Re: Bigotry & Libertarians

There is one thing that YouTuber franks2732 got right in his video “Bigotry & Libertarians.” Capitalism, which I take him to mean the exchange of privately owned goods, would not prevent discrimination. For good or bad, people discriminate all the time among various choices, of course. If they are wise, people discriminate between those things that are injurious to their health and those things that are beneficial.

Even for the type of racial discrimination addressed in the video, a society of free exchange could not prevent racism. Nor could a free market prevent people from calling others hurtful names or falling in love with losers. For that matter, a free market could not guarantee that people would make good decisions either.

Those are only things that people can do. They have to take responsibility for their actions, and in free societies, individuals bear the responsibility for their deeds.

The YouTuber may not be aware of this, but it simply is not the case that “Laws passed by governments because people want to bring about social change to a society do [prevent discrimination].” Prior to the Civil Rights era, most of the government’s laws “to bring change to society” actively promoted discrimination against women, blacks and other racial and religious minorities.

In Jim Crow America, racial discrimination was de jure the law, including in many parts of the South as early as the Reconstruction Era in the 1870s.

These laws were heavily enforced for the very reason that existing government-privileged markets for labor, transportation and education could not be sustained under even a modicum of honest competition. White racists were not willing to trust that voluntary compliance among other privileged whites would maintain racial segregation. When the law was not enough, Klu Klux Klan terrorism was visited upon businesses not willing to keep blacks “in their place.”

To franks2732’s credit, he is not completely oblivious to this idea, even citing how the legal enshrinement of apartheid provided for systematic racial discrimination in South Africa.

In Montgomery, the bus company had unsuccessfully petitioned the city to repeal segregated riding after a prolonged boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr, whose later arrest gave prominence to a nationwide civil rights movement. Think how much more beneficial those protesters’ actions were than if they had simply sought a political compromise with the city. The bus company’s motivation was not to bring about greater social solidarity, but simple self-interest. It may not have been the most honorable intention, but it was the right thing to do.

franks2732 completely bypassed the fact that nonviolent civil disobedience rendered a great number of racist laws unenforceable. Through direct action, people were able to achieve a lasting social movement (before ultimately being co-opted). As Charles Johnson noted,

Woolworth’s lunch counters weren’t desegregated by Title II. The sit-in movement did that. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott onward, the Freedom Movement had won victories, town by town, building movements, holding racist institutions socially and economically accountable. The sit-ins proved the real-world power of the strategy: In Greensboro, N.C., nonviolent sit-in protests drove Woolworth’s to abandon its whites-only policy by July 1960. The Nashville Student Movement, through three months of sit-ins and boycotts, convinced merchants to open all downtown lunch counters in May the same year. Creative protests and grassroots pressure campaigns across the South changed local cultures and dismantled private segregation without legal backing.

Another claim in the video is that anti-discrimination laws have rendered racial conditions such that “There are no more discriminations” [sic]. I am puzzled by what he could possible mean. He either meant that racial discrimination no longer exists, which is laughable. Or he meant that racial discrimination is no longer formally legal.

Neither is true. Racial discrimination is still covertly practiced; it is just not as blatant as it had been under Jim Crow. In the private sector, racial discrimination just takes other, legal forms. Meanwhile, governments actively target blacks in the United States through various drug prohibitions, minimum wage laws, licensing regulations and zoning restrictions.

That leaves us with a problem. How then can racism be ended? As a practical concern, we cannot rely on the state to solve the problem. That would just give more incentive for government agents to make the problem worse so that they would accumulate greater authority.

In the past, I have been guilty of just saying that the market’s economic incentives will put an end to racial discrimination, and to a large extent that may still be the case. We have to remember also that we are the market; the market is just a nexus of our decisions. If racism is to end, laws are not going to do it. They may come after the fact to give a social movement the government’s endorsement. But racism and all other forms of authoritarianism will come to an end (or completely be marginalized from society) when people are not longer willing to tolerate it. In a fully libertarian manner, social and economic pressures, such as those employed in the civil rights struggle, returns power back to individuals and not to the state.