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Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts on Public Accomodations

As I was relaxing at the pool at my condo this past weekend (which has lifeguards who are guest workers and clientele which reflects our multi-ethnic mix of owners and renters), I had a final thought on the whole Rand Paul debacle over the public accommodations provisions in the Civil Rights Act.

The standard libertarian critique over these provisions, which Paul expressed to Rachel Maddow, is that private property holders should be able to refuse service to whomever they please, even if it is based on racism. My usual response is that if a business is open to the public, especially if it is incorporated, it cannot do that. Indeed, private clubs are still free to discriminate - as much as we dislike that. Someone who does business from their private home can certainly not take all clients, but if the public space is used, the freedom to deny service does not exist. Hanging a sign that says "open" rather than "by appointment only" pretty much obligates you to take all comers.

Let me now add another piece to the argument - one that shuts down any libertarian objection to public accommodation.

The essential part of the freedom to exclude is what happens when someone comes in and demands service, even though a "White's Only" sign hangs in the door. The police are called, or private security is summoned, and violence is used to remove the person. This fact alone should settle the question for any true libertarian, since the violence involved was most likely governmental violence. Indeed, without direct violence, or a right of private violence, restricting service based on race is impossible, especially when the excluded parties come in anyway. If big L libertarians are really serious about their pledge to do no violence, then public accommodation laws are actually the most libertarian option - much more than a faux respect for private party which really masks a culture of violent racism.

Let's now remove the "right to refuse service" meme from the liberty conversation forever.

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