Thursday, February 27, 2014

On Discrimination and Equal Protection

In light of the recent Arizona controversy involving the freedom of businesses to discriminate on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs, I thought I would weigh in with my own, I think, decidedly minority point of view on business discrimination.

A few years back we rehabbed the second floor of our commercial building, adding two apartments above. This rehab represented by far the largest investment in our lives and we certainly wanted to be very discriminating (not in the racial, orientation etc... sense, of course) in selecting tenants, as everything we had worked for up to that point was on the line. It occurred to me that I should understand very clearly the law as it pertained to illegal housing discimination. So I headed over to the Fair Housing office in Racine, you know, the folks who will come after you if you illegally discriminate. Unbelievably, they we unable to clarify the law for me, instead sending me to some website or brochure produced by the Agriculture Department. And no, I am not making this up.

At about this time I figured I was on my own, vulnerable to a lawsuit if I rejected a protected applicant for the apartment. As it turns out, we did reject a few people for reasons that I wouldn't have wanted to explain in court. Word of mouth info and intuition definitely came in to play and I don't suspect those explanations would go over so well in a courtroom. Anyway, thankfully the rejected applicants were white and I did not fear or experience retribution. I now wonder what might have happened if I had rejected a black tenant with "intuition" as my rationale. I suspect I could find myself trying to prove that I wasn't a racist, an impossible proposition for anyone.  When one is accused of racism, the innocent until proven guilty rules seem not to apply.

The answer in my mind to the problem is to let anyone discriminate for whatever flipping reason they want. I know, that sounds awful. Let me explain. As a businessman, I am entirely dependent on customers for my livelihood. I could theoretically have disdain for every category of human imaginable,  but I would need them for my business to prosper. The market would severely punish a business if it openly and blatantly discriminated. What would happen if it were legal and I put a sign in my window reading "No N-words Allowed!" Not only would I lose my valued black customers but I would probably lose all my other customers as well as they would be rightly repulsed by my racism. The left, always keen on creating regulations, always underestimates or utterly fails to understand the power of a free market to regulate the behavior of businesses.

Now it is amateur lawyer time. Do laws prohibiting business discrimination violate the concept of equal protection under the law? Consider the following: As a business owner, suppose I announced that I will hereafter refuse to serve black customers. Big trouble with the law, right? Now suppose the NAACP organized a boycott against me because I was white and because blacks should support black owned businesses. Perfectly legal, right? Why is that not illegal as well? Where is my equal protection from racial discrimination? People can freely patronize or reject businesses for whatever reason they want, and this is as it should be. In the interest of equality, I believe that the same protection should be available to business owners.

And what would happen then? Absolutely nothing! In the exceedingly rare case where a Christian photographer doesn't want to work a gay wedding, for example, the gay couple will easily find another business more than willing to do so. And businesses could proceed according to their values without worrying about crippling lawsuits.

And lastly, I noted above that my perspective on this matter is likely very much in the minority. And while this point is unrelated to the subject above, isn't the inclusion of minority perspectives the bulk of the rationale for affirmative action? Celebrate diversity lefties!

1 comment:

Denis Navratil said...

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I think discrimination on the basis of skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc... is objectionable and morally wrong. I have merely concluded that it is better that free people/free markets will punish offenders far more effectively than will government, itself the greatest perpetrator of discrimination historically.