April 23, 2024

Discriminating against the middle classes is economic suicide

There were always lots of chief executives from disadvantaged backgrounds to make that obvious. John Cleese and Ronnie Barker’s classic “Class” sketch from the 1960s – look it up on YouTube if you need a laugh – was only one side of the story.

So it is a big step to start actively excluding applicants who can even be vaguely described as “middle class”. On a social level, it is hard to understand how it meets any reasonable test of fairness.

Since when was a decision by your parents to accept a higher paying job, or to send you to a private school, reasonable grounds for turning down a candidate? Is a 12-year-old meant to stop their mother from accepting a slightly higher paying promotion, or at least persuade her to wait until they turn 16, because it will limit the kind of jobs they can apply for when they graduate?

Consider the ways in which people might game this: working fewer hours as their child approaches graduation, with all the economic harm that could bring. And yet, even leaving that aside, it is a foolish decision on purely commercial grounds.

There are two big problems. First, perhaps most obviously, it means that companies will miss out on many good candidates. Talented young graduates will come from all sorts of different backgrounds, with all kinds of different qualities and experiences to offer a potential employer.

It seems odd to close off applications from graduates who may well be bright and conscientious because of their parents’ economic status. If a company refused applicants based on their colour, their religion, or their gender, we would conclude that it wasn’t going to end up with the smartest people it could possibly find. Why is class any different?

Second, it is not as if all those middle-class graduates are going to disappear just because certain companies won’t consider hiring them. They will almost certainly end up working for smaller companies or start-ups that haven’t yet been taken over by meddling HR officers more interested in social engineering than in filling vacancies with the best talent.

Over time, those companies will out-compete everyone else, simply because they don’t discriminate against anyone and are stuffed full of clever young people who work hard and put customers first.

A final point: if £43,000 is perceived as “too wealthy” to apply for certain jobs then our attitudes to wealth and success are even worse than I previously feared. If companies want to start dabbling in social engineering – not to bring down those at the very top but to limit the prospects of the middle classes – that is up to them.

But over time they should expect to be pushed out of the market. The sooner the better.

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