Comment of the Day: “Of COURSE There’s An Unwed and Pregnant Catholic School Teacher Principle….Don’t Be Silly.”

No irish

I encourage the long form comment here, and Ethics Alarms has many commenters who are masters of the form. I feel badly about the many longer, well thought out essays-as-comments that I do not highlight as Comments of the Day, because they represent—well, most of the time—the kind of serious thought and original expression that most blogs, even many of the best, seldom see. Length is not virtue, of course, but ethics, as this post by texagg04, reminds us, is a vital topic that often does not yield answers that are easy, simple, or permanent. The post is in response to a statement from Fred, another trenchant commenter, on the thread’s discussion of whether a school is ethically obligated to allow single and pregnant teachers, if in its view this undermines its efforts to teach certain values and life choices to the young. Fred wrote:

““Doesn’t have to take the job” is not an ethical or legal excuse if there’s a discriminatory requirement not related to doing the job. Being pregnant while teaching does have some relation to the job. Mopping while Methodist doesn’t….There’s an ethics question in whether the school lived up to their religious principles and a legal issue of arguable sex discrimination.”

Here is texagg04’s reply and the Comment of the Day, to the post, Of COURSE There’s An Unwed and Pregnant Catholic School Teacher Principle….Don’t Be Silly.:

 

Let’s start from the market aspect and contractual aspect, and disregard existing law initially…

An employer creates jobs when he senses the market demands a value the potential job can provide. I think the answer lies between two poles:

1) The hyper-free market attitude would allow for an employer to create a job description in his contract as exclusive as he feels necessary. An employer would be free to make it so exclusive that NO ONE could fit the bill. In the hyper-free market, the employer can rightfully add on any conditions for employment, even unrelated to the specific task the job performs. Why? Because it is HIS business.

Now, the market would react, if his conditions are so stringent, by not supplying a single person to fill that job. The employer would then, wishing to capture the market share generated by the initial demand, be compelled to loosen the conditions of employment until a suitable labor pool of one or more individuals becomes available and willing.

At some point on that ‘loosening’ the employer may still have conditions of employment that *you* may find unfair, but the person inevitably hired may be completely content with. That’s the free market.

2) At the other end of this particular spectrum (and you could say it isn’t the farthest end of the spectrum, but for this discussion, it is far enough) you have a condition where employers ONLY list the qualities necessary to perform the bare mechanics of the job the employer needs filled.

This would inevitably require some sort of enforcement mechanism, because mere task qualifications ARE NOT ENOUGH, and every employer knows this. In a scenario in which Candidate 1 displays 90% proficiency at the necessary task, but is a grouch who scoffs at superiors and disdains criticism, and Candidate 2 displays only 65% proficiency at the necessary task, but is gregarious and eagerly pursues correction and edification, I guarantee the employer will hire Candidate 2.

But that’s unfair! Candidate 1 is better at the bare essentials of the job! Yet the employer knows that his objective in the marketplace is to provide the value the market demands, and value is more than just requested skills or products.

So, somewhere between those poles lies the answer. If an employer honestly feels that the value his company brings to the marketplace is enhanced by a janitor who genuflects perfectly and never misses a mass, then the market will either respond affirmatively and give him a janitor or negatively and he must reevaluate his analysis of the market.

But here is where we run into Kant’s Universal Principle, and we’ll switch the variable. If every employer says I only want WHITE janitors, then their portion of the market just created a condition in which black people have NO chance for employment in that field.

The hyper free market advocate would tell you, well then, a company would come along that is willing to hire black janitors and would inevitably sweep the market of the ‘exclusivists’. But not so, not for a long time. The market corrects problems, but slowly.

So here’s where I’m on the fence. Ethically, I think it is wrong for sellers to discriminate against buyers, while it is not ethically wrong for buyers to discriminate against sellers. So, where does employer-employee fit in that category? The employee is selling the service of their knowledge, personality and skills, and the employer is buying that service. So then, does the employer have the right do discriminate against the possible employee based on conditions that are not immediately relatable to the service?

I’m stuck then believing that it *may be* ETHICALLY wrong for buyers to discriminate sellers for any reason not immediately relatable to the product or service, however it would be LEGALLY impossible to enforce without creating even worse conditions for the marketplace. So, I think it’s one of those situations, where the Ethical thing to do, is to the let the market and its slow (but thorough and more effective) corrections, correct the problem.

I’m also wrestling with the inefficiency of Kant’s rule as it applies to marketplace interactions: in the instance of EVERY employer refusing to hire black janitors as a refutation of even one employer refusing to hire a janitor because he’s black, I just don’t see the market tolerating that for long.

Historically, LAWS had to be crafted to ENFORCE discrimination when the market rapidly proved that the flow of money in the reconstruction and post-reconstruction South was extremely UN-RACIST; not the other way around, where we think laws were necessary to enforce non-discrimination.

16 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Of COURSE There’s An Unwed and Pregnant Catholic School Teacher Principle….Don’t Be Silly.”

  1. “the Ethical thing to do, is to the let the market and its slow (but thorough and more effective) corrections, correct the problem.”

    A classical conservative would add to the libertarian reasoning above that if you try to push social change too fast then things break in ways that seriously hurt people. From such a conservative’s point of view the slowness of the market in correcting social injustice is a safety feature.

    A utilitarian argument is that slow change deprives large numbers of the greater good. Without the Civil Rights Act, millions of people would have been unable to cross the country for decades after without consulting their Green Book, and the economy would have lost the benefit of all the commerce that the act enabled.

        • But to acknowledge texagg’s point, markets are indeed anti-discrimination tools.

          Robert Half wrote once that out of all the discriminatory hiring requests his firm ever got (and of course rejected), not a single one came from a successful company. In a free market, firms that hire on merit will economically outcompete bigots.

          Besides the problem of speed, though, markets have another weakness. They assume people are motivated by money. Southerners were actively turning business away that could have put money in their pockets, just for the sake of their overwhelming commitment to segregation.

          • It’s my general belief that the free market tends to correct things well, and only in situations where excessive collections of power (political or free market) can unilaterally deny a subset of the population the ability to operate freely in the market, should the government act to disperse the collection of power. I’ve developed this attitude from a firm belief that the people can enhance their own happiness when free to operate in the market. Their happiness cannot be given to them. And therefore, the federal government’s powers are geared entirely for taking necessary action in response to demands generated too rapidly for the market to provide supply for: a further exposition here

            But of course this leads to a series of contradictions that I haven’t fully resolved.

            It would be unethical to not hire someone based on some inborn quality, fully out of the control of the individual in question, such as “being black”. But wait, that can’t be the determiner, because someone born with no arms (obviously against their will) can’t expect to be hired by a baseball team, where the inborn quality does affect their proficiency at a task. Our personalities are often SET LIKE STONE by the astonishing age of 5 (five). Seemingly out of our control, yet I would not hire an jerk who is slightly more skilled than an civil person of less skill, if the civil person were also applying. So that means that the razor: hire only based on the ability of the person to perform the job isn’t sufficient as well. So that leads me next to this: employ a person based solely on the value they bring to the market, which is a holistic analysis of the ENTIRE person, and leave the discretion of stringent job descriptions up to the employer. But wait, what if the value one employee brings to the marketplace IS degraded by what we would consider an “unfair irrelevancy” (such as ‘being methodist’ or ‘being black’).

            When it gets this complicated, it just seems like the best option is to let the market work it out: money talks.

            I really wanted to discuss 1st Amendment as well, I had further discussed it, but in summary: I wonder if an argument could be made that our behavior on the free-market ought to be protected by the 1st Amendment, as our professions are part of the expressions of ourselves.

            • Here is one of your mind numbingly stupid statements that help to remove your ability to be the judge of who is absolutely right and wrong as you have claimed.

              “t would be unethical to not hire someone based on some inborn quality, fully out of the control of the individual in question, such as “being black”. But wait, that can’t be the determiner, because someone born with no arms (obviously against their will) can’t expect to be hired by a baseball team, where the inborn quality does affect their proficiency at a task.”

              Seriously? You are going to try and claim that people are right and wrong when you are making this comparison of not hiring someone because that person is black and not hiring a baseball player with no arms (and as such would be unable to perform tasks that you need at least 1 arm to perform).

              Seriously? This is what goes through your mind and you think you are using facts, logic, and reason to come up with conclusions? That is laughable.

          • “Southerners were actively turning business away that could have put money in their pockets, just for the sake of their overwhelming commitment to segregation.”

            Not initially. Later after segregration was ingrained. But immediately post civil war and reconstruction?

            It was the GOVERNMENT, not the free market that enacted Jim Crow, politicians, not entrepreneurs established separate but equal, the STATE, not the market that established de jure discrimination that led to the sad state of affairs.

            The elites and those comfortable from stifled competition and market control were astounded how quickly African Americans adapted to the market and began undercutting them at ever turn they could.

            • Government elected by the people (i.e. the white people) who supported those laws.

              Put one more point up for texagg’s mind numbingly stupid comments.

                • You are making the claim here that it wasn’t the market who wanted Jim Crow but the government. Well the people who wanted to participate in a segregated market also wanted Jim Crow and voted for the politicians who enacted those laws.

                  So yes, your comment was mind numbingly stupid. Period. End of story. Horrible conclusion on your part.

          • As texagg04’s comment mentioned in the last paragraph, they had to use the law to make that happen, because the business owners were mostly not willing to discriminate on race on their own initiative. That can’t possibly be construed as evidence that markets were failing.

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