• Discrimination as Property Rights Policy

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    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    26, 2005

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

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