In my previous post I argued that non-discrimination laws were immoral. But you might still wonder what we can do about the many irrational employers who might discriminate in the workplace. Without such laws won’t many employers consider race and sex unfairly? Won’t there be businesses that choose not to hire certain individuals based on their sex, like women for instance? Or simply choose not to pay them as much as men? In such cases, isn’t the government justified in enforcing reverse discrimination as a means to ending discrimination?
The answer is twofold. The first part of the answer is simply no, the government is never justified in forcing people to make what it regards, rightly or wrongly, as “rational”. No initiation of force by one human being (or institution) against another can be “justified”—such force inherently rejects the realm of reason and justification for the “might makes right” law of the jungle. A rational government is justified only in protecting individual rights, not in forcing people to be “good” to themselves or each other. [See here, here, and here for fuller explanation of this point.]
The second part of the answer is that even though it is not the government’s role to punish these people, it does not mean that they should not and will not be punished. They should be and are punished, both by the market and by the moral condemnation of rational individuals.
Think first of the practical consequences of a business that, for example, hired men only, or only served African Americans, or paid all of their employees based on what sort of ancestry they have. Running a business this way would mean that the best working employees, rather than being promoted, rewarded, and recognized, are left discouraged and under-utilized, and in many cases driven to leave the company. The company pays a real price for its discriminatory practices.
The full extent of the price depends on the extent to which rational individuals throw their weight behind what they regard as moral, and against what they regard as immoral. It is we as individuals, not government, that bear the actual responsibility for promoting the good and discouraging the evil we encounter. The power of public endorsement or condemnation is not to be underestimated.
Just ask yourself: Would you eat at a restaurant that only served white people, or that designated a special section for non-whites? Would you shop at a retail store that refused to hire women on principle? Would you buy a car from a dealership that refused to sell cars to gays? It is your job, not the government’s, to “vote with your feet” by endorsing certain values through your chosen actions.
There are cases in which people will ignore discriminatory practices, and a business may be able to temporarily thrive despite its irrationality. If a department store announced that it was militantly anti-homosexual, perhaps enough people would be indifferent to that fact that they would continue to shop there. But the response in such situations is not to go running to the government to force the department store to hire and sell to gay people. Tempting as that may be, the gun of the government is not the solution to every social ill. The solution is to advocate and educate the public—to work to bring awareness of the issue, and to encourage boycotts.
So long as we as individuals advocate for moral ideas and causes, in the fullness of time any business practicing discrimination will suffer as a result of that practice—and in a free market it would almost certainly fail. Such a business would not withstand the double assault of efficient competitors more focused on making profits than practicing racism, and the principled boycotts of a vocal and discerning minority of customers.
If we truly want to live in a world that does not unjustly discriminate on the basis of factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, then we should work to create such a world. In encouraging rather than discouraging discrimination, the seeming shortcut of anti-discrimination legislation is part of the problem, not the solution.