Economy,  Freedom & Liberty

Goods, Services, and Ideology

As a classical liberal, I have always thought it both wrong and dangerous to force private businesses to provide goods and services they’re ideologically opposed to or to people they’re ideologically opposed to. My reasoning is based on the primacy of Freedom of Association if we are to be regarded as free people, but also on the basis that I personally would not want my business to be forced to provide services to people I don’t approve of, like organisations with bigoted ideas about race, religion, gender and sexuality. I might wish to refuse to work for, for example, a conservative evangelical religious organisation. But unfortunately this means I have to accept the freedom of their’s to decline to make a gay wedding cake or rent to unmarried couples.

It should be noted that this reasoning applies only to private businesses. It does not apply to state institutions which have an obligation to treat all citizens equally and it goes without saying that this obligation extends to the employees of state institutions. There is an argument that public companies have similar obligations too, but this is a discussion for another time because the point of this post is not these disclaimers but something else entirely.

It is hypocrisy.

In The Spectator, Susan Hill complains that some bookshops are refusing to order pro-Trump books for customers. Though I am unlikely to waste my time and money on a pro-Trump book, I was struck by the double standards: If a bookshop refuses to order you a book because they don’t approve of the author’s politics, how is that any different to a baker refusing to make a gay wedding cake?

Is this yet again an example of where principles are abandoned when they are to the other team’s benefit and only embraced when they are to our team’s benefit? Both sides do this, of course. Conservatives will be outraged when a religious business is punished by law for refusing to serve gay people, or unmarried couples, or atheists, or some other group they oppose. Liberals would be similarly outraged if the law overruled the conscience of the leftwing bookshop. Both sides will bang on about a violation of rights they’d quite happily deny to the other. Neither will defend the principle of personal freedom to conduct one’s business as one likes, whether others like it or not.

If we want to end the inevitable polarising effect of partisan populist politics, then a return to principles is the way forward. We will not attain freedom and justice by placing increasing restrictions of individual freedoms or using the justice system as a bludgeon.

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