… is from page 9 of Benjamin Rogge’s October 1962 speech titled “The Case for Economic Freedom,” as this essay is reprinted in A Maverick’s Defense of Freedom, the 2010 collection of Rogge’s essays that is edited by Dwight Lee:
The free market protects the integrity of the individual by providing him with a host of decentralized alternatives rather than with one centralized opportunity. Even the known communist can readily find employment in capitalist America. The free market is blind to politics, religion, sexual behavior, and, yes, race. Do you ask about the politics or the religion of the farmer who grew the potatoes you buy at the store? Do you ask about the color of the hands that helped produce the steel you use in your office building?
DBx: I hear already the protests. ‘But sometimes the market is not blind to such things as religion and sexual behavior!’
And I agree: sometimes it is not. Yet for at least four reasons this reality pales in comparison to the larger reality identified in the above quotation.
First, those who in competitive markets insist on acting on their prejudices pay personal prices for doing so. The baker who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple loses the profit he or she would otherwise earn by baking that cake.
Second, in competitive markets we can be as certain as we can be of any outcome that there will be producers and merchants ready and willing to serve customers whose patronage is refused by other producers and merchants. The baker who, for whatever reason, refuses to bake cakes for same-sex weddings incurs a cost for acting on that preference, while the costs incurred by same-sex couples are much smaller, for they can go to other bakers to get their cakes.
Third, in competitive markets the vast majority of economic activities are performed by complete strangers. The percentage of the people whom you see face-to-face and whose work contributed to your material well-being is minuscule. You might be motivated by unsurpassed hatred for gays or jews, yet everyday you likely consume a large number of goods whose existence is made possible by the work of many gay people as well as by many jewish people. How do you know that the shoes on your feet weren’t designed by a jewish person? How do you know that the shirt on your back wasn’t driven to the retail store at which you bought it by a gay person?
Fourth, while it’s easy and enjoyable to morally grandstand against prejudices widely (and rightly) regarded as irrational and uncivilized – prejudices against, for example, people of color or gay people – sober reflection should reveal the danger of turning over to the state the power to decide the bases upon which each of us is free to decide with whom we associate. A state powerful enough to prevent you from discriminating against, say, Catholics is powerful enough to force you to discriminate against Jews.
Pictured above, wearing glasses, is the late Ben Rogge.