Discrimination as Property Rights Policy

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My
wife and I were waiting to be seated at an airport restaurant when
an angry man exclaimed, "This is America! There's not supposed
to be discrimination!" The man had been told that he could
not be served since he was traveling with a pet and was asked to
leave. I just rolled my eyes and felt sad for this person. The truth
is, everyone discriminates. We do so not only on purpose but also
with total impunity in most cases.

Every
decision that we make implies the rejection of other possibilities.
Faced with the challenge of choosing from many options, a discriminatory
process solves the problem. If we value A over B, we are discriminating
against B. Let's look at a consumer in the mall. Upon entering,
he becomes a discriminator. Seeing that he has a limited amount
of money, he must determine what product is the one that best satisfies
his need. Not only does he have to figure out which store to patronize,
but also which product from within that store. Our heroic discriminator,
looking for a pair of jeans, is baffled by the amount of brands
and styles out there. From bell-bottoms to cut-offs, from carpenter
style to classic fit, these are just some of the options from which
to choose. If there is a universe of ten options and the consumer
buys one or two, he is effectively telling the stores and manufacturers
of those items that he does not want to give them his money. Conversely,
the restaurant manager at the airport decided that from the universe
of clients, they would not offer their services to those with pets.

Discrimination
is nothing but the assertion of property rights. It matters not
one whit whether the property is your money, your land, your home
or a restaurant: these policies are legitimate – and oftentimes necessary –
tools to ensure a desired result. The homeowner discriminates when
he decides to whom to allow access. The bank also discriminates
against customers when the account manager decides to whom to grant
a loan (based on risk, credit history and so forth). In the case
of our disgruntled pet owner, the owner of the restaurant had simply
enacted a legitimate policy over its property.

Let's
now go back to our pet owner. We can also blame him for discriminating
against pets! At some point, he was probably able to decide which
animal to buy from the store. I can imagine this pet owner looking
between mutts and terriers, keenly going back and forth and then
deciding for one and against the rest. This man should be
thrown in jail for pet discrimination! We can also add some charges
there too. Since he was flying, he must have chosen from several
airlines and when he bought his ticket, he discriminated against
the rest of the competing companies. Poor companies! There ought
to be a law against this monstrous behavior.

Instead
of demonizing discriminators, we should praise them. Why? Because
we benefit from it. By having a competitive market of policies,
those who enact the best ones are rewarded with profits while those
who enact bad ones suffer losses. In the end, discrimination is
a legitimate discovery tool. Let's welcome it.

December
26, 2005

Manuel
Lora [send him mail]
is a freelance TV producer and multimedia specialist in New Orleans.

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