Speaking of Libertarians and the Civil Rights Act….


Some past Reason writing on the topic, for those (few?) who are interested in actual discussion on the issue.

Ronald Bailey, August 2003:

The [Martin Luther] King ["I Have a Dream"] speech also lent momentum to two of the most consequential pieces of civil rights legislation in American history, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act outlawed state-sanctioned and enforced racial discrimination in the form of Jim Crow laws. For example, it allowed blacks to come down out of that theatre balcony in Bristol Virginia. The Voting Rights Act insured that Southern blacks who were being systematically denied the franchise by corrupt voter registration officials would have access to the ballot box.

Sure, these laws are not perfect. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted as authorizing the creation of affirmative action programs. This despite the fact that Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) declared specifically that Title VII "would prohibit preferential treatment for any particular group," and famously promised that if this turned out to be wrong that he would eat the pages on which the statute was printed. I wonder if the Senator would have liked the pages sautéed or with a nice béchamel? And yes, the Voting Rights Act has led to "racial gerrymandering." Still, we are a far better, and fairer country because of those laws.

Richard Epstein, July 2002:

Putting aside the woeful state of public education for inner-city students, much of the difficulty in labor markets could be due to regulations that hurt the people they're designed to help. I speak here of…Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, against discrimination based on race in the terms and conditions of employment. This sort of legislation has ambiguous economic consequences: Blacks who find jobs will receive some protection against dismissal, but at the same time that protection will make employers, fearing litigation, more reluctant to hire black workers in the first place. One would therefore expect that once Title VII swept away the explicit racial classifications common in the United States before 1964, progress through employment discrimination laws would be slower than many hoped, which has been the case since 1975 or so. Rather than an overall improvement in black wage levels, the result of Title VII would be a higher variation in the income of black workers, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, which seems to be part of the trend. […]

[T]he voluntary efforts of universities, corporations, and foundations put affirmative action on the map. These programs went far beyond the color-blind commands of the civil rights laws. In their 1998 book The Shape of the River, William Bowen and Derek Bok argue that such efforts did by and large achieve their goal of bringing capable black students into the social mainstream. (See "Unexplored Tributaries," February 1999, for my rejoinder.) One need not accept that argument, which has a shaky empirical foundation, to believe that private institutions should be free to do as they please in this area, within the context of their own purposes and budgets. Universities are in the business of organizing cross-subsidies. Their separate and decentralized activities will not be narrowly atomistic. Freed of external political pressures, they are far more likely to produce sensible social outcomes than any ham-handed state mandate on affirmative action. […]

[D]ecentralized social institutions offer the greatest prospect for improving race relations. The Civil Rights Acts were important in securing the demise of Jim Crow, but those laws have long since outlived their usefulness in the regulation of private behavior in competitive markets. Now we need a return to freedom.

Glenn Garvin, March 2002:

Nothing was more problematic [for Barry Goldwater] than the civil rights issue—particularly the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed most forms of racial discrimination. Goldwater was no racist; early in his career as a Phoenix city council member, he aggressively supported local civil rights ordinances. But as his conservatism deepened, he grew first skeptical and then fearful about the use of government for social engineering. "You cannot pass a law that will make me like you–or you like me," Goldwater told one rally. "That is something that can only happen in our hearts." He understood, too, that government-mandated affirmative action was merely the flip side of segregationist racialism: "It reintroduces through the back door the very principle of allocation by race that makes compulsory segregation morally wrong and offensive to freedom." And, that, to Barry Goldwater, was the bottom line. "Our aim, as I understand it, is neither to establish a segregated society nor to establish an integrated society," he said. "It is to preserve a free society."

Goldwater was privately appalled to discover that his opposition to the Civil Rights Act rallied to his side not only libertarians but racists who detested and feared not state power but black people. He was horrified when Alabama's racist Gov. George Wallace offered to switch parties and run as his vice president. Goldwater eventually became so paranoid about the influx of racists to his campaign that he worried that a summer riot in Harlem had been secretly instigated by his supporters in hopes of generating a white backlash vote.

More Reason on the Civil Rights Act here.