NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Civil Rights Gone Wrong

June 19, 2002

Although civil rights laws of the 1960s had benevolent intentions, many of these laws have backfired. In trying to create social equality and equal opportunity, the government has, in many cases, made worse a problem that would have eventually fixed itself if left to market forces. Among the unintended consequences of government policies, for example:

  • When the minimum wage is raised, firms adjust in ways that harm workers -- downsizing, splitting shifts and requiring employees to pay for their own training, uniforms and/or equipment.
  • When the government got rid of mandatory retirement rules, it placed many older employees at risk of not being able to retire in dignity -- that is, by forcing companies to dismiss them for failing performance, rather than automatically retiring them at a certain age.
  • Meanwhile, since the retirement date of older workers is no longer known, younger employees are not willing to remain subordinate, since promotion is no longer foreseeable.
  • As younger employees are often cheaper, any misstep by a near-retiree will more easily get him fired so someone younger can replace him.

The disruption of labor market forces has, in many cases, made employer-employee relationships much tenser and has made the work place a more unproductive and unpleasant place to be.

Source: Richard A. Epstein, Equal Opportunity or More Opportunity: the Good Thing About Discrimination," Civitas: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, March 2002.


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