Saturday, October 11, 2008

Discrimination III

Yes, it's discrimination weeks at Road to Rothbard's. Today's special menu will be this fallacious argument:
If we repeal affirmative action legislation, people will be left free to give in to their bad prejudices and we could witness a renaissance of segregation of black people in the South, or a reawakening of systematic discrimination against other minorities in other parts of the country/world. Affirmative action is a check and balance against such behavior and should thus remain intact.
As is the case with many "right on first sight" arguments, this one starts out with a correct premise, but employs too little thought in drawing conclusions.

Indeed, a repeal of anti-discrimination legislation would restore property owners' rights to invite and refuse anyone to/from their property, just as they see fit. Theoretically, this means that these property owners could give in to their bad habits and act stupidly in denying people access for silly reasons.

It is, however, a noteworthy fact that whenever discrimination against a certain group of people occured on a wide scale, there was legislation backing it. Be it Jim Crow laws directed against black people or the infamous Nuremberg Laws, among many other pieces of legislation, to expel Jews from German society, methodic discrimination, as it seems to me, exclusively happened with the help of the state apparatus.

Why is this so? Why wouldn't racists or anti-Semites just keep on raving about their enemy of choice, refuse to trade with them, and leave everything else as it is?

You see, with every further discriminating employer/property owner/customer, the cost of discriminating for a "non-discriminator" increases. Suppose there are 3 employers, you and two competitors. These competitors suddenly decide to lay off all Jews they employ. The pool of Jewish workers seeking employment suddenly increases which enables you to hire Jewish workers at a lower price than before. This will grant a Jewish applicant a possible advantage compared to a non-Jewish contender. Furthermore, among those laid-off workers there might just be a number of potentially indispensable talents nobody would fire in their right mind. These geniuses will be glad to work for someone who judges them according to their abilities, not their religion, and will thus give your enterprise a head start.

The same principle applies for housing, restaurants, liquor stores and everything else. Every practicing hater will only increase revenue for open-minded and tolerant folks, thereby willingly disadvantaging himself.

It should also be mentioned that not only will the discriminated minority avoid doing business with a discriminating businessman, but sympathizers of the disadvantaged group might decide to spend their money elsewhere as well. Depending on how apparent and how devoted somebody discriminates, this may cost the discriminating person a business, workplace or social reputation in no time.

Employing legislation to force one's own discriminatory views on everyone else socializes the cost of discriminating. If hiring Jews is banned, nobody may take advantage of an anti-Semite's behavior. Overall revenue is likely to decrease due to this policy, but it decreases for everyone equally and thus makes discriminating parties better off than they would be on a free market.

Affirmative action legislation, however, grants the moral high ground to people who shouldn't be in charge of it. A practicing anti-semite or racist may now say: "Look, force is used against me to prevent me from living my convictions. This is highly immoral. Compared to this, my racism/anti-Semitism/whateverism isn't much of a problem, is it?" Instead of effectively targeting haters by ostracizing them and refusing to support their businesses and endeavors, we allow them to play the role of martyrs. Nothing short of undermining our own efforts if you ask me.

In conclusion, we might say that government power is the origin of, not the solution to widespread discrimination. Free markets provide huge incentives not to discriminate according to race, religion, gender or other personal characteristics, and punish those who do. However, banning such discriminatory practices by law allows those with despicable attitudes to play the victim. That shouldn't be our objective at all.

No comments: