Should Consumers be Free to Discriminate?

In the United States, it’s illegal to discriminate--as an employer, supplier, or retailer--on the basis of things like gender, sexuality, religion, race, etc; this is national law under the Civil Rights Act. In most states, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age and other factors.

This is a core tenet of the United States’ efforts to ensure that all people have an equal economic opportunity in the US, and to combat general societal discrimination. The vast majority of Americans approve of the Civil Rights Act.

Here’s something to consider: the Civil Rights Act does not mention anything about consumers: that is, there is currently no law against consumers discriminating against retailers or suppliers on the basis of anything at all.

It’s certainly the case that a single consumer has less impact than a large company, but as a whole, consumers can easily wield a lot of power. Imagine 19th and early 20th century America, in which Christian majorities would refuse to patronize Jewish stores or professionals, marginalizing the Jewish community.

Imagine if a Muslim, Evangelical Christian, transgender, black, or KKK member tried to set up shop in the wrong town (or part of town) and members of that town refused to frequent the business because of their prejudices against the owner. Such discrimination could occur today.

So why don’t we make it illegal for consumers to discriminate against shop-owners based on their religion, race, sexuality, etc? Is it simply that it’s too hard to discover? Or too hard to force someone to buy at a certain frequency from a particular vendor?

Or is it that individuals--unlike businesses--have a certain right to hold prejudices, as part of their individual liberty?

Looking forward to your comments, below.

16 Comments

Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.