Good Policy for Business, but Bad Law

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal (see here) in which he promoted non-discrimination in the workplace as good for business. Cook’s article is certainly well taken insofar as equal treatment in the workplace for employees regardless of race, sex, nationality, or sexual orientation. I applaud Apple for its comprehensive non-discrimination policy.

Cook also maintains that it also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business. He says he has found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives. Actually, I would hope that Cook, and all rational employers, generally value employees for what they can do, and do not, and should not, care who they are.

Cook overreaches in using Apple’s policy of not discriminating based on sexual orientation in hiring and on the job treatment to push for passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a bill that would  provide similar requirements for all businesses, now pending in Congress. As for extending legal protection to sexual orientation, Cook does not make a good argument. In fact, except for governments, and those who seek and benefit from government contracts, private employers should be legally allowed to discriminate on any basis they believe appropriate. If Cook is correct, and I believe he is, that it harms a business if competent, creative, and enthusiastic employees are excluded because of the aforementioned classifications, they will suffer in marketplace. After all, a business’s business is not so-called social justice or the betterment of society. It is to make a profit. Of course, when more businesses that profit, the positive externality is the betterment of society by creating jobs and products that increase the overall standard of living. Nevertheless, legally coercive measures to accomplish equal treatment by private persons has proven to be counterproductive.

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