I’ve been watching this video of Rachel Maddow interviewing Rand Paul about civil rights. Paul’s argument is that private businesses should be left free to discriminate, because Liberty. I think he’s profoundly wrong, here’s why.
Firstly, the argument that discrimination is a bad business decision is plain wrong. We may want it to be true, but there are places where it would actually be an excellent business decision. Just ask Chick-Fil-A.
Secondly, Paul repeatedly claims that racial segregation was a problem mostly in public institutions. While state discrimination was especially shocking, there is no shortage of legal cases showing that some business owners do shamelessly discriminate. To this day, ask any member of any minority, and they will tell you horror stories that happened to them personally, illustrating the reality of ordinary, everyday discrimination.
Thirdly, businesses have real power over people’s lives, a power that is highly asymmetrical. They can hire or fire, promote or demote, move abroad, destroy local economies, buy politicians, and they can refuse to provide their products and services. This great power however comes with very few counter-powers and responsibilities. As we’ve seen, public outrage does not constitute a credible deterrent for bigoted behavior, because there are more than enough bigoted customers to support bigoted businesses. If anything, those businesses are rewarded by the market. Additionally, if we were to listen to the likes of Rand Paul, the business world would be totally de-regulated. In his ideal, Libertarian word, the state is trivialized or non-existent, and as a consequence, the real power lies within the corporations, unchallenged, and free to discriminate. No, thanks.
“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Who do you think they mean?