Friday, May 21, 2010

Why libertarianism fails the "humanity" test

Rand Paul is trying to explain his libertarianism. His recent comments on whether he'd have supported the Civil Rights Act if he were a legislator in 1964 (he wouldn't in the private sector) have gotten the Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky in a lot of trouble.

He isn't a racist himself, he insists, but rather believes that the founding fathers' intent was to allow business owners the right to be. If their establishment wants to be prejudicial, then let them -- and if the market punishes them for it, that will be all the incentive they need to remedy things.

In the public sphere, Paul would argue that the government must absolutely adhere to the guidelines of the Civil Rights Act. But in the private sector, the government shouldn't dictate how a private enterprise hires or serves people.

It'd be great if things actually worked that way. But if this were how the system worked, Paul would effectively be advocating murder.

That may be a harsh statement to accept, but imagine if Paul's Utopian, libertarian paradise came true. Private companies would be allowed to discriminate on any basis, simply because they didn't agree with a person's beliefs, or even based on a person's skin color.

We tend to forget in this country that medicine is privatized. Hospitals are privatized. Imagine, living in that libertarian dreamworld, if a black person were in a potentially fatal car accident in a rural, predominantly white area (the kind where Confederate flags still fly proudly).

Imagine this person being taken to a private hospital, only to discover this was a whites only hospital. The black hospital -- they'd probably use a different word for "black" -- was ten miles the other way. And don't bother hopping in that ambulance again...we own that, too. We're currently working on firing the guy who brought you here, who responded to your 911 call, because he should have known better and let that "other" hospital deal with it.

Yes, it sounds like a terrible, and perhaps exaggerated, idea of what COULD happen. A doctor's first rule is, of course, do no harm. But what about hospital administrators? They have no rule like this -- and they can run their business however they like.

They could get sued in this situation, of course, but if I'm understanding Paul's rhetoric correctly, they couldn't face any criminal charges for effectively carrying out this man's death sentence.

And this is why libertarianism won't work: at times, government intervention isn't preferable, but just damn HUMANE. Discrimination isn't acceptable -- a person should be hired because they are qualified, not because they look like you. A person shouldn't be promoted because they're one of the "good ol' boys," but because he OR she has the qualities necessary to lead.

Racism is a constitutionally protected right that an individual holds. But a place of business -- being part of the commerce of the United States -- has no right to bar certain people their rights to do business with them if the U.S. government so desires it.

We must reject the libertarian ideas of Rand Paul, and instead opt for a society where we treat everyone equally. Doing so isn't just beneficial economically, but socially as well.

1 comment:

  1. Understanding the dynamics of a libertarian "utopia" is a little more difficult than taking our current world and dropping it in what you imagine as a libertarian legal framework. Instead, you've gotta imagine the evolution of institutions and individuals and how they adapt to new challenges.

    Taking the case of the black person in a potentially fatal car accident requires much more mental flexibility than conjuring up a racist hospital administrator.

    My guess is a person purchasing insurance may seek out a company or policy option that prevents discrimination, these policies would guarantee that the person not be discriminated against and if they were they would be compensated. In order to secure a guarantee the company would probably have to have a deal worked out, not necessarily with health care providers because that would be an expensive process, however, I'm sure there would be accrediting bodies (such as the current Joint Commission) which would be glad to engage in that trade. Financially speaking, dealing with anti-discrimination clauses in insurance policies is probably as safe and profitable as selling asteroid insurance. It probably ain't gonna happen.

    So what if specific hospitals eschew gaining accreditation so that it can engage in racial discrimination, well, it may as well be telling consumers that it is eschewing certain standards. People may be dumb, but they are still smart enough to go to an AMA doctor as opposed to a guy operating out of the back of a van. Not only that, but if they give the middle finger to bodies who determine standards for health care providers how can they expect to gain insurance coverage or even gain bank financing. Insurance companies and banks probably will not want to deal with un-credentialed companies (especially in areas prone to lawsuits such as health care) and if they are willing to deal with them it will likely result in higher costs for the hospital through higher premiums and higher interest rates.

    This is all simply one aspect of the problem, it does not go into the potential credentialing of hospital administrators or even the emergency services that private road owners would have.