Thursday, February 18, 2010

Porno Theaters and Aryan Coffee Shops: The Libertarian Case for Legalized Discrimination (Part II)



 
(Part I) 

Before we continue, I think it is important to make it very clear that we are talking about discriminatory policies practiced by private businesses. Obviously the government has an obligation under the fourteenth amendment to treat everyone equally regardless of race. This is not any different from religion. The government is not allowed to have any religion, but private citizens have the right to practice their religion and even discriminate based on it. I have the right to kick you out of my synagogue or even my house for believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Let us not be naïve as to the stakes. We are talking about whether government should be able to stop private businesses from practicing discrimination. This would go for who must be served to even who can be hired. If the answer is no then you have knocked down a major pillar of modern civil rights legislation and have effectively blown a whole through modern liberalism. So should I be allowed to stick a sign out in front of my store saying "no dogs, Jews, blacks, Scottish people or people whose last name begins with the letter K?" 

When I have raised this issue of the right of private businesses to discriminate based on race with people the immediate objection is that racism, in contrast to porn, causes harm. This quickly becomes indefensible to any degree of seriousness. The "kind decent peaceful" white supremacists enjoying my Aryan coffee are not lynching anyone. No one, no matter their skin color, has any natural right to a cup of coffee or a place to sit and drink it. The only reason why we enjoy these things is because, due to the market, it is in the self serving interest of someone to provide it in exchange for compensation. If it is not in anyone's interest then no coffee. As a businessman, who mainly caters to white folk, it is likely in my economic self interest to lose the business of one undesirable minority (either explicitly with a sign or by privately telling the person that he is not welcome) in order to maintain one's larger cliental.

Some people have countered by saying that they would be willing to accept discrimination by small establishments that only deal in relatively unimportant things like coffee. Large national franchises, though, like Starbucks should not be allowed to discriminate. Furthermore critical industries like health care, real estate and car dealerships should also be forced to do business with anyone. The logic being that these industries are, unlike coffee, necessary for the day to day functioning of society and therefore the people who work in them have entered a pact with the public to serve the public good.

Why should it be a problem if we have a franchise of racist coffee shops? There are people who wish to engage in their pursuit of happiness by looking at naked women. Let bigots across the country practice their racist pursuit of happiness by going to my Aryan coffee shop in whatever city they live in. Just as Starbucks competes for the social justice dollar with their green and fair-trade coffee, let them also compete for the racist dollar with Aryan coffee. As for the issue of health care, car dealerships and real estate, why can't they practice discrimination too? If real estate can deal in porno theaters why can't they deal in racism? Find me a place in the country where there is only provider of health care, one car dealership and one real estate business, particularly in our internet age. Even if there was such a place, this would merely create the need for an alternative that the free market could easily provide. As I see it we are doing blacks and all opponents of racism a favor by allowing discrimination. I do not want to do business with racists. If business owners could come out and be openly racist then we would know who we don't want to be doing business with. The fact that such businesses are so important to society does not mean that they owe some sort of debt to society to be nice. On the contrary, it means that society owes them and should be grateful for the service they provide and keep its morals to itself. 

The final and most critical argument that people will point to is the psychological harm done through discrimination. Obviously the black man or Jew who finds himself unable to get a cup of Aryan coffee and finds himself starring through the window at our group of white supremacists drinking their coffee and having a racist good time, feels dehumanized by this. If we wish for such people to take part in society as equal citizens then the government most step in and demand that they be allowed to get a cup of coffee anywhere like anyone else. One of the fundamental shifts in American law over the past century has been this willingness to accept such psychological suffering into the equation. This has been at the foundation of much of modern civil rights law. Now it no longer matters if someone is not directly being held back from his legal rights at gun point. Most famously in the Brown case that ended school segregation. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP presented the Warren court with psychological studies demonstrating that (big shocker) segregation negatively affected the self esteem of black children. The court accepted this argument and ruled that separate was by definition unequal even if no direct harm was caused.

 

 
(To be continued …) 

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