Saturday, June 27, 2009

Markets vs Politics: Lessons in Intolerance

Yesterday I blogged about intolerance exhibited before children, or I should more accurately say intolerance or bigotry imposed upon children. Two things brought it up. First, was a story that Barbara Branden told me not long ago. The second was an incident at a water park in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. See this entry for more details.

Lava Hot Springs Park is a government-owned “recreation” center that announced a family discount. It then told a lesbian couple and their children that they don’t count as a real family and won’t get the discount. The park used state marriage laws as the excuse for that. When they got some flack over the unequal policy they announced that they would solve it by stripping all families of discounts. You should note that they are doing this over a few dollars.

After posting on this case yesterday, Scott Pearhill, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce, posted a note in our comments section. He wanted everyone to know that the Chamber “which represents more than 70 local businesses, recently published a statement in which the Chamber welcomes all people to Lava.” He then said: “Thanks very much for your work to promote justice and kindness in our world.”

What the local Chamber of Commerce said was that they were asked about their views toward “gay and lesbian visitors” and that the Board of the Chamber unanimously agreed that “we want all to know that we hope this isolated incident won’t dissuade visitors from exploring our community and, indeed, the rest of Idaho. The Lave Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce feels that all are welcome in our community and we look forward to showing them our Idaho hospitality.”

On one hand we have a government-owned park making a same-sex couple and their children feel especially unwelcome while the Chamber of Commerce, that represents 70 businesses in the area, is going out of its way to tell people that they welcome everyone as visitors in their community. I am not the least bit surprised by this. Consider what I wrote on this blog in May, 2007:
Today around the world the issue of rights for gay men and women is hotly debated in government. Moves to extend rights to gay couples are fiercely resisted by politicians in almost every country. Almost unnoticed is the fact that business—ranging from multinational corporations to small companies— are implementing policies which recognize gay relationships. If anything government’s tend to act against bigotry only after the private sector has already stepped in to eradicate it. The nature of politics is inherently conservative and resistant to change. But the private market thrives on innovation and change.

This is a perfect example of what I meant. Government is resisting change while private businesses are welcoming it. In regards to the debate on marriage equality I noted that where our society has evolved, our government has barely moved. I wrote:
What is happening now, with political bodies recognizing marriage equality, is that the civil institution of marriage is catching up the private, real nature of marriage. Society, the web of voluntary associations, has largely accepted marriage equality. Major corporations already recognize such relationships in terms of insurance and employment benefits. Even many churches, outside the Catholics, Mormons and fundamentalists, recognize or accept same-sex couples. Virtually all major branches of Society have evolved to accept gay couples. Not so the State. In that realm where the State has not exerted control marriage has already evolved. The anti-equality lobby has actually used state coercion to forbid private institutions from evolving. In essence, they are trying to prevent natural evolution through the use of top-down coercion. It can be argued that the individuals who are meddling with the institution are those using political control to prevent evolution of marriage in the social sphere.
Political power is inherently conservative, markets embrace diversity. Years ago Milton Friedman said: “The characteristic feature of action through political channels is that it tends to require or enforce substantial conformity. The great advantage of the market, on the other hand, is that it permits wide diversity.” Ludwig von Mises said that in bureaucratic management, that is political control, “the first step is to obtain the consent of old men accustomed to doing things in prescribed ways, and no longer open to new ideas. No progress and no reforms can be expected in a state of affairs where the first step is to obtain the consent of old men. The pioneers of new methods are considered rebels and treated as such. For a bureaucratic mind law abidance, i.e., cling to the customary and antiquated is the first of all virtues.

The British socialist, Evan Luard, correctly noted that “collective power is also conservative because within the democratic system, political parties and leaders are obliged to converge to a point near the average views of the majority.” Sir Samuel Brittan, years ago wrote an essay, Capitalism and the Permissive Society, where he outlined precisely why free markets undermine conservative social orders. He said that “both the political and economic philosophy and the capitalist practices of a century ago set in motion a train of events and ideas which eventually undermined the status-ridden convention society of the time and brought into being the more tolerant England of today.”

Classical liberalism was comprised of philosophical views about the individual and about economics. It supported individual liberty and the right of contract and it supported free markets, as opposed to politically-controlled markets. Those ideas, even today, are continuing to fuel the culture war. The classical liberals said that marriage was a contract between individuals and not a religious institution at all. Marriage predated religion and existed long before the church got involved with it. Christian writer, John Witte, describes the view of the Classical Liberals:
...the voluntary bargain struck between the two married parties. The terms of their marital bargain were not preset by God or nature, church or state, tradition or community. These terms were set by the parties themselves, in accordance with general rules of contract formation and general norms of civil society. Such rules and norms demanded respect for the life, liberty, and property interests of other parties, and compliance with general standards of health, safety, and welfare in the community. But the form and function and the length and limits of the marital relationship were to be left to the private bargain of the parties -- each of whom enjoyed full equality and liberty, both with each other and within the broader civil society. Couples should now be able to make their own marriage beds, and lie in them or leave them as they saw fit.
On the other side of the battle is another view, expounded by the authoritarian John Calvin, who demanded state control of marriage, in alliance with the church, in order to control sin. The Liberals like Jefferson, Locke, Spencer, and others, were promoting the contractual, limited-government theory of contract. This really was a battle between those who held an authoritarian view of marriage and those who held a libertarian view. Witte says that modern law is a combination of these conflicting views, or “traditions—one rooted in Christianity, a second in the Enlightenment.”

The business world, when it doesn’t have access to political power, is the market. It reflects the libertarian ideal of voluntary exchange and cooperation. For us libertarians there is no surprise that the marketplace is decades ahead of government in respecting the rights of gay people. It is driven by a need to satisfy customers. If business fails to satisfy customers it loses customers, unless the politicians come along and strip customers of freedom of choice.

In Lava Hot Springs the local businesses don’t want to alienate customers. They want to welcome everyone. The non-profit, state-controlled park doesn’t have to satisfy customers. It doesn’t exist purely on the basis of profit. They have no major incentive to treat people right. They can afford to be legalistic, bureaucratic and stodgy. They can ignore the realities of life since they are government controlled and owned and they don’t have to make a profit. They can treat people like shit, businesses can’t.

What I have never understood is why so many progressives and advocates of diversity believe that state control will make life better for those who suffer discrimination. It isn’t the private community that is refusing to recognize gay couples—it is the state. Only six states have recognized gay marriage. Hundreds of the largest corporations in the United States recognized those relationship years ago. Even when a radical progressive like Barack Obama gets into office he’s happy to screw the gay community around for months, refusing to keep his promises. What Obama won’t do, private businesses have done quietly and with little conflict for years.

Politicized-markets, such as this water park, are not conducive to innovation or diversity. They are less prone to tolerance and usually unwilling to embrace that which is new. Not so for competitive markets, where political control is largely absent. When Progressive push for more state control they are undermining the best interests of all groups who suffer discrimination in the United States. If Progressives understood the reality of the dynamics of liberal capitalism they would abandon their statism immediately. If conservatives had the intellectual ability to grasp how capitalism undermines the traditional social order they would all become rampant socialists overnight.

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