I’ve been playing this game called Tiny Death Star. It’s an 8 bit game published by LucasArts. In it you manage the Death Star from Star Wars, but you can’t just fulfill all your Imperial ambitions for free. You’ve got to earn “Imperial Bux.” It’s a market simulation game. It’s basically a simplified version of Sim Tower, but unlike most other market simulation games, all the races of the Star Wars universe are represented, and even though the game makers did not intend it, that fact teaches a powerful lesson about free markets and discriminatory hiring practices.
To run the Death Star economy you’ve got to hire “Bitizens” to work in the food, service, recreation, and retail establishments in the upper levels. Once you’ve earned enough you can start building Imperial sectors in the lower levels. The trick is to hire Bitizens who are skilled in the establishment you place them in. Every Bitizen’s skill level is ranked from 1 to 9 in each category. So, every time a new Bitizen moves in, you assess their skills and choose a position that suits them. Maybe you move the labor force around so your skilled labor is employed in the highest earning establishments. Maybe you build more residential levels if you don’t have enough workers. Maybe you build more business levels if you have too many workers. If you’re not happy with the arraignments you can have the Bitizens switch jobs. You can even evict them off the Death Star.
I was finding it frustrating to navigate into each Bitizen’s profile to assess their skill level every time I wanted to adjust my labor force. So I imposed a “look policy.” The game lets you dress each Bitizen in different clothes. I put them in shirt colors that reflected the category of their strongest skill (sort of like Star Trek). Green for food. Blue for service. Yellow for Recreation. Purple for Retail. Then I gave them glasses reflected the value of that skill. Green goggles for 9s. Orange sunglasses for 8s. Eye patches for 7s. If a Bitizen wasn’t offering me at least a 7 in some skill I evicted them. Thanks to my look policy I was able to see the skills of my labor force instantly from the homescreen without mucking around in the individual profiles.
There was just one problem. About 30% of Bitizens are aliens. There are Rebel aliens, like Ewoks and Gungans. There are outer rim aliens, like Toydarians and Jawas. There are even aliens from the Cantina and Jabba the Hutt’s henchmen. But non of the aliens wear glasses, so they couldn’t comply with my look policy. Simple solution, I imposed racist hiring practices. I evicted all aliens regardless of skill, or worse I sent them to interrogation room to learn their Rebel secrets.
What do you think happened?
It instantly meant that I had a 30% smaller labor force, which meant that I was less likely to find the skilled labor I was looking for. So, I was already at a statistical disadvantage, but then something happened. An Ewok moved in that had the 9 in food that I’d been looking for. So I had to choose, do I make an exception to my look policy or evict the Ewok? Then I noticed most Ewoks had higher food skills than humans. They’re just better than humans at that particular skill. If I let the Ewoks in it would confuse my whole system, but I stood to profit dramatically by having 9 skilled workers in all my restaurants. Refusing to take in skilled Ewoks was hurting my Imperial ambitions.
Then I started noticing other trends. All the races were specialized in particular skills. The Chiss and the Ugnaughts are good at service. The Arcona are good at recreation. The Toydarians are good at retail. Humans in the game have a pretty random spread of skills. Kind of average at everything. But aliens are more likely to excel in one particular skill.
So, I changed the look policy. I can put aliens in the correct color shirts, I just can’t give them the correct glasses. So, I decided to only hire aliens with at least one level 9 skill. That way being an alien itself was a visual queue that the Bitizen was a skilled worker.
Liberalizing my hiring practices immediately triggered an abundance of skilled labor. Aliens started taking jobs from humans in every sector. I had to start evicting humans just to make room. Now, instead of my labor pool being neatly uniformed humans with easily identifiable insignia, my labor pool is more than 60% alien. It’s gotten to where I’m surprised to see the odd pair of green goggles in a shop.
Even though aliens comprise only 30% of the Bitizens, selecting for skill rather than race, even my highly discriminatory practice of only hiring aliens with a skill level of 9, produces a labor force so diverse my look policy is hardly recognizable. But I’m raking in the Bux, so what do I care.
I abandon the look policy.
Discriminatory hiring practices harm the employer as well as the employee. They make businesses less competitive, and therefor less successful, than businesses that hire on the basis of skill, without reference to race. And although the game doesn’t reflect this, all those high skilled aliens I evicted in the beginning wouldn’t have just disappeared in the real world. They would have joined the Rebels.