"Accomodation": a euphemism for using government to coerce
Few rulings have angered me, and I mean really made my blood boil, as the abominable "eminent domain" ruling against Susette Kelo and other New London residents. Well, this recent ruling has inflamed me just as much. Last Thursday, a dipshit judge in California made a dipshit ruling that some dipshits' lawsuit against Target could go forward (Target hasn't lost, but the lawsuit can proceed). The lawsuit's entire basis is that Target's website isn't very "accomodating" to blind people under the Americans With Disabilities Act and a couple of similar California statutes. That's it.
Well, here's a free clue for these visually-impaired people and their cohorts, as they're apparently more blind to reason and logic than they are to photons: this is the World Wide Web we're talking about, which originated as a visual medium and is still a primarily visual medium. If you're blind and can't make use of a site's content, then go to a competing site that has the functionality you desire. If there's no one who does, then face the fact that you're just not a profitable customer, and it's up to you to make do.
The free market, not government, has a perpetually amazing way of providing goods and services -- to those who are willing to pay, that is. Suppose a business won't serve a particular section of society, whether it's the handicapped because of an unwillingness to spend the money to "accomodate" them, or an ethnic group out of disdain. If those would-be customers are willing to pay enough, some other competing business will step up and offer substitutes. "Pay enough" is the operative phrase here, because the competitor will act purely out of a profit motive. And why not? They'll offer to sell at a price, and the potential customers are free to accept or decline; there's no such thing as a right to getting what you want, let alone at the price you want.
I'd read the story Friday and was reminded to blog about it when a friend sent me the link to Slashdot's summary. So far, I haven't seen this discussed on my friends' blogs that I try to read regularly: Don Luskin, Josh Hendrickson, Billy Beck and Three Sources. No coverage on QandO or Cafe Hayek or Larry Kudlow's blog, which greatly surprised me since they're all great defenders of the free market. I was likewise surprised that Instapundit hasn't mentioned this as part of his news roundup. I wasn't too surprised that Marginal Revolution, Power Line and Michelle Malkin haven't touched on this; this isn't really their type of story.
Some uninvolved parties claim that the ruling is a good thing: "Not only is it the right thing to do and the law, but it also leads to much better Web design. It keeps people from doing stupid stuff just because they can. It's amazing that Target would bother to fight this." This person is sadly unable to comprehend that Target fought this because changing its site will be a costly waste of time. Does he really think Target's executives are so stupid that they'll throw money away on legal fees when it supposed would be easier to change their website? And who is this person to decide what is "better web design" and what is "stupid stuff"? He's perfectly free to do that for his own site, but when did God leave him in charge of making those decisions for others?
Oh, and the hypocrite's blog title is a PNG image, which wouldn't qualify as ADA-compliant if his blog were part of a business. Maybe if he reflected on his personal motivation, he'd realize that a lot of businesses do the same with their "non-ADA-compliant" websites for better layout control.
Now, what if I, you, or anyone else, decided that his use of an image was "stupid"? How would we have any more right to decide that for his site than he has the right to decide that for others' sites? In fact, Target was far from "stupid" in how it designed its site, because as anyone who understands business can tell you, a bad design anywhere in your company means lost customers. Target designed its site for maximum functionality at the least cost so it can service the most possible customers -- and that didn't include the blind, very few of whom would bother shopping online anyway. Target's number crunchers decided that there just wasn't enough potential business to justify the cost of making its website "accomodating" to the blind. And if Target is wrong, then its competitors can gain that business by offering "accomodation."
Also, look at the "BusinessWire" story that Slashdot linked to: the whole thing is just an advertisement, complete with phone number and staff description, for Mindshare Interactive Campaigns. You can bet that they had no small part in bringing forth this lawsuit. Think of all the new business they'll get from companies now worried about getting sued -- what a great scam! Meanwhile, Wahlbin distracts people from the real issue by talking about "accessibility" making it easier to be found on search engines, and she throws out outright lies like "being compliant is not difficult nor is it expensive." If it weren't difficult nor expensive, then Target would have already done it to gain business from its blind customers. Also, businesses that want to be found on search engines don't need government telling them how to do it: they can figure it out on their own how to do it, whether copious amounts of text to generate hits, tags, or paying a search engine.
As Bastiat warned in The Law,
See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.The first test clearly faults this judge's ruling. Winners: the lawyers, Mindshare, and the blind who still won't make much use of Target's website. Losers: the rest of us, not just Target. Companies will inevitably pass on to their customers the costs of website redesign, including "consultation" with Mindshare's "experts." They're not doing it by choice, but because they are being forced by a law, so the many will wind up paying for the benefits of a very few.
What about the second test? Well, what if I with my neighbors, save one, decided that our last neighbor should install a brick walkway up his front lawn, instead of concrete? Of course we would have no right to tell him what to do, even if it were all of us against him: it's his own property, and even if he ran a business out of his home, we have no right to force him into permitting us to use his property. If we threatened to seize part of his property in a "fine" because he didn't design his property as we wished, then we'd be committing extortion. And our attempt at coercion would be no more legitimate than if we got together, called ourselves a "government," and made a "law" or got a court to rule in our favor.
"Because it's the law" is the most idiotic way to excuse government coercion. Some liberals and conservatives genuinely don't understand, as Don Boudreaux explained, that just because something is "the law," that still does not make it right. Others do understand that but will invoke "the law" when it suits their political agenda. "Eminent domain" is the law by which many governments at various levels have stolen people's land and homes. It was "the law" in Denmark for Jews to wear armbands. It has almost universally been "the law" in dictator-ruled societies that if you dissent, you can be jailed or executed. It was the law in many states, for the first several decades of United States history, that you could literally own another human being.
Others say, "More 'machine readable' data on your site also translates into better (non-visual) accessibility." That's a ridiculous statement in its generality, because it assumes "better" for everyone, when in fact we need to ask, "Better for whom?" Flash was impossibly slow when dial-up was the norm, but the advent of broadband made it quite viable for jazzing up websites. It's also a great way to protect your website's content from copycats.
But the economic viability is a red herring from the real issue: as always, a relatively few people find a way to use government to force others to kowtow to their wishes. Who owns your property, you, the government, or others? If you own it, then how can others tell you what to do with it, when your choices do not at all affect (let alone harm) them? And if changing something about your property is such a great thing for you to do, why aren't you jumping at the chance to do it, and why must government coerce you into it under penalty of fine and/or jail?
As I wrote in my aforementioned post discussing the ADA,
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.That must also include the choice not to run your business in a certain manner that allows certain customers to do business with you. A business owner does not "refuse" to serve blind customers, but he is declining their patronage. This is not semantics: "decline" implies choice, and choice is the very essence of liberty. What's next, a court ruling that a business isn't complying with the ADA because it won't offer free shuttle service? After all, a business that won't pick up handicapped customers isn't "accomodating" them.
My blog isn't a business, but I still added the little message at the top to make a statement. One of your individual rights, as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, is "the pursuit of happiness." Read that again: it doesn't mean you have the right to happiness itself, only to the pursuit of it. And it also doesn't mean I'm required to help you in your pursuit if I don't want to.