Friday, October 08, 2004

"Your Racist Friend"

Freedom is a funny thing. In the economics class I’m TAing, there was a brief interlude about the role of property rights and exclusion, particularly pertaining to renting space. Some people in the class admitted that a law requiring people to equally consider everyone who applies regardless of race, religion and so forth is a good thing. Sometimes, it’s good to restrict people’s freedom. I didn’t say anything because there is limited time more pertainent things to discuss for an intro course.

Besides, that’s what blogs are for.

There’s a lot of agruments in favor of anti-discrimination laws. One of the most easily seen is the fairness and righteousness it implies. These laws seem to be legalizing morality and taking steps away from the anti-semetic, Hilterisic mentality that (Western) popular opinion fears (as we should fear it). With the backing of the State, it is being declared that Thou Shall Be Good. Who could argue with that?

I can. The goal, afterall, is to encourage a world of tolerance and acceptance. Telling people that their views are wrong and that’s all there is to it isn’t creating that world. It only reinforces their narrow-minded beliefs (So and so controls the government…here’s the proof.) If we want to create a better world, people have to change their minds and they aren’t going to do that if they think they are being forced to it. It makes people feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it doesn’t bring us closer together.

These laws have deeper problems. A rabbi may want to create an all-Jewish apartment building to foster a sense of community or to make studing easier or for people who want to rediscover their heritage. Someone else may want to create a building filled with young people, to create a living area that’s easier to meet people of the same age group. Another may want to do the same thing with cultural background. These are all perfectly reasonable but under the law, not allowed.

As a renter, you’re in a nasty position to rent to someone even if you have legitimate reasons not to. If a black tentant wanted to live in your building but you know from his previous landlord he’s loud, disruptive and often gets behind on his rent, you’d want someone else. Suppose that someone else is white. While you passed on the first application for legitimate reasons, that’s not the appearance and even if you’re found not guility in a court of law (hard to do because you are effectively trying to prove your innocence), the court of public opinon may make a different decision, especially after Rev. Jackson comes to town. You get punished even though you did nothing wrong, and we aren’t even including court costs and time spent.

What we are talking about here is what people can do with their own space. They have a right to do with it as they please (as long as they don’t interfere with other people’s rights and no, the “right” not be discriminated against is not a right). If another wants to join the space (or club, or company), the owners have the right to set whatever criteria they want—it’s their space. That’s what private property is all about. Denying people that freedom is denying them private property and no, it’s not for some greater good. On average, it won’t make us more tolerate, just more angry.

NOTE: Title is title of the sixth They Might be Giants song of the Flood album (released 1990).


Anonymous said...

Slightly related:

-Anonymous #3

Illy said...

"A rabbi may want to create an all-Jewish apartment building to foster a sense of community or to make studing easier or for people who want to rediscover their heritage."

And that is what the Hasids are doing in Borough Park. The community is tightly closed to those who do not abide by the rules. The rules, of course, are not written down -- which makes contesting them almost impossible.

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