Sunday, May 14, 2006

Are antidiscrimination laws libertarian?

I live in the South, so discrimination is a constant worry of government and media in the area. I'm also a heterosexual white male, so if anybody is expected to be a bigot, it's me - I recognized this when I was called racist for not liking fried chicken. (I'm not making that up.)

Regardless, I despise discrimination, like everyone should, and thus my gut instinct is to support antidiscrimination laws. But before I launch into an analysis of those and their relation to libertarianism, a division needs to be made between two categories of civil rights laws:
  • Affirmative action laws, which I believe create more racism/sexism/whateverism by focusing on categorizing people into divisions which have and have not been discriminated against. Race/gender/etc. aren't supposed to matter, and focusing on them to supposedly "even the playing field" (but in reality tilting the playing field the other way) just creates more discrimination - an alternate definition of which is essentially synonymous with "categorizing".
  • Antidiscrimination laws, which try to prevent anybody from being discriminated against. That's what I'm lost on.
Firstly, I'm not even sure how much discrimination there would be if there weren't laws to enforce it. The stock purist-libertarian answer I hear is that in a free market, not all people would discriminate against certain customers, employees, etc., and those that did not discriminate would make more money, thus encouraging everbody to treat each other equally.

But, that's a long-term view. Humans live in the short term, and governments are unquestionably uniquely human enterprises (since divine right is gone except in Swaziland, and it's obvious how well that's turning out for them), and the free-market solution to discrimination by businesses might take too long.

Since the point of government is essentially the prevention of the initiation of force by people against others, and discrimination based on aspects of a person that cannot be changed is undoubtedly a form of force, antidiscrimination laws seem perfectly legitimate in a libertarian government.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Since the point of government is essentially the prevention of
> the initiation of force by people against others, and
> discrimination based on aspects of a person that cannot be
> changed is undoubtedly a form of force, antidiscrimination laws
> seem perfectly legitimate in a libertarian government.

That's absurd.

Barring fraud or violence, what I do with my own property --
including my business -- can no in no way be interpreted as
"initiation of force" except by the wildest stretch of unreason.

If I choose to hire no one except family members, that is not
initiation of force. Being a family member or not is an "aspect of a
person that cannot be changed."

If I choose to hire only persons with an IQ over 100, that is not
initiation of force. One's IQ is an "aspect of a person that cannot
be changed."

If I choose to hire only persons who are female and between 18 and
25 years of age, that is not initiation of force. One's sex and age
are "aspects of a person that cannot be changed."

Likewise, if I choose to hire only Blacks or only Whites or only
Mexicans or only Jews, that also is not initiation of force. One's
race is, as you acknowledge, an "aspect of a person that cannot be
changed." But there is nothing especially "holy" or "magical" about
race that makes me obliged to either pay attention to it or ignore
when I decide with whom I choose to associate in my business or
elsewhere.

All laws which take away my freedom to do so are therefore illegitimate.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Nigel Watt said...

Firing is legitimate force in most cases, but it is force. And since hiring is the negative of firing, not hiring is pretty much the same thing as firing.

If you punch somebody in the face because they're black on your property, is that not wrong?

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:20 PM  
Blogger Alex Peak said...

Mr. Watt,

These are all important things to consider.

First, the purpose of government is to facilitate the protection of Natural Rights, if we are to believe Locke. Does a person, then, have a Natural Right to be employed? In a State of Nature, you can seek employement, but that doesn't garentee you a right to be employed. So such Natural Right thus exists.

I disagree wholeheartedly with your assertion that firing someone is tantemount to an initiation of force, for that assumes that your employee has some Natural Right to be employed by you. He does not. (This is also why it's impossible for anyone to "steal jobs.")

When you terminate employement with someone, you are not initiating force. Rather, all you are doing is "not giving your money away anymore." (You're also not expecting anything in return anymore, since there no longer is an exchange of money for the service to be in return for.)

In other words, if you decide to stop giving me $5 each week, you are not initiating force against me. You are merely keeping your money. To say that you are initiating force against me is to say that I have some sort of right to your $5, which I clearly do not.

Not-hiring, therefore, is also not an initiation of force. If you wish to cut your own lawn instead of hiring me to do it, have you initiated force against me? If you wish to use a robot to cut the lawn instead of hiring me to do it, have you initiated force against me? If you choose to hire a black gentleman to do it instead of hiring me, have you initiated force against me? In each of these cases, no, you haven't.

Now, to your final question: "If you punch somebody in the face because they're black on your property, is that not wrong?"

Whether something is right or wrong is a moral judgement. I think racism is completely 100% immoral, so I would say that it is wrong to punch someone on your property if your only reason for doing so is that he is black. However, I'm not in the business of forcing my moral views onto others.

Now, there are various instances in which I would not find this immoral. For example, if the black gentleman being punched (or any man being punched, regardless of race) has consented to being punched, then clearly force is not being initiated against him, for "force" assumes a lack of consent. (Another, slightly-more vulgure example would be that if I have consensual sex with a virgin and break her hymen, I've not initiated force against her. If I rape a prostitute, I have initiated force against her, despite her occupation or position in society.)

Also, if you punch the black gentleman (or any gentleman, regardless of race) because he has come onto your property without your permission, it could be argued that you felt threatened, and was thus defending your property, your family, or yourself.

However, if you punch the black man for no other reason than that he was black, I will view that subjectively as "wrong." The question you're probably looking for now is: What is the Libertarian response to this situation?

Well, we must consider two separate scenarios: the one you proposed (whereupon the black gentleman is on the white gentleman's property), and a separate scenario (whereupon neither the black gentleman nor the white gentleman is on the white gentleman's property). Let's analyze the second scenario first.

If you punch a black man (or any person, regardless of race) as you're walking down the street, you've clearly initiated force against the person. He or she thus has the right to press charges against you, if he or she wishes.

If you two begin fighting, but it is impossible to determine who started the fight, then you might both press charges, and it would be up to the court to decide what to do in this situation.

If you are on a third party's property, this third party has the authority to kick you, the other gentleman, or both of you off his property. This third party also has the authority to press charges against you both, if either of you have caused any damage to his property. Likewise, the person you assaulted has the authority to press charges against you.

Now, to the first scenario. This one is the most difficult. On the one hand, I don't believe I have any right to force my moral view onto you, as I've already established. If you pick a fight with a black man on your property, so what? All I can really do is use my right to free speech to try to convince you that your actions are petty, and not to engage in them anymore. I shouldn't be able to force you to pick fights on your own property.

However, if you lore a black gentleman (or anyone, regardless of race) onto your property, and then just shoot them (without there consent), I can definitely see Libertarians having a problem with this. The Anarcho-Capitalist faction of Libertarians may argue that this is fine, so long as he only commits these murders on his own property. They may argue that people will learn quite quickly that it's a bad idea to go into Smith's house, even if he invites you there. However, for the Minarchist majority of Libertarians (and even most of the Anarcho-Capitalists), this certainly wouldn't appear just.

The question then comes, at what point are you no longer merely defending your property right and at what point are you injustly initiating force?

This is a question that I guess I'd let the justice system try to answer, for I don't have any very clear answers.

(Now, if you kill someone with their expressed consent, then that's not an initiation of force [unless you've forced them to "consent," which wouldn't be true consent to begin with].)

I hope this in some way answers your questions.

Yours,
Alex Peak

2:45 AM  
Blogger Alex Peak said...

My apology for the spelling errors (typos) in the previous post. Briefly scanning it, I see I wrote "there" instead of "their," an error that makes me cringe. I likely should have scanned the post before hitting 'publish.'

Alex Peak

2:50 AM  
Blogger Nigel Watt said...

Well, that extension of the analysis was certainly refreshing - I'm still rather unsure on the issue; the argument I presented was more of a devil's-advocate argument to be challenged rather than an endorsement of that view, so keep the challenges coming so that we can all reach a more thorough conclusion.

8:28 AM  

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