Saturday, May 3, 2008

Score One for the Economic Creationists

Congress recently passed a bill, 414 to 1, banning the use of genetic discrimination by employers. I'm not impressed.

The justification is that it isn't moral for someone to be judged by their genes. Can you imagine not getting a job because you have bad genes? It just wouldn't be fair!

And this is where economics (the most resented of all the sciences) comes in.

Why would a company discriminate on the basis of genes? It is safe to assume that genetic tests are used to help determine who is best suited for a particular job. (If the tests are being used for anything else, the company loses money, so that wouldn't occur often.) Genetic tests improve the process whereby individuals are put in the place where they do the most good. They increase the productivity of the economy, and everyone benefits.

Each genetically challenged person, if the law were applied only to him, would undoubtedly be better off. But what happens when we apply the law to everyone? Now each of the genetically challenged have to pay higher prices (due to lower productivity) which offsets his gain.

Will some of the genetically challenged benefit, overall? Will some gain more due to non-discrimination than they lose thanks to lower productivity? Certainly, but others will not be so fortunate. On top of that, the rest of society uniformly loses.

Because of this, the idea that genetic discrimination is immoral is discredited.

But these moral ideas have a bad habit of lingering when they aren't welcome, so let's examine this more closely.

Presumably, this moral judgment on genetics stems from the idea that people should not be judged based on something which they can't control. In some situations, such as legal cases, this makes sense. But economies are not courts of law; no employer is making judgments of guilty or not guilty. The idea is completely inapplicable in this sphere.

Example: When a tone-deaf singer fails to get a record deal, is that immoral? She's been working hard to improve, and her deficiency is no fault of her own, so she should be given a record deal — by the government, if necessary — right?

But you say: "No one wants to listen to that!" And of course, no one does. But that's not her fault, now is it?

The results of this line of reasoning are plainly horrific — innumerate engineers, illiterate novelists, and basically an all-encompassing government-enforced incompetence. Nobody wants this, and it's hard to blame them.

Clearly, no one really subscribes to this view of morality — so why did this legislation have such unanimous support? The problem is that no one bothered to think it through. It was supported only because it felt good.

(The same line of reasoning applies to health insurance, though I don't want to go into that for simplicity's sake.)

This legislation serves as strong evidence that American politics is not, as popularly believed, suffering from the subtle conspiracies of special interests; on the contrary, it is suffering from a vast, bipartisan conspiracy of stupidity.

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