Here’s a letter that I sent on Saturday to the New York Times:
Reacting to Rand Paul’s remarks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, you say that his libertarian philosophy “is a theory of liberty with roots in America’s creation, but the succeeding centuries have shown how ineffective it was in promoting a civil society…. It was only government power that … abolished Jim Crow” (“Limits of Libertarianism,” May 22).
You’ve got it backwards. Jim Crow itself was government power. Jim Crow was legislation that forced the segregation of blacks from whites. Research shows that people acting in the free market that you apparently believe is prone to racial discrimination were remarkably reluctant to discriminate along racial lines. It was this very reluctance – this capacity of free markets to make people colorblind – that obliged racists in the late 19th century to use government to achieve their loathsome goals.*
Had Mr. Paul’s libertarian philosophy been followed more consistently throughout American history, there would have been no need for one government statute (the Civil Rights Act) to upend earlier government statutes (Jim Crow) and the business practices that they facilitated.
Donald J. Boudreaux
* See especially Robert Higgs, Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865-1914 (University of Chicago Press, 1976); Jennifer Roback, “Southern Labor Law in the Jim Crow Era: Exploitative or Competitive?” University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 51 (1984); and Jennifer Roback, “The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars,” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 46 (1986).