The Logical Conclusion

Some of the recent conversations around employment equality have been quite interesting to observe. Regardless of whether the people discussing the topic are on YouTube, using podcasts, or publishing opinion pieces on well-known news sites, the same handful of arguments are trotted out as a reason for why employers must be forced to use discriminatory practices when acquiring new employees through the use of heavy-handed legislation, or why it's a fool's errand that should be abandoned. What's unfortunate is that some of the people debating the issue use the same words to mean different things, which results in unnecessary frustration and a surplus of decibels.

There are generally two meanings for the word "equality" that I see when people are discussing the obvious gaps in population representation within certain fields:

Equality of Opportunity, which is described as a state of fairness in the job market. Everyone is treated the same and not prevented from applying for a job due to artificial barriers, prejudices, or preferences. The objective here is for an employer to hire -- or promote -- the most talented or qualified based on verifiable and testable metrics. This is generally how meritocracies work, though it is not at all easy to maintain.

Equality of Outcome, which is described as a state where every member of a population has the same material wealth and income, or where everyone literally has the same things. A transfer of wealth is required to make this happen, resulting in a society with no super rich and no super poor. Everybody has food, clothing, shelter, access to medical services and education, and just about everything else a collectivist society can realistically support. It is, in short, the ideal of communism.

Both of these concepts have their pros and cons. Neither are complete solutions to the problem of the obvious inequalities we see in modern life. A lot of large organisations around the world try to present an equality of opportunity. There are missteps and poorly worded job ads from time to time but, for the most part, many of the employment laws found in North America, Europe, and even here in Japan will punish a company found to be guilty of discriminatory hiring or rewarding practices. This is a heck of a lot better than the openly hostile employment practices that were seen more than 25 years ago.

Equality of outcome, however, is something that I do not see as being realistically feasible for any amount of time without dropping the pretence that citizens of a nation have free will. In order to have a viable equality of outcome, ensuring every field of employment has the same ratio of various groups that are found within the general population within a short period of time, people must have a static career path assigned to them at some point during high school with no option to appeal barring a major catastrophe or war.

The "career chip" would need to go from being a gag in Futurama to a real thing that controls what a person can do in their life, as this is the only way to honestly ensure there is an equality of outcome without drastically destroying the economies and infrastructures that underpin the success of a nation.

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

This idea is not at all new, and it was something a high school friend and I were chatting about a while back as he explained the challenges in adding "visible diversity" to his team of spot welders, as it's become corporate a requirement. Every one of the 46 tradesmen who reports to him is male. Based on the published demographics of Ontario, 23 of these skilled workers should be women. His employer, a well-known steel mill in Hamilton, has been looking for more diversity on the factory floor for years, but there is simply no interest aside from young men. This is despite the very healthy salary1, several weeks of vacation per year, and a generous retirement package. How else can this gap be closed other than to force people into careers based on the very criteria that an equality of opportunity state decries as discriminatory?

A post from 2005 outlining some of the occupations dominated by gender in The Netherlands2 shows some career paths that are generally not very diverse, and these professions have certainly been dominated traditionally by men or women for a number of generations if not millennia. If an equality of outcome supersedes everything else, then there really is no other option.

This wouldn't be all bad, though. Young people concerned with their post-education futures will be given one less thing to worry about. Greater diversity in the professions would mean that jobs would be required to become much safer to accommodate all levels of skill and motivation. And organisations could more easily ensure that management positions were also filled by people who reflect the general population. If there was also a redistribution of wealth and every job was paid equally well based on age rather than seniority or ability, then someone assigned to drive a bus could earn the same as someone assigned to perform open heart surgery. Nobody would go hungry or miss a car payment3 ever again! These are all positives, and I don't say this as a joke at all.

Would the consequences4 be worth it, though?

I am a firm believer in equality of opportunity. Everyone should be judged on their skills and merits. Competence should be encouraged and rewarded. While we're not quite at a place where we can honestly say that everybody will be treated the same or compensated in the same way as a colleague, we're much closer to the ideal today than ever before. As for the equality of outcome movement, I can understand some of the reasoning and even agree on a couple of points5, but history has shown time and again just how untenable such a system is.

  1. Heck, I don't even make as much as the median wage without putting in more than 60 hours per week.

  2. I couldn't find anything similar for occupations in Canada, but the data must surely exist.

  3. Assuming, of course, that everyone treated money the same way.

  4. There are a whole lot of consequences that I've decided to not include here, because the post isn't to completely deride the idea, but posit the most logical means of making an equality of outcome possible … though I would never want to live in such a society.

  5. The massive gap between the crazy wealthy and the dirt poor is absurd. Wealth redistribution is not a viable solution, though.