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Posts Tagged ‘Discrimination’

Although I play basketball (poorly), I’m not a fan of the NBA. As such, I don’t pretend to have much interest in the Donald Sterling controversy.

Some people have wondered whether his rights to free speech are being infringed, but I disagree. He obviously has the right to say whatever he wants, even if he makes himself look like an idiot.

But the National Basketball Association is an organization that has certain rules, and it presumably has the right – by virtue of the contract among team owners – to impose disciplinary measures.

In other words, Sterling has free speech, but that doesn’t mean he is free from consequences if he says something dumb. Just as I have free speech at the Cato Institute, but also would suffer consequences if I said something offensive about a particular group (or, for that matter, if I started supporting tax hikes, bigger government, and statism).

And that’s a good thing. As a libertarian, I don’t want the government policing speech, but there’s nothing wrong with private sector penalties on racists.

And that’s the topic of today’s column. The free market is a powerful and under-appreciated tool for punishing racism and rewarding color-blind behavior.

Here’s some of what Walter Williams wrote on the topic for the Washington Examiner. wew2010He starts by pointing out that Sterling certainly wasn’t racist when making decisions about what basketball players to employ.

Though Sterling might be a racist, there’s an important “so what?” Does he act in ways commonly attributed to racists? Let’s look at his employment policy. This season, Sterling paid his top three players salaries totaling over $46 million. His 20-person roster payroll totaled over $73 million. Here are a couple of questions for you: What race are the players whom racist Sterling paid the highest salaries? What race dominated the 20-man roster? The fact of business is that Sterling’s highest-paid players are black, and 85 percent of Clippers players are black.

Walter draws the obvious conclusions, and he cites the path-breaking research of the late Gary Becker on the economics of discrimination.

How does one explain this? …Let’s use a bit of simple economics… First, professional basketball is featured by considerable market competition. …There’s open competition in joining both high-school and college teams. You just sign up for tryouts in high school and get noticed by college scouts. Then there’s considerable competition among the NBA teams in the acquisition of the best college players. Minorities and less preferred people always do better when there are open markets instead of regulated markets. Recently deceased Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker pointed this phenomenon out some years ago in his path-breaking study “The Economics of Discrimination.” Many people think that it takes government to eliminate racial discrimination, but economic theory predicts the opposite. Market competition imposes inescapable profit penalties on for-profit enterprises when they make employment decisions on any basis other than worker productivity.

In other words, the free market pushes people to make decisions on the basis of ability rather than race.

The takeaway from the Sterling affair is that we should mount not a moral crusade but an economic liberty crusade. In other words, eliminate union restrictions, wage controls, occupational and business licensure, and other anti-free market restrictions. Make opportunity depend on one’s productivity.

And as you can imagine, Walter speaks with authority on these issues. And he’s right that the free market is a weapon against racism.

By contrast, when government gets involved with race issues, you often get nonsensical results, such as EEOC penalties against companies trying to weed out criminals, or legal harassment of financial institutions for trying to make sensible loans.

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I’ve already suggested that subsidies for the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are the most wasteful and counterproductive item in the federal budget. At least on a per-dollar-spent basis.

But what about a similar exercise for government red tape?

How would we come up with the worst regulation or the most counterproductive regulatory agency?

Thanks to the IRS, I have a strong candidate for the worst regulation, but if I had to pick the worst agency, I’d probably choose the horribly mis-named Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

These bureaucrats are infamous for bone-headed initiatives, such as:

The EEOC making it hard for trucking companies to weed out drunk drivers.

The EEOC telling a coffee shop it had too many attractive waitresses.

The EEOC forcing companies to make special accommodations for “pee-shy” employees.

The EEOC trying to give special employment rights to crooks.

We now have another item for the list.

The bureaucrats apparently like forcing companies to hire people who are more likely to rip off customers, though sometimes they find judges that aren’t nearly so tolerant.

Let’s see what the Wall Street Journal had to say about the “hilariously caustic rebuke of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The EEOC had sued Kaplan, the for-profit education company, for using “the same type of background check that the EEOC itself uses,” as Judge Raymond Kethledge cheekily put it in the first sentence of his ruling in EEOC v. Kaplan. Despite its own practices, the Obama EEOC has made a cause of suing private companies because it claims that credit and criminal background checks discriminate against minorities.

But so-called disparate impact doesn’t mean discrimination.

Judge Kethledge eviscerated the EEOC like a first-day law student, writing that Kaplan had good reason to conduct credit checks… As for proving disparate racial impact, Judge Kethledge noted that “the credit-check process is racially blind; the [credit-check] vendor does not report the applicant’s race with her other information.” …The unanimous opinion was joined by Damon Keith, one of the most liberal judges on the entire federal bench. If government officials were accountable, EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez would be fired for losing in such humiliating fashion.

But that’s just one crazy case.

The Wall Street Journal also opined about another strange example of EEOC quackery. The bureaucrats actually believe that stealing should be a protected disability.

Or, to be more technical, that stealing should be an acceptable behavior because of a supposed disability.

In September 2008, Walgreens employee Josefina Hernandez claims she had a hypoglycemia attack, grabbed a bag of potato chips off a shelf and ate them to boost her blood sugar. The drug-store company has a strict policy against “grazing” (i.e., stealing) and so a supervisor fired Ms. Hernandez, an 18-year veteran of the company. Three years later, the EEOC sued Walgreens for discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act and asked for punitive damages. …The ADA requires employees to request an accommodation for a medical condition, which Mrs. Hernandez never did. Nor does federal law sanction illegal activity—i.e., theft—under cover of a disability, as the Supreme Court made clear in 2003’s Raytheon v. Hernandez.

A green light for thievery from the EEOC

Seems like this should be an open-and-shut case. Which raises the interesting question of why the EEOC decided that the federal government should intervene on behalf of potato chip thievery.

So why pursue such a case in the first place? The EEOC’s lawyers probably figured they had nothing to lose. If they landed a sympathetic judge, they could set a new legal precedent. If they lost, taxpayers would pay for the case anyway. And sure enough, U.S. District Judge William Orrick, an Obama appointee, ruled against the store’s motion for summary judgment last week. The question now is whether Walgreens will continue to fight for the right to fire employees who steal from company shelves, or simply settle to get the EEOC’s lawyers to go away.

I hope all companies fight meddling and stupidity by the federal government.

I do understand that sometimes it makes sense to acquiesce to extortion, at least in the short run. The long-run costs of surrender, though, are very high.

Which is why companies should fight, but they should get support from Capitol Hill. The EEOC budget should be slashed to show that there are consequences to bureaucratic insanity.

P.S. I shared some political humor last year about a make-believe Obama Administration initiative called the “Americans with no Abilities Act.”

Anybody want to guess when that becomes official EEOC policy?

I’m only partially joking. It’s sort of happened already in the United Kingdom.

P.P.S. Don’t forget that EEOC regulation is just one straw of red tape on the camel’s back.

Americans spend 8.8 billion hours every year filling out government forms.

The economy-wide cost of regulation is now $1.75 trillion.

For every bureaucrat at a regulatory agency, 100 jobs are destroyed in the economy’s productive sector.

The Obama Administration added $236 billion of red tapein 2012.

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If you had to pick the most inane, pointless, and intrusive example of government stupidity, what would you pick?

We have lots of examples of regulators running amok.

But we also have really absurd examples of wasteful spending.

We even have examples of government stupidity that can be characterized as a combination of wasteful spending and foolish regulation, such as one part of the government squandering money on research about how to encourage condom use by providing prophylactics of different sizes while another part of the government has regulations preventing the private sector from providing prophylactics of different sizes.

Today’s post, however, could win a prize for the most profound and disturbing example of government stupidity. It mixes foolish red tape with over-the-top political correctness.

Here are some jaw-dropping details of the federal government running amok in Michigan.

A set of seating is being torn down outside the Plymouth Wildcats varsity boys’ baseball field, not long before the season begins, because the fields for boys’ and girls’ athletics must be equal. A group of parents raised money for a raised seating deck by the field, as it was hard to see the games through a chain-link fence. The parents even did the installation themselves, and also paid for a new scoreboard. But, after someone complained to the U.S Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, an investigated by the department determined the new addition was no longer equal to the girls’ softball field next door, which has old bleachers and an old scoreboard.

This is utterly absurd for several reasons, most notably that the federal government shouldn’t have any role in education, much less efforts to micro-manage high school sports facilities.

But even if one accepts that Washington bureaucrats should interfere in such matters, it’s important to understand that it is bureaucratic lunacy to interpret “Title IX requirements to offer equal athletic opportunities to both boys and girls” to somehow mean equal seating.

Sexist bleachers?!?

What happens if there are fewer people who want to watch female sports? Should there be a requirement to build bleachers that are mostly empty?

Or maybe we can blend Obamacare to Title IX and create a mandate that parents and others in the community have to attend female sporting events 50 percent of the time?

Actually, I shouldn’t even joke about such an idea, lest some bureaucrat think it’s a serious proposal.

P.S. The Keynesians will be happy. They like it when wealth and/or capital is destroyed since that supposedly forces “stimulative” rebuilding exercises.

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President Obama and many other leftist politicians are running around the nation claiming that supposedly greedy employers are deliberately choosing to reduce their profits.

They’re not actually making that specific claim, but that’s what they’re asserting, for all intents and purposes, when they claim that women are not getting equal pay for equal work.

Inaccurate, but nonetheless clever

If genuine and pervasive sexism existed, then non-discriminatory employers could dramatically reduce labor costs – and therefore dramatically increase profits – by getting rid of overpaid male workers and hiring women. Does anyone really think entrepreneurs and business owners are willing to sacrifice big profits simply because of anti-women animus?

That’s what Obama would like us to believe. And he wants the government to have the power to second-guess the decisions of private businesses. Heck, he probably would like to make America like Europe, where there are efforts to impose gender quotas.

And one of his chief economists tried to back up the President’s claims. Here’s some of what Ashe Schow wrote on the issue for the Washington Examiner.

While detailing executive actions President Obama plans to take Tuesday regarding equal pay for women, Betsey Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said very defiantly that…women… continue to make less than men. …“They’re stuck at 77 cents on the dollar, and that gender wage gap is seen very persistently across the income distribution, within occupations, across occupations, and we see it when men and women are working side by side doing identical work.” That sounds awfully specific. Stevenson certainly sounds like she’s saying men and women doing the exact same job are earning very different pay.

Ms. Stevenson certainly was trying to be a loyal employee.

But then something very unusual happened. A journalist actually asked a real question.

And Ms. Stevenson, who obviously didn’t want to make herself a laughingstock to her colleagues in the economics profession, was forced to admit that the President is peddling nonsense.

…as soon as Stevenson was actually questioned about the statistic by McClatchy reporter Lindsay Wise, the White House adviser crumbled, admitting her earlier comments were inaccurate. “If I said 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke,” Stevenson said. “So let me just apologize and say that I certainly wouldn’t have meant to say that.” …Don’t expect Obama to admit any of this as he travels around the country continuing to claim that women don’t earn as much as men.

So why did Ms. Stevenson quickly back down? Well, perhaps she is familiar with the work of Christina Hoff Sommers, who has explained that men and women do get equal pay when you adjust for career choices, labor supply, and other factors.

There’s lots of evidence that the supposed sexist pay gap is a political weapon rather than economic reality.

Mary Perry and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute just wrote a very thorough debunking of the pay gap myth for the Wall Street Journal. Here are some of the key passages, starting with an explanation that the pay gap largely disappears when you make apples-to-apples comparisons.

…the numbers bandied about to make the claim of widespread discrimination are fundamentally misleading and economically illogical. …Men were almost twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week, and women almost twice as likely to work only 35 to 39 hours per week. Once that is taken into consideration, the pay gap begins to shrink. Women who worked a 40-hour week earned 88% of male earnings. Then there is the issue of marriage and children. The BLS reports that single women who have never married earned 96% of men’s earnings in 2012.

Wow. No wonder Steve Chapman wrote that the left’s pay-gap rhetoric is “a myth resting on a deception.”

But there’s more.

Risk is another factor. Nearly all the most dangerous occupations, such as loggers or iron workers, are majority male and 92% of work-related deaths in 2012 were to men. Dangerous jobs tend to pay higher salaries to attract workers. Also: Males are more likely to pursue occupations where compensation is risky from year to year, such as law and finance. Research shows that average pay in such jobs is higher to compensate for that risk.

Finally, Perry and Biggs seal the argument by pointing out that discrimination doesn’t make sense in a competitive market.

…gender-disparity claims are also economically illogical. If women were paid 77 cents on the dollar, a profit-oriented firm could dramatically cut labor costs by replacing male employees with females. Progressives assume that businesses nickel-and-dime suppliers, customers, consultants, anyone with whom they come into contact—yet ignore a great opportunity to reduce wages costs by 23%. They don’t ignore the opportunity because it doesn’t exist.

By the way, this does not mean that discrimination doesn’t exist.

I’m sure there are still some employers who let sex or race play a role in their decisions. But such people are not only immoral, but also stupid. They are giving up potential profits to indulge their own insecurities.

And other employers will take advantage of their foolishness.

In other words, the free market is the best way to fight discrimination, not government intervention.

P.S. Walter Williams explains that racial and sexual profiling sometimes makes sense.

P.P.S. I explain that anti-discrimination laws can boomerang against intended beneficiaries.

P.P.P.S. There is real evidence that tall people and attractive people are paid more, though I nonetheless argue that government is incapable of addressing this issue.

P.P.P.P.S. For those who are genuinely worried about discrimination, particularly against minorities, the real issues to address are Social Security and government schools.

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I recently wrote about the pinheads at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who are threatening legal action against companies that are leery about hiring people with criminal records.

Now some states and cities are making it illegal to discriminate against those that have been unemployed for a long period of time.

Unlike special legal status for ex-cons, this sounds reasonable. After all, we all would like to help the long-term unemployed break free of the chains of government dependency.

But sometimes good intentions generate undesirable effects. I explain in this Fox Business News debate that companies will do their best to avoid even interviewing the long-term unemployed if they have to worry about potential legal pitfalls whenever they make a hiring decision.

I also explain that businesses have no incentive to engage in unjustified discrimination. After all, that would imply a willingness to deliberately sacrifice profit in pursuit of some irrational bias.

But as Walter Williams has succinctly argued, some forms of discrimination make sense.

And if there are two applicants who otherwise seem to have equal qualifications for a certain job, but one has been out of work for more than 12 months, it’s only logical that the employer will think that a lengthy stint of sitting on a couch does not suggest great habits.

Which is why Obama’s policy of never-ending unemployment benefits is so misguided. People get lured into long-term unemployment and there is both anecdotal evidence (check out these stories from Michigan and Ohio) and empirical evidence (here, here, and here) showing this unfortunate impact.

Heck, even Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have admitted that you get more unemployment when you subsidize joblessness.

Ramirez Unemployment CartoonSo you won’t be surprised to know that I’ve dispensed some tough love on this topic as well.

P.S. This cartoon does a very effective job of showing the consequences of paying people not to work.

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I don’t like discrimination by the government.

I’m even against government-sponsored discrimination when I’m the beneficiary.

It bothers me, for instance, that the Transportation Security Administration has special lines for people – like me – who have some sort of elite frequent-flyer status with one or more airlines.

I have no problem with United Airlines treating me well. I give them lots of money because they’re my main airline, so it’s good business practice for them to reward me with special treatment regarding boarding, seat assignments, and upgrades.

But the Transportation Security Administration has only one responsibility (don’t laugh), and that’s to make sure people don’t bring dangerous items on airplanes.

So why should I get VIP treatment from a government agency just because I fly a lot?

That might be justifiable if I paid extra, sort of like drivers who pay more to ride in H-O-T lanes.

It might be justifiable if I participated in some sort of pre-screening process that enabled me to bypass some or all of TSA’s pointless security apparatus – assuming, though, that the pre-screening process was open to everybody.

And maybe there are other examples where special treatment might be warranted, such as payments from the airlines to cover the costs of the VIP lanes.

But buying a first class ticket or being a frequent flyer should not be sufficient to get someone favoritism from the government.

P.S. This post does not imply I approve of the TSA’s performance. Indeed, I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence in previous posts. I’ve also shared some horror stories about TSA abuse. And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see thisthisthis, and this).

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Europe is in shambles. Nations are going bankrupt. There are riots in the streets. So you would guess that the folks at the European Commission are focused on some big issues.

But you would be wrong.

The eurocrats in Brussels have much bigger fish to fry. They’re addressing the unmitigated horror of inadequate female representation in corporate boardrooms and contemplating continent-wide quotas.

I’m not kidding. Here are some excerpts from the New York Times report.

Frustrated that her previous efforts to get more women into the top echelons of European business have not yielded stronger results, Viviane Reding, the senior justice official in the European Union, was to announce a new effort Monday that could result in legislation requiring that women occupy up to 60 percent of the seats on corporate boards. …E.U.-wide rules were now needed, she said. “Personally, I don’t like quotas,” Ms. Reding said. “But I like what the quotas do. Quotas open the way to equality and they break through the glass ceiling.” Countries that have quotas “bring the results,” she said. Ms. Reding has long campaigned for major changes in European boardrooms and had given industry “a last chance” to improve its record on placing women in top management.

Isn’t that nice. She doesn’t like quotas, but she has no choice because she gave industry a “last chance” to engage in gender bean counting and they didn’t comply.

I wonder if it’s ever occurred to this über-bureaucrat that it’s not her job to tell private companies who to hire, fire, or promote?

"Nice business you have, shame if anything happened to it"

As an aside, the New York Times manages to demonstrate its bias by directly implying that “genuine equality” only exists if boardrooms have equal numbers of men and women.

Having now concluded that self-regulation has failed, Ms. Reding has set her sights on legislation that could, if enacted, drastically speed up a revolution in the position of women in the workplace that began many decades ago but has so far failed to deliver genuine equality in many areas of business.

Has it ever occurred to the reporter that “genuine equality” exists when everyone has an equal chance and government doesn’t put a thumb on the scale? But regardless of what he thinks, doesn’t good journalism mean keeping his opinions to himself?

Maybe I’m just too old fashioned.

Let’s return to the meat of the story and the actions of Ms. Reding. In this passage, I like how she blames “society” because companies didn’t kow-tow to her voluntary suggestions.

In the announcement to be made Monday, Ms. Reding will call for a new round of consultations with governments, trade unions, companies and civil groups. The move comes a year after she called on companies to take voluntary steps to increase the representation of women on boards to 30 percent by 2015 and to 40 percent by 2020, by replacing departing male directors. …Ms. Reding said that the severe economic downturn in Europe that has pressured companies to focus on their bottom lines was not responsible for the failure of her voluntary initiative. “It is really a question of society,” she said.

The story continues with discussion of the onerous plans being concocted by Ms. über-bureaucrat.

Ms. Reding said that the consultations, beginning Monday and ending on May 28, would determine the proportion of women that should be on boards under any E.U.-wide legislation; whether quotas should apply to state-owned companies as well as publicly listed ones; whether both executive and nonexecutive boards should be covered by the rules; and what sanctions should apply to companies that do not meet the objectives, and if there are circumstances where exceptions are necessary.

Unfortunately, the private sector in Europe has the same cringing approach as their counterparts in the United States. Instead of boldly saying that corporate boards are a private matter for shareholders to decide, representatives from big companies accept the intrusion and merely complain about implementation.

…the European Round Table of Industrialists, a forum for the chairmen and chief executives of major multinational companies, has warned that big divergences among sectors and national traditions meant any measures should remain voluntary. “Societal changes take time,” said Carlo Bozotti, the chief executive of STMicroelectronics, a semiconductor company, and the head of a group at the Round Table looking at the issue. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution for industrial companies from multiple sectors, of various structures, and from diverse cultural backgrounds,” he said.

The article concludes with an assertion that “gender-diverse” boardrooms lead to better economic performance. That may very well be true, but it suggests that shareholders are deliberately sacrificing income and wealth in order to retain something akin to an old boys’ network. That seems rather implausible, to say the least.

There is plentiful evidence from business consulting firms including McKinsey & Co., and from Catalyst, a nonprofit research group, that companies with gender-diverse management teams experience higher growth in their share prices, better-than-average operating profits, and outperform their rivals in terms of sales, return on investment capital and return on equity, according to the report. That research showed that women asked more questions and made fewer reckless decisions, proving that “women are not a cost, women are a benefit,” Ms. Reding said.

I want to close with a semi-optimistic note. As crazy as it is for Ms. Reding to try to dictate the number of men and women in corporate boardrooms, at least she’s not complaining about discrimination based on looks or height and trying to get government involved in those areas. At least, not yet.

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