Discrimination and the Bottom Line

What characteristics really matter in competition?

Alex was a writer. He made a deal with his publisher for a new book. Alex would receive an advance payment of $100,000 for the book that he would complete and deliver to the publisher in twelve months.

Alex was confident he could finish the book in a year, but he knew he would be cutting it close. Between coming up with the storyline of the book, typing, arranging, and then editing, he knew he had an uphill battle especially because he wasn’t very good at typing or editing.

Alex realized he could get the book done before the deadline if he would hire someone to type and edit his work, so he could focus on the contents and story. Alex put out an ad and got a call back the next day. He arranged to meet the candidate, whose name was John, at a local coffee shop.

John told Alex he could help him get the book done in ten months instead of twelve. All he asked in return was a monthly salary of $3,333. Since Alex knew he had to set aside around $40,000 for his own years’ worth of expenses, he would be left with a little over $26,000 at the end. But since he would be done two months early, he could use that time to line up his next book deal, and maybe take a few weeks off. He’d have to give up a little bit of cash, but it was worth it.

Alex didn’t have to put out the ad, and he didn’t have to employ or pay another person. But he did, so John was fortunate enough to have a good job and Alex was fortunate to have his work made easier and accomplished faster.

A few weeks into the project Alex met someone named Mary. Mary was also a typist and editor. They began talking about Alex’s project. Mary told Alex she could help him with his project better than John could—she could type faster, get it done in eight months instead of ten, and she only wanted a salary of $3,000 per month. Since Mary agreed to a lower salary and a faster project timeline, Alex realized he would be in better shape employing her instead of John.

Now, instead of paying a total of $33,000 for help, he would only pay $24,000. And instead of having two months’ head-start on getting his book on the shelves and signing another book deal, through which he could employ someone again, he had four months in total. This meant he would end up with $36,000 at the end of the deal instead of $26,000.

Alex broke the news to John and wished him the best of luck—John understood and went on to look for another job while he practiced his typing skills so that he could stay competitive in the market.

You might think John is a loser in this situation, and you might feel bad for him. But if John were to keep his job, then both Alex and Mary would lose. Remember, it was Alex’s story, so he didn’t have to employ John in the first place. And even though John has to look for another job, at least he knows what he needs to improve. If Alex wasn’t allowed to fire John, then Mary wouldn’t get the job and Alex might lose enough money that he wouldn’t want to employ anyone ever again, especially not John. That’s a lose-lose-lose. Instead, the free market allowed the most qualified person to win.

Not that it matters, because it really doesn’t, but let me tell you a little bit about the physical characteristics of John and Mary:

John is a person with light skin, he is a male, and he is an athlete.

Mary is a person with dark skin, she is a female, and she is wheelchair bound.

When Alex fired John, did he discriminate against him because of his skin color, gender, or physical condition? Or was it a business decision in consideration of Alex’s bottom line?

What if the roles were reversed? What if Mary had been the slower typist and gotten fired? Would that be discrimination?

If someone says the latter is discrimination but not the former, what does that really mean?

If you believe that the state needs to protect people from discrimination in a free market environment where abilities and results are all that matter, does that mean you believe that certain people, due to their immutable physical characteristics, are unable to compete on a level playing field?

Sounds like bigotry to me.

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Commit your works to the Lord; And your thoughts will be established. Proverbs 16:3