“When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!'” – John 21:21-22
Earlier we noted an earlier a story from Germany about judicial weigh-in on workplace dress codes. A German court ruled that employers have a right to tell female employees to wear a bra, and keep hair and nails “neat” (but not ban fingernail polish colors).
One of the comments, from an old friend, pointed to a very interesting distinction between public policy and reasonable, moral, or just behavior.
In a democracy (or perchance even a republic), the government is the people. Rules and dictates of the government are rules and dictates of the people imposed upon their fellow citizens. This has rather broad-sweeping implications for a free society of equals.
So, where do I stand on the issue of workplace bras? I haven’t given the particular issue more than cursory thought. Is it affecting business? Hurting business? If not, then I doubt I would care much.
That said, the bra is hardly the issue of import.
If I start a widget-manufacturing-and-selling business, I do so at my own expense, my own risk. I borrow the money from the bank, invest in the necessary widget-tools, rent warehouse space for my widget-production facility, and set up a website for people all across the country to order widgets.
At some point in my widget enterprise, I come to the conclusion that the wearing of skinny jeans is detrimental to the overall widget production capacity of my facility as well as the individual widget quality. Skinny jeans, in the nether-regions of my widget-making mind, are bad for business. So, I ban them.
This policy naturally impacts female employees more than male (I hope), leading to an uproar about sexism and unfair work practices.
Now, the outside observer may rightly make a lot of legitimate claims and declarations here. “Your policy is nonsensical” – yeah, you’re probably right. “Your policy disproportionately affects women” – yeah, it probably does. “We’re going to boycott your widgets!” – well within your rights to freely associate. (As a matter of fact, this action in a free market is the proper response; any business threatened with significant loss of customers will change course quickly.) “There ought to be a law!” – woah, woah, woah, stop right there.
Just who do you think you are? You didn’t start this business. You didn’t put your life savings on the line. You didn’t work 70 hour weeks to get things going. You didn’t risk the financial livelihood of your family. “You didn’t put in on this – man” (Smokey, Friday). Why do you get to tell me how to run my business? Nobody is a slave here. Nobody is here under compulsion. All are free to go work for skinny-jeans-friendly manufacturing firms if they so choose. But if you’re going to work in my factory and draw a paycheck from my company, you’re going to do it my way.
This is the fundamental and often overlooked distinction between freedom-based policy and progressivism. While I, a defender of freedom, may well agree with the progressive on the fundamental morality questions of an issue, I disagree on the role of government in addressing them – precisely because government intervention is an intrusion on freedom; rarely for the purpose of defending anything like human rights.
Should needy people receive help? Should the elderly have care? Should businesses treat people fairly and with respect? We agree on all of these. Should the government mandate it? Now we have disagreement. The government is the people. By what authority can I mandate that my neighbor view the world as I do?
And to my left-wing or right-wing friends I will offer a simple word of caution. If you hold that a reasonable function of government is to mandate proper behaviors (whether helping the poor and needy, or upholding various moral codes), you cede any moral ground to complain about legislative overreach. The same government that you use to enforce behaviors you want can just as easily be used to enforce behaviors with which you disagree. All that is needed is for the other side to convince 51% of the voters that they’re right and it’s so long individual rights and liberties.
Either you believe in freedom, and that government must defend basic human rights and no more; or you are hoping to win the race to the top of the theocratic mountain and enforce your worldview before the other side(s) can enforce theirs. (Good luck with that – but these games have winners and losers; and we don’t want to hear complaints from the losers about how their rights have been trampled.)
This, of course, is a game I don’t care to be involved with. I prefer freedom for all.
So, as for German bras. No, I don’t think an employer should mandate that they be worn. Nor do I think the government should have any word to say about it if the employer does choose to make such a silly demand.