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15 Responses to Deregulation and discrimination

  1. Dan says:

    I actually have a fair bit to say about this, but I’ll try to keep it shorter than the actual blog itself… So let me start by saying that I am very much opposed to discrimination in any way, shape or form. The problem I have is that it seems that the definition of that nasty ‘d’ word has been stretched too far.

    I’ll focus on racial discrimination; however the same argument stands for sexual discrimination and to a lesser extent, discrimination based on creed.

    The reason one race is discernable from another is largely due to the fact that no two races have had the same historical ‘infancy’, (oh, this is probably a good time to mention I’m an evolutionist). While one race of people may have had to hunt large game with spears in 40 degree heat, another may have had to skin animals to make clothes to keep them warm as they fished in fresh-water rivers. It stands to reason therefore that the differences in races are not merely skin deep.

    Historically, each race of people will have thrived on different skillsets, and they will have evolved accordingly. Whereas one race of people may have relied on their cunning to catch or find their food (let’s call them race X), another (race Y) may have relied on brute force, each necessitated by the environment in which they lived.

    Therefore is it discrimination to associate a specific strength or weakness to a race as a generalisation, if that association is a statistical truism?

    I think not.

    The danger arises, of course, when you try to apply a generalisation to isolated cases. Just because race X may be generally smarter than race Y, doesn’t mean that any given X will be smarter than any given Y. It may even be that the smartest person from a random group of thousands may be a ‘Y’. As soon as a given employer starts looking for X’s to fill jobs that require brains, and Y’s to fill jobs that require strength, (whether implicitly or explicitly) they start straying into the realms of discrimination.

    Problems also arise when we start looking through coloured lenses, qualifying our statements; ‘he’s smart for a Y’, or ‘she’s strong for an X’.

    I will cut myself short now, as proof-reading this comment I am reminded that I promised to keep this shorter than the blog itself. In summary, equity and equality are very different things, and I don’t think anyone should want the latter.

  2. Jarrah Job says:

    “Therefore is it discrimination to associate a specific strength or weakness to a race as a generalisation, if that association is a statistical truism?”

    There’s something in that, but I think it fails to hold once you increase the resolution of your inquiry. That is, it’s possible to identify ‘racial’ characteristics if you stand back a long, long way and everything blurs together. But as soon as you start looking at the detail, it all collapses.

    You’ve pointed out one way in which that happens, with individual variation swamping average variation, and it’s a good point. But it still assumes an individual is part of one race or another when I believe it’s impossible to make racial distinctions that mean anything. Either the categories have to be so broad that they lose any descriptive or predictive power, or you end up following the logic chain to the conclusion that everyone belongs to a race of one.

    There are some thought experiments to illustrate this. Take a map of the world and draw a straight line from Denmark to Japan (or Finland to South Africa, or Vietnam to Greece, you get the idea) and look at the people along that line. At one end you are likely to get certain racial characteristics and at the other different ones. But where along the line is the change from one set to another? Are Koreans a different race to Japanese? Koreans to North Chinese? North Chinese to Mongolians? Mongolians to Kazakhs? Kazakhs to Caucus Russians? Russians to Ukrainians? Ukrainians to Polish? Polish to Germans? Germans to Danes?

    I’d say each step involved changes to small that you couldn’t possibly claim it constituted a change in race (at least with a straight face), but you still end up moving from Japanese to Danes.

    I’m going on too long, but I want to say there’s another way to look at it. Take Barack Obama. He is the son of a white woman and black man. Is he black? White? “Bi-racial”? What about other mixtures? Geoff Clark says he’s Aboriginal, but does he have the standard characteristics of an Aboriginal? The people of Brazil are an amazing mixture of skin colours after centuries of mixing indigenous, European and African genes. You could say they’ve made a new race, Latino. In fact the old divisions of White, Black, Yellow and Red are self-evidently too broad. You could claim without much opposition that there is Northern European and Southern European, Middle Eastern, Eurasian, East Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, Aboriginal, Inuit, gypsy, American Indian, Andean Indian, Amazonian Indian, North African, East African, West African, Central African, pygmies, Hutus, Zulu… What about new combinations? Does the first child of pygmie and Maori get their own race? Where do you stop?

    Race just isn’t a good way of thinking about people. At best, the concept can be useful in genetic medicine, or possibly as a shortcut when making judgements about people when there isn’t a chance to judge them as individuals (like if you were lost in China, you should probably approach the British-looking guy for directions, even though he might be Latvian and thus no help and the Fu Manchu lookalike next to him is an Oxford scholar with perfect English).

  3. Jarrah Job says:

    Oh, and if you’re interested in having a blog, I’d recommend reading lots of others first, then going to WordPress or Blogspot or Blogger where you can set a up a free one with a minimum of fuss.

    I’ll make a list of my favourites here on my blog to get you started, but they cover a very narrow range of topics, relative to the immense size of the blogosphere, but they have lists of their own, so you can branch out quickly if you wish to.

  4. Dan says:

    You are correct, of course, that there are so many ‘races’ with seemingly in-discernable differences in their genetics, and once you start considering mixed race the whole thing just becomes so complex that it would be impossible to know where to draw the line. I also agree with you, importantly, that you can’t paint an accurate portrait of any one person with such a broad brush as racial stereotypes.

    But if you ignore racial trends all-together, while a utopian idea at a glance, you start to lose touch with the things that make those races special.

    The same argument you applied to a line from Denmark to Japan could be applied to the colours of a spectrum. People distinguish seven colours in the spectrum (though if the human race weren’t so superstitious, it would be six), however if we look closely, there is no distinguishable point where red becomes orange becomes yellow etc, in reality the progression is gradual and there is really no ‘defined’ point where the colours change; in exactly the same way you described with small changes in race.

    That doesn’t mean we should just forget all-together that the colours are different. As soon as you start to throw them all in together you get white-light, not nearly as spectacular.

    That is why I believe that to completely ignore issues of race is utopian ONLY at a glance. Far better an idea, I believe, is to embrace racial and cultural differences, to accept them, but to not apply prejudices to any given person.

    I do not see it as coincidence that of the top ten 400m runners of all time, nine of them are African American, and have you watched an NBA game lately? Are we therefore wrong for making the generalisation that African American males have superior athleticism? As long as we keep generalisations general (and accurate) I don’t believe we have a problem, as soon as we start to project those generalisations onto individuals (even if only very slightly) you wander into the realm of discrimination.

    Along the same line of thought, I do not believe it wrong to say that, generally, men are stronger and more athletic than women, you see proof of it everywhere; from sprints and marathons, tennis serve speeds, swimming lap times, I could go on, (and yes I know I am focussing on the elite level, however where better to examine the limits of our physicality). That’s not to say that if you picked a random man and a random woman the man would be a sure thing to beat the woman in a foot race, and any person who presumes to know the result of the race based simply on the genders of the competitors is a fool… If however, you picked a thousand random men and a thousand random women and did a thousand one-on-one foot races, I’d place good money on the men winning more than 500 of the races.

    Athleticism is just one example, consider brains; on average, women are around 3% smarter than men*… so what… I’d say that of all the people I’ve met (and had the opportunity to gauge their mental capacity) the three people at the top of my list in terms of intelligence would be males. BUT, if you were to sit every person I’ve ever met down and made them all take the same IQ test and took an average score, I’d put money on the women doing better.

    Okay, I’ve basically made the same point about four times now, so I’ll leave it there.

    *I read this in an Alan Pease novel, not necessarily as good a source as say, the Beareau of Statistics and it was some time ago that I read it, so this should by no means be taken as an absolute truth, however I do believe it to be at least qualitatively accurate, and would welcome a ‘reference-off’, should you disagree.

  5. Jarrah Job says:

    “But if you ignore racial trends all-together”

    But I’m not. I’m just saying what trends you can extract from the data are not very meaningful.

    “I do not see it as coincidence that of the top ten 400m runners of all time, nine of them are African American”

    I have noticed that African-heritage genes predominate in elite sprinters. Specifically West African, through the slave trade into the Caribbean and US. But other factors are at play – West Africans, for example, don’t do great at the Olympics, but their distant cousins across the sea do. Obviously genes only play one part.

    “Are we therefore wrong for making the generalisation that African American males have superior athleticism?”

    Yes. But I agree entirely with your next sentence.

    “Along the same line of thought, I do not believe it wrong to say that, generally, men are stronger and more athletic than women”

    That’s true, on average, but it’s an entirely different question. There are only two sexes in humans (barring extremely rare anatomical mutations, and even their chromosomes are XX or XY, nothing else), not a spectrum like skin colour or race, and you are either one or the other. And if a man and a woman have a child, it’s either a boy or a girl, not a hybrid of male and female who in turn will breed further hybrids.

    “women are around 3% smarter than men*”

    I am very distrustful of statistics on intelligence, IQ, and the like. I think intelligence is too complicated to be reduced to one variable that can be graded.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t important differences between men and women’s brains (on average). Women tend to have more connections between the hemispheres, for example, and tend to multi-task better. Men seem to have better spatial awareness and do better with mentally rotating shapes and reading maps. But remember that we can only measure these things indirectly, which introduces margins of error that could mask actual capabilities.

    Again, variation in individual measurements is going to swamp the average degree of difference you might find in thousands, so it’s hardly very useful.

  6. Dan says:

    “what trends you can extract from the data are not very meaningful”

    I agree that they are not meaningful when you are talking about individuals, but if you are speaking generally then how can the data not be meaningful. If you go to a part of the world and see homeless people, too many to count, who sleep in gutters, smell like garbage dumps and spend every last cent they have on alcohol or drugs, and 97% of those people are from a given race (in an area where that race makes up much less than 50% of the population), how can you not say that race is more prone to homelessness. The danger is in applying that stereotype to every member of that race you subsequently meet.

    In addition, I’m not sure if I trust Joe Average to remain objective enough that he doesn’t apply his generalisations to individual cases, so perhaps if we are speaking about a mentality we should be trying to instil in the general population, you have a point.

    “West Africans, for example, don’t do great at the Olympics, but their distant cousins across the sea do. Obviously genes only play one part”

    Of course; wealth and upbringing among other factors will play their parts also. A given person, if born in the land of the free and the home of the brave, may grow and develop to be large and powerful due to the abundance of wealth and nutrition, the same person if forced to live in poverty will not likely develop into the same athlete. However, look at the results from the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

    1st Place: Samuel Kamau Wanjiru (Kenya)
    2nd Place: Jaouad Gharib (Morocco)
    3rd Place: Tsegay Kebede (Ethiopia)
    4th Place: Deriba Merga (Ethiopia)
    5th Place: Martin Lel (Kenya)

    It’s very easy to add extra variables to this argument that cloud the issues; for example, a kenyan is not equal to a moroccan is not equal to an ethiopian, however if you step back you can not deny they are all African.

    “Yes” [we are wrong for making the generalisation that African American males have superior athleticism]

    I worded my statement incorrectly, (and this is where I admit the dangers arise in making racial generalisations). I believe we are not wrong for stating that of the world’s best 400m runners, most are African American, there is no evidence to extrapolate that argument to state that generally African American males are more athletic. Let’s hypothetically argue however, that all of the top 400m men’s runners in the world are completely dedicated to their sport. Let’s assume that all of these people have pushed their bodies to the very limits of their capabilities, the fastest runner will be the person whose body us better built to go fast.

    So if 9 of the top 10 of those runners are African American, then it is no leap in logic to postulate (not conclude) that there is something in the African American physicality that lends itself to running fast.

    Conversely, a runner could train his whole life, but if he’s knock-kneed, bow-legged, pigeon-toed and flat footed, he’s never going to break the world record.

    “There are only two sexes in humans… not a spectrum like skin colour or race”

    The argument of discrimination vs generalisation still holds however. Regardless of the number of iterations, I can make the generalisation that men are physically stronger than women, the problem arises if I then refuse to hire a woman for a job requiring manual labour because (as a woman) I don’t think she’ll be strong enough.

    Why are guide dogs usually Labradors? Is it because as a breed they are easier to train?

    I might, for example, argue that people of Asian decent are generally smarter on average than Caucasians; next time a news channel interviews the ten or twenty highest scoring high-school students in a state or the country, count how many appear Asian.

    So what? It could just be that they are more disciplined, or that their parents force them to study harder. It may be cultural, not genetic; but does that make those kids on TV, telling you they want to be doctors and lawyers, any less Asian.

    But who cares if they are? THAT, I believe, is the important point. It’s no crime against humanity to say that a white man is white, a black man is black, an Asian man is Asian, just as there is nothing wrong with saying a young man is young and an old man is old. The problem arises if we start to define those people by those labels.

    Just because we can’t define a point in the spectrum where yellow becomes green becomes blue, we can’t just decide that yellow and blue should be considered the same colour.

    Consider your own blog: ‘Invention’, in which you created the term ‘lies by ratcheting’. You described how bloggers can shift a description of behaviour ‘y’, to behaviour ‘y+’, to ‘y++’, to ‘y+++’ very gradually, without being noticed (if done correctly). Rightly so; you identify that ‘y’ is very different from ‘y+++’, regardless of how seamless the transformation is from one to the other.

  7. Jarrah Job says:

    “how can you not say that race is more prone to homelessness.”

    Because of other factors. You have to correct for education, employment and income, government policies, historical events, etc, before you can separate out the influence their genes have on their situation.

    “if we are speaking about a mentality we should be trying to instil in the general population”

    I’m all for instilling better mentalities in people, and I acknowledge that government actions can have an influence (and I advocate limited actions such as forbidding discrimination in government departments, for example). What I think is wrong is for government to mandate certain mentalities – it’s impossible, and any attempt will be destructive. Better to rely on things like social disapproval, peer pressure, market forces, generational changes, immigration*, voluntary education, and so forth.

    “The argument of discrimination vs generalisation still holds however. ”

    Yeah, sure.

    “the problem arises if I then refuse to hire a woman for a job requiring manual labour because (as a woman) I don’t think she’ll be strong enough.”

    Let me stop you there. Is there actually a problem with this?

    “I might, for example, argue that people of Asian decent are generally smarter on average than Caucasians”

    Again, you need to account for other factors, like culture and home life and upbringing, before you can say for certain that it is the genes that make the difference. And I will reiterate my point about categories – what is Asian? Where does it start and end?

    At first glance you can say “Asians are smarter”, but as soon as you start examining what ‘smarter’ means and what ‘Asian’ means, the whole thing falls apart.

    “But who cares if they are? THAT, I believe, is the important point.”

    That’s true. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not denying that people (or colours) are different, or that groups of people can be different from other groups. I’m just saying that, short of the most vague generalisations, there’s no point. We can observe these differences at a meta-level, but to try to put them to any useful purpose is practically futile.

    I think we’re saying the same thing, only slightly differently. 😉

    * Immigration is very important in fostering tolerance. I might do a post on it, and how the free-ish movement of people is better for society than our current restrictive system.

  8. Dan says:

    Absolutely, I think the key thing we are both trying to say is:

    DISCRIMINATION IS WRONG

    No argument there.

    Re the homelessness argument; yes education, government policies etc etc will factor into this argument, but my argument is not one of cause, it is one of effect. Regardless of the cause, it doesn’t change the fact that you see racial trends everywhere; sporting achievement, academic scores, homelessness. Race and breed are not synonymous because there is more to a person’s race than simply their genetics; culture and values for example.

    Whatever the cause of these racial trends, they still undeniably exist. That is all I am saying.

    “Let me stop you there. Is there actually a problem with this?”

    There is a problem if you dismiss the woman out-of-hand based purely on gender, even if she is best qualified to do the job. Having said that, I believe (as you do) that an employer should be ‘allowed’ to discriminate, but they do so at their own peril.

    “what is Asian? Where does it start and end?”

    Just because racial differences are hard to define, does not mean they do not exist.

    “What I think is wrong is for government to mandate certain mentalities”

    Absolutely, I was not referring to ‘brainwashing’ so much as values. People learn their values from numerous sources, family, friends, government, media, religious leaders. While government can’t alter people’s perceptions, they can certainly shape them, the media even more so. As Australians we value honesty, a fair go for all, backing the underdog; we didn’t all come up with these values individually, we learnt them.

    Australia values itself as a multicultural country, but in truth I think we probably still have a long way to go before we have a culture of acceptance of all things foreign (but the sooner we get there the better).

    Finally, I absolutely agree with you that we are arguing the same thing but in a different way. Still, it’s a good argument I think, I really enjoy having my own viewpoints challenged, it’s the only way I can ever really confirm them, or discard them in favour of a better outlook.

  9. Jarrah Job says:

    “Australia values itself as a multicultural country, but in truth I think we probably still have a long way to go before we have a culture of acceptance of all things foreign”

    Amen to that, brother.

    “Still, it’s a good argument I think, I really enjoy having my own viewpoints challenged, it’s the only way I can ever really confirm them, or discard them in favour of a better outlook.”

    Now you’re starting to catch on to why I like blogs so much. :-)

  10. Your’s is a point of view where real intelligence shines through.

  11. Hahahaha. I’m not too bright today. Great post!

  12. To: VesemirSrovnání s krádežemi či vraždami je naprosto nemístné a velice nerozvážnÄ› tuto otázku bagatelizuje…Moje reakce na Superzurdův příspÄ›vek byla ironickou nadsázkou na jeho konstatování že by se ve článku zmínÄ›né události neodehrály kdyby byly spáleny archivy.Ale právÄ› kvůli tomu oblíbenému pÅ™evlékání kabátů jsem proti spálení archívů. Jen aÅ¥ si nÄ›kteří manekýni občas pÅ™ipomenou minulost pohledem na kostlivce ve skříni. Alespoň nÄ›které to trochu zkrouhne.

  13.   November 2, 2012Preston, I have been following your tutorial series & another great addition, certainly an eye opener as to how ill prepared I have been in the past ! Thanks for sharing these great insights, I have learned so much already, keep up the great work. Cheers Barry

  14. , Lucy, and yes, a perfectly timed post.If only people who judge could just remember the hats we all wear, even in just one day – mother/daughter/wife/friend/carer/shopper/lover/writer/sister/cleaner/gardener.. I could go on. So of course, one million things to converse about. I just thank the Lord that I can and do converse about sex a lot, though probably more so in the company of other writers who get me!And yes, it is a shame all firemen are not hot, but quite a few policemen are!!

  15. GCurteishi there. Love your work. Used to use MIUI-AU on an HTC Desire, and recently got an (Optus-branded) HTC One X (last Friday). Unlocked and rooted it, and flashed this ROM onto it successfully, however I can’t seem to get themes to apply successfully, which I see you had some issues with in earlier releases.Also I noticed I can’t set a ringtone successfully. It’s listed, however it doesn’t ring. Strange huh.I’ll try flashing again from a full wipe (after nandroid backup) and see how I go.Thanks. Please keep up the good work.

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