Government, slavery, Jim Crow, The New York Times

Michael Giberson

The New York Times ran an editorial on the election of Rand Paul called the “Limits of Libertarianism.”  I haven’t been paying much attention to Paul’s campaign or related politics, so don’t comment on Paul’s views or the Times response to them.  But I have to draw attention to for the purpose of publicly ridiculing one of the Times final sentences, which contrasts government power against a peculiar view of free markets:

It was only government power that ended slavery and abolished Jim Crow, neither of which would have been eliminated by a purely free market.

Should we give government power credit for ending slavery in the 1860s when government power had been supporting slavery for more than a century before?  How long would slavery have persisted in the United States had the government not used its power to endorse and protect it?  And what is this queer notion of a “purely free market” in which some people can legally assault other people, deprive them of their liberty, and sell them into slavery?  I had imagined that such slavery could not exist in a purely free market.

Should we give government power credit for ending Jim Crow, when Jim Crow attitudes were turned by state and local governments into laws that used government power to force segregation?  How long did it take the Times‘ lauded (federal) government power to overcome the use of (state and local) government power imposing segregation requirements?  In what vision of a “purely free market” can the government tell a business that it must segregate its customers by race?

Idiocy.


9 thoughts on “Government, slavery, Jim Crow, The New York Times

  1. “In what vision of a “purely free market” can the government tell a business that it must segregate its customers by race?”

    In Rand Paul’s vision, evidently. He seems to believe that under Kentucky’s Jim Crow laws a wonderful free market full of independent businessmen existed until the Feds stepped in to impose statism and collectivism.

    You probably ought to look for a cleverer type of politician to defend.

    -ms

  2. Idiocy alright, but whose? Slavery in North America was a product of the market. The Government simply enforced the property rights which the slave owners claimed. As soon as a Republican who was not popular with southern property (slave) owners was elected, the salve owners revolted, and formed a new government, the Confederate States of America. The Civil War was all about which was more important, property rights or human rights. The Confederacy was the pro-libertarian government, not the Union. Ron Paul Junior reveals the hidden alliance of Libertarianism with died in the wool southern racism. Property rights do not entaile the right to enslave people, nor should they entail the right to withhold employment from people because of their religion, the color of their skin or because of their gender. If libertarianism claims otherwise, it is nothing but a front for bigotry. Bigotry is truly idiotic, but then so is a form of libertarianism that would protect the bigots right to treat people badly for idiotic reasons.

  3. Charles,

    The following is from the Libertarian Party platform: (http://www.lp.org/platform)

    Statement of Principles

    We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.

    We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.

    This would hardly suggest that the Confederacy was a “pro-libertarian government”.

    I would argue that the Civil War was fundamentally about whether humans could BE property. The Civil War resolved that question, in the US, in the negative. It has been resolved similarly in most, though not all, of the nations on the globe.

  4. “In Rand Paul’s vision, evidently. He seems to believe that under Kentucky’s Jim Crow laws a wonderful free market full of independent businessmen existed until the Feds stepped in to impose statism and collectivism.”

    As Dr. Gibberson points out, Jim Crow laws were antithetic to a free market. They were a prime example of government telling businesses what to do- which Dr. Paul repeatedly mentioned that he opposed, which is why he said he would have supported their repeal. Jim Crow laws were in fact more consistent with statism and collectivism. As many have pointed out, the existence of Jim Crow laws forcing private businesses to segregate actually may indicate that MARKET FORCES WERE WORKING AGAINST racism BEFORE the laws were implemented. The laws were necessary to subvert this process, and codified racist policies whether business owners or customers preferred them or not. They were not necessarily a reflection of business as usual or consumer preferences.

    (See ‘The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars, The Journal of Economic History, Vol 46 No.4 Dec (1986))

    ‘Slavery in North America was a product of the market. The Government simply enforced the property rights which the slave owners claimed.’

    True, a free market does require the enforcement of and respect of private property rights. The first level of property that must be enforced is ‘self ownership.’ Slavery was the result of government failing to enforce property rights in the form of ‘self ownership’, artificially creating a market for slaves. (like most artificial market manipulations by government, slavery was very inefficient-recall one reason economics is referred to as the dismal science is precisely because economists were pointing out point the importance of self ownership, incentives, and what a terrible system slavery was from both a human rights perspective as well as from a property rights and efficiency perspective. With the advent of capitalism, production systems based on slavery could not compete with those utilizing wage labor. The mercantilist status quo at that time found this to be a dismal conclusion.

    see http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/150-years-and-still-dismal/

    Even today, in mercantilist fashion, some policy advocates support government telling businesses what to do (who to hire, what to pay them, which companies to subsidize- think limited liability caps & BP, bailouts and AIG, GM, Fannie and Freddie). If government takes property from one person and gives it to another, and enforces those newly assigned rights, is that really enforcing property rights? Is that really a free market? No. Nor was slavery the result of a free market in which ‘government enforced slave owners property rights’.

  5. Ed, My great, great grandfather, Dr. Robert H. Hodsden, was a Southern Whig. He favored government support for projects like railroads that promoted national and regional development. His views were similar to those of other Southern Whigs, for example Horace Maynard. Their political opponents were Southern Democrats whose views were very close to those of modern Libertarians, with one exception, the viewed people of African ancestry as having a moral status identical to those of animals, and therefore as not being entitled to human rights, including the right to the product of their own bodies. While the proto-libertarian slave owning Southern Democrats almost without supported the Confederacy, the big government Whigs like Maynard and my great, great grandfather supported the Union. Modern Libertarians are inheritors of the pre-civil war Southern Democrat libertarianism. The only ideology change that they have made, is the acknowledgement that dark skinned people are really human beings.

  6. Matt Bogard, your response is an example of how modern libertarians deny and suppress history. The Government of the United States acknowledged and supported the rights of slave owners, because the united States would not have been possible with out the support of slave owners. It is utterly absurd to ignore public the fact that slavery had the support of large numbers of Americans who viewed the principle role of government as being the support of property rights, including the property tights of slave owners. The only ideological difference between many slavery supporting 19th century American voters, and modern libertarians was the refusal to acknowledge that people of African descent were fully human with full human rights, including the right to the products of their own body.

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