Friday, May 28, 2010

Legislation Can't Stop Discrimination

Liberals have declared open season on libertarianism ever since Rand Paul (not the namesake of Ayn Rand) said he disagreed with the parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made illegal private discrimination based on race.

Bryan Caplan clarifies the standard libertarian position as such:
1. Government discrimination should be illegal.
2. Private discrimination should be legal.
3. Private discrimination is immoral.
I agree with all three points, but I want to make an additional point: you can't legislate away odious behavior; you only make odious individuals more crafty with their discrimination.

I used to work at a gay club that refused entry to anyone wearing high-heeled shoes. Ostensibly, the rule was for the safety of said patrons. The club has a couple of steep staircases, the managers claimed. People could get hurt. In reality, the rule was intended to keep out women, something many gay establishments quietly encourage. (The staff's general animosity toward the fairer sex always made me bristle.) Tellingly, even though the club actively enforced the rule, it was overlooked with regard to drag queens, who tend to wear the equivalent of skyscrapers on their feet. The club kept out women without having to post a sign saying "women not allowed." (It has since dropped that rule. Not coincidentally, more women can be seen on a Friday or Saturday night.)

Dress codes are used to discriminate against race, as well. I live in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C., which contains a handful of popular bars. A few have "strictly enforced" dress codes posted in front that state anyone wearing the following will be denied entry:
  • Timberland boots
  • Hats
  • Baggy clothing
  • Long white t-shirts
  • Logos
  • Labels
  • Hoods
  • Jerseys
  • Athletic wear
  • Tank tops
  • Camouflage
  • Ripped clothing
In other words, the attire typically associated with rap culture, i.e., black male youth (ripped clothing being the only exception). The establishments don't say they won't allow young black men to enter, but their dress codes effectively do so.

Of course, there's more going on here than just outright hatred for women and black men. If asked, I'm sure the proprietors of the Adams Morgan bars with these dress codes would claim most people, black or white, who wear the above listed items tend to be more rowdy. I can attest to the fact that some of the young women who happened to wear high heels at the gay club tended to get loud and boisterous. (We saw a number of bachelorette parties come through on a regular basis.) Still, most women were barred entry by the high-heels rule, not just the minority of rowdy ones.

My point isn't whether these dress codes are right or wrong. The point is, they keep a specific subset of the population out, legally. Still, most establishments don't have these rules, since it's not good business to prevent customers from patronizing them. Besides, the most ubiquitous dress code,"no shirts, no shoes, no service," seems to skew white.

Racism, sexism, all the pernicious isms, can't be wiped away by legislation, like the swipe of some Utopian magic wand. The onus is on patrons, to support or withhold their business. My previous employer decided to remove the high-heels restriction, and business improved. Further, anyone is free to boycott or protest any business that has discriminatory policies. Private individuals have the right to be (or merely appear to be) horrible people, but they don't have the right to be protected from the economic consequences of their actions.