Searching for fairness in all the wrong places

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All right-minded people hate discrimination. It’s too bad we no longer know what that is.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the most recent government agencies created by Congress in homage to the oppressive world of “Atlas Shrugged,” was in the news last month because it announced (in showy communist self-criticism fashion) that it had been guilty of massive discrimination against its own employees.

What the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau really does is anyone’s guess. In essence, it shakes down banks and other lenders and financial companies in an effort to keep the 1 percent on their toes and let them know that the 99 percent can pick up torches and pitchforks anytime they want to and storm the Bastille, er, I mean, the bank. Consider it an outreach program that brings Occupy Wall Street into the halls of power.

The CFPB was the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren when she was just a lowly socialist Harvard professor. Now she is the senator from Taxachussetts. When she was campaigning for that position, she came up with the slogan later borrowed by President Obama to make the rich feel guilty for their success: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.”

Maybe not, but there is nobody in this country who got rich from over-regulation of business either — nobody except politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats. (Come to think of it, that’s like one-third of our national economy, isn’t it?)

Turns out that bureaucrats getting rich — or at least richer — is what this story is all about. And ironically they are getting their pay raises by shaking down their bosses instead of the banks.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal and other publications starting May 19, the agency has scrapped its system of granting pay raises because discrimination was alleged in how those raises were being allotted.

Supervisors had been giving employees performance evaluations using a rating system that assigned a score of between one and five. A low score meant a low raise or none at all, and a high score meant a higher raise. Simple and straightforward, right?

Not when you take skin color and ethnicity into account. You see, an internal report discovered that 74.6 percent of white employees received ratings of four and five whereas only 65.2 percent of Hispanics received comparable ratings. Only 57.6 percent of black employees received fours and fives.

To the bureaucrats who police other bureaucrats, these numbers are prima facie evidence of discrimination. You see, in a perfect world, all people would score the same on all tests regardless of skin color, ethnicity or gender. In a perfect world, blacks, whites and Hispanics would also perform the same at work and therefore all qualify for the same percentage of top raises.

So the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau decided to go back and give retroactive raises to everyone who received a ranking of three or four and reward them just as if they had scored a five. Which in a perfect world would make perfect sense.

Trouble is, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world of imperfection and inequality. That’s why in the private sector, some people get raises and some people don’t. If you consider skin color in determining how those raises are passed out, then you are guilty of discrimination. But at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, if you DON’T consider skin color and ethnicity you are guilty of discrimination.

Believing that a statistical analysis can reveal discrimination is the equivalent of saying that no matter who you hire, no matter what their backgrounds, no matter how dependable they are, they should all perform at exactly the same level as their peers. This is the nightmare scenario of Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian short story “Harrison Bergeron,” where thanks to the 211th, 212th and 213th amendments to the Constitution, “Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.”

In the story, that “equality” was achieved thanks to the “unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.” Graceful ballet dancers had to wear bags of birdshot to weigh them down; smart people had to wear headsets that would transmit sharp noises to prevent them from concentrating; beautiful women had to wear hideous masks. Everyone who was above average was assigned some kind of handicap to make sure they didn’t exceed average.

And thanks to the likes of Elizabeth Warren, current CFPB Director Richard Cordray and President Barack Obama, the same kind of handicaps are being applied to those employees who loused up the system by being too talented, too smart, or too productive for government work.

Better to keep marginal employees happy than to risk offending anyone by a metric that shows one racial group outperforming another. Cost to the consumers (whose financial interests are putatively being protected by the bureau) of the retroactive pay raises and future pay raises in the next two years: $5 million!

I should mention the utter hypocrisy of Cordray, who in announcing the new policy for raises, tried to pretend that it was not based on the allegations of race-based discrimination, but rather some vague “broad-based disparities in the way performance ratings were assigned.”

And one last thought. The statistic cited at the beginning of this story about how many employees received fours and fives in their evaluations WAS outrageous, but not for the reason cited by the agency.

Consider again: Ratings of four and five were achieved by 74.6 percent of white employees, 65.2 percent of Hispanics, and 57.6 percent of blacks. The real problem had nothing to do with race or ethnicity, but with a system that considers it appropriate to label between 57 percent and 74 percent of employees as superior.

Think about it. On a five-point scale, three is average, four and five are superior, and one and two are not up to snuff. In a real world evaluation, you could expect 50 percent or more of employees to achieve an average rating, with perhaps 25 percent above average and 25 percent below average.

There’s a reason why not everyone gets straight A’s in school, and there should be a reason why not all employees get raises, especially big raises, just for showing up.

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