Freedom Makes Bigots Pay

Labor regulations have a long history of hurting women and minorities. Yet, when thinking about the economic damage society has inflicted on nonwhites and on women, many people blame the personal prejudices of the people doing the hiring.

The State against Minorities

In The State Against Blacks, Freeman writer Walter Williams explains how various government restrictions on the freedom to work hurt minorities. For example, much legislation reserves certain kinds of work for union laborers. When it’s difficult for minorities to join unions, as it often is, those laws disadvantage minority workers.

Do we tolerate an economic system in which blacks and women persistently earn lower wages?

In the chapter “Minimum Wage, Maximum Folly,” Williams explains that minimum wage laws are another block to employment opportunities for the less skilled, many of whom are minorities. By making it illegal for lower-skilled workers to do a job at lower pay, minimum wage laws make hiring more expensive and higher-skilled workers (who are often white union members) become the more economical alternative for employers. Further, the often-dreadful education offered in inner-city government schools denies many poorer blacks the chance to develop the literacy and numeracy on which they can build higher-paying skills.

Freedom for Bigots?

But suppose these kinds of legislated disadvantages were done away with, so that we had truly free labor markets and quality schooling even for the poor. Would that mean equal employment opportunity for all?

Full freedom of exchange in labor markets would allow employers to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or any prejudice or whim that strikes them. Wouldn’t suc…