Rand Paul and the Inexistent Invisible Hand

Rachael Maddow takes on Rand Paul’s stance on the Civil Rights Act:


Rand Paul pretty much makes the argument that he would have fought to change one of the provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That provision made it illegal for private businesses/organizations to practice segregation. Essentially, Rand Paul is arguing that the government shouldn’t force private companies to not segregate. He, basically, is saying it’s a private organization’s right to keep people of any race, sex or creed out of their establishment.

Now, this is obviously repulsive if one simply thinks of the idea of businesses practicing segregation. It’s equally repulsive that someone would argue against a law that makes segregation illegal. Interestingly enough, Rand Paul does make a very compelling case on the constitutionality of it.

He argues that if the government is able to tell a private establishment that they have to allow entry and service anyone regardless of race in order to protect those customers’ civil liberties then the government can also tell a private establishment that they have to allow entry and service anyone who attempts to enter the private establishment with a gun. He’s saying that liberals might want to be cautious about the idea of giving government the power to tell private establishments how to run their business.

It does make sense that liberals should be wary of this idea but the supreme court has upheld a private establishment’s rights to keep people out for arbitrary reasons even despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Interestingly enough, the commerce clause has been used to argue that even though a private establishment has the constitutional right to determine who can join their club or who they wish to service or not service, a woman attempting to join an all-men club, for example, may have a financial benefit in joining the club, making it possible for the government to regulate the club’s ability to keep the woman out.

So, in essence, Rand Paul’s argument makes sense in one way but it falls flat in another way—and the courts have upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the government’s ability to enforce it time and time again.

A friend mentioned in private conversation that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t entirely get rid of segregation and instead drove it underground. He pointed to a piece by Robert Weissberg of the Libertarian webzine Taki’s Magazine that explains how, using the restaurant industry, owners of private establishments use different attributes of their business to passively keep certain "types" of people from coming to their establishments. The piece explains how, for example, different controlled music that is generally found unattractive to blacks, like Baroque style classical music (it’s generally thought to be the most "white people" type of music), would help keep blacks or lower-class people out of a private restaurant that wants to cater to older women. Essentially, the Civil Rights Act didn’t entirely get rid of segregation; what it did was lead racists to use subliminal ways to keep people out of their establishments—methods that are impossible to criminalize or legislate against. How can anyone make a law that makes it illegal to make a restaurant seem, feel and sound like a place an inner-city black or Hispanic would be loathe to enter?

It’s all so interesting. Disgusting, but interesting nonetheless.

According to Newsweek and the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas, babies as young as six months are naturally aware of the differences between the races and may (although it’s not an assured thing) react differently to the inclusion of a baby from a different race to a nest of babies. This is simply an evolutionary tick people need to overcome and that tick is evident in the way we naturally segregate. This tick is shocking and vile, but it’s easily recognized on a psychological level. It’s the same reason birds that look practically the same but have a single, solitary different feature may not mate—and that makes them different enough to reclassify as different species! Human beings, however, learn to fight off that evolutionary tick without much effort. People tend to re-learn it, however, through experience life and being taught to be hateful of people who are different. Many still remain naturally anxious among people who are different, however.

This phenomenon is more common than perceived because it’s very subtle. A friend mentioned an instance where her and her husband went to a predominantly black barber shop that was first-come-first-serve. Customers came in and left after being serviced while her husband remained in waiting. The barber shop owner, when confronted with this injustice, told the husband he should have known better than to bring a white woman into his establishment. Ironically, his wife isn’t exactly Snow White. The instances, like in the barber shop, when segregation is not so subtle are surprising because people tend to think such things are universally reprehensible. The Civil Rights Act was passed, wasn’t it!? Of course such things are universally reprehensible, except when they’re not and people segregate anyway.

Organizations like the NAACP and the Black Entertainment Channel (BET) ironically self-segregate for somewhat different reasons. The NAACP shouldn’t disallow people into the club and the courts should uphold that, though it wouldn’t be surprising if some stupid exception was made for them, but the club exists because there really isn’t, or wasn’t in the past, any group that represented blacks or Hispanics. They’re more irrelevant today than before but they still serve a purpose. BET is the same way in that their protest is blacks aren’t included in the rest of television much so they make up their own channel. It’s self-segregationist in response to natural and passive segregation by the rest of society. Having said that, it’s a bit different than the barber shop where that was definitely segregationist for the sake of attracting only a certain type of clientele. There really is no justifiable reason for the barber shop to be that way. It’s economically detrimental to limit one’s clientele that way—except for when it’s not.

I’m sure the left is going to paint Rand Paul as a racist and that’s going to be wrong to do because it’s probably false. It’s understandable why the neo-Nazi/KKK people would support him (Google cache link), though. Rand Paul isn’t ashamed of taking and keeping money from neo-Nazis. It is, politically, a disaster because it’s so easy to conflate his disapproval of that provision of the Civil Rights Act.

Perhaps Rand Paul isn’t a racist. He, at least, has made sure to repeat that in his interviews. It

‘s more serious than that: he is blinded by extremist ideology. He is so stuck in his Ayn Rand-inspired, Libertarian ideology that he doesn’t see the fault in his logic and that’s very serious and very dangerous.

Rand Paul is the type of person who thinks the invisible hand (self-regulating nature of the marketplace) would have gotten rid of segregation. That’s the type of thinking that forgets that segregation was absolutely real in 1964 and wasn’t going to change any time soon. The Civil Rights Act was enacted to make that change come rapidly instead of maybe happening some time in the distant future. People who argue that the invisible hand will take care of it, that it’s economically logical to get rid of segregation, and that it would go away on its own forget that segregation existed for almost a hundred years after slavery was abolished. A hundred years! The invisible hand either didn’t care to fix that or wasn’t going to. The Civil Rights Act was passed to counter a real problem at the time. Paul can argue that it shouldn’t have been passed in hindsight but the reality of the matter is that it should have been passed in order to get rid of both institutional and private segregation. The ability to self-segregate is still there, as evident in Weissberg’s story; the ability to segregate others from one’s establishment, however, is not justifiable. The US let the states decide on civil rights for decades and they decided not to do anything about it so the federal government took action. It had to in order to get rid of private segregation. Parts of the US would still be segregated today if it wasn’t for that.

Proof that the market wouldn’t have gotten rid of segregation regardless of the economic efficacy of getting rid of it is evident with places like Georgia and Louisiana, both states that had rampant segregation. They’re both states that have a huge black population that could have been clientele for the private establishments yet they still segregated. Why? Because WASP customers didn’t want blacks to shop, dine or ride buses with them. The free market took care of the problem: it maintained the status quo because the white majority, the biggest customer, didn’t want the status quo to change. If the blacks were the majority, it’d be different; the invisible hand would have moved faster as segregation wouldn’t have made economic sense at all. When an establishment’s main potential customer is a white person who doesn’t like black people dining with him, though, the establishment is going to accommodate him, isn’t it? That’s good for business. If, for example, every restaurant in a small town in segregationist Georgia decided to not practice segregation, who wins? The restaurant that opens up that serves only white people. All the white people who don’t feel comfortable dining with blacks will go to that restaurant. In order to compete, the other restaurants will start segregating again.

So, in conclusion, Rand Paul’s "let the market decide" ideology is flawed in this respect. The Civil Rights Act was absolutely necessary to get rid of segregation. The US would still be segregated today in half the country otherwise.


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