Will Wilkinson has a post investigating Chris Hayes’s comment that most Republicans are racist and the various pushback. This part caught my attention:
When I was a Rand-toting libertarian lad, I believed, as I believe now, that racism of any stripe is a disgusting form of collectivism. Where my opinion has changed is that I used to think that if negative rights to non-interference were strictly observed, liberty was guaranteed, but I don’t now. Here’s how I had thought about the matter. One racist acting in a private capacity on his or her racist beliefs can’t violate anyone’s legitimate, negative rights. (No one is entitled to another’s good opinion!) Two racists acting as private citizens on their racist beliefs can’t violate anyone’s rights. Therefore, I inferred, thousands or millions of racists acting non-coercively on their racist beliefs can’t coercively violate anyone’s rights. I now think this is quite wrongheaded.
Eventually I realised that actions that are individually non-coercive can add up to stable patterns of behaviour that are systematically or structurally coercive, depriving some individuals of their rightful liberty. In fact, rights-violating structures or patterns of behaviour are excellent examples of Hayekian spontaneous orders—of phenomena that are the product of human action, but not of human design. This shift has led me to see racism and sexism themselves as threats to liberty. Racism and sexism have come to matter more to me in that I have come to see them in terms of the political value that matters most to me: liberty. And so I have become much more sympathetic to policies that would limit individual liberty in order to suppress patterns or norms of behaviour that might pose an even greater threat to freedom. So I’ve become fairly friendly toward federal anti-discrimination law, affirmative action, Title 9, the works. I have found that this sympathy, together with my belief in the theoretical possibility and historical reality of structural coercion, releases me almost entirely from the liberal suspicion that I’m soft on racism (even if I do wish to voucherise Medicare). Phew!
This jumped out at me because I went through the same line of thinking*. I was never a Randian, though I dabbled in strong libertarianism for a time. This was one of the more perplexing problems that I had to deal with. Contrary to my libertarianism being a good excuse for racism, I was actually deeply troubled by not being able to do anything about overt employment discrimination (for instance). Eventually, though, I sort of came to the conclusion that WW did. Individual acts of freedom, repeated enough, become more a threat to freedom than the government stepping in.
I turned in my libertarian card a long time ago, but my thinking on this has actually persevered to a degree. When confronted with an issue where the government has to step in and make someone do something they don’t want to do, one of the questions is whether that freedom will be repeated enough to constitute a problem.
For example, I am all about vaccinations for youngsters. I think it should be required, I think it should be free. However, I am nonetheless uncomfortable telling people who have a real religious objection to it (for instance) that they absolutely must. My ultimate inclination is to grant waivers for religious/conscience reasons and then see what happens. If too many people are taking advantage of it, then you have to start cracking down.
Similarly, I would never go to a pharmacyt that didn’t fill birth control prescriptions. I don’t mean that I wouldn’t get birth control for my wife there, as that is self-evident. I wouldn’t get my own prescriptions there. Partly to make a point, but mostly because I don’t want to have to deal with more than pharmacy. The same applies to a pharmacy where I would have to show up at a particular time when a particular pharmacist is on duty. Despite all of this, I do cringe at the prospect of forcing them to fill prescriptions that they consider to be immoral. I remain confident that the number of pharmacies that would refuse to do so is small enough we would have other options. If this confidence is misplaced, and access becomes a real problem, then you start looking at either other ways of distributing the medication or doing that thing I would rather not do.
One of the reasons that I was on the fence on PPACA’s contraception requirement for religiously-affiliated employers was the lack of a clear idea of how many actual employees would be affected. Hypotheticals about Christian Scientist employers were quite uninteresting to me without some indication that it would become widespread that finding an employer that covers contraception becomes a problem. I eventually came around on the issue in large part because the “penalties” for declining to offer contraception were comparatively minor.
I think there is often too much of a jump straight to “They shouldn’t be able to do that” (or “they shouldn’t be able to not do that”) because, well, we don’t think they should be able to do that. The sense of injustice that somebody is getting away with doing something we believe they shouldn’t be (or the other way around) and inconveniencing the rest of us in the process. Generally, though, I’d prefer to meet halfway if at all possible. That’s not always possible, though. Given our national history with race, and with humanity, well, being what it is, lack of anti-discrimination law has repercussions that simply aren’t justified by giving employers complete discretion over who to hire and who not to.
* – Not always to the same conclusion. I remain softly opposed to affirmative action, but even there I recognize that need to be conscientious of disparities and support many policies that would seek to remediate. I support restructuring Title IX, but believe it or something like it to have been necessary to address a real problem. In other words, I may have some skepticism of the means involved, but have no problem with the rationale of involvement.