Should we condemn a man who hires a disproportionate number of women for his tech firm because “they are cheaper”? Or should he be praised for offering those women opportunities in a field in which they are severely under-represented? More likely the latter, and I’m not even sure he deserves criticism for thumping his chest about it in a talk he gave at a startup conference. Alex Tabarrok ponders this employer’s hiring practices, noting that he angered some women in the audience and on Twitter. But Tabarrok objects:
“Women’s wages aren’t pushed down by employers who hire women but by employers who don’t hire women. So why does Thornley [the CEO] get the blame?”
Tabarrok blames the negative reaction on a phenomenon that Arnold Kling calls the “intention heuristic.” This is an often misleading, judgmental rule-of-thumb that gives the benefit of any doubt to good intentions, and casts suspicion on actions taken in self-interest. This presumption is quite common among my friends and certainly in the media. Tabarrok goes on to say (about the CEO):
“…[He] has overcome prejudice (his or his society’s), recognized the truth of equality and taken entrepreneurial action to do well while doing good. It’s Thornley who is broadcasting the fact of equality to the world and encouraging others to do likewise.”
Maybe, but absent the fanfare, Thornly is simply responding to incentives, doing what a good capitalist ought. The response of resources to incentives is a major virtue of capitalism.