Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Euvoluntary Discrimination

Seen from the lens of correcting historical injustices, authors of anti-discrimination statutes intend to restore justice. Granted, it's some sort of statistical justice, conflating individuals across generations, but justice all the same.

Interestingly, concerns about discrimination are limited to a subset of statistical classes and restricted in their application to instances of BATNA disparity (eg lending, employment, higher ed access). I'm free as a bird now to limit my friendships and romantic entanglements to MA Icelandic redheads with Aleutian huskys between the ages of 25 and 37 should it so suit my fancy.

But woe be to me if I elect to organize. Suppose I wanted to create the Fraternal Order of MA Icelandic Redheads with Aleutian huskys between the ages of 25 and 37. All of a sudden, the moral intuition changes. Why? Why did Augusta's race and gender restrictions so deeply offend people? What's so offensive about a heterosexual-only rule in the Boy Scouts? What is the BATNA to membership at a prestigious golf course? To wearing fabulous neckerchiefs and plenty of flair?

Is it unseemly to ask for elaboration? Is it not enough that a disparity, an injustice exists?

It tends to occur to me that there is genuine injustice in discrimination coupled with coercion. Jim Crow legislation was abominable because it forced segregation on unwilling participants. Fraternal orders involve no explicit coercion. Same for lending. A bank that refrains from making a loan based on irrelevancies like complexion loses valuable business. Ditto employers.

But I don't think the absence of coercion mollifies the moral instincts of the modern median voter. Perhaps BATNA disparity has something to do with it, but even something as terribly competitive as the entire labor market there doesn't seem to be much of a BATNA argument to make, especially for low-skilled labor.

Or maybe the institutional game theory is wrong and it really is pretty easy to sustain a long-lived conspiracy among legion business elites over the course of decades, if not centuries. OPEC can't do it with fewer than a dozen members for more than a few years and without the threat of military invasion, but the whole stinking Chambers of Commerce have no problem over the arc of all capitalism. What probability should I assign this?

At any rate, identifying a problem is a lot different than actually solving it. It's nice that instead of jumping on the trampoline of having the state intervene in the BSA, folks are using the morally superior tactic of shame. It's interesting to me why shame isn't more widely employed in disciplining wayward organizations.

1 comment:

  1. Complexion is not irrelevant .... But of course we can't say this in polite society.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?