The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the many following bills that modified and added to it has been a great affront to property rights and by extension individual sovereignty. Whether we examine the impacts of “equality of outcome” the Civil Rights Act strives to implement or we examine how the act contradicts core principles, such as an individual’s right to their own person and the fruits of their labor, we will find that the government intervention required by the Civil Rights Act faces serious challenges on both sides of the equation, principles and practical effects.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII, prohibited discrimination by employers, with over 15 employees, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or by association with an individual of those factors. In 1967, persons over the age became a protected group; in 1990, persons with disabilities gained protected status; the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibited discrimination based on genetic information; and all of these bills protect individuals from retaliatory discrimination. (1)
If one accepts that an individual has the right to his own person and the fruits of his labor then one can not be in agreement with this legislation and remain consistent in their principles. The concept of this right is a “negative” one or a right to be free from coercion in regards to your person and the fruits of your labor which creates a situation where no one has the “right” to “compel someone to do a positive act, for in that case the compulsion violates the right of person or property of the individual being coerced.” (2) Many recognize the impracticality of violating this principle when it is not applied to employers. For example, while many find racism to be abhorrent they would not necessarily advocate that individuals be forced to patronize minority owned businesses equally and an ardent feminist would find it difficult that men looking for jobs should be forced by threat of law to submit their resumes to equally qualified female employers. In the first case, many recognize that the consumer has the right to spend his money where he pleases regardless of motivations or character flaws and in the second instance most would see the flaw in coercing a person to apply or accept a job against their will. However, segments of our population choose to ignore these principles when it comes to employers. Is an employer’s person any less their own or is their money, representative of their property and the fruits of their labor, different than the property of the individuals seeking employment. I do not see how one can claim one and not the other without being disingenuous.
Milton Friedman argues that anti-discrimination laws are not necessary to achieve the goal. He states that, “a businessman or an entrepreneur who expresses preferences in his business activities that are not related to productive efficiency is at a disadvantage compared to other individuals who do not. Such an individual is an effect imposing higher costs on himself than are other individuals who do not have such preferences. Hence, in a free market they will tend to drive him out.”(3) Another practical issue with this legislation is that it uses often arbitrary standards in order to designate certain groups “oppressed” or of “minority” status. Our text points out that numbers are of little significance when designating a group a minority but instead their level of “access to positions of power, prestige, and status in society” should be the deciding factor. (4) What this will lead to is endless lobbying from all groups in an attempt to shred the label of “oppressor” in exchange for the benefits of being labeled “oppressed.” Rothbard points out that the different ways to categorize or class people is infinite and research can be done to demonstrate how they all face various barriers to the “access” mentioned above. He also note the impossible task of parodying this movement as a friend of his tried to do by arguing that short people, suffering from “heightism”, should be designated a minority or “oppressed class.” Unfortunately, he was beat by a serious undertaking to do just that by “a sociologist at Case-Western Reserve,” Professor Saul D. Feldman, who provided plenty of convincing research and evidence to back up his case. (5)
The principles of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are perfectly acceptable from a moral standpoint. Employers are unwise to discriminate based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin, but that does not give anyone the right to coerce them to act against their will or to release their property to individual’s not of their choosing. Consumers, employees, peers, etc. are free to boycott, ostracize, or shame employers who act reprehensibly but not coerce with threat of law/violence to act morally.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,”Equal Employment Opportunity is The Law”; available from http://www.eeoc.gov/employers/upload/eeoc_self_print_poster.pdf; Internet; accessed 23 March 2010.
- Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (New Jersey: New York University Press, 1998), 100.
- Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 109-110.
- Jacqueline M. Brux, Economic Issues & Policy (Ohio: Thomson Higher Education, 2008), 114
- Murray Rothbard, “Freedom, Inequality, primitivism and the Division of Labor”, available from http://mises.org/fipandol.asp; Internet; accessed 23 March 2010.