History

Jim Crow vs. Economic Liberty

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Sunday's New York Times featured a long review of Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Walker's new book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. Here's how the review begins:

In the winter of 1916, as Americans read the news of unimaginable slaughter in a distant yet rapidly spreading European war, it was easy to overlook stories like the one in The Chicago Defender reporting that several black families in Selma, Ala., had left the South. A popular ­African-American weekly, The Defender would publish dozens of such stories in the coming years, heralding the good jobs and friendly neighbors that awaited these migrants in Chicago, even printing train schedules to point the way north. Smuggled into Southern railroad depots by Pullman porters, dropped off by barnstorming black athletes and entertainers, The Defender emerged as both cheerleader and chronicler of an exodus that would lead about six million African-Americans to abandon the states of the Old Confederacy between 1915 and 1970. "If all of their dream does not come true," it confidently predicted, "enough will come to pass to justify their actions."

Writing at Forbes, legal scholar and Reason contributor Richard Epstein uses this passage as an opportunity to clear up some confusion about the nature of the Jim Crow South. For starters, Epstein explains, it was nobody's idea of a free market:

Why the clandestine activities?  Answer: because helping African-Americans leave the Old South was an illegal activity under state law….

Quite simply, there is no way to economically exploit individuals by letting them leave.  The entire system of segregation has, in some quarters, been grotesquely treated as though it were some form of market system, when in fact it was anything but.  The key feature of a market system is ease of entry and exit, which puts pressure on all economic players.

By blocking exit from the South, the segregationists sought to limit the options open to blacks, whom they could exploit on the farm, in the city, and everywhere in between.

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  1. But segregation is evil, and therefore must be a result of the free market.

  2. I’ve long wondered about this. It was the law in segregated places that whites could not be served with blacks? Businesses could not decide to do otherwise, and/or businesses could not, absent such a law, just make that their policy?

    1. It doesn’t have to be the law — the Epstein article mentions that the monopoly utility companies were used to control businesses.

      Also, people will go above and beyond the letter of the law to avoid the semblance of breaking the law.

      Then there’s the KKK.

  3. “Greensboro’s Woolworth’s store desegregated its lunch counter several months after its sit-in, on July 26, 1960, serving blacks and whites alike”

    This suggests that there were cases where it was company policy (despite the magical market) rather than the law…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensboro_sit-ins

    1. Doesn’t this also suggest that the issue could be dealt with without interfering with private property rights?

      1. Yep, by not making the ability to discriminate to patrons a “property right.”

      2. It does not suggest that — sit-ins were a mild violation of property rights. Trespassing as civil disobedience. Still, mild disregard for property rights as a form of civil disobedience is much better than complete disregard for property rights as the law of the land.

        1. It wasn’t necessarily disregard if those who “sat-in” were willing to submit to whatever the punishment of the time was for those crimes (AFAIK, that was a common occurrence).

    2. This was after many lawsuits (the correct way the handle the situation) began picking apart Jim Crow laws. NAACP v. Alabama, Morgan v. Virginia, and Brown v. Board of Education et. al. all helped to dismantle the government sanctioned segregation before the sit-ins.

    3. There’s nothing “magical” about the market, MNG… The point about free markets is that economic pressures punish business owners who restrict their clients and employees they’ll accept based on irrelevant traits like race. It doesn’t guarantee that racists won’t exist!

      It just pretty much guarantees that they will be less successful than the guy who chooses to accept anyone’s business and who hires people based on the quality of work they provide versus the cost of employing them.

      I never get why this is such a hard concept.

      When you have a highly interfered-with market, as you did in the Jim Crow era, you’ve detached racist business owners from the negative pressures that the market would otherwise exert on them. And surprise surprise, those business owners were the ones calling for the legislation.

      If those pressures weren’t naturally there, there would have been no reason to make laws forcing all business owners to comply with their racist ways. But they knew damn well that non-racists, if allowed to accept any customers and allowed to employ who they wanted would out compete them instantly.

  4. It was illegal to treat your customers equally. If it weren’t, you’d get some racist business owners deciding greed was more important than racism and so might treat their black customers like human beings.

    Tony would call the desire for their money outweighing hatred of them an ‘externality’, which would justify govt intervention.

    1. How do you know it wouldn’t be more profitable to discriminate? It’s not very lucrative to have the KKK burn your establishment down.

      1. +1
        There’s also the chance that you lose your clientele of racists, which in many towns was larger than the clientele of blacks.

        1. A huge majority of blacks vs. a share of the racists may not be quite so clear cut.

          1. But the blacks are already oppressed and things work just fine the way they are. Rocking the race relations boat is not usually good for business.

      2. True, also shitty to have a union burn your shit down, which is why we should ban collective bargaining (i.e., legalized discrimination against non-union workers)

        1. ban collective bargaining

          Ha! Ban collective bargaining, but allow collective discrimination and call it freedom of association?

      3. Are you saying that the KKK would continue to burn down establishments who served blacks unless there was a law against it? Do you think that the KKK’s criminal activity came to a halt in 1964?

      4. I may point to my comment above on this one, but if that were the case then the laws would have been unnecessary!

        In the real world, the laws were “necessary” in the eyes of racists precisely it’s not more profitable to discriminate and they would have lost business (and I’m betting, a lot of business) without being able to force competitors to operate the way they did.

  5. The entire system of segregation has, in some quarters, been grotesquely treated as though it were some form of market system, when in fact it was anything but. The key feature of a market system is ease of entry and exit, which puts pressure on all economic players.

    Both extremes of this are odious, AFAIC. Another key feature of a market system is private business owners choosing employees from the market based on ability, experience, and merit, and highest expected return-to-investment ratio. Attempts to fight segregation by forcing businesses and schools to make room for the government’s idea of “underserved minorities” is just as fascist — though by no means as inhumanely cruel — as keeping people captive to a region.

  6. “Jim Crow was also a social and economic system, and white businessmen colluded even without legal mandates. Woolworth’s lunch counters were segregated by company policy not by law. ”

    http://www.thefreemanonline.or…..il-rights/

    1. Read the sentence before that.

  7. Sorry guys. Looks like self interested businesses did indeed segregate apart from legal mandates.

    But that’s unpossible!

    1. I’m shocked to hear that there were actual racists in the South during Jim Crow. Shocked! I tell you.

      Here’s the rest of the quote: “State laws and Klan terrorism there enforced segregation on unwilling businesses.”

      I’m giving you a D minus MINUS.

    2. Amma think yousa needin’ some copypasta

      So when Maddow asks, “Should Woolworth’s lunch counters have been allowed to stay segregated?” neither she nor Paul seemed to realize that her attempted coup de grace?invoking the sit-in movement’s student martyrs, facing down beatings to desegregate lunch counters?actually offers a perfect libertarian response to her own question.

      Because, actually, 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.

      Looks kinda like the author shot your point out from under you, no?

  8. Finding a racist willing to accept the financial losses doesn’t wipe ever f’ing law off the books and out of history. Face it MNG, your precious government was enforcing segregation while people were freeing themselves from it by escaping its clutches. Today, you’d call them “tax cheats” or something.

    1. Not just the government — the Klan was enforcing it via extra-governmental terrorism.

      1. Was the Klan acting against the wishes of a govt that lacked the power to stop it, or with the blessings of those in govt (and in both organizations, like the late Sen Byrd).

        1. Yes the late grand kraken of the KKK, Sen. Byrd, not only the supreme leader of the Klan, but the orchestrator of all racism in history, ever. (And he had a D next to his name!–That’s important.)

          1. And yet if it were an R by his name your argument would be the complete opposite. Imagine that. It’s almost like you’re a partisan shitbag or something. Oh, wait…

            1. I’m an admitted partisan, but I also like facts. This Byrd meme is so ridiculous and tiresome, but it’s a good way to spot a Drudge buttboy.

              I wouldn’t have to focus on a single now-dead nonagenarian with an R next to his name to find a racist lineage in that party. There are plenty of other, much younger examples. This is just an idiotic ploy to rewrite history, as Gov. Haley Barbour recently tried to do, to claim that the current Republican party is the party of civil rights for minorities.

              1. Looked for Republican klan politicians–the only thing I got was this–

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Duke

                What got me was that he was a Democrat up until he tried to be a Republican(he was repudiated by the RNC) and his affiliation says he only called himself a Republican while he was in office.

                Interesting, no? Even now, racists feel more comfortable in the party that legislated their views.

            2. “If you listened to progressives today, they would have you believe that Abraham Lincoln was a democrat and George Wallace was a republican.”

              I heard someone say that once before but I can’t remember who said it or where I heard it.

          2. Nice hyperbole. Are you denying that many in the Jim Crow local governments looked the other way or even supported what the KKK was doing?

            1. No. Are you denying that it took the evil federal government to fix that problem?

              Gosh usually it’s local governments you guys are sort of okay with. But I suppose as long as it’s a government of any sort and is close enough to a problem, it can be blamed.

              1. I had the same thought Tony…

                The game is played like this: find the government wrong and blame everything on it. Since there is always some government, you just have to look harder if you haven’t found it yet. That seems to be the fundie libertarian way…

                1. Or you guys are just too stupid to understand that illiberal government is ALWAYS a problem, no matter at the local, state or federal levels.

                  Supporting the rights of the individual doesn’t depend on the level of government in question.

                  Take this out of the 1950s for ten seconds… We oppose local Sheriffs who like Joe Arapio, do we not?

                  Why would that be if the point was just about local vs. federal control? Cause I know Tony is too dumb to understand a rhetorical question, I’ll answer this one for ya… CAUSE IT ISN’T ABOUT THAT!

                  It’s about freedom.

                  That’s as simple an idea as you’re likely to find anywhere… It’s about the right of the individual human being to choose for himself or herself how to run their life and what to do with their property. If a dickwad racist Sheriff is looking the other way for some groups of people when they are harassed, mobbed or lynched by roving bands of thugs like the KKK, then we oppose that Sheriff.

                  His JOB is specifically to prevent such activities from occurring and when he sanctions them through deliberate inaction, he is as complicit in the abuse along as the mob directly perpetrating it. Do you idiots disagree?

                  If that behavior is common place, and an external force like the National Guard or Federal agents are needed to put a stop to it, I – and I’m betting every other libertarian on here – am perfectly fine with that.

                  The problem comes when the federal action itself also restricts liberty.

                  It shouldn’t be that difficult to understand – freedom happens when everyone is leaving each other ALONE to do what they want with themselves and their stuff. It is just as illiberal (albeit more morally palatable) to use force to prevent a racist from deciding who he’ll do business with as it is for that racist to try to use force – a la Jim Crow – to prevent others from choosing who they do business with. Someone really needs to explain to me why it’s so complicated to understand that the goal is for everyone to just leave each other alone and only deal with those they want to deal with voluntarily.

              2. There’s no problem with the federal government or any other form of government correcting corruption and abuse of power.

                I guess you really do make an ass of yourself if you just assume things, like what position your opponent takes. Nice job.

                Also, I happened to notice you never answered my question.

          3. There was also that Woodrow Wilson guy, what party was he from?

            1. Because the parties have been ideologically set in stone for all time!

              See, Jefferson himself was for social security. Etc.

            2. I HATE that guy… (and that’s all you need to know about him!)

    2. You’ve got some feverish idea that I must defend all government action everywhere throughout time. On the other hand many libertarians here seem to think the market will solve nearly every problem in the universe. I point out that private actors willingly played a big role in Jim Crow to undermine that religious faith.

      1. You’ve got some feverish idea that I must attack all government action everywhere throughout time.

        The market isn’t supposed to solve anything specifically. It’s just supposed to work.

        The fact that some people were (and still are) racist is not a problem that warrants government action. Being racist is not a crime. Not choosing to employ or serve someone because you are a racist should not be a crime either.

        1. “No Walter, you’re not wrong… You’re just an ASSHOLE!”

        2. Great comment. Voluntary exchange, as opposed to centralized decision making, *is* the raison d’etre. It’s nice when it can lead to socially beneficial outcomes. In the case of Jim Crow, it is obvious that by removing actors who besmirched the rights of businesses to serve blacks, and of blacks to seek out their own employment and educational opportunities (i.e, the KKK, Jim Crow laws, hung judges, and other indirect laws), blacks and their supporters would have been better off. It would not have been perfect at achieving the desired end of eliminating racism, just as the status quo today is not perfect. However, it was obviously not the status quo under Jim Crow, would have been an improvement on Jim Crow, and (dare I say it) might have been better for blacks, general racism in society, and all involved than what resulted under the Great Society, small portions of the CRA, affirmative action, and the other boondoggles foisted on us under the banner of racial justice.

          1. Hung juries, I’m fine with hung judges, of course.

  9. Here are some more laws MNG wants ignored to keep govt’s reputation pure.

    1. Amateur Baseball: IT shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race. (Georgia)

      Two blocks?

    1. Restaurants
      All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license. Georgia

      Wine and Beer
      All persons licensed to conduct the business of selling beer or wine…shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room at any time. Georgia

      Maybe our trolls will gain a shred of understanding for why we dislike licensing.

      1. Because of the plight of the black man? Suuure.

        1. That’s right, Tony, our dislike of oppression comes strictly from our hatred of the nigs. Fucking moron.

          1. But Warty, how else is Tony to assert his racial sensitivity but by passive aggressively sneering at libertarians behind a handkerchief? It’s not like he’s going to, you know, help blacks himself, that being beneath him.

      2. Hey, what about the Black Codes?

  10. Johnny
    You’re not a very thoughtful reader or writer.

    Where did I say such laws did not exist? Put up or shut up.

  11. Look, I agree wholeheartedly that markets contain a logic which can undercut prejudice. It tends to work in that direction. But it doesn’t work as prefectly as many here seem to think. It’s part of this bizarre Austrian type of reasoning: Self interested rational person wouldn’t want to lose a customer, so he won’t discriminate against him. Sure, everything being equal, but if they are put between a choice between losing black customers or racist white customers, there are no countervailing forces at work. Markets are usually better than governments for most things, I honestly believe that. But neither of them are magic.

    1. Look, I agree wholeheartedly that markets contain a logic which can undercut prejudice. It tends to work in that direction. But it doesn’t work as prefectly as many here seem to think. It’s part of this bizarre Austrian type of reasoning: Self interested rational person wouldn’t want to lose a customer, so he won’t discriminate against him. Sure, everything being equal, but if they are put between a choice between losing black customers or racist white customers, there are no countervailing forces at work. Markets are usually better than governments for most things, I honestly believe that. But neither of them are magic.

      You’ve confused Austrians with NeoClassicals. Austrians don’t propose that actors are driven by purely rational actions, merely actions that are perceived to satisfy one’s subjective preferences.

      No fantasy models of “perfect rationality” nor “perfect competition”.

      1. Additionally, in the libertarian community, I don’t know about anyone else but I barely know any Neo-Classical folks anymore.

        The whole homo economicus thing not only flies in the face of reality, if flies in the face of major figures in free market schools of economics like FA Hayek.

        1. I’m an adherent of the Neo-Classical school, and I even know a Keynesian libertarian who argues for libertarianism based on philosophical premises (cool guy). But yes, libertarianism is dominated by Austrian thought.

  12. should be “now countervailing”

  13. But neither of them are magic.

    W/o govt intervention, individual greed eventually trumps collective bigotry. I love how the left can claim business greed trumps all until prejudice is involved.

    Jim Crow ended because the white establishment wanted to bring professional sports to large southern cities, and didn’t want to be embarrassed by the sheet draped yahoos any more.

  14. The laws have already had time to run their effect. The laws did good (acceptance of a multi-race communities) and bad (negative economic pressures on businesses). If we were to take away the laws, now that the laws have shocked the market, would the market revert to segregation? I think the market would remain integrated but see a truer value for employees and therefore stronger businesses.

    1. What gives conservatives/libertarians the privilege of deciding when institutional racism has ended? You people are almost all white.

      1. You’ve been here how long and you don’t know the difference between conservative and libertarian?

        1. Just not sure which one RC is. There are relevant similarities: your disregard for forced integration and your almost all whiteness.

          1. Large groups of white people = racists right Tony?

            1. Didn’t say that. But it’s possible a uniformly white group might not have a complete perspective on whether institutional racism is over.

              1. What does race have to do with a purely intellectual question?

      2. I’ll bite. What are the criteria for deciding when institutional racism has ended?
        (Also, what -exactly- is institutional racism?)

        1. Good question.

            1. The first one. I don’t necessarily know how to answer it, and apparently neither do you, so why is now the time to end it? Is there something bad that the 14th amendment is doing that outweighs any good it might be doing?

              1. Nobody here wants to repeal the 14th amendment. That’s a bullshit strawman. They want one small part changed. You already know all of the arguments regarding interference with the right to assembly (and therefore the right to free speech, not to mention private property rights). If you wanna continue to gut the first amendment, then you should have a damn good reason. “any good it might be doing” really doesn’t cut it.

                1. Well we’re in luck because that provision of the 14th amendment hasn’t been found to contradict the first amendment. Is that provision doing something bad that outweighs the good it might be doing?

                  1. This isn’t any fun for me if I can answer your reply with almost the exact same answer you responded to in the first damn place. Try harder.

                    1. By law private property rights don’t extend to engaging in public racial discrimination and the first amendment doesn’t have anything to do with property rights, which the constitution never says are absolute anyway. So you’re saying that the right of business owners to racially discriminate is more important to protect than the right of people to engage in commerce free of racial discrimination. You could just say that. You don’t want me to hide behind legal precedent I presume, but you want to hide behind an interpretation of law that has no precedent?

                    2. So I can post a sign on my property that says anything I want? Or do I have a right to post a sign that says anything I want on your property? Lets talk about legal precedent starting with Dred Scott.

                    3. Thank you. Now we’re talking.
                      I have two separate issues with article 2. Property rights is merely the first one. This has been discussed ad-nausem here and I don’t really want to do it again. It’s a principled stance and it’s based upon personal autonomy. You know all this, but instead choose to focus on an unfortunate consequence and pretend it’s the reason. My second issue is that it interferes with freedom of assembly, and there is in fact a legal precedent. Freedom of assembly has been ruled an essential part of freedom of speech by the Supreme Court. See NAACP v. Alabama. It gets murky after that, but you can’t say there’s no precedent. Freedom of association is an ongoing debate, but I readily conceed that current case law and court decisions are on your side. That doesn’t mean that they’re correct. Here’s a paper which hashes it out far better than I can: http://scholarship.law.duke.ed…..ing_papers

                    4. Freedom of association(1st Amendment) is where discriminating against other races would come in, in public. As I read the Amendment, the government is prohibited from messing around with the right of the people to associate with who they choose.

                    5. I’d add this:

                      “The true test of one’s commitment to freedom of association doesn’t come when he permits people to associate in ways he deems appropriate. It comes when he permits people to voluntarily associate in ways he deems offensive.”–Walter E. Williams

        2. And I would define it as racism that’s tolerated in communities by public policy, which it can do both by supporting it and ignoring it.

          1. And I would define it as racism that’s tolerated in communities by public policy

            So, affirmative action is institutional racism?

            1. Not necessarily. If businesses or schools are engaged in systematic racism, then policy that turns a deaf ear to that could be said to be supporting racism. Not that there isn’t room for debate regarding AA policies, but they are certainly not typically meant to advance racism but to do the opposite.

              1. Doesn’t matter what they’re meant to do. By your definition they’re institutional racism. And that’s racism that’s once again caused, not prevented, by government.

                1. No you’re begging that question–I’m not defining it as racism of any kind, necessarily, institutional or otherwise.

              2. You’re making the mistake of judging a policy by its intentions instead of its results.

      3. What gives conservatives/libertarians the privilege of deciding when institutional racism has ended? You people are almost all white.

        Ooohhhh, now look who’s telling me what i can or can’t do based on the color of my skin.

        1. How predictable. Why can’t you just get over it? We’re a color blind society now. Stop hanging onto your grievances!

      4. Walter Williams:

        http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/wew/gift.html

        Damn, Tony, but you’re predictable.

  15. Why the clandestine activities? Answer: because helping African-Americans leave the Old South was an illegal activity under state law….

    What the fuck is he talking about?
    The “Old South” usually refers to the antebellum period.

    I can’t find a citation for this.
    Which states? What laws?

    1. I found Illinois had laws regulating entry into the state by blacks:

      The 1829 law required any free black to register in the county seat and post a $1,000 bond to cover costs should they become indigent or violate state or local laws. Since few black men or women had such sums available, they usually had to find a friendly white man to act as surety for them. At the same time, blacks also had to register their certificates of freedom from the state from which they immigrated.

      1. 1829 = before the Civil War.

  16. The Defender emerged as both cheerleader and chronicler of an exodus that would lead about six million African-Americans to abandon the states of the Old Confederacy between 1915 and 1970.

    The irony was that ambitious Blacks were fleeing the democrat south to the republican north and today ambitious blacks are fleeing the democrat north to the republican south.

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  19. I own a restaurant in Chicago and the city told me I can no longer allow cigar smokers to smoke at my famous cigar bar. Also, I’d like to point out that I do not hold my non smoking employees hostage nor do I make non smokers come to my place by gunpoint.

    1. But you are an evil money-grubbing piece of shit whose greed the world can’t afford to sustain. Vive La Revolucion!

  20. Isn’t the author’s name Isabel Wilkerson?

  21. How did Isabel Walker become Isabel wilkerson?

  22. At the same time, blacks also had to register their certificates of freedom from the state from which they immigrated.

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