I assume Steven used Albanians to avoid a black vs. white debate, as Mark Perry alluded to his mistake in doing so. But I don't think we can talk about Albanians without talking about African-Americans, because the two can not be interchangeably substituted. On the whole, I am against any policy or system that would factor in the color of a person's skin, BUT an exception should be made, for a period of time, for any group that was systematically marginalized through government and government-sponsored policies. That is what makes Albanians and blacks different, at least in America.
Bryan (paraphrasing me!) starts with the rather strong intuition that it’s okay for tenants and workers to discriminate. If you don’t want to live in an Albanian-owned building or an work for an Albanian employer, that’s your right (no matter how strongly we might strongly disapprove of your attitude). By analogy, then, it might seem that landlords and employers should have the same right to discriminate.
Now clearly the situtation is not that simple; landlords and employers are not the same as tenants and employees. But the question is: Are they not the same in any way that is morally relevant? The most frequently cited difference (in my experience) is that landlords and employers tend to have more market power than tenants and workers. Putting aside the question of whether that’s true, it can’t possibly be a full justification for treating landords and employers differently, and here’s why: There are plenty of instances where we don’t think that market power takes away your right to discriminate. Extremely attractive people have a lot of power in the dating market, but I think it’s safe to say that almost nobody thinks the most beautiful among us should be forced to date Albanians, or to prove that they choose their partners according to some objective criterion other than national origin.
So if you think it’s okay for tenants to discriminate but not landlords, you’ve got to face the question: What is the ethically relevant distinction here? It’s clearly not market power, so what, if anything, is it?
I do not deny that there might be a good answer to that question, but I must admit I can’t imagine what it would be.
Civil rights "reparations" policies are important and have been monumental in changing American society in the last 50 years with respect to its treatment of blacks. However, I do feel like a time limit on government affirmative action policies is important, as I believe there is a tipping point past which (in almost every case) continued government action begins to do more harm than good. There is a fine line between help and pity, as there is a fine line between support and condescension, and the last thing we should be doing is institutionalizing any group as perpetually in need of assistance. I am not smart enough to know exactly when, but we should be at least trying to understand how close we may be to reaching the point of diminishing returns.
Now, as far as Albanians and all others are concerned, Landsburg has a point, in that we can not legislate discrimination out of human nature, and attempts to do so are usually one-sided and without moral/philosophical consistency.
We discriminate every day in the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the friends we keep, and the places we live/work/congregate. Discrimination is the primary function by which we form an identity and form communities with others who share in our discrimination. Racial discrimination is particularly crude and offensive, I agree, but in an open society with a blind government, those that discriminate poorly will usually suffer their just rewards.