Markets are efficient therefore hiring is always merit-based

It’s not just colonialists and Orientalists and militants of Enlightenment who think there is such a thing as caste discrimination in India. Check out Siddharth Singh in the Times of India a couple of weeks ago for instance.

Not many would argue that there is no caste-based discrimination in rural India, or that there was no such discrimination historically in India. The fact is that certain castes, such as the Dalits, have been socially excluded from full participation in the Indian society and economy over the past few centuries. There is documented evidence that in India’s villages, Dalits continue to be denied equal access to public and private goods such as water bodies, roads, land ownership, markets, financial institutions, and jobs. As a result, members belonging to such castes exhibit poor social indicators such as higher rates of poverty, lower literacy levels and higher infant mortality. However, that is rural India. What about modern, urban India? A casual glance at the matrimonial sections in our Sunday newspapers shows that caste plays a major role in our social spheres, but is there active discrimination in the modern private sector economy?

Since profits and efficiency are the guiding principles in a market economy, the claim is that only the most efficient workers are employed, leaving no room for discrimination on the basis of caste and other identities. For instance, in 2007, The Economist magazine claimed that “There is no strong evidence that companies discriminate against low-caste job applicants.”

However, such articles miss the research which does show that Dalits and other backward castes are in fact discriminated against even in the modern private sector.

Now imagine you’re born a Hindu boy who doesn’t have to worry about caste because he had the good luck not be born a Dalit…


  1. A Masked Avenger says

    What bollocks. The most optimistic thing one can say about market forces is that they tend toward paying fair value in the long run. There is no basis for claiming it achieves that state, and no way to objectively state that it has already achieved it–in fact there’s empirical evidence that it has not.

    If one supposes that all hatred of Dalits were eradicated, systemic biases would remain for a long time. They have surnames, speak dialects, and have manners that are coded as lower class. They start from a condition of relative poverty, have parents with less education who don’t know how to guide them through education and careers, etc., etc. Overcoming those obstacles would take generations even if everyone else were cheering them on.

  2. says

    The most optimistic thing one can say about market forces is that they tend toward paying fair value in the long run.

    Citation badly needed; I’ve seen no evidence that they tend any such direction.

  3. quixote says

    Erm, anyone who lives in India and doesn’t see strong — no, overpowering — evidence of anti-Dalit discrimination must be in the state of the proverbial fish who doesn’t know what water is.

    I’ve only traveled to India a couple of times for a few weeks and it looked massively obvious to me. When most members of a group are poor and ignored, there are two possible explanations. They all just happen to be dumb twits who can’t cut it. They’re discriminated against. One of those makes sense given human nature and genetics; the other doesn’t.

  4. Wylann says

    Sadly, the caste system in the US is probably almost as bad, but it’s not ‘official’ (or whatever would be a better term here). That makes it worse in many ways, because so many people (the privileged ones, mostly) can pretend it doesn’t exist, because …the market!

  5. says

    The caste system exists wherever social animals do.
    I used to use the gym at the University and after workouts I would sweat in the sauna. Often there would be three or four other middle aged men and we would have marvellous conversations about books or art or whatever. After a few months of this one of them said to me ‘I haven’t seen you around the campus, what do you teach?’
    ‘Oh I’m not a professor, I’m a retired auto worker.’
    They all looked at each other and then at me and then ceased to speak to me even to answer if I tried to speak.

  6. says

    Wylann – that’s essentially the point of Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy. Unofficial caste systems based on “merit” are soul-crushing (secular sense of “soul” obviously) in a way that official ones aren’t.

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