Monday, May 24, 2010

Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act

The philosophical problem for big-L Libertarians is that they don’t understand the role of government in life’s Prisoners Dilemmas. I like my autonomy as much as the next guy, and I like to think that my property is mine to do with as I see fit. But I also recognize that, at least in the commercial realm, others’ bad behavior may preclude my good behavior, that my “liberty” is in fact lessened by an expansive interpretation of theirs.

Say, for example, I ran a luncheonette in the American South fifty years ago and I thought it would be in the best interests of the community if it were integrated. Several practical obstacles would have arisen, not the least of which that my White clientele could choose to eat somewhere else, viz., at a segregated competing establishment. The White community, not as enlightened as I, might take other reprisals against me for voluntarily going against the old ways.

It’s all well and good to call me a coward, etc. for not integrating my place in the face of these obstacles, but my being “brave” wouldn’t have changed who got to eat where. No, the only way to do that was to do what was done: make it illegal for anyone to maintain a segregated lunch counter. Such a law would have freed me, and any like-minded colleagues, to do the right thing, with no loss of business to competitors, and no reprisals. I realize that government rules are not the same thing as the “natural” impediments of competition, but if what I’m really concerned about is my ability to use my property as I see fit, the law is actually a libertarian win for me.

I do think it’s important to note that my competitors and I all own public facilities. All the taxpayers pay for the inspectors who inspect our establishments and the police who protect them, so why shouldn’t all of the public be allowed to patronize them if they have the money and manners to do so? Yes, the capital that went into the restaurant may well have been “private property,” but once that capital is contributed to a corporation in exchange for limited liability or is dedicated to the creation of a licensed business that imposes costs on the community to support, there is no philosophical property basis for arguing that the community cannot say who may or may not patronize the resulting business.

Of course, people who shout “racist” for a living will earn their pay off of Dr. Paul’s quibbles with the Civil Rights Act, but only the mainstream media will pretend there’s any there there. It is a fact of American political life that if you take a position adverse to the interests of an identity group, someone will say you are doing it because you “hate” that group. And some network news whore will treat the accusation as worthy of others’ attention, as if each new night following each new day were a new surprise. But that’s politics.

Anyway, not being a racist hardly makes Dr. Paul otherwise qualified for an office as important as U.S. Senator ought to be. He is raising an important issue about the nature of government, and that issue ought not to be missed in the kerfuffle over race. He’s wrong on that issue, but I suspect it won’t matter. In an ideal world, Dr. Paul would lose for being the Libertarian he is and not for being the racist he isn’t. But elections aren't decided by the niceties of game theory, so I may have to settle for him losing any way he can.

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