“If we wish to be compassionate with our fellow man, we must learn to engage in dispassionate analysis. In other words, thinking with our hearts, rather than our brains, is a sure fire method to hurt those whom we wish to help.” Walter E. Williams
This week, Yvette Cooper, that tireless champion of One Nation socialism (an oxymoron if ever there was one) has clambered aboard her high horse again, this time to hector the Prime Minister about Coalition’s decision to end equality assessments in the public sector. Now while, in reality, Mr Cameron is no less of a statist than Her Majesty’s Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, claiming as he does that the Equality Act “is not a bad piece of legislation”, he is at least to be applauded for this cursory nod towards reason and common sense.
The Equality Act is in fact a rotten piece of legislation, and here’s why:
Equality laws may deliver a passing illusion of fairness if targeted at specific areas, but at the macro level they don’t work and create damaging distortions, which, far from eliminating the divisions in society, only serve to amplify them. Laws that favour one group to the exclusion of others, while supposedly well-intentioned, encourage groupthink, and undermine individual liberty because their very existence encourages people to organise along group lines in order to lobby for entitlements. This lobbying creates a flashpoint where these groups interact, with each believing that it is being treated less fairly than the others. By any definition of the word, this doesn’t promote equality; it sows envy, discord and division.
At the practical level there is inequality in many fields of employment, and it’s unavoidable. People who earn a living from making such assurances constantly tell us that this disparity stems from the practice of discrimination. But is this true? Logic would suggest not. Survey after survey has shown that in many cases, inequality of income is due to voluntary career and lifestyle choices. There are, for example, very few male nutritionists, nursery school teachers, social workers or librarians. There is also an equal paucity of female sewage workers, scaffolders and bricklayers. Furthermore, and contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy, there are many women who actually want to get married, have children and bring them up at home. That being the case, in what Kafkaesque dystopia should an employer pay someone who is more likely to quit the same as someone who has made a firmer, longer term commitment to the well-being of the company, and who in their right mind would expect them to do so?
We also hear a lot of hot air expended on the subject of outcomes. So what is the desired outcome in public services? Do they exist to provide the best possible service at the best possible value, or are they merely vehicles for the promotion of equality? If the former, then reason dictates that the more regulation there is, the less efficient it becomes at doing what it says on the tin, and if the latter, then perhaps we should be told, so that we can heave an almighty sigh of relief, give up the pretence of freedom, hop aboard the cattle trucks and head off to the tractor factory with joy in our hearts and a revolutionary song on our lips.
Legislating for fairness has other far-reaching and equally divisive consequences. Let’s imagine, for example that a small to medium sized builder wishes to have his (or her) company included on a local authority’s list of preferred contractors. You would think, wouldn’t you, that public service tenders would be decided on the basis of ability to deliver? Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of many obstacles for the builder to negotiate is a 100+ page document and accompanying form, which he is required to fill in with details about the company, most of which have nothing to do with its ability to carry out the task, but enquire instead as to the make-up of its staff; how many are ethnic minorities, where they came from, what percentage are registered disabled, how many women managers are employed, and so on, and so on.
What happens if the company is simply unable to find the personnel to meet these criteria? Remember, this is a medium sized firm with a small head count, which must of necessity hire people based on their skills and on merit. Should it simply cease doing business until it recruits the right people? Should it be excluded from bidding, leaving the field open to the only companies that can comply with such prohibitive requirements, namely the large, favoured ones that have the financial and human resources to do so? Surely this is anti-competitive and anti-fairness, a classic barrier to entry which runs counter to the Labour Party’s empty, populist, “One Nation” sloganizing.
It is worth noting that the example above is based on the experience of a real company, which was tendering to its local Metropolitan Borough Council. It managed, after a lot of time consuming and costly to-ing and fro-ing, to secure that coveted place on the preferred contractors list, but only after it discovered, purely by chance, that one of its employees was registered disabled, thus enabling that all important box to be ticked. At his interview the worker hadn’t declared his status, and the company hadn’t asked about it. They just took him on based on his ability to do the job.
The simple fact of the matter is that the State, and those who stand to benefit materially from its existence, when confronted with the manifest failures of their authoritarian and counter-productive interventions, will claim to be rectifying the situation by piling yet more laws, directives and regulations on the ones that caused the problem in the first place.
Taking the argument for equality legislation to its logical conclusion, I humbly present for your consideration a ready remedy for all this rampant unfairness:
Yvette Cooper and her fellow white knights might consider presenting a Bill in Parliament requiring women, who are over-represented in fields such as pre-school and social work, to become scaffolders and bricklayers, and conversely, male scaffolders and bricklayers to retrain as pre-school teachers and social workers, until the percentages reflect the gender split in the population. The Bill should also oblige women with children, whether they want to or not, to find work and assign the care of their offspring to specialists in the field.
“Absurd!” bellows a chorus of nannies. “That would be fascism!”
It would indeed. It would also be socialism, but that’s another story for another day.