Jerry Taylor's Sleight of Hand on Freedom of Association
By David Henderson
Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center and John Stossel of Fox Business Network have been arguing about, among other things, freedom of association. Taylor is against it; Stossel is for it.
Specifically, Jerry Taylor wants a law that makes it illegal for people to discriminate on the basis of race when hiring, allowing people in their restaurants, etc. That’s what the Civil Rights Act does. Although Taylor uses examples of white people refusing to hire black people, presumably he would also make it illegal for black people to refuse to hire white people. I assume, but don’t know, that Jerry Taylor would also make it illegal for white people to discriminate against white people. I have in mind a recent case (I can’t find the link) where a (presumably largely white-owned) network or web site put out a notice saying that it wanted only black people to apply.
John Stossel, by contrast, wants people to be free to hire whom they want and to exclude people from their businesses on whatever grounds they want. So he would allow white employers to refuse to hire black people and also would allow black people to refuse hire white people. He would also allow white people to hire only black people.
One can make various arguments for or against either position.
But Taylor makes the argument that I diagrammed above.
Call A the situation in the southern United States when segregation was enforced by law. That was an extreme violation of freedom of association.
Call B the situation that Jerry Taylor wants, where discrimination on racial grounds is illegal.
Call C the situation that John Stossel wants, where there is freedom of association. People would be free to discriminate on any grounds they wish but would not be required to discriminate.
John Stossel argues that C is freer than A. He also argues that C is freer than B. I’m virtually positive that he would argue that B is freer than A.
Jerry Taylor would certainly agree that C is freer than A but he thinks that B is freer than C.
So the argument comes down to: Is B freer than C (Jerry Taylor’s view) or is C freer than B (John Stossel’s view.)
So how does Jerry Taylor cinch the argument? By claiming that B is freer than A. He writes:
Defending unchecked “freedom of association” in a society whose institutions and culture have been built around the goal of denying freedom to most people is, in effect, a slightly less obvious way of continuing to deny freedom to most people. If you doubt that, just ask yourself whether the south is, on the whole, really less free today than it was in the 1950s because whites can no longer treat African-Americans as subhuman, second-class citizens.
I’m virtually positive, as I said above, that John thinks the south is on the whole freer today than in the 1950s. That is, John agrees that B is freer than A.
That, of course, is not what’s at issue.