Libertarians make me laugh — mainly because I can’t take anyone who uses the terms “nanny-state” and “big government” seriously. It’s not that there is anything particularly funny about individual freedom, open markets, and limited regulation, it’s that these people don’t seem to understand how much the world has changed since they became a political party back in the 1970s.
These days cigarettes can harm non-smokers, the markets have gone global, and the only growth industry in our shrinking economy is white collar crime. Yet Libertarians still argue against smoking bans, against regulation, and against government spending.
They remain committed to the idea that government is, by definition, a problem and can never be the answer — despite the fact that the government is the only single entity willing and able to spend the money needed to get the economy moving again. Libertarians generally miss the fact that governments create markets, markets don’t create governments. And when business crosses borders, toothpaste made in China can make people sick in Chicago and risky bets made in London can bankrupt the largest insurance company in America.
Which brings us to last Thursday’s Daily Press and Judge James Gray’s “Libertarian Perspective” column on changing employment law to make it easier to fire employees. The issue of the list of legal reasons for firing someone being very, very long, and the list of illegal reasons for firing someone being very, very short is personal for me. I was once one of the most vulnerable, least legally protected workers in this town: assistant to a minor celebrity.
On the promise that I would get to write his biography, I worked seven days a week (sometimes 20 hours a day) to “make it easier” for him to live his life. He fired me because I refused to consent to having my pay illegally docked like a factory worker who owes money at the company store.
Gray says our democracy is on the verge of “collapse” because of our government and its tendency to “destroy private initiative” and offers the self-starter’s mantra, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me” as advice on how we can all work to “fix” the government.
He says, “employers don’t hire people just so they can discriminate against and harass them for racial, gender, or sexual-preference reasons and then fire them” and that those employers “have already ‘passed the test’ by hiring those employees.” Of course, that’s only if the “test” is whether or not that employer illegally discriminates in hiring.
His next joke is that we should eliminate all legal protection against wrongful termination for all workers for up to two years. He even uses the legal term “protected class” so there is no question about exactly whose rights he wants to take away.
He drives it home saying, “more of these … people would have jobs” if it weren’t for the whole equal protection under the law thing that would prohibit an employer from firing a 63-year-old gay Asian woman for no other reason than she was old, or gay, or Asian, or a woman.
His topper is the idea that after being sued (presumably by one of “these people"), the employer would simply refuse to hire anyone in any protected class (over half of the population) ever again, so current workplace protection “actually works against equality in employment.” Then he mysteriously quotes Anne Frank.
I’ve read some unintentional comedy in this paper, but Judge Gray went above and beyond. Before retiring from the Supremes, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would always want to know how any change in the law would impact the most vulnerable among us.
Focusing on this kind of every-day application of the law is what makes a great jurist — and not thinking things all the way through is probably why Jim Gray’s career peaked on the Orange County bench.
I have a problem with a judge who refers to the existence of “never-ending laws” like it’s a bad thing, but I also understand where he’s coming from: the 70s, when his party was almost relevant.
Like all Libertarians, this retired civil servant (who probably still collects a pension from Orange County) wants “government” out of his life. That is, until his house in Newport Beach is flooded or on fire. Then he’ll be dailing “9-1-1” and waiting for the “nanny state” and its “big government” to send help — just like the rest of us — and as he considers how to get rid of the water or put out the fire, one thing I know he won’t be thinking is, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider living in Santa Monica whose columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.