Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Forcing themselves upon others' private property

Over the weekend, I read that the ACLU is investigating whether Six Flags is "discriminating" by ordering black employees to cut off their long hair. Here is a basic article from Yahoo! News. An excerpt:
"They told me I had to cut them even shorter or go home," DeLeon told The Washington Post. "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the black people. I had already cut it a lot, so I just left."

The 2006 Six Flags America handbook states that employees are not allowed to have "any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming."

Terry Prather, the park's general manager, said that the policy is not discriminatory and that exceptions are made for employees with religious and medical reasons for not cutting their hair.
Now if you read this detailed article from AZ Central, there's an interesting detail that the other article neglected to mention.

General Manager Prather, the one who's effectively being accused of discrimination, is black.

Oops. So much for the ACLU's initial claim:
"This is culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination," said King Downing, coordinator of the ACLU's national campaign against racial profiling.
Whether blacks can discriminate against other blacks is irrelevant to the real issue. The only real issue here is whether people have a right to their own private property. Since Six Flags is private property, the owners can set whatever standards they want for their employees, with whatever arbitrary details they want. If they specify mohawks, orange hair or Taliban beards, that is their choice. My employer normally requires men to wear coat and tie (though we're free to take our coats off at our desk). Khakis and other casual pants are not permitted, except during certain summer casual days. Women are not permitted to wear capris or sun dresses at any time, and I think open-toed shoes are also not allowed. If we don't like the restrictions, we can go elsewhere.

What these teenagers and their parents want is to force their will upon others; they want Six Flags' owners to dispense with their private property contrary to their wishes. Instead of taking a job at 7-11 where their hairstyles are acceptable, the "victims" want to eat their cake and have it too: they want the higher pay and what's probably a more fun job, and the ability to set the conditions of employment. So they take the old road of obtaining help from the ACLU, and the latter no doubt will initiate legal action. It's another example of people abusing government power to gain control over others' property.

Private property rights must include the right to hire whomever you'd like and set your own standards, and necessarily the right serve only those customers you would like. If we are to have real liberty, then we (as individuals or government) must not infringe upon others' private property rights, even if they are engaging in racism, sexism, etc. Few probably envisioned the slippery slope when it began in the 1950s with the desegregation of so-called "public establishments" (which is really a misnomer since they're privately owned). From then on, it was easy for government to regulate businesses more and more. "Regulate" is government's nice euphemism for control. You may have the title, but you can't really make use of your property as you see fit.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 did such wonderful things like forcing businesses to have wheelchair access ramps. I remember one small business owner profiled on the news, wondering how he would afford the $75,000 cost of adding one, though he rarely had any wheelchair-bound customers. It was also doubtful that would generate business from handicapped people, so today he may not have recouped the money. And let's not forget, for the last several years, many state and local governments have prevented people from smoking peacefully in privately owned bars and restaurants. It doesn't even matter if the businesses are open to the public or members-only. In May last year, I wrote about a federal judge who ruled that NYC's smoking ban still applies to a private club. Whatever happened to the common sense idea that if you don't like a place because it doesn't allow smoking, don't go there?

Should we worry about discrimination running rampant if government doesn't prohibit it? Not at all, because the free market has a solution. Furthermore, the beauty of this solution is that it is based on peaceful, voluntary commerce, with no need for the state to exercise force upon anybody. It was Nobel laureate Gary Becker who pointed out four decades ago that discrimination is economically unsound. Those who forsake rational criteria and decide based on prejudices will end up shooting themselves in the foot. A white employer who hires only other whites will eventually deprive himself of skilled non-white employees. (I personally wouldn't want to work for such a person anyway, so the government should stay out and thus reveal which employers are of good and decent character.) Another employer who isn't racist, or who might be extremely racist but makes that a secondary concern, will hire the skilled "ethnic minorities" and do better business.

Similarly, a business that does not want business from minorities will lose them to other businessmen. You may have heard of Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia, which now has a sign: "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING SPEAK ENGLISH." Professor Bainbridge succinctly expressed the opinion I've held for years:
Court action? In a truly free country, we'd leave this sort of thing to the market. Geno's would have the right to associate with those customers it chooses and those who are offended would have the right to stay away. We may have to give up that freedom so as to prevent some forms of invidious discrimination, but insisting on English hardly strikes me as all that invidious. Indeed, given the desirability of promoting assimilation and the clear evidence that immigrants who speak English do better, it strikes me as something of a public service.
Bainbridge is a conservative, and as a libertarian I take it further: Geno's doesn't have to supply any reason at all for what they do. They can require ordering in Esperanto, doing a Roman salute while carrying a jar of macadamia nuts in your left hand, and that should be their right. It's ridiculous for the city council to pressure the business, and even more ridiculous for people to threaten lawsuits. The would-be plaintiffs don't have a right to Joseph Vento's private property, only permission to use it as he grants it.

Geno's isn't acting out of racism. Vento has made the rational decision that it will save time when their employees don't have to spend five minutes saying "No comprendo." He probably also decided that their product is so good anyway that they probably won't lose much business to Pat's. I don't know if Vento made the right decision, but I celebrate his right to make it, and economic history teaches us that if government just stays the hell away, the free market will work it out just fine.


Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

One question:

How are people who can't speak English going to be able to read Geno's sign?

Just a thought :-)


Otherwise, good post...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger TKC said...

My only comment Perry has addressed already.

I bet Perry knows some extremely strict dress codes at some of those Wall Street firms. If you don't like it, go work someplace else.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 7:42:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Well Brad, I have a feeling they guess very quickly what it means. :)

Thursday, June 22, 2006 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger plez... said...

Six Flags is in the business of making money and I doubt that the ACLU will find a judge who will tell a company how they should want their "product" to look. Despite the fact that this young man will probably be in a costume, I'm sure that Six Flags, like most companies, has a dress code (hair code, included) which spells out how they want their employees to look.

I work in a very corporate environment and understand that ALL companies have an image that they want to project to their customers. People with 3-foot long braids/dreadlocks is something that is not fitting with the look that Six Flags is trying to achieve.

If he were my 17-year old son, he wouldn't have 3-foot long braids... I doubt he'd be wearing braids in the first place. But for the sake of this argument, I would have advised my son to cut his hair to an appropriate length and sent his ass back to work!

Incidently, I also posted a blog about this incident on plezWorld.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 3:18:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

I work at our global headquarters in midtown, TKC, which can be pretty stuffy. Actually, I like to think of myself as one of the sharper dressers. It's not like I go around in bespoke suits, but I wear good ones, or at least nice pants and a coat. And one should skimp on the suit before the shoes, I believe. A great pair of shoes can make all the difference.

Cufflinks are one of my trademarks, to the extent that one of my friends notices if my shirt has regular cuffs. (She pays close attention to what I wear and probably knows my entire wardrobe.) For the last few months, I've been sort of setting another trend. When I was a teenager and started wearing suits, I fooled around with white handkerchiefs but quickly stopped. Then for this year's St. Patrick's Day, I bought a green tie with pocket handkerchief. Since then I do the handkerchief thing throughout the week.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Yikes... If you see me in a suit, someone died, or someone's getting married. A tie will probably mean it's me that died, because that's about the only way I can stand strangling myself like that.

And shoes? If I have to wear them, I will, but I'd prefer a good pair of sandals... But then, I'm trying to work out some way of making sure I don't even need to go to an office any more to do my job, so maybe I'm not the normal case...

Friday, June 23, 2006 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

Haha, well, I can't even remember the year I bought my two pairs of athletic shoes. I could tell you when I bought dress shoes in the last year or two, down to the month.

I should have mentioned that the tie and handkerchief I bought for St. Patrick's Day are a matching set. Those are a lot of fun to add a little flair to a dark, conservative suit.

Friday, June 23, 2006 3:21:00 PM  

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