Does Free-Market Reluctance Betray Fear of Who We Really Are?

By Jason Menard

As you’ve likely heard, McDain’s has drawn a line in the sandbox – tomorrow the Monroeville, PA restaurant will start enforcing its no-children-under-six policy. While many adults are stomping their feet, threatening to take their toys home, or calling in an adult (in this case, a lawyer), there’s one thing that people seem to be unwilling to explore.

That’s letting the market decide what the market wants. But are we too afraid to let the market speak for itself in case it eventually reveals something we don’t want to see. 

After all, there certainly seems to be a demand. A Web poll followed an MSNBC article that discusses the owner’s decision to keep the kids at bay due to their inability to practice “volume control.” And while Web polls are notoriously suspect, I think it’s safe to say that many feel this is much ado about nothing. On the MSNBC article about this story, almost 100,000 people voted: 44 per cent wanted restaurants to ban young kids now; 53 per cent thought it depended on the place; and only three per cent said it’s “patently unfair.”

And, not surprisingly, those ready to take up the mantle against discrimination have come out! This piece is but one example of a theme that’s consistent: we start with kids now, where do we stop?

It’s a good question. Where do we stop? Where should we stop? Who knows? Today it’s kids; maybe tomorrow it’s seniors with badly fitting teeth – after all, they make even more disgusting noises than those kids. And once we’ve gotten over the shock of ageism, maybe then some restaurant owner will take that “no coloured allowed” sign out of mothballs and stick it on the door. Would those poll results be so overwhelmingly in favour if it was Asians being kept at bay instead of children?

That’s the fear, right? That someone, somewhere is going to use this type of precedent as an opportunity to engage in the racist behaviour that they’ve been fighting so hard to hide? Today it’s the kids, tomorrow it’s the women and gays.

You know what? I say let them. We live in an allegedly free market, albeit with restrictions from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And I saw let that free market decide what it wants.

Let’s look at the anti-smoking debate. Restaurants and bars were forced to ban smoking from their premises. But what if we had allowed the market to dictate it? After all, smoking and drinking aren’t illegal. And if, as a non-smoker, you don’t want to go somewhere with smoking, then don’t go. If the market’s strong enough, businesses will open up to cater to your desires – and your money.

If some moron decided that he didn’t like gay people and wanted to not allow them to eat in his establishment, then we – as a free market – have the power to put him out of business. Whether you want to picket respectfully around that restaurant or – even better – vote with your wallet and not go, that’s your prerogative. Most business owners will quite happily adjust for their clientele. And if they can’t make enough money being racist or sexist bastards, then watch those doors open to all. Ideally, a restaurant that features a maitre d’ with a pointy white hat would be subject to such a wave of community outrage that they’d slink back to whichever hole from whence they came.

But are we afraid of what might happen if we do allow the free market to make that decision? Just as no one on the anti-smoking side wanted to test the free-market path, fearing that non-smoking-only businesses would be killed by a lack of interest, are we afraid that people may start supporting these restaurants that would be serving up hate?

We have closed organizations everywhere. From female-only clubs to restricted-admittance societies – exclusionary behaviour is everywhere. Personally, I choose not to support any organization or establishment that refuses to be open to all, but maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe that’s what our society is fearful of. Despite the Charter, despite what equal-access laws are intended to do, you simply can’t legislate against hate. All you can do is educate and support. The more laws you put in place, the more underground that sends the racists – and I don’t know about you, but I want my nut-jobs out where I can see them.

So now you have lawyers and rights’ advocates all up in arms over a business choosing to shutter its doors to kids. Their goal is to stop the trickle of exclusionary behaviour before it becomes a full-fledged deluge.

Unfortunately, maybe that’s because once the flood gates are open, there may not be as many people as we’d hope ready to push back those waters of hate.

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