Optimal Setting vs Optimal Reality

Nov 20, 2019 by

John Lancaster

John Lancaster-

The push for “inclusion” and “diversification” in fields with traditionally uniform demographics continues to be relevant as the second decade of the 21st century approaches. Heather Mac Donald’s book, The Diversity Delusion, chronicles several instances in academia, government, and enterprise where the quest for heterogeneity has taken hold and thoroughly assesses their effects. Recently, in the state of Washington, an affirmative action proposal involving the state government using minority status in public decisions was struck down by voters. While being interviewed about Comcast’s racially charged lawsuit, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke stated:

“We need to ensure that media companies are representative of the communities they serve which means having diversity in the people who work at these media companies”

While the topic of diversity remains apparent, what is not apparent is the implication on victimized persons as employers. Obligatory diversity/inclusion in the employment process may prohibit victimized employers from achieving maximal potential.

To illustrate the problem that can arise with heavy-handed implementation of inclusive practices, I am introducing the concept of “Optimal Setting vs Optimal Reality”. The most commonly espoused reasons for diversity in employment include amending transgressions to historically/contemporaneously victimized peoples, mitigating discrimination, gaining a broader perspective, tolerance, and other purported benefits. The pursuit of these aims through employment practices can be described as trying to achieve “The Optimal Setting” in which businesses, educational institutions, and government agencies gainfully employ people of various ethnicities, sexual identifications, orientations, religions, and backgrounds. However, the Optimal Setting becomes problematic if there is not a pool of diverse talent for any given field or array of positions. The aforementioned Mac Donald makes note of this issue at length her book. One only has to look at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data of the demographics of STEM degree holders to get an idea of how skewed certain fields may be. Famed economist Thomas Sowell quoted, during a 1990 interview on his book Preferential Policies:

“…why would you ever expect that countries that had entirely different histories, located in entirely different climates, different geography, why would you expect those countries to develop exactly the same mix of skills, to exactly the same degree, so that their people would arrive on these shores in such a way that they would be represented evenly across the board. Especially since, even in countries where most of the population is indigenous, you don’t find that they are.”

Despite the wishes of diversity proponents, employers are constrained to the available pool of eligible labor, whatever their qualitative make-up may be and for whatever reason.

Now let’s suppose there is a person from a victimized group (POC, LGBTQ+, Non-Christian, etc.) who wants to embark on some ambitious project and wishes to attain the absolute highest success their skills and effort will allow them to achieve. Surely the accomplishment of such a project would be a credit to the persons respective group and an inspirational example in general. Nevertheless, so long as the project requires the labor of others, the victimized employer will necessarily have to hire the most qualified and abled talent available if that person wants to improve their chances of obtaining maximal success. If said victimized employer is compelled to hiring along the criteria of The Optimal Setting, they may very well be passing up the most promising individuals if those promising individuals do not comprise a diverse group. While some may regard this as noble decision, this decision doubtlessly prohibits the victimized employer from assembling the most productive personnel. Thus, hiring along the line lines of The Optimal Setting would prevent the victimized employer form achieving “The Optimal Reality” which is the best-case scenario given the goal and usable resources. The Optimal Reality for this particular victimized employer would be to achieve the greatest success possible with the project. If the project requires additional input, this would require hiring the utmost proficient staff. Yet abiding The Optimal Setting would constrain the victimized employer’s hiring ability and hamstring maximal potential.

Though there is much attention paid to the advancement of disadvantaged groups, it is important to note that disadvantaged peoples have the ability to take many positions in the workforce. While certain policies and social pressures may benefit a certain sector of disadvantaged peoples, they could serve as a hinder to other sectors. If a holistic approach is to be taken in improving the economic lot of different groups, there needs to be a focus on how suggestions will affect people in various occupational situations.

John Lancaster earned his B.S. in Economics from Frostburg State University. He is currently a Ph.D Fellow for the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech.

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