Alex Tabarrok explains the basic logic of the argument that discrimination will be punished by the market and discriminating firms will be driven under.
Discrimination is costly, especially in a competitive market. If the wages of X-type workers are 25% lower than those of Y-type workers, for example, then a greedy capitalist can increase profits by hiring more X workers. If Y workers cost $15 per hour and X workers cost $11.25 per hour then a firm with 100 workers could make an extra $750,000 a year. In fact, a greedy capitalist could earn more than this by pricing just below the discriminating firms, taking over the market, and driving the discriminating firms under.Pager's article is one of the first to test this idea directly. The paper's abstract reads:
Economic theory has long maintained that employers pay a price for engaging in racial discrimination. According to Gary Becker’s seminal work on this topic and the rich literature that followed, racial preferences unrelated to productivity are costly and, in a competitive market, should drive discriminatory employers out of business. Though a dominant theoretical proposition in the field of economics, this argument has never before been subjected to direct empirical scrutiny. This research pairs an experimental audit study of racial discrimination in employment with an employer database capturing information on establishment survival, examining the relationship between observed discrimination and firm longevity. Results suggest that employers who engage in hiring discrimination are less likely to remain in business six years later.The results of the paper show that 36% of the firms that discriminated in hiring failed but only 17% of the non-discriminatory firms failed over the six year time period studied. So if you discriminate the market will comeback and bite you.
One up for Becker.