Once upon a time, America was pretty damn racist. Nowadays, some people think there isn’t any racism anymore, some people think racism is still a huge problem, and most people are somewhere in between, they think there is some racism but disagree on exactly how much.
Sexism is in pretty much the same situation.
One of the solutions that are being proposed to solve this problem is Quotas. They are sometimes called Affirmative Action or Positive Discrimination. The idea is to force, or strongly encourage, employers to hire minorities or oppressed groups, like black people, women, homosexuals, disabled people, muslims, etc.
As those groups all face different types of discrimination, require different privileges (some muslims want a special praying room, while homosexuals don’t really need special facilities), the issue is extremely complex.
The more I think about it, the more I think quotas are actually probably causing more problems than they solve, for the minorities and for everyone else.
For the sake of easier explanation, let us imagine the country of Hypothica, where there are only two types of people. Green People and Red People. There is no gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else to discriminate against. Just Green versus Red. Nowadays, there are more Green people in higher positions in most companies, so people usually think there is some sort of discrimination against red people. That is mostly because red people have been classed as sub-human for centuries, and only obtained equal rights a couple decades ago.
Obviously, not every green person is a racist. Some green people are nice and treat everyone equally, while some other green people are racist and usually hate or at least have some mild disdain for red people. They also think red people are usually dumber and overall lesser people.
Hypothica is obviously a capitalist country. The free market is going strong, and people usually decide who they hire. It is also important to note that there are fewer red people than there are green people. There are aproximately 1 red person for every 4 green people in Hypothica.
Let’s think about the current situation. In a free market, whenever you start a company, you have very significant chances of failing. In order to succeed, you must get a pretty good score on many angles. One of those is good employees. Hiring good employees is usually necessary for success, while hiring “the best” employees is not necessary, but it helps. This means that every time the employer hires a candidate that was not the best one available, they literaly make their own odds of success drop a little. In the case of our nice green guy, who only looks at skills, education, and overall value of candidates to make his choice, everything is fine. On the other hand, whenever our green racist employer chooses an employee, and is racist about it, it means he will pretty much always hire green people. Keep in mind that some racists still hire red people even though they don’t like it, but those ones are not concerned by quotas either way since they already do it. We are talking about the ones that don’t hire red people. If Green and red people are truly equal (on average) in skill, this means that 50% of red people should be more qualified than the average green person, and vice versa. Considering the earlier demography premise, 1 time out of 5, the red candidate should be the most qualified (on average). This means that our average green racist hires an under-qualified candidate 20% of the time. This should lower his odds of success substantially. If he’s not the “big boss”, then he probably will get fired because he gets worse results than the average green manager.
Over time, this means that the system has a strong tendency towards the “If you are racist, your company fails” situation. They won’t all fail because of it, but more and more will do over time. That’s basically the same idea as natural selection, but without killing anyone. This might take decades, maybe even centuries, but this will eventually work out pretty well for the red people.
In the meantimes, every qualified red person who was victim of discrimination just walked next door to the other employer, and tried again. If they truly were qualified, it didn’t take long for them to get hired. Even better, they got a job with a boss that doesn’t secretly hates their guts, so the quality of the workplace is way better for them.
Now let’s look at the alternative: Quotas.
I won’t get into details as to how the quotas are enforced. Maybe it’s a law, maybe it’s an incentive (tax returns, subvention, whatever), maybe it’s something else entirely. It doesn’t matter, either way employers have a good motivation to hire red people at least as often as the demography would expect them to (in this case, 20% of the time).
First of all, there is a statistical problem. On average, red and green people are equal, and there are 20% of people who are red. In practice, it’s way more likely that qualified red and green people won’t show up in 20-80 proportions to every single workplace. This means that in some cases, a non-racist employer will have to hire an unqualified red person. Over time, this will happen many many times. If they are forced to hire sometimes unqualified people in order to look non-racist, actual non-racists might resent them for it, and some of them might very well turn into racists over time. This will also create the same problem that racists employers encountered in the previous case, but this time for everyone. This means that, while nobody will go bankrupt because of it, the average quality of most goods and services will go down because of it.
In the case of actual racists, this will force them to hire red people. That’s good right? Not so fast. If an employer is racist enough to never, or very rarely hire a red person, this means that their racism prevents them from correctly estimating the value of red people. This also means that, if they are forced to do it, they still won’t be able to correctly estimate their skills. In that case, our green racist probably won’t even try to hire competent red people. He thinks they are all unqualified, so one way or another, he’ll end up hiring mostly at random. He will also blame most future failures on the red employees, and will resent them a lot for it. This means that our green racist gets even more racist over time, our red employees are hired in a toxic workplace, and some decent green people turn into racists.
But that’s just the average.
Again, according to statistics, there will at least be some workplaces who literally only get qualified red people in interviews. There will also be some workplaces that only meet the unqualified ones. The unlucky workplaces. As red people are a minority, the actual distribution will be even further away from the theoretical distribution. Of course this still won’t happen that often, but with the thousands of companies and branches across the country, this is bound to happen several times. In the cases of workplaces who ended up only interviewing unqualified red people, and are forced to hire some of them, what will happen? The green workers will end up working in a room where every single red person is unqualified, not because red people are worse than green, but only because of bad luck, statistics and quotas. Imagine working every day of your life with red people, and every single one of them is bad at his job. You can’t help but notice. No matter how non-racist you are, you still notice race. When I speak with a woman, a black person, an asian, etc, I see it. I don’t judge them because of it, but there is no way I don’t see it. After talking with a colleague, I can tell you if they were white, black or in-between. That’s just there, and we see it. Back to hypothica, pattern recognition will kick in. Those workers, most of which were totally non-bigoted before, will eventually start (wrongfully) thinking that red people are idiots, just because they ended up in the wrong workplace at the wrong time.
Basically, this will, once again, create new waves of racist green people.
Let’s quickly go over that again.
- Red people find workplaces that like them (but might have needed to job-hunt slightly harder).
- Hiring is fair most of the time (depending on the racism ratio in the country).
- Racists have higher odds of failure (because their hiring decisions are sub-optimal every time a red person is interviewing).
- Racists slowly but surely get thrown out of the loop.
- Non-racists have nice experiences with red people, and stay that way.
- Red people get hired in toxic workplaces.
- Racists resent red people even more, therefore become more racist over time.
- Small proportion of non-racists turn racist over time.
- Unqualified red people get hired more often, therefore making the average perceived value of red people (by green people) go down, and contributing to racism (again).
And that, is why I am against quotas. Replace red people with ANY minority or oppressed group, and the logic should still work, except maybe for characteristics that are not physically obvious, like homosexuality or most religions. Gender Quotas, Race quotas, any kind of quotas WILL contribute to discrimination, bigotry and oppression.
I don’t have a faster solution than the incredibly slow “natural selection” that I described before, but obviously I am always open to suggestions. I want things to get better, I just don’t want counter-productive methods to get all the attention.