Contra the bricklayers

In which I respond to an erroneous assumption made by a commenter on John Scalzi’s blog:

I think Libertarians are the most idealistic people in the world. They really do believe that left to their own devices people will do the right thing. Look at Alan Greenspan and his shock that large corporations didn’t act in their investors’ best interests.

This is a wildly incorrect notion of libertarianism and is almost precisely backwards. It is because libertarians understand that people are capable of committing great acts of evil, especially the sort of people who desire power over others, that they wish to prevent government from interfering in people’s lives to the greatest extent possible. We libertarians most certainly do NOT believe that people will do the right thing if left to their own devices, rather, we believe that since most people will do the wrong thing if given power over others, it is in the interests of everyone to make sure that the force multiplier offered by government to those people is as small as possible.

As for Alan Greenspan, it is important to understand the difference between the supposedly innnocent, self-servingly revisionist Greenspan and the coldly calculating servant of Wall Street. There was absolutely nothing libertarian about Greenspan’s actions; it wasn’t as if he eliminated all of the many government regulations that create and govern corporations as well as forcing them to sell their stock on certain specific private exchanges rather than freely on the Internet.

As for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was positive in that it overturned government enforcement of segregation, which was a clear violation of the Constitutional right of free association. And it was a negative in that it also violated the individual’s Constitutional right to free association.

It is profoundly stupid to claim that a private individual does not have the right to refuse to serve someone on the basis of race, sex, or any other criteria he happens to choose, given the right of free association. (Yes, I am aware that the Supreme Court has declared otherwise, that still doesn’t change the perfectly clear text of the Constitution.) Once you eliminate that right, you have transformed the individual into a legal serf with no control over his own services as there is no bright line on further directives from the government except the momentary whims of the responsible agents.

Libertarians are those few who understand that the problem with the brick is not the brick itself, but that it is another brick in the wall.

I should note that it is also profoundly stupid, in many cases, for business owners to exercise their right to free association on the basis of superficial factors. If I manufacture computers and refuse to sell to Asians, I am voluntarily abandoning a huge international market. If I own a bar in Detroit and refuse to serve blacks, I am not likely to remain in business very long. These things tend to sort themselves out over time courtesy of the inexorable market forces. On the other hand, in some cases, it is necessary for other businesses owners to exercise their free association right on a superficial basis if they are to remain in business. The successful fitness franchise, Curves, is built upon little more than anti-male discrimination whereas the traditional men’s social clubs are all but extinct because their customers were not interested in patronizing the government-dictated mixed-sex format.

Everyone discriminates/exercises their right to free association, the only question is where one happens to draw the line. The primary problem with permitting the government to draw the line for everyone is that the government is a dynamic entity. Those who cheer government involvement in telling business owners they cannot discriminate against homosexuals are unlikely to be happy about a government telling business owners they must discriminate against them. But once you have permitted the camel’s nose into the tent, you have very little control over which part of the tent it will eventually choose to defecate.

Best to keep the damn camel outside where it belongs!