Discrimination and the Job Market

“Discrimination and the Job Market,” in the Routledge Handbook of the Ethics of Discrimination, ed. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Routledge, 2017), pp. 301-311.

Comparisons of men and women, blacks and whites, and other groups show different patterns of employment and different average levels of compensation for work. These differences persist, to a degree, in comparisons of individuals with similar levels of educational attainment and job experience. When individuals of different genders and racial groups are matched on these characteristics and other observable traits, white males enjoy higher wages, higher non-wage compensation, a lower probability of experiencing unemployment, and other advantages. Economists and sociologists cannot fully explain these patterns on the basis of observable differences between members of these groups, other than group membership itself. Empirical research in this field seeks to identify the impact of discriminatory decision-making in the job market, and distinguish it from the knock on effects of personal choices and differential treatment in society’s other institutions.

In this chapter, I describe common points of reference and topics of interest for both the empirical literature and the philosophical literature on discrimination in the job market. A common point of reference is the pattern of job allocation that would result from non-discriminatory hiring practices. Empirical researchers generally assume that, were it not for the impact of discrimination, employers would allocate jobs to the most qualified applicants. Philosophers disagree about how employers ought to allocate jobs; this is an important disagreement for those who view discrimination in the job market as morally wrong when it results in a job being denied to its rightful holder. A second commonality is interest in the mental states of employers and other economic decision-makers, particularly how their tastes and factual beliefs influence their assessments of job seekers and employees. Finally, in both literatures there is interest in the relationship between discrimination in the job market and differential treatment in the broader society.

How to Trade Fairly in an Unjust Society: The Problem of Gender Discrimination in the Labor Market

“How to Trade Fairly in an Unjust Society: The Problem of Gender Discrimination in the Labor Market” Social Theory and Practice Volume 42, Issue 3 (July 2016), pp. 555-580

Social scientists disagree about the causes of the “wage gap” between male and female workers and, in particular, how much of the gap is due to differences in workers’ productivity. Understanding the underlying causes is important, insofar as this helps identify who is responsible for closing the gap. This information is particularly relevant for specifying the responsibilities of employers, who have dual social roles as economic actors and as citizens. In this paper, I begin with the assumption that many employers underestimate the qualifications of female job applicants in hiring and promotion decisions. The paper then describes a form of discrimination that occurs when many economic actors make this kind of correlated error in their judgments. The paper argues that an individual employer has responsibilities not to make these errors in judgment about female workers, due to the harmful impact on women’s opportunities. An employer also has duties not to exploit female employees, which occurs when he pays them lower wages than he would if other employers did not discriminate against them.

Fair Trade: Global Problems and Individual Responsibilities

“Fair Trade: Global Problems and Individual Responsibilities” published online in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (2016): http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13698230.2016.1252993


The topic of global trade has become central to debates on global justice and on duties to the global poor, two important concerns of contemporary political theory. However, the leading approaches fail to directly address the participants in trade and provide them with normative guidance for making choices in non-ideal circumstances. This paper contributes an account of individuals’ responsibilities for global problems in general, an account of individuals’ responsibilities as market actors, and an explanation of how these responsibilities co-exist. The argument is developed through an extended case study of a consumer’s choice between conventional and fair trade coffee. My argument is that the coffee consumer’s choice requires consideration of two distinct responsibilities. First, she has responsibilities to help meet foreigners’ claims for assistance. Second, she has moral responsibilities to ensure that trades, such as between herself and a coffee farmer, are fair rather than exploitative.

The Ethics of Aid Conditionality: Donor Selectivity and Power over Recipients

“The Ethics of Aid Conditionality: Donor Selectivity and Power over Recipients” (working paper available upon request)

“Effective altruists” argue that individuals should contribute more to helping others and do more to make their contributions effective at helping others, particularly through the careful selection of charities for their donations. Even the sharpest critics of international assistance do not deny that Western-based charities can do some good for their intended beneficiaries. If the effective altruists’ guidance prompts donors to select charities that produce these good results, their guidance is valuable unless donor selectivity itself is problematic. This paper will argue that effective altruists’ call for greater selectivity on the part of donors and Western charities raises ethical concerns about these actors’ exercise of power over the local civil society groups and governments that receive their financial assistance. This paper’s argument intends to: explain why donor selectivity is ethically problematic; defend provisional entitlements for donors to make selection decisions in non-ideal circumstances; and provide normative guidelines for how donors should select recipients and exert limited influence on recipients’ behavior within a financially supportive partnership. In so doing, the paper provides a novel joint treatment of the ethics of donor selectivity and aid conditionality.

A Theory of Injustice, with Application to Global Trade

“A Theory of Injustice, with Application to Global Trade” (working paper available upon request)

This paper demonstrates the need for a new understanding of what it means for an institution to be “unjust.” This new understanding is necessary in order to better diagnose problems and to assign responsibilities for institutional reform. Whilst the paper demonstrates this need through engagement with recent scholarship on trade, the argument’s scope is general to non-ideal and applied theory on justice in the Rawlsian tradition. First, the paper explains why political theorists tend to follow Rawls in his use of what I call a “holistic” approach to evaluating institutions, and it sketches my alternative approach. Second, the paper describes several ways to assign responsibilities for institutional reform when institutions are unjust. In the next three sections, the paper shows the influence of the Rawlsian methodology on Aaron James, Thomas Pogge, and Iris Marion Young in their writings on global trade. I propose that each theorist could employ a theory of injustice in order to correct defects in their arguments’ diagnosis of problems, identification of relevant agents, and assignment of responsibilities.