The Case for Discrimination
by Walter Block
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Block, Walter E. 2010. The Case for Discrimination. Auburn, AL: Mises Institute.
In the days of yore, to say that a man was discriminating was to pay him a compliment. It meant that he had taste; he could distinguish between the poor, the mediocre, the good and the excellent. His ability to make fine distinctions enabled him to live a better life than otherwise.
Nowadays, in our politically correct times, discrimination implies racial and/or sexual hatred. It evokes lynching the innocent, hanging black people who had committed no crime, and, yes, perhaps, even, in the extreme, a return to slavery. This at least was virtually the reaction that greeted candidate for U.S. Senate Rand Paul, when he averred that there were parts of the so-called "Civil Rights" Act of 1964 that were objectionable. But all Senator Paul was saying is that while it would be illicit for government to discriminate on the basis of race or sex or any other such criterion, it is a basic element of private property rights that individuals be free to engage in exactly such preferences. If they were not, an important element of liberty would be lost.
The howls of outrage that greeted this reasonable distinction were so great that Dr. Rand Paul felt compelled to backtrack on his statement. However, we are now discussing a book, not an election. Here, the truth and justice is our only guide, not the hurt feelings of journalists working for the mainstream media and other sob sisters. As such, it is clear that discrimination on the part of individuals, but of course not the state, is part of our birthright of liberty.
If not, coercive bisexuality would be the logical implication of the anti-discrimination movement. Why? Well, male heterosexuals despicably discriminate against half the human race as bed/sex/marriage partners: all other men. Nor can female heterosexuals plead innocence against this dread charge; they, too, abjure half of their fellow creatures in this regard. Can male homosexuals deflect this deadly indictment? No, they, too, refuse to have anything to do with all females in such a context. Similarly, female homosexuals, lesbians, rotten creatures that they are, also avoid entangling alliances of this sort with all men, again, half the human race. No, it is the bisexuals, and only the bisexuals, who are entirely innocent of discrimination of this sort. They are the only decent people in the entire sexual spectrum to refrain from this evil practice. (We now disregard the fact that bisexuals also make invidious comparisons based on beauty, age, sense of humor, etc.) Therefore, if we really opposed discrimination in matters of the heart, we would all embrace bi-sexuality. Since we do not, the logical implication is that we should be forced to do so. For, to hang back from this conclusion is to give not only tacit but active approval to discriminatory practices, surely one of the worst things in the politically correct panoply.
It might well be objected that the laws against private parties discriminating should apply only to business, not personal interactions. But why just in commerce and not, also, in human relations? Surely, if there is any such thing as the right not to be discriminated against, it applies in all realms of human existence, not merely in the marketplace. If we have a right not to be murdered, or stolen from, and we do, we do, then this right pervades all realms of human existence. It is equally improper to be killed or robbed in the bedroom as it is in the store. And, as a matter of fact, present anti-discrimination law does not even apply, across the board, in the commercial realm. Rather, it depends upon "power" relationships, a rather meaningless concept, at least as employed by our friends on the left. For example, if I hate Chinese people, and therefore will not patronize their restaurants, I violate no law. However, if the owner of the Chinese restaurant, for example, despises Jews, he will not be legally able to forbid them from entry onto his premises. Why? Because sellers, in this case, are deemed to be more "powerful" than buyers. But it does not always work in this way. If a large buyer, say, Wal-Mart, refused to purchase from any female-headed firm because of their taste for discrimination against women, they would not for a moment be able to get away with such a policy. But why should "power" in this misbegotten sense determine the legality of economic decision-making? Surely, a "powerless" man in the sense of being poor would not be allowed to rape a "powerful" woman, in the sense that she is rich. Or would he? Well, this defense has not yet been tried, so who knows?
Another objection is that it might be acceptable for any one individual to discriminate against a downtrodden minority, but if many, or, worse, all of the members of the majority engaged in this practice, its victims will suffer unduly. For example, suppose that whites refuse to rent hotel rooms to blacks, or to employ them. Then, the latter will undergo grievous misery. But this objection is economically illiterate. If whites boycott blacks in this manner, the free enterprise system will rise up in defense of the latter. How so? If no landlord will rent to a black person, the profits from doing so will rise; it will then be to some entrepreneur's financial advantage to supply this part of the market. Similarly, in the labor field. If whites refuse to hire blacks, their wages will fall below the levels that would otherwise prevail. This will set up large profit opportunities for someone, be he white or black it matters not, to hire these people, and thus be able to outcompete those with great tastes for discrimination. (I am in these cases discussing only, employer/owner discrimination, and abstracting from customer and employee discrimination, complications I do analyze in the book itself.) But, this phenomenon did not work with the plight of black people who were forced to sit in the back of the bus during the Jim Crow era in the south. Why not? Because entry into the bus industry was strictly limited by the political forces responsible for this reprehensible legal code in the first place. If all there were standing in the way of black people sitting in all reaches of the bus was private discrimination, this would have been an impotent force, as other, competing firms would have supplied bus service.
These are the sorts of questions wrestled with in this book. It is my hope that this volume will shed some light on these issues, and prove an interesting read.
Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable and Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book is The Privatization of Roads and Highways.