This is the first in a two-part series, with the second part appearing on Wednesday.
The European Union is not just a giant, ailing and failing welfare-state project, but it is also a political machine aimed at expanding government power in other directions as well. Some of those ambitions are related to the welfare state, such as giving citizens a variety of “positive rights”, a.k.a., entitlements, to health care, education, welfare, housing, etc. Others relate to the eradication of discrimination, such as against ethnic, religious, sexual and racial minorities.
I strongly approve of the eradication of discrimination. Government should never, ever treat two citizens differently based on who they are. My problem with the fight against discrimination has to do with the invasion of property rights that is often linked to anti-discrimination campaigns. Sometimes government restricts the use of private property in the name of fighting discrimination, a restriction that is inherently wrong.
An example. The management of a department store notices that whenever large groups of gypsies patron their store there is a rise in theft. They decide to ban gypsies from entering in larger groups than three, so they can have their store security keep them under proper surveillance. The measures work: theft and related losses fall dramatically.
Some gypsies complain to a local government anti-discrimination board. The government sues the store for discrimination and force them to abandon their restrictive policies against gypsies. Theft and losses rise again.
Since the local government forced the owners of the department store to use their property in a way that goes against what they determined were sound business practices, will the government then compensate the store for its higher losses to theft? Will the government compensate the store for its dramatically higher costs of security?
No, of course not. And this is where government-imposed anti-discrimination measures against private property owners go astray. Government increases the cost of doing business to private property owners based on a morally understandable but practically impossible policy.
But what about a shop that refuses to sell to, say, people who support nationalist political movements? An online retailer in Sweden declared after the election in 2010 that it did not want supporters of the nationalist Swedish Democrats among its customers. The reason was, plain and simple, that the owners did not like the policies on immigration that the Swedish Democrats had put forward.
By the principle of sovereign property rights that protect business owners against government anti-discrimination measures, those same property owners should be protected against government measures in this case as well. Regardless of whether the online retailer declared that they did not want nationalists, Christians, conservatives, Jews, muslims, Scandinavians, left-handed people, gays, trisexuals or Klingons among its customers, it is entirely up to the property owner how he wants to use his property for business.
We rational, grown-up citizens can then decide whether or not we want to patron a business that discriminates in a way that we disapprove of. In the case of the Swedish retailer, that is exactly what happened. They lost so much business they had to file for bankruptcy.
Free, independent individuals are the best decision makers when it comes to moral issues. This is yet another good reason why we need to keep free societies, well, free.
By contrast, government-imposed moral codes not only increase the burden on property owners but also demote individual citizens to ethical children, unable to make virtuous decisions on their own. When this demotion has been allowed to continue for a while, it can take entirely unreasonable proportions. A good example is the EU’s witch hunt against the Hungarian government, a topic we will elaborate on in the second part, on Wednesday.