James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Discrimination Laws

You may have heard of Somali Muslim cab drivers in the Twin Cities refusing service to passengers who carry alcohol. Apparently this practice isn't common in other cities or from other Muslims.

The conflict is between the right to preserve one's religious convictions on the job and the right for customers to not be discriminated against. Should the anti-discrimination laws protect the Somali drivers, or should they protect the customer?

This "problem" was created of course, by the law, not the market. Anti-discrimination laws do not exist in free societies, because freedom of association is one of the cornerstone freedoms. If we converted to a free society tomorrow, cab companies could fire these cab drivers who refuse passengers carrying alcohol, or for any reason or non-reason whatsoever. Yet independent cab drivers could refuse service to any passenger for any reason. Passengers could wave down a taxi but then change their mind if they perceive the cab driver to be of a certain religion or nationality the passsenger despises.

But religious and political convictions are expensive. When it comes to the market, even the most devout usually recognize that strict adherence to a principle is irrational and unprofitable. Discrimination and intolerance hurt the business more than the customer. The customer has lost a little bit of time (such as in waving down a taxi who then refuses him), but has lost no money, whereas the business has lost both time and money (the lost fare).

If some - like the Somali cab drivers - want to stick to their silly rule even what it is against their self-interest, they should be legally free to do so. But the law certainly shouldn't protect them.

Moreover, there are some forms of discrimination that are not invidious or malicious. If a black businessman wants to hire more black workers, even when there are equally worthy non-black candidates, why shouldn't he? His purpose is not to hurt non-blacks, but just to help fellow blacks. It is natural to favor those who are more like you over those less like you. Why should the law get in the way?

If individuals were left to do as they will in a free society, we will see financial incentives to be open and tolerant to people of all faiths and nationalities. The market will also reward those who serve the interest of their own clientele. If that means some "divesity" policies or affirmative action programs, we will see that. If in other cases it means strict meritocratic qualifications, we will see that, too.

If we let freedom work, we will see lower social tensions and a more cohesive society than we do now with all of our anti-discrimination laws. Social harmony can not be created with laws and guns.

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