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What Do You Have Against DISCRIMINATION?

Hunger is, of course, an avoidable malady when ambling through the economy. At the present, I'm easily tempted by a hamburger, fries, and large cola -- a pedestrian meal if there ever was one. As luck would have it, we've found ourselves at the door of Big Ott's Boiled Burger Buffet. Luck, though, is not totally on our side. Big Ott's has a large sign prominently posted at the entry to his establishment. It screams in no uncertain terms: NO PEDESTRIANS ALLOWED. As a well-known, card-carrying pedestrian, I am, to say the least, taken aback. Why on earth would Big Ott's Boiled Burger Buffet refuse service to pedestrians? A quick quiz of an employee reveals that Big Ott once swerved off the sidewalk to avoid striking a pedestrian, causing extensive damage to his sleek, new OmniMotors XL GT 9000 convertible sport coupe. His anger has been since extended to all who travel by foot.

Discriminating Tastes

Big Ott's view is that he'll sell his boiled burgers to whomever he damn well pleases. And nobody, and that means nobody, will make him sell burgers to any foot-crazed pedestrian. While Big Ott isn't all that good at preparing burgers, he seems to have become quite proficient at discrimination.

So what is this discrimination and when do you know it's happening? Let's first think about the simplest, most general meaning of the word discrimination. It's the process of distinguishing between things that are different. As such, if you decide that you like Brace Brickhead, Medical Detective, a hard-hitting dramatic televisions series, but aren't real crazy about The Egotistical Comedian's Show, a whimsical half-hour situation comedy, then you're discriminating. These shows are different and you're astute enough to discern those differences.

That, however, is not the sort of discrimination that Big Ott likes to practice. He has decided to treat every member of a group (pedestrians) the same regardless of their individual characteristics, personalities, or actions. Why he made this choice is a matter that we'll take up in a few paragraphs.

For the present, though, we need to note the abundantly obvious: All kinds of people discriminate (in the second sense of the word) against others in all kinds of ways. A few well known and some lesser examples are in order:

  • A black youth is refused a job because, well, black teenagers are basically no-good, gun-totting, drug-selling, juvenile delinquents.

  • A female junior executive is passed over for promotion to mid-level management in favor of a male because men are the family providers and she'll probably just get pregnant and quit anyway.

  • Everyone past the age of sixty-five should retire from the work force to make way for more productive younger people.

  • If you want good doctors, lawyers, or comedians, make sure that they're Jewish.

  • The four black basketball players never pass the ball to their sole white teammate because blacks have more athletic ability than whites.

These sorts of all-encompassing statements, criteria, and choices are the heart and soul of discrimination. For all we know the black teenager is an honor student; the male is living with his parents, while the female is raising a family of six; the old guy is a Nobel-prize-winning scientist; the Jewish doctor, lawyer, and comedian are incompetent, crooked, and not really very funny; and the white basketball player is a five-time All-Star and future member of the Hall of Fame.

Paying for Prejudice

The bottom line on discrimination is the bottom line, at least for profit-seeking businesses. When a business like Big Ott's Boiled Burger Buffet refuses service to a class of potential customers, then profit suffers. Bit Ott has lost some sales that he would have had.

Discrimination against potential employees also hits a businesses' bottom line. When a company promotes an incompetent male jerk over a better qualified female, then output suffers and so does profit.

What is true for one business holds for our economy. Society-wide discrimination against whole groups of people -- be they black, hispanic, women, elderly, or from a different planet -- retards production, efficiency, and economic growth.

Why? Why? Why?

If discrimination is such a big problem, why do we do it? And make no mistake that we all do it, whether we know it or not. Discrimination is not something practiced only by "good old boys" in a backwoods southern state. As you'll see, some people are just a heck of a lot better at discrimination than others.

I'll give you my three favorite reasons for discrimination. Feel free to add your own.

Genetic

Over the past million or so years, our ancestors survived to reproduce because they had the genetic inclination to "fight or flight." We have, built into our physiological makeup, the ability to detect all sorts of threats to our well-being. The early members of our species who didn't have this ability didn't live long enough to reproduce and pass along this deficiency. So as we muddle through our daily lives we carry with us this genetic warning system that alerts us to anything new or different, such as someone with different skin tones. That means whites feel safer when they're around other whites and blacks are similarly inclined with other blacks. The result is a white boss hires a white guy over an equally qualified black guy, often without the boss even knowing why he feels more comfortable with the white guy.

Information

As we've seen in many places, information is scarce and costly to acquire. Information about groups of people, statistical averages and the like, are usually more readily available than detailed information about individuals. While group-wide statistical averages can provide useful information, they can also be exceedingly misleading. Let's take the all too familiar case of Natural Ned's Nursery and Garden Center. Over the years, Ned saw fit to hire ten graduates of the Buford Busman Landscaping School for the Criminally Stupid. And every one of those ten graduates turned out to be lazy, worthless, incompetent and prone toward stealing creeping junipers. Because of Ned's past experiences he has discarded, without a second thought, each and every application for employment from graduates of Buford Busman Landscaping School. Unfortunately for Ned, one application he discarded was that of Gerald Johanson, who went to work for the Green Thumb Plant-A-Rama. Because of Gerald's landscaping acumen, Green Thumb Plant-A-Rama eventually drove Natural Ned's Nursery and Garden Center out of business. Oh, the irony!

Control

Income, wealth, resources, and all of the stuff that make up our economic pie is unequally divided among members of society. That's an economic fact of life we will always have. The question, though, is what we do with our slices. For the most part we're inclined to protect it and perhaps try to enlarge it. Some groups are better able to pursue these goals because they control really, really large slices. While the goals could be achieved in different ways, one that often surfaces is discrimination. The one group that stands out in the good old U. S. of A. is white males, especially those with a European ancestry. As a group they own a significantly large slice of the pie, which they tend to use to impose discriminatory restrictions on anyone who isn't a white male of European ancestry. In other words, the white male President of Omni Conglomerate, Inc. uses his position to promote other white males (who by chanced happened to belong to the same college fraternity) to executive positions, while overlooking females, blacks, hispanics, asians, and pretty much everyone else. This perpetuates control by the "white, male club" over a large segment of the pie. (You might want to check into the entry on POLITICAL VIEWS for more on this sort of thing.)

Let's close this entry on discrimination with a few tips:


Tips for the Discriminating Pedestrian

  • Everyone has prejudices. It's altogether natural for each of us to feel threaten by those who are different. We are inclined to make first impression judgments about people from very limited information. The big question, though, is whether or not we let those prejudices affect our decisions. Another huge question is whether or not the prejudices are justified.

  • The only way to overcome the first point is through more information. If you're not a first-class bigot and really want to give everyone an equal opportunity, then you need to forego group stereotypes in favor of person-specific information.

  • Now let's turn the tables a bit. In our modern days of political sensitivities to discrimination, some charges of discrimination may be unjustified. On occasion a white male actually is the best choice for promotion. You need to ask whether someone who cries discrimination is truly a victim or just a no-good, lazy bum, who's looking to place blame on others for their own deficiencies.

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