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Cass R. Sunstein, Why Markets Don’t Stop Discrimination, 8 Soc. Phil. & Pol’y 22 (1991).

Abstract: Markets, it is sometimes said, are hard on discrimination. An employer who finds himself refusing to hire qualified blacks and women will, in the long run, lose out to those who are willing to draw from a broader labor pool. Employer discrimination amounts to a self-destructive “taste” – self-destructive because employers who indulge that taste add to the costs of doing business. Added costs can only hurt. To put it simply, bigots are weak competitors. The market will drive them out. On this account, the persistence of employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex presents something of a puzzle. And if markets are an ally of equality and a foe of employment discrimination, perhaps discrimination persists because of something other than markets. Perhaps labor unions are to blame; perhaps the real culprit is the extensive federal regulation of the employment market, including minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws and unemployment compensation. If competitive markets drive out discrimination, the problem for current federal policy lies not in the absence of aggressive anti-discrimination law, but instead in the absence of truly competitive markets. If this account is correct, the prescription for the future of anti-discrimination law is to seek ways to free up employers from the wide range of governmental disabilities – including, in fact, anti-discrimination law itself. The argument seems to be bolstered by the fact that some groups subject to past and present prejudice – most notably, Jews and Asian-Americans – have made substantial progress in employment at least in part because of the operation of competitive markets.