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Black. Homosexual. Short. Blind. Crippled. Female. Old. Muslim.
According to our government, the person who is classified by any one of these labels (among others) is granted certain rights that protect against discrimination. Crafted in an attempt to provide an “equal playing field”, anti-discrimination laws (such as these) state that a person may not be denied something (e.g. employment, a car loan, or easy building access) due to certain characteristics the government enumerates.
Civil rights advocates, minority groups, labor unions and others lobby for and support these initiatives in order to ensure that everybody has equal opportunity. Discrimination, in their eyes, is the tool of an employer (as an example) who might prefer to hire an educated, Caucasian male for a specific job. This is seen as entirely “unfair”, casting aside all those minorities who might be able to perform equally well in the job, but were not considered due to their race, gender, disability, etc..
But as Frédéric Bastiat has noted, when dealing with economic exchanges there are two effects produced. One is seen, and the other often is not:
In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.
There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.
Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.
Thus, while the social justice and equality produced by anti-discrimination laws are initially seen, we would do well to analyze what is not immediately seen. In doing so, we will learn the true harm done by such laws, and therefore authoritatively surmise that they are more injurious than they are beneficial.
Anti-discrimination law negatively impacts the right to private property. If I were to start a business, one would think that I would be at complete disposal to use my money as I saw fit—hiring employees I trusted and preferred, purchasing the supplies I most desired, and compensating my staff as I thought best. However, anti-discrimination laws have essentially created a new type of property in the eyes of the state, free from the liberties associated with private property.
Whereas before there were chiefly two types of property (private and public), these laws have created a third type that might be termed “commercial property”. Referring to this new type and its ramifications, Lew Rockwell has written:
But U.S. political culture has created a third and far more insidious type of property. It is called commercial property. It includes all private and public property used for exchange in the free market. Included in this category is most everything but private homes and clubs, and secretive government bureaucracies. This means that the following institutions are so-called commercial property: hotels, restaurants, bookstores, manufacturing plants, computer retailers, universities, and so on.
Being classed in this way subjects this form of property to a variety of civil rights laws. When examined from a philosophical standpoint, such laws are nothing more than the legal right to trespass. A qualified individual may demand service against the will of the owner. He may demand to be hired, or not to be fired, against the will of the owner. He may demand a higher salary or a promotion, against the will of the owner.
If the free market embodies the idea of contract, civil rights embodies what Barry Smith has called the spromise. A spromise commits a third party to act against his will. As the owner of the business, you may wish to stop paying an employee and terminate his employment. Civil rights say you may not, without the permission of the government. (Lew Rockwell, The Economics of Discrimination)
As is illustrated, this type of property can be managed and restricted contrary to the wishes of he who supposedly is the owner. No longer can a store owner hire whom he wishes, nor construct an edifice as he desires. Instead, the government mandates that the entrepreneur submit his will to its own, thereby allowing bureaucrats to dictate who may and may not be employed, under what circumstances, for how long, etc.
Such “civil rights” laws, a progenitor of anti-discrimination laws, are equally as errant. They likewise create effects that are not seen, for any supposed right claimed by one person also creates a duty in another. H. Verlan Andersen explained this relationship:
Is it not apparent that it is impossible for government to “create” rights in one person or group without destroying the rights of another? When it gives special privileges to one it must deny them to someone else. This result is unavoidable because when government creates a “right” in one person, it must at the same time create a “duty” in someone else. A right is without any substance unless there is someone against whom it can be enforced. But the one against whom it is enforced is saddled with a duty he did not formerly owe. The law compels him to do something or refrain from doing something and punishes him if he refuses. But you cannot compel a person against his will, nor can you punish him, without taking from him either his right to life, his right to liberty or his right to property. Thus the law has destroyed his rights in attempting to create “rights” in someone else. (H. Verlan Andersen, via Quoty)
This is the “thing which is not seen”, as Bastiat would explain. In enforcing so-called “civil rights” for any group of people, the government creates duties that must be discharged by those against whom the rights may be demanded.
In the case of our store owner, it is now his duty to consider for employment those persons with whom he would otherwise not prefer to associate. Homosexuals, blacks, women, or whomever it may be, perceive that they are entitled to some supposed right in spite of their classification. Unaware of that which is not seen, they often do not know that their “right” creates a corresponding duty in another person that did not previously exist.
This new duty entails the abolishment of free association—the ability to choose what businesses you will patronize, with whom you will spend your free time, and what type of persons you will employ. The restriction of association, a direct byproduct of anti-discrimination laws, implies that the government has the moral authority to force you into associations that you otherwise would not choose.
Proponents of such restrictions would argue that all are equal under the law with anti-discrimination laws firmly in place. As an example, they might suggest that without such legal protections, a white restaurant owner might refuse to give service to a black customer simply because of his skin color. Opposing such an occurrence, they seek redress from the government for such a moral wrongdoing, thereby creating a duty in the restaurant owner to serve any and all who might desire his services.
This scenario, feasible as it may be, ignores another effect that might be produced without government intervention. Say, for example, that anti-discrimination laws did not exist, and this white restaurant owner could refuse service to a black patron. Without the option of government intervention, the black man weighs his options and decides to write a letter to the editor of his local newspaper to make the event known. Sympathizing with this man, hundreds of his neighbors boycott the restaurant. Word continues to spread, and the restaurant owner ultimately goes out of business as a result of his racial preference.
This example shows that preferences and associations sometimes have unintended consequences. The owner should be free to associate with whomever he desires, and personally held accountable for whatever prejudices he may or may not have. It is in his best interest as a businessman to serve any and all who might desire his food. However, it is he who will suffer the consequences should he refuse to serve a person based on a perceived discriminatory characteristic.
Civil rights champions may scoff at such an example, dismissing this possible outcome and demanding government intervention to enforce anti-discrimination. This is the sad reality of our world today—a reality where our economic associations are based on a victimocracy. Under this victimocracy, minorities and others demand certain rights be afforded them regardless of their lifestyle or defining characteristics, ignorant of or apathetic to the duties such rights also create.
What’s worse is that in an attempt to enforce “anti-discrimination”, the government actually demands that discrimination takes place. This was also explained by H. Verlan Andersen:
Anti-discrimination laws do not prevent discrimination, they compel discrimination. They do not protect the rights of either the employer or the employee but on the other hand destroy the rights of both by transferring control over jobs to government. There is no such thing as group justice. There is only individual justice. Rights and duties, punishments and rewards can be dispensed only according to individual merit and not at all according to membership or non-membership in any particular group. The idea of group justice is a mirage or an illusion because justice cannot be administered to groups. It is nothing but a clumsy fraud designed to increase the power of government at the expense of human rights. (H. Verlan Andersen, via Quoty)
It becomes clear that whenever government exceeds its moral authority and intervenes into affairs it should not, problems ensue. Unfortunately, these secondary and lasting effects are the things which are not readily seen, and therefore are not factored into the decisions made by those who craft our anti-discrimination laws.
Anti-discrimination laws, as has been shown, are a delusion. In the name of enforcing equality, they infringe upon the right to free association, restrict the right to administer private property, and ultimately compel discrimination—the very thing they intended to prevent. Government has no moral authority to intervene in economic exchanges of this nature, and therefore should allow individuals to determine for themselves what businesses they will patronize, where they will work, and with whom they will associate.