Category Archives: Discrimination

False Equality

This year the so-called “Equal Pay Day” was April 12th. It’s “celebration” is a weak attempt at capitalizing on the notoriety of the entirely valid “Tax Freedom Day” (i.e. the day after which a country’s citizens get to keep all their income if they were theoretically taxed at 100% until their tax burden was satisfied). In 1900 in the United States Tax Freedom Day was January 22. Today it is April 24. We have lost a lot of freedom in the interim. Many real injuries to women’s right have been reversed in that same interim; however pay inequality has always been a phantom menace. Equal Pay Day is but a disingenuous mischaracterization of a statistical truth as proof of willful malfeasance.

Yes, if you lump all female workers together and all male workers together the females earn about 79% of what the men earn. But through willful blindness of the trees (different jobs) in observation of only the forest (aggregate salaries) this statistic fails to make the case that it is employer discrimination that robs women of their rightful earnings. To highlight this failing consider another similar statistics. Comparing workers below age 45 against those over age 45 we find a similar gap. Those 45 and under earn about 80% of those 45 and over.  Clearly there must be a bias toward paying older works more. Or consider not pay but rather work place fatalities. On average, for every female workplace fatality there are twelve men who perish.  Again, clearly this must be a sign of a negligent disregard for the safety of men in the workplace relative to women. Oh, what’s that you say? There are obvious reasons why an older worker would earn, on average, more than a younger worker? There are obvious reasons why more men would die in the workplace than women? True (to both), yet somehow the “obvious” reasons that would also contribute to a difference in aggregate pay between men and women are dismissed out of hand whenever issues of gender pay disparity are discussed. Why is that?

If one were to look at wages at a hypothetical hospital where all the men were doctors and all the women were nurses would it not be surprising that the women made less than the men in aggregate? In reality, when numbers are adjusted for age and education, women (pre-child birth) earn just as much if not more than men in several fields. The shift occurs as couples start to have children and women take on the traditional role of staying at home and raising children.  This means they leave the workforce (reducing earnings based experience) or take on lower paying, more time-flexible positions.

Now the strident feminists among us might actually agree and say it is this cultural “patriarchy” that must be changed – by force. I’m not sure what they would have us do though – have the government decide which parent must raise the children in order to keep the distribution of male/female stay-at-homers equal across society? Even though feminists may privately admit that culture is the real reason for this wage “gap”, publicly they persist in casting employers as the scapegoat. This stance though demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of basic economics. Unsurprisingly, the type of person who will loudly clamor for more government intervention in the workplace to ensure “fair” pay for women will also decry the “greed” of the employer in paying them less. The irony of that position is that if the wage gap were employer driven, their supposed vice (greed) would quickly neutralize it. A properly “greedy” employer would seek out every women they can find in order to achieve a 20% discount on their payroll. In turn the unemployment rate for women would be 0%. But of course it is not. This lack of 0% female (or any supposedly discriminated group for that matter) unemployment should put to rest the notion that discrimination is the proximate cause for such pseudo-pay disparities.

Immunity From Choice

It is deeply ironic (in the dramatic sense) that the most vociferous opponents of Indiana’s recently passed version of the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) are through their very actions making the case for why their beloved anti-discrimination laws are unnecessary. This is the argument libertarians have been making for years: boycott, shun, exclusion. If anyone, whether an individual or business, behaves in some socially unacceptable way, then everyone else is free to point out this boorish behavior to others, to refuse to associate with them and/or cut off other ties. That’s what happened here. As soon as Indiana passed this law there were cries from across the country to boycott the whole state. Their hearts were in the right place, but their brains are a few hours behind. Or perhaps it does make sense if one is immersed in the statist worldview, that is, that the government under which one lives technically “owns” you. For example, if an employee at a restaurant made some racist remark, people would boycott the restaurant with the belief that the owners of the restaurant are the ones with the ultimate responsibility and control over what goes on in their restaurant. So in the same way they view the Indiana government as being the “boss” of every state resident. Of course their grievances are merely about what might occur, not anything that has actually happened.  Considering that our governments don’t actually own us, the more logical approach would be to wait until some discriminatory event takes place and then boycott, protest, etc, that particular business. Why punish an entire state because of a fear of what a few individuals might do? Well if the ends justify the means then I guess it doesn’t matter. Let’s put millions out of work from businesses going under to ensure that maybe a gay couple will not have to suffer the indignity of being unable to buy a cake from someone that doesn’t like them very much. Yes, that’s who I want to get my edible items from; someone that really dislikes me. Trust me, never be rude to the person taking your order at a drive-thru; you don’t want to know what they do to your food if you tick them off (no it’s not what you think, this is second hand information).

But when it comes right down to it, that’s what anti-discrimination laws are all about, the right to be served by people that possess a range of negative emotions concerning you. Why on earth would you want to give money to someone that hates your guts? Or someone that espouse hate in general? Anti-discrimination laws simply drive those feelings below the surface. It doesn’t make them go away. It doesn’t make the world into a utopian Kumbaya handholding ring of love. It creates more of a Potemkin village where the false façade and the real are indistinguishable.

The RFRA is a step in the right direction but for totally incorrect reasons. There is nothing unique or special about “religious” beliefs. This outlook holds all other forms of belief in contempt and makes a mockery of religion in general as everyone figures out if they just slap the word “God” or “Church” on their belief they can get into the fast lane of doing what they want without state intervention (e.g. The First Church of Cannabis). ALL beliefs (whether religious, political, or philosophic) should be immune from state interventions.

The state has no right to interfere between the peaceful interactions of two people, even when one of those people is behaving like a jerk (regardless of what belief system is motivating said behavior). Likewise you have no right to not be shunned and boycotted when you behave like a jerk. That is how a free society works. The immune system cells (activists) will quickly identify and rally attention on the growing cancer cells (jerks, racists, homophobes, etc) quickly, cleanly and without violence. The state on the other hand is like chemotherapy, it bathes the whole organism is a poison that while killing the cancer also kills non-cancer cells and makes the organism that much weaker for it. Stop the chemo and get the state out of all aspects of our lives.

Bad Bill Strikeout

Georgia now has its own variant of the Arizona “religious freedom” bill (recently vetoed by that state’s governor) known as HB 1023  (“Preservation of Religious Freedom Act”). At first blush the Georgia bill appears to uphold the libertarian principal of the right of association (i.e. the right to decide who we do or do not associate with). However, upon further analysis I have come to the conclusion that this is a bad bill and should be opposed. For those that don’t already know, the bill essentially says that if a person acts with a religious motivation then they are immune from any and all laws, ordinances, rules or regulations that might otherwise restrict the actions they undertook as a result of their religious convictions. Taken literally one could claim immunity from murder and theft if one stated it was motivated by religious belief. So on its face it is hyperbolically broad. Strike 1.

Proponents of this bill are engaged in a bit of prophylactic legal wrangling. It is currently completely legal to discriminate against homosexuals. But despite this apparent lack of protection there has been virtually no private sector discrimination of homosexuals. In fact the biggest discriminator against homosexuals has been the public sector aka government (non-recognition of marriage, non-equality in the tax code, etc.). Recently though two isolated cases of a wedding cake maker and photographer refusing to sell their services to gay couples under a highly specific scenario (wedding) has risen to the national news level. Following this outrage theater set on the national stage, the extreme Christian right felt the writing was on the wall and it would only be a matter of time until their views on homosexuals would be not just socially but legally verboten. Their only course of action? Legalize (or rather outlaw the illegality of) their peculiar brand of bigotry. Through this bit of legislative memorialization they attempt to normalize their position in society. Because, you see, if something is a “law” then that means it is “ok”, and conversely, if something is illegal then that means it is “bad.” Without laws to tell us right from wrong we would be rudderless in an ocean of moral ambiguity. Yes, sarcasm.

Racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, insert-your-own-ism-here-ism are stupid, ignorant, sad, hateful, preposterous and irrational. But what they are not is criminal. In other words, it should always be legal to be a first class jerk. While we don’t need laws against boorish behavior in order to know it is unacceptable, we also don’t need laws that place the seal of state approval on such behavior either. Strike 2.

This bill does get it half-right on one front though. Everybody should have the right to act on their beliefs. But, this freedom should not be restricted solely to those possessing the religious get out of jail free card. Religious freedom is merely one flavor of natural rights based freedoms. Respecting everyone’s freedom means recognizing the fact that we each have the right to live our lives as we see fit, as long as we do not employ violence or the threat thereof to prevent others from doing the same. So, rather than exempting a subset of people from all laws, this bill should instead exempt a subset of laws from all people. In other words, it wimps out where it really counts: freedom. Strike 3.

To think that the fabric of society would fall to tatters without flecks of ink scattered upon slices of dead trees is to ignore the true source of order in society: the people. The vast majority of people behave in a civilized manner because the vast majority of people are not evil. Ask yourself, if all laws were repealed tomorrow do you truly fear that your friends, neighbors, and co-workers, would all try to rob and kill each other? Would you behave any differently than you do today?

Crying Wolf

The acquittal this week of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin has been divisive to say the least. It has re-opened old wounds with respect to race and justice in this country. Although these wounds had long since scared over, the self-flagellation of the professional racism-baiters has managed to incite conflict where none existed. Like the boy who cried wolf, warnings against racism are weakened when applied to every event involving hetero-race conflict. Trayvon’s death was a tragedy, but not because he was black and Zimmerman was not. It was tragic because the death of anyone is so, and that label is particularly apt when applied to a child (no matter the age). The self-appointed “leaders” of the black community would have us believe his death was entirely the result of “white” racism on the part of Zimmerman and that it is entirely impossible that Zimmerman was simply an overly paranoid idiot. As an aside it is odd that Zimmerman is labeled a “white Hispanic” because he has one parent from each “race” while Obama is not labeled as a “white black” even though his parentage is similarly divergent – apparently such labels are selectively applied when it is convenient toward advancing one’s biased narrative.

The narrative in this case is that if Person A suggests that non-white Person B acts or appears suspicious then clearly Person A must be racist. No further evidence is needed. For some reason it has been overlooked that not only was Trayvon black, he was also young, and he was a male. If you can “profile” someone for one characteristic, then why would that exclude them being profiled for all other characteristics? Oh, that’s right, if he were profiled as a “young male” then that would have not have been sufficient to turn this case into a media circus. Isn’t it just as possible Zimmerman saw a suspicious male teenager, who, to quote George Carlin “just happened to be black”? There is nothing else in Zimmerman’s background (beyond blogosphere innuendo) to suggest he holds racist views. Had there been you can be sure such information would have come to light at trial. Such information was conspicuous in its absence. My point is not to exonerate Zimmerman, but merely to demonstrate that the deliberate injection of a racial component to this tragedy does a grave injustice to Trayvon’s memory. He will not be remembered for who he was, but rather merely as a hollow symbol. A symbol that the “leaders” in the black community would like to co-opt for their own purposes. They have capitalized on Trayvon’s death solely to bolster their own reputations and bona fides as “leaders”. Perhaps I’m too harsh. Perhaps their actions betray a positive light. If the only racial issues are ones they must manufacture then perhaps we are finally hearing the death rattle of racism in this country.

So, if this case is not about race, what was it about? I was not there, nor were any of you dear readers, so what I will discuss is what we do know: Zimmerman had a gun and that gun was used to kill Trayvon. Although I count myself among those that believe the government has no right to restrict gun ownership, I think it would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that although increasing gun ownership will tend to lower rates of crime, there will be a concomitant increase in accidental harm. This is one of those situations. How can we prevent similar accidents of escalation stupidity? I do not know. Nobody knows. The problem is that in theory we would like to find the exact perfect equilibrium point of gun ownership where both crime and accidents are minimized, but there is no non-arbitrary method by which one can divine that point. Laws will never solve this. Only incentives and technology will move us in the right direction. Those opposed to gun ownership should devote their resources not toward futile “whack-o-mole” efforts toward 20-20 hindsight prevention but rather toward developing the ideal non-lethal defensive weapon (Star Trek phasers anyone?). All things being equal, if one can repel an attack by lethal or non-lethal methods the vast majority of people would opt to do so non-lethally. If such an alternative were available on the market, then that alternative would come to dominate, making such senseless gun deaths like Trayvon’s a distant memory. We can all agree on that goal.

The times they are a changin’

There is nothing quite like a Supreme Court decision to add fuel to the fire of politicized hyperbole. One example: the recent US Supreme Court decision regarding the Voting Rights Act set aside just a single section (Section 4) as no longer applicable as written – but the “sky is falling” remarks of those opposing the decision would have us believe the entire bill was voided AND that from now on the KKK would be in charge of voter registration. “Return to Jim Crow!” – “Rampant disenfranchisement!” Give me a break. All the court did was say that perhaps after 50 YEARS, just perhaps, there have been some changes in the hearts and minds of the citizenry in those states it was originally targeted at. To argue, as opponents are, that racism is just as prevalent today as it was 50 years ago is to willfully ignore not only all the gains minorities have made in the last 50 years but likewise the fact that we’ve added two new generations of non-racists since that time. Why do you think “gay rights” are more widely accepted today? Changing attitudes? Hardly. It’s just demographics. The prejudices of the old die with them. Is racism wiped out? No, of course not. But to suggest that there has been ZERO improvement is an equally absurd assertion.

If one truly believes in the anti-discriminatory role of the VRA then one should have been concerned that Section 4 focused solely on historical regions of discrimination while turning a blind eye elsewhere. Not only does it use stale data, it uses stale methods. To the extent racism does exist, it is no longer overt, it has grown subtle.  The methods used to root it out must change so that it can be identified. The rescission of Section 4 now provides Congress the opportunity to establish new criteria better suited to rooting out actual voter discrimination rather than imagined discrimination. If the disease is evolving then one’s treatment method must evolve with it.

“Oh but you’re wrong, as soon as this passed Texas moved to reintroduce a voter ID law!” I’m sorry; I have never understood this knee-jerk response that Voter ID = Discrimination. How is it that merely requesting proof that one actually has the right to vote can be construed as nothing other than a blatant attempt at discrimination? Is it not possible, just perhaps, that a border state, such as Texas, which possesses a large portion of non-citizen immigrants, would want to ensure that non-citizen immigrants are not voting (since in most cases all you need is a pulse to get registered to vote)? The most commonly requested ID is a driver’s license, but for some reason this is decried as creating an unreasonable hurdle for most minorities. Really, so the vast majority of minorities do not drive? To suggest that voter ID laws disproportionately harm minorities is to imply that driver’s license regulations disproportionately bar minorities from driving. If that is the case then it seems there should be more outrage over this horrible discrimination keeping our roadways nearly minority free.

Do voter ID laws create an impediment to voting? Sure they do… in the exact same way that the fact that the polling place is not in my living room creates an impediment to my voting. I have to expend effort in getting in my car and driving to the polling place. But it is minimal effort. In the same way, being requested to show some sort of ID before one may vote is not an insurmountable obstacle. It might take some minimal effort but it is doable. It’s not like you have to prove you can run a marathon before you can vote. If you can’t pass the tiny hurdle of obtaining the requested ID then apparently voting is just not all that important to you. So, please stop with the crocodile tears about how “voter ID” disenfranchises voters. If you are truly concerned with voter discrimination then use this opportunity the Supreme Court has handed the country and encourage Congress to fix Section 4 of the VRA so that it is relevant to the world we live in today, not the one we lived in 50 years ago.