Response on Harvard

Commenter Froginthewell says:

I don’t understand – Harvard is a private university, right? And this controversy is about propriety and not rights?

Well, yes. Harvard is a private university, but in this non-libertarian world, they are subject to various anti-discrimination laws which may or may not mandate or prohibit reserving a few hours for women in their gym.  I am not aware of, and I am not really very interested in the details of those laws, but start from The Volokh Conspiracy  if you are interested.

 Secondly, my point was a defence of the libertarian position, which starts from the presumption that owners should be broadly free (legally) to do what they wish within their property. If you agree with the libertarian position, then what you are saying makes sense. We can agree that Harvard should be legally free to do what it did, and then debate the propriety of that decision. Those libertarians who think that Harvard’s decision was improper would still be free to protest that decision through non-violent demostrations, signature campaigns or boycotts.

But my argument, naturally enough, was not directed at those who agree with me. It was directed at those who do not hold the libertarian position, which means that they are open to enforcing their sense of propriety through legislation, i.e. it was directed at precisely those who do not agree with the distinction that Froginthewell’s comment is drawing. I am not aware of just how many people fit that definition, but I am confident that the proportion is high enough that I can say that I was not attacking a strawman.

Finally, it so happens that I do not  agree with the view that this issue is about propriety. I think that this is, or ought to be,  a pragmatic decision, based on costs and benefits, best made at the local level on a case-by-case basis. Having a law for this is bad, but even making this into an issue of “propriety” is unwise. There is no need to bring out the heavy artillery of religious freedom, “discrimination”, women’s rights, etc. I was pointing out that this libertarian “dogmatism” on property rights is what enables us to be non-dogmatic about everything else, while those who do not agree with our dogma have no choice but to turn every issue into one of law or propriety.

There is Still Time to Repent

Those who keep criticising us libertarians for being too dogmatic about our insistence on property rights as the source of other rights, look upon the weird controversy over reserving a few hours for women at the Harvard gym, and repent.

For, the truth is that a dogmatic respect for certain fundamental rights is what enables us to be easygoing about most other things.

An employee who belongs to an orthodox Jewish faith wants to cut a Friday evening meeting short, because he cannot be in a car when Sabbath starts at sundown. Should we accommodate his request? Muslim employees request some changes in meal timings during Ramzan. Should we accommodate them? Obviously, all such requests will cause some inconvenience to others.  Is the cost too much? Are the beneficiaries a few or many? Are the the benefits worth it?  Are the beneficiaries willing to make other accommodations to compensate?

To me, it seems like a good idea to make reasonable accommodations for people’s religious or other beliefs, where possible. Whether we should in any particular case depends on so many factors, so many costs, so many benefits and the conflicting interests of so many constituencies that it would be highly presumptuous of me to make blanket statements one way or the other. But what I can state is that letting property owners make the decision devolves the decision making to those who are closest to the decision and who have the most stake in the costs and benefits of that decision.

Or, you could turn this into a legal question involving esoteric principles. Well, good luck. When you are trying to make a law for this, you are moving the decision-making up to the top. Your quest for foolish consistency will inevitably lead to foolish decisions, because no law will provide for every nuance that would be involved in individual cases.  There is still time. Come to Libertarianism my children!

Zero is a Fraction Too

Anonymous Coward wants to know what exactly is wrong with the logic in the paragraph I linked to below.  Let me explain:

Rothbard claims that when I open a current or savings account with the bank (“checking account” or “demand deposit” for you Americans)  the bank is implicitly promising to keep the money locked up in its vault, which means that lending it out constitutes fraud. I don’t see how that makes sense. The bank is only promising to pay me my money on demand. How it manages to do it is the bank’s business.

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