Freedom of Association


One of the central themes of a free society is the freedom to associate.  For reasons of political correctness, most people are afraid to support freedom of association to its logical conclusion.

It is a bit puzzling to me because most Americans will support free speech, even to its logical conclusion.  It is said that free speech is an anti-democratic idea and that is certainly true.  People speaking with the majority, or saying something popular, don’t really need protection.  It is the people who are saying unpopular things that need protection.

While free speech is not fully supported everywhere, even in America, it is far more accepted than freedom of association.

Ask someone if a restaurant owner should be able to turn away customers because of race, or religion, or gender, or a handicap.  Most people will not recognize the right of the property owner to decide who enters his property.

Interestingly, if you ask about a homeowner, then most people will agree that the homeowner can turn away whomever he wants.  For some reason, a restaurant owner is thought of as having less property rights than the homeowner because the restaurant is open to the public.

Of course, all people discriminate.  Some discrimination is rational and natural.  Other discrimination might be bad manners or just plain immoral.  But I have to maintain that the pro-liberty position is that you should be free to associate or not associate with whomever you want, provided that you are not using force or threatening force or breaking a contract.

If a guy asks a girl out on a date and she says no, she is likely discriminating, particularly if she would have said yes to someone else.  But regardless of her reason, does anyone think she should be obligated by the law to say yes?

A restaurant owner, who discriminates based on age or gender or race or sexual orientation or whatever, will most likely just hurt his own business.  Not only will he lose the business of those he is not allowing in, he will probably lose the business of others who simply find it distasteful.

The same concept applies to an employer.  An employer, in a free society, should not have to prove that he is not discriminating.  He should be able to hire anyone or not hire anyone that he wants.  People who conduct interviews will usually discriminate in some way anyway.  It just isn’t blatant.  It is human nature to assess a person based on looks, personality, speech, mannerisms, etc.  You can’t help but do that.

Ironically, anti-discrimination laws lead to unintended consequences and can often hurt the very people they are purported to help.  In our litigious society today, many employers will avoid associating with people if they think it will increase their chances of a lawsuit.

It is now common for older people who are fired or laid off to sue for age discrimination.  So if you are an employer, you are better off not hiring someone who is older because if the person is a lousy worker, you will be stuck with them or else risk a lawsuit for firing them.  The result is that it is harder for older people to get a job.

Why would an employer fire someone over age?  The reason isn’t because the person is old.  It is likely because they are either too expensive or can’t do the job properly.  It is not to say that the employer’s perception is always correct, but that could apply to anyone.

Shouldn’t an employer be allowed to get rid of someone who is producing less than he is being paid?  Should an employer be forced to take losses because he isn’t allowed to fire someone who is unproductive, just because he is old?

I understand that most Americans want to be sympathetic.  But using the force of government to make people associate is not the answer.  The answer itself lies in liberty.  A society that doesn’t use coercion is a more harmonious society.

There will always be people who are rude, immoral, distasteful, etc.  But as long as they are not directly hurting others, then they should be free to make their bad choices.  They probably won’t get very far.

It is the same as free speech.  You are going to hear people say things that you find wrong or distasteful, but you can choose to tune them out and not give them an audience.

To support liberty, we have to be consistent.