January 22, 2007

Why anti-discrimination laws make quotas inevitable

A woman reader writes:

"And while we're at it, for the record as a member of a so-called protected group (hard to argue that women constitute a minority in this country), I take great offense at the notion that standards need to be watered down for me to compete against anyone. I'm perfectly capable of competing on the only criterion that counts: performance. What I do take exception to is when people erect arbitrary "standards" that have little or nothing to do with performance in order to keep us "broads in our place"."

This points out why utterly colorblind and/or sex-blind anti-discrimination laws like the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964 inevitably lead to the state imposing racial or sexual favoritism. Most people say they are in favor of colorblindness and meritocracy; what they disagree about is not the concept of hiring the best, but in how exactly to measure who is the best. Which criteria really measure performance and which are mere "arbitrary 'standards'"? A good question -- and not an easy one to answer.

In recent years, many Republicans have been going around quoting the 1964 Act's Senate floor manager Hubert Humphrey's statement that he would personally eat the pages of the law if it brought about quotas, which of course it did starting a half decade later. The Republicans often say they want to get back to the original meaning of the act before it was perverted by bureaucrats and judges: harshly punish discrimination but not use quotas.

But, they don't understand the logic that drove those bureaucrats and judges to quotas. If you really want to wipe out discrimination, you must use quotas. If races have different talents, then even the most colorblind hiring processes will produce differential results.

For example, say that your firm mandates that it will only hire high school graduates as mechanics. This could hardly be discriminatory, right? Yet, it will have a large detrimental effect on Mexican-American applicants relative to applicants of other races. So, maybe this rule was really adopted because management dislikes Mexicans? And if it wasn't adopted to keep out Mexicans, well, maybe you didn't get rid of it because you don't like Mexicans. Or maybe the problem is that you don't like Mexicans as much as you like other people, so you were insensitive to the problems caused them by the rule.

Similarly, up-and-out career paths (e.g., make partner in a law firm by a certain age or get fired) are nominally sex-blind but in reality they cause women much greater problems than men, due to the old biological clock ticking away.

So, are these rules sexually discriminatory? Who knows what goes on inside of the heads of decision-makers? A really good novelist would have a hard time figuring out exactly what were the motivations of his own fictional characters in this case. Yet, those conservatives who favor punishing discriminators think bureaucrats can figure it out, no trouble.

In reality, enforcement comes down to whether the government is more worried about Type 1 or Type 2 errors. If the government cares more about preventing false positive findings of discrimination against an employer, it will let more examples of "real" discrimination slip by unprosecuted. But if its mandate is to prevent false negative findings in cases where a minority really was discriminated against, then it will incorrectly prosecute innocent employers.

The only logical solution to this fundamental problem with anti-bias laws is the radical one U. of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein proposed in "Forbidden Grounds" a decade and a half ago. For competitive firms, repeal anti-discrimination laws. For government agencies, police departments, unions, not-for-profits and other non-competitive employers, use quotas.

But that's not going to happen. Nobody has listened to Epstein just because he is logical. This isn't a question of logic but of whether or not you are on the side of all that is good and holy, even if it's objectively harmful and requires nonstop lying.

The reader continues:

"Let me offer this which I would immediately install if someone would name me Queen of the Universe tomorrow with full dictatorial powers:

"Recruiting standards would have to deal with the job at hand....none of this "bench press 300 lbs" when what you need is someone who can carry 100 lbs of firehose up a 30 ft ladder and hold a charged line steady on a fire. If by some miracle of God, the legendary 98 lbs weakling can perform this task consistently, why shouldn't he get a shot at the fire-fighters job? Not every fire fighter, including men, could survive the fire fighters Olympics. Some of these traditional physical standards had precious little to do with the ability to fight fires."

It's often overlooked that objective-seeming hiring standards can be used to discriminate either for or against a particular group. Fire fighter's physical fitness tests provide an excellent example of the difficulties of figuring out which standards "deal with the job at hand" and merely have "precious little to do with the ability to fight fires." Set the strength demands high enough and you can keep out virtually all women. Set the strength standards low enough and you can achieve the same level of female hiring as you could have with a blatant quota. This issue has been litigated extensively in sex discrimination suits against fire departments.

The hot button question is not who can carry 100 pounds of firehose up a ladder, but who can carry an unconscious smoke victim down a ladder. Of course, there is no absolute answer to this question since smoke victims weigh different amounts. The killer question is: how heavy of an unconscious body must a recruit be able to carry? Different people will differ on this life or death issue. For example, back when Ed Koch was mayor of New York, during one of these sex discrimination lawsuits seeking to lower strength standards, he told reporters that he favored the NY Fire Department hiring anybody, man or woman, who could carry Hizzoner's own 206 pound bulk out of a burning building.

In fact, not only will different people differ on this question, but the same person might well differ with his own previous view ... depending on how his diet is going. Three years ago, Koch's 206 pound standard struck me as a perfectly reasonable standard. At the time I was 6-4 and 195. However, it turned out the reason I was thin was I was wasting away with lymphoma. Today, I am healthy and happy and 210 pounds. Now, the thought of my dying in flaming, screaming agony because some woman firefighter can't haul my, uh, big-boned carcass out the window strikes me as repulsive. On the other hand, having a few fat slobs who weigh more than 210 pounds burn to death seems to me like a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the important goal of expanding career opportunities for women ... or at least it will until I get home and check my weight. (I had a big lunch.)

I don't believe this kind of case belongs in court. There is no absolute answer that can be arrived at through legal logic. It's a political question. Let Hizzoner decide. Women vote, and so do fat people. The political marketplace doesn't work as efficiently as the economic marketplace since it has typically has to come up with a single solution, but democracy's the best system we've got for reconciling competing interests in how the government should be run.

However, democracy requires an active press. When the news media self-censors news stories about the downsides to lowering standards to accommodate women, we have less democracy and more mediacracy. The power of working women in newsrooms lead to a major coverup of news stories about, say, the problems caused by the sexual integration of the military: e.g., plane crashes, kinder-gentler boot camps, rampant pregnancies, the state of naval wives whose husbands come back from long cruises on co-ed ships the father of some seawoman's new baby, etc.

For at least the first half of the 90's these kind of stories were only regularly available in the Moonie-funded Washington Times.

One other thing to keep in mind is that a stark quota or separate standards for separate groups can sometimes be less destructive to job performance than lowering standards for everybody. If we establish a quota saying that 10% of the Fire Department must be female, or that female applicants only have to be able to carry 125 pound people, that may well kill fewer citizens than applying the 125 pound standard to everybody regardless of sex. Under the two systems of blatant favoritism toward women, male firefighters will still have to meet the higher standard.

By the way, the outcome with the Fire Department of New York appears to have been that they hired some women to make the courts happy, but relegate them to the sidelines. Women firefighters in NYC are known to their male colleagues as "firewatchers." Thus, No New York firewomen died on 9/11. In contrast, here are the pictures of the 343 NY firemen who died that day.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Lets not talk about it. "Go along to get along." Did you see the game last night... Fantastic stuff.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching Trump's "The Apprentice" show, and it gives pause to my usually libertarian/conservative leanings. The show is set up to replicate the "fair" competition of corporate America, with a caste of smart, accomplished Type A Alex P. Keatons who are just dying to impress the Big Boss Mister Trump.

As it turns out, what they really engage in is clique politics, where the focus is not work but maneuvering to isolate whomever the Group least likes. As it turns out, the first two elimination rounds take out the only two Black male contestants ("You just don't fit in with the team," "I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about his personality I don't like"). And neither of these guys were gangstas or slackers: one was kind of Southern in a nerdily pompous way, and the other was inoffensively gay (big mistake for a well-built Black men to show his body in front of insecure white men in a swimsuit fashion show competition).

Third round, The Team swarmed around one woman from the start. The focus of the round was slacking off to make her look bad.

All that American libertarian jargon is just a cover for what happens everywhere else in the world: "Us Helping Us." Pretty disgusting in this land of high falutin platitudes, but maybe it imbeds some kind of folksy practical wisdom.

Anonymous said...

The architects of civil rights laws never cared for "colorblindness" themselves. It was never more than a tactical stance, much like Martin Luther King's "tactical non-violence" (his words). The idea of colorblindness is that it's somehow beneath us that we don't judge people in the same way afterworld gods are said to, numinously evaluating the character of whomever stands before us, but unless we have supernatural powers, we can't. We are stuck with the biologically-driven fact that we can trust people of our own ethnic group moreso than others, and the other inconventient fact that any ethnic group that actually succumbs to PC dementia will simply be supplanted by ethnic groups that don't. The gods make mad whom they first destroy.

Anonymous said...

There is no real solution to this problem.

La Griffe du Lion talked about it when he mentioned the concept of "conservation of resentment".

In a meritocratic society, lower performing groups(such as blacks) grow very unhappy with society since the best jobs and spots at elite universities go to a group/s other than their own.

Conversely, in a quota-driven society, the higher performing groups grow very unhappy with society since the they have to give some of their jobs and slots at elite universities to lower performing groups.

In the end, there is never really a stable equilibrium of merit and quotas that will satisfy both groups at the same time.

The result is that civil strife becomes greater the more one group feel "cheated" by the other.

I think Steve magically assumes that blacks (and other lower performing groups) will just take the unfavorable conditions that would result from repealing the Civil Rights Act in stride and say "Oh, well, that is life."

Keep dreaming, Steve. The best the USA can do is limit diversity by limiting immigration of lower performing groups.

Anonymous said...

Oops, i meant to write:
"The gods first make mad whom they destroy".

Anonymous said...

The FDNY is actually less "female friendly" than most large urban fire departments, with the female percentage being in the very low single digits. IIRC Minneapolis is the leader at ablut 20%.

Thursday said...

As always, you just make too much sense for your own good, Steve.

But if we followed your suggestions, how would lawyers and judges, who are basically all pretty much paperwork drudges, sex up their careers if they can't moonlight as crusaders for "social justice"?

Anonymous said...

mr quotas himself, dan rooney, has put his money where his mouth his, hiring completely unqualified black coach mike tomlin to head the pittsburgh steelers.

i grew up in pittsburgh. i consider his hiring an insult. tomlin was hired strictly because he is black. this satisfies rooney's obsession with the negro football league. his vision is a game that is 100% black, all players and coaches. no other races are welcome.

every other candidate they interviewed was more qualified, some were dramatically more qualified. ron rivera, the half puerto rican half mexican defensive coordinator for the chicago bears, was passed over for tomlin.

instead of having rivera, a guy who won the superbowl with the bears as a player in 1985 and the guy who took the bears to the superbowl this year as a coach, the steelers will now be coached by tomlin, a man who was a defensive coordinator for 1 single year, in which his team had the worst pass defense in the NFL and finished 6-10.

mike tomlin now becomes dick lebeau's boss. dick lebeau, the acting defensive coordinator for the steelers, has several decades of assistant and head coaching experience, and has also won a superbowl as a defensive coordinator.

this is insanity.

Anonymous said...

And really how women want to be firefighters anyway?

Most women I know are some form of feminist-lite believers. They like the idea of female firefighters, oil rig workers etc but have absolutely no desire to do those jobs themselves. They just assume that 'out there' somewhere are all these other tough women yearning to take on these jobs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:39 -
Most of the volunteer FD's in my area (Long Island) have a very tough time getting enough members, yet AFAIK women are strongly discouraged from joining. The FD's like to maintain a men's social club atmosphere.


Anonymous said...

The other difficulty with your letter-writer's focus on properly identifying job requirements is that it provides no solution to the problem of choosing among applicants when you have more of them than you do job openings.

Ideally you would identify qualities that make for good workers, rank applicants by those qualities, then hire the highest-ranked ones first.

If you do that, though, various "protected" groups won't see the same proportion of their members at the top of the ranking as in the raw applicant pool.

For example, you might decide that strength and brains are both important qualifications for firefighters. When you measure strength, you'll end up with more men than women at the top of the list. When you measure brains, you'll end up with folks of different races unevenly distributed through the list.

Then when you hire the best applicants, all the rest will sue on the theory that you discriminate against whatever protected group they happen to belong to.

You can't fix the ranking problem by eliminating bogus criteria, because members of various protected groups don't all rank the same on perfectly valid criteria.

I invite anyone who suggests that just purifying hiring standards would solve society's problems to propose a solution to the ranking problem.

(If you try to set "minimum" criteria then hire by lottery, you will end up with at least three problems.

(One, you will not have as good a workforce. Hiring mediocre applicants instead of the best ones guarantees that.

(Two, you will have a workforce that performs poorly. Since you will not hire the better applicants except by chance, when the performance of some workers slips a bit (due to distractions, illness, whatever), it will slip below the minimum, instead of merely declining from "exceeds" down towards "minimum."

(Three, you may well get a force of workers who don't cooperate properly. Your lottery will select some really good workers and some poor ones. The good ones may resent the poor ones ("slackers, losers"). The poor ones may resent the good ones ("OT hogs, ass-kissers"). You could have avoided a lot of that by hiring people of roughly similar abilities.)

Anonymous said...

The problem is that, once anti-discrimination is accepted as a value which officials may use aggression to push towards, there is no end to it short of warfare.
The main dishonesty is the equivocation between private and public realms, with a code of silence protecting the use of official aggression to enforce anti-discrimination.
Once the power for this aggression is won, the idea of not officially discriminating against the majority, is just an obstacle in the way of further power-grabs and conflict-exacerbation.
You can hope that it all won't turn out too badly, but the anti-discrimination system is on auto-pilot to generate increases in inter-group conflict every year, especially through immigration of affirmative action eligibles.
Remember, America is one of the countries most resistant to dictatorship. This explains why the conflict-enhancing policies have to be pursued ever further, when despotic power is the goal.

Anonymous said...

What about when you don't have many of said underrepresented groups wanting to go into the field? Forget about whether they're qualified or not.

Of course, there seems to be quite a bit of bias in which fields get the most attention. I see that "Engineering needs more women!" is a popular battlecry, but "Sanitation needs more women!" is not. And, of course, there's never a call for more men or white people for certain positions.

Anonymous said...

Hairdresser needed. Good pay, benefits. We are a diverse workforce, and especially encourage applications from straight men.

Anonymous said...

i appreciate your blog comments, but i am mostly interested in your use of language. i am a student tracking a specific word in your essay, "mediacracy." the word is very new, and its use has exploded in the last year. i find this fascinating. please, if you have moment, would you provide a definition?
any reader with functional definition or insight is invited to respond.
thank you for time and thought.

Anonymous said...

And rereading the other comments,I'll second the observation that I'm sick of those women's studies groupies who whine about the lack of women in exec positions or in math & science, and yet never seem to actually run a business or take real math/science courses (much less get degrees in them).

Anonymous said...

Steve, I just looked at the photo's of the FDNY firemen who died~very sobering.

However I could not help but noticing that they were not only men but overwhelmingly white men, white Irish & Italian men judging by names. I saw only 10 or 12 black faces in that list.

Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

And among these black firemen that died at 9/11, names like Mychal or Lemaricus or Tyrone were not popular...Interesting.