Editor’s Note: This article is part of a week-long series illustrating how the free market works, from around the globe to our day to day lives.
Nobody likes bigotry. Intolerance toward our fellow man because of reasons beyond their control has no place in society today. Generally speaking, it is inherent within us to want to tolerate others and see others tolerate us. This notion speaks to our sense of justice and goodwill. It is why society has largely moved away from dividing people by race or gender and rejects those who have refused to do so. But while our goal might be universal recognized, our method of achieving that aim is not so uniform.
The best modern day example of this divide is the debate of whether a Christian baker should bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. For many, the role of government is to be in a position to protect workers or customers from discrimination and bigotry. For these people, while they believe that the marketplace can do many things, discrimination would run rampant without government intervention. There are many flaws with this way of thinking, especially when one considers the actual history of discrimination in the workplace.
The first is that it is bigoted discrimination for a Christian baker to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding. This incident is often compared to 1960s America when blacks faced racial discrimination and segregation all the time. That doesn’t seem to be the same case, however. The Baker did not exclude the gay couple from entry into the bakery or from purchasing other products in the store. The Baker merely refused to be a participant in a ceremony of religious nature that would go against the Baker’s faith. To compare a baker’s religious convictions to that of segregation in 1960s America is closed-minded and ignorant to the truth.
Largely missed in this incident was the prevalence of the couple’s options. In a genuinely free market, it would not matter if a bigoted store owner refused you service. There is a high market demand for acceptance for all people, regardless of race, sex, or orientation. Capitalism places the power in the hands of the consumer. It is simply more profitable to open your doors to all people, regardless of what they look like or who they love. The bigoted business owner would eventually see his or her doors close because the competition kept their doors open to all people. There is a demand for tolerance in the market which does not require government interference.
Bigotry is expensive. Acceptance is profitable.
Prohibiting the government from protecting against discrimination would allow the market to protect customers and workers organically. As the market defends against actual bigotry, religious business owners would also be protected from participating in ceremonies that violate their conscience. A free market will always generate options. Gay couples would never have to rely entirely on one bakery for their wedding, and a baker would never have to violate their conscience merely to stay in business.
Liberty fosters a particular kind of community. When the State does not provide, the market never fails to pick up the slack and typically in a more efficient way. Because liberty enforces communities and brings everyone together, tolerance naturally follows.
Last year, I highlighted a touching case where a photographer refused to take photos of special needs children. Rather than a government mandate ordering her to do so, another photographer from Virginia came to take their pictures for free. Ironically, because of the freedom to discriminate, the market provided these children and their families an even bigger smile on their face than they otherwise would’ve had. It is part of the culture that the market instinctively provides. It is very hard to hate people when you are forced to connect with their humanity. Those who still do, often don’t last very long in a society built on acceptance.
Bigotry can only thrive in culture when enforced or encouraged by the State.
As the North began to embrace industrialization during the Civil War, the South instituted Jim Crow laws. For nearly 100 years these states imposed bigotry through legislation and encouraged it in the culture through rhetoric. Racism and sexism are all ugly branches of collectivism. The collective power of the State is the only place these native and dangerous ideologies can remain for an extended period.
In a free market, the individual reigns supreme. The market allows everyone to have a voice, no matter if that person is black, white, gay, or straight. Any person can find a place to serve and to be served, no matter their background. It speaks to the very fabric of our humanity and our desire to help our fellow man. Freedom of association creates tolerance and allows markets to work.