Saturday, April 10, 2010

Government Intrusion vs. Private Restriction

As I'm sure you've noticed, I don't like it when government steps in between producers and consumers. Often people get this mixed up with a dislike of businesses telling their buyers what to do. A good example of the difference is frustration with restaurants forcing a dress code:
armed with the swift feedback of market forces, does what governments tend to find rather difficult: balance the competing interests of different people. Some people will pay to eat a meal surrounded by the smart set. Other people will pay to eat a meal without having to dress up. The restaurateur gets to decide whose wishes count – the snobs or the slobs.
Government regulation is far from an entrepreneur who provides a specific type of restaurant. For me this makes the issue of smoking in bars clearer. However, it makes the issue of racial integration more muddled.


  1. Amike1:58 PM

    I'm with you on this one, but it's worth noting that that last sentence could (and probably should) also be reversed: the issue of racial integration makes THIS more muddled as well.

    To what extent may businesses tell their buyers what to do? Presumably for you, the difference b/w business and govt is choice: it's okay for businesses to make more demands, because consumers can easily leave one establishment and go elsewhere (as opposed to leaving one GOVERNMENT, which is theoretically doable but practically so unfeasible that it might as well be impossible).

    Then again there are demands--like racial segregation--that we've decided as a people are SO egregious that businesses may NEVER make them, even if there are other choices available. The equivalent in government is the substantive interpretation of the Due Process Clause: there are certain rights (privacy, e.g.) so fundamental that govt may NEVER violate them, even if they follow the proper "procedure."

    What constitutes "so egregious," then? Partly it's a question of history--is the business trying to impose a particular action on its customers that they've always been free to choose for themselves? But largely it's up to the community to determine--which is why we're willing to accept a bar that bans smoking today, whereas 50 years ago we wouldn't. (And once we get to THAT point, it's only one more step to demanding the govt impose that on EVERY business.) Today, a dress code is obviously on one side of the "egregious" line, and racial segregation is obviously on the other, and smoking is still around the middle--but that line is always fuzzy and always shifting and never fixed. Today we're willing to allow businesses to set a dress code but not a race code; 50 years ago a libertarian would probably have been willing to allow both; and 50 years from NOW a libertarian may very well be fine with neither--b/c the standards of the three communities are so profoundly different from each other. The nature of libertarianism is socially contingent--which means BOTH sides are muddled, not just one.

  2. Amike2:00 PM

    Oh, and the other wrench: what happens when it's just as unfeasible to "choose" another business as it is to "choose" another govt? It's one thing for a restaurant to impose a dress code when there are six other restaurants on the same block--what if it's the only restaurant in town? Does that make a difference?

    I'll stop writing book-length responses, I promise. I'm just killing time here. :)

  3. I pretty much agree with what your saying except for this: " Partly it's a question of history--is the business trying to impose a particular action on its customers that they've always been free to choose for themselves? But largely it's up to the community to determine"

    I would say most people would agree, but a true libertarian would not. This is why I probably wouldn't have supported mandated private integration in the '60's and I still wouldn't support it today. Not because I don't support minority rights, but because I want to support universal rights.

    I like the long responses, keep it up.

  4. Amike5:56 PM

    Somebody just posted this article today on FB and I thought of our exchange here:

    I don't really buy the argument this guy makes--I'm more inclined to say that it's acceptable to prohibit private businesses from racially discriminating because it's just effing wrong--but it's an interesting point, at least.

    And this is neither here nor there, but I'm also less inclined to give Rand Paul the benefit of the doubt when he claims not to be a racist...given his father's penchant for not speaking up when his name gets plastered all over the sort of newsletter that would make Jack Chick blush. For all the libertarians' talk about merit, they really could pick a better aristocracy. :)

  5. Whoa that is too interesting to leave in the comments. I may have been convinced.

    I've heard that about Ron Paul. I'm a big fan of his, except when he goes on an ant-Fed rant.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.