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Discrimination and Liberty

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Discrimination and Liberty

How much should we care if people discriminate? In answering this question, maybe it's a good idea to say what we mean by discrimination. The most internally consistent definition is that discrimination is the act of choice. Thus, discrimination is a necessary fact of life - people do and must choose. When one selects a university to attend, he must non-select other universities - in a word, he must discriminate. When a mate is chosen, there is discrimination against other possible contenders. In the first instance, we call it university discrimination and in the second case mate discrimination. Thus, when the term discrimination is modified by words such as race, sex, or university and mate, one merely states the criterion upon which choice is being made.

Is there a moral distinction to be made when one makes a selection based on arbitrary distinctions when he chooses a university as opposed to making similar arbitrary distinctions when selecting a mate, employee or any other object of desire? In mate selection, people routinely discriminate by race. How does that act morally differ from choosing employees by race? We know that social sanction is granted when race is used in selecting a mate but not granted in the case of selecting employees.

Some people might offer that when people select mates by race there is no private or social harm done whereas in the case of race discrimination in employment there is private and social harm done. On further thought, it can be easily shown that such a proposition clearly does not hold. At the private level, when a black male indulges his racial preferences by marrying a black female, that act reduces the opportunity set of white females that might ha...

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...ence. Other ways are through taxes on profits, economic regulation and occupational licensure. In general, preference indulgence is subsidized whenever government dictates the terms and conditions of exchange.

While many of us, including me, find some aspects of racial discrimination morally repulsive, we must at the same time recognize that freedom of association should be our overreaching value. Valuing freedom of association does not mean that we are helpless in registering revulsion to various forms of discrimination. There are private social sanctions that can be exercised similar to those exercised when people behave impolitely, use vulgar language, or disrespect elders. But the largest contribution to racial harmony is for us to keep government limited to its legitimate or moral functions; namely, preventing force, fraud, theft and initiation of violence.
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