Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why Racism Is No Big Deal

By Robert Wenzel

The Donald Sterling tape (SEE: Oh Boy, Los Angeles Clippers' Owner Doesn't Want His Hot GF to Bring Black Guys to Clipper Games), has once again caused mainstream media to go all out in its coverage of a "racism incident."

From my perspective, I believe the coverage is distorted and that there is nothing on the tape that makes Sterling out to be a racist (SEE: What Donald Sterling Did Wrong). That said, let's examine this entire coverage of racism.

First, it must be recognized that human beings always form into groups, some groups make a lot of sense logically, others don't. But, people like to hang with those they feel they have some affinity with. There are thousands of people that fly into San Francisco every day, but I only get emails from visitors that want to meet with me, who are libertarians.

I have yet to receive an email from a neocon, a member of GLAD, or a member of the Federal Reserve. Most assuredly, people from these groups are visiting SF. Why aren't they emailing me for a good chat? Are they discriminating against me? Of course, they are. That is the nature of the world. It is no big deal.

People discriminate for all kinds of reasons. I know men that will only date attractive women. I know one major league businessman who only hires ugly women on the theory that they will stay more loyal and have fewer outside opportunities to leave.

So what?

I know people that are prejudice against blacks, other that hate Czechs, yes Czechs!, and some that hate Jews. Again, so what? If someone spends most of their living breathing hours hating, blacks, Czechs or Jews, I am not going to spend much time with them, if any, because I would be bored to death, but why should I care about their views?

Because of some service or product they provide, I may interact with them, but I really don't care what their views are on other subjects, as long as they are not advocating some kind of coercion against others, that is, advocating a violation of the non-aggression principle.

The world is about exchange, with a very few people I will have interaction on many levels. With many others, I will only have limited interaction. With most people on the planet, I will have no interaction. If these people are not violating the non-aggression principle, why should I have any obligation to change their views on anything?

Further, I seriously doubt that there are many Americans that are advocating the return of blacks to slavery   (an advocacy that alone, without actual coercion, is not a violation of NAP) and I am not aware of any groups actually putting blacks, or any other group, into slave camps.  It is a bogus issue.

The one group that I am aware of that does regularly violate the non-aggression principle is the government. There are compulsory school attendance laws, there are minimum wage laws, tax laws and there are anti-drug laws, to name a few. This is a serious problem. Further, the U.S. government is involved with empire building and wars around the planet. This is coercion on steroids, it is a real problem.

And yet, there is a brouhaha over Sterling's alleged-racist remarks,when he pays millions to black players. The NBA is absurdly looking into the matter--while at the same time before NBA games they play the national anthem, which is nothing but a propagandist song for a government that violates the non-aggression principle on an daily basis, across the country and around the world.

The focus on racism is a scam. I do not see any good reason to shun, boycott or otherwise stop exchanging with people who hate, blacks, Jews or anyone else. It's goofy prejudice to me, but I see no reason that I should go out of my way to change their views. They don't come close to the coercion conducted by the state. In fact, they don't coerce at all, while the very being of the state is coercion.

It's time that, at least libertarians, get their focus straight. The state is the problem, you are being suckered off the track to think the problem is thoughts of others about different groups, whatever those thoughts might be about other groups.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.comand Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bankand most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.


  1. I suspect that the real problem with racism is not the Hitler ad absurdum argument (Hitler was a racist and it lead to genocide), but the American prison problem. If our prisons were segregated by race there would still be a prisoner gang problem but it would be less. If you go into a multi-race prison you are by default in the gang of your race. Whites, blacks, Mexicans all have groups in the yard/ If you refused to join the group of your race you would be preyed on by other groups with no group supporting you. You cannot appeal to the non-aggression when initiating aggression gets what the customer wants and is not effectively countered by some authority. A single person cannot be constantly on his guard nor retaliate if injured when faced with a group.

    1. No. Hitler was a racist AND a politician. THAT'S what led to genocide.

  2. My dad taught me that there was always be assholes and that you cant please everyone. There will always be racists, bigots and other douchebags thats just the way of life. I've always told people who ask me why I wouldnt want to get rid of affirmative action I respond by telling them why would I want to give business or make money for someone who hates me for my skin color? It just doesn't make sense.

    The only problem is that racists want to use the state and its collection of murders, thugs and busybodies to enforce their hatred. Which again boils down to the real enemy is once again the state. If you can find a racist who believes in NAP, Ill find you an intelligent liberal.

  3. I have a different take on things. To mistreat somebody solely because of his or her race is utterly ridiculous. A person is not solely defined by his or her race and ethnicity; I believe that people should consider the actual character and behavior of a person and not fallback on often inaccurate, depersonalizing, and demeaning stereotypes. I believe that Sterling's comments, as well as his documented behavior over decades such as discriminating against black and Hispanic people in housing, are racist. I believe that racist thought has led to many terrible things, especially when its combined with coercion, from social control à la Jim Crow and apartheid which disenfranchised and brought unnecessary suffering to many people to outright violence such as the genocide of Native Americans and the Holocaust. The seed of such vile acts is racism; unfortunately in these cases it sprouted into some very ugly acts in history.

    But as much as I hate racism, I'm also a libertarian who firmly believes in the non-aggression principle. While I strongly believe that racism is vile, I do not have the right to force Sterling to change his thoughts or his actions. As long as Sterling is not committing acts of violence against other people, he is free to speak his mind and he is free to associate with whomever he wants on his property, no matter how much I and many other people in this society find his beliefs and his actions morally repugnant. I believe in the separation of state and morality, as long as people are not initiating or threatening the initiation of force against others. With the non-aggression principle, sure there would be jerks like Sterling, but their influence would be limited to their private property, and it frees others to behave in non-racist ways.

    I believe that libertarians should stick to the non-aggression principle and should resist the temptation of compromising it to meet liberal ends; the degeneration of classical liberalism to modern liberalism showed the danger of utilitarian "the means justify the ends" thinking. However, there is nothing about the non-aggression principle that says that libertarians can't speak out and work toward a non-racist society. All the non-aggression principle says is we cannot use force, period. However, we are free to persuade others in what Ron Paul has called "the marketplace of ideas". We are free to extol the values of a non-racist society. We are free to call for boycotts and to publicly denounce racists. We are, however, not free to forcibly convert people and to forcibly suppress non-NAP-violating racist actions. Thus, libertarians who are passionately non-racist can and should promote a non-racist society, but this is separate from libertarianism, and these libertarians must never violate the NAP while doing so.

    1. As a gay man- out, proud and unapologetic- I totally agree.

      If I could open a company for black disabled lesbians exclusively and refuse to employ anyone outside that narrow band...why should the government stop me?

      If a company only wanted straight white men...well, they would pay a premium.

      If both companies were in competition in a REAL FREE MARKET then in most cases the handicapped black lesbians would win.

  4. Racism is the belief in the concept of race.

  5. Libertarians (some of them) lose the argument in favor of liberty whenever confronted by such issues as racism and other forms of discrimination precisely because of their inconsistent reliance of the Non-Aggression Principle, sometimes showing a slight distrust in the universal application of this principle; instead, they muddle the discussion by bringing in economic arguments when making the case for liberty as to how a free society would deal with bigots.

    The problem with this approach is that economic arguments are not moral arguments; the left sees this problem very quickly and seize to the inconsistency of arguing for an all-powerful Market that will turn people into angels. They can make the very same argument except for the State, and rather more effectively.

    The solution to the conundrum facing the person who advocates for liberty is to point out the truth about racism: it's irrelevant. It's just another nutty belief, in most cases. As long as people do not commit naked aggression against another human being (and that does double for government) the fact that your corner store pharmacist is also a racist would matter naught. A person can choose not to engage in trade with that person or he/she can choose to; the pharmacist can at the same time refuse to trade with people he does not like. This may hurt his business, or it may not, but this is irrelevant. What is relevant is that neither the pharmacist nor his customers or the people that refuse to trade with him resort to force as a way to elicit a certain behavior from the other.

    What makes the NAP such a powerful moral principle is that it has complete universality. There are no exceptions, no caveats, no special conditions. Utilitarianism is NOT. Positivism is NOT. The NAP is the single most powerful moral principle ever.

    As to the question of accepting racism - that's more of a political question. My political principle is individualism. I believe each of us is a unique individual with unique abilities and potential. Each of us is a universe in itself. For me, there are no groups (none relevant). But I don't see a problem with people being collectivists or racists or bigots, as long as they do not externalize their bizarre beliefs in the form of actions that violate the NAP. For me, their freedom is paramount just as is mine.

    1. Old Mexican,

      Thanks for that- really great analysis which surely comes from many times arguing for the NAP! Advocating of the NAP on utilitarian grounds- which the market argument is- will always fail to be convincing to those who have not yet grasped the moral argument. It is putting the cart before the horse.

      Also, it is pandering because the utilitarian market argument assumes that racism is a moral outrage per se which must be quashed. The market oriented approach is then advocated as the best means to achieve this end- a very tough sell to a statist. Suddenly, the relevant factor- aggression (or the lack thereof)- is left in the dust. The NAP must remain at the forefront, period.

    2. Excellent post Old Mexican. As a sidenote, where were the principles of the Left when Steve Rubell and Ian Shrager were so discriminate in their choices of clientele entry into Studio 54 back in the day?

  6. I'm sure this has been pointed out already in one of the other sterling posts, but this is a good example of how racism can't really hold people down in a free market. We've all heard about systematic under-payment of minorities/women/LGBT. Here we have an open (debatable) racist team owner, paying the blacks he hates so much, millions. Now he's taking a beating in the press and probably in the pocket book.

    No, racism does not pay in a capitalist society. Green is the only color that matters.

    RW is correct to point out that this incident is outside the bounds of libertarianism, as sterling, his GF, his players, and their outraged fans could all be libertarians for all we know.

  7. Sure enough the author, Conservatives and Libertarians don't get their own basic definition of freedom of speech, press and association. Simply put such freedom just means the government can't interfere and nothing else. Other people are free to complain and deplore what you said, a private employer ought to have the right to dismiss or refuse to hire someone they don't want to associate with, sponsors and investors are free to withdraw their money and take it to your competitors, etc.

    Yes you are free to bigoted but you're not free from the private consequences and the more high profile you are the greater the fallout.

    1. I'm sorry, but I don't buy this "you're not free from the private consequences" argument I've been hearing. So, under this view, if the Government had fined him $100 for his statement, he would no longer be free to speak, but if he's fined millions by the NBA and basically forced to sell his team, he's still perfectly free to speak? Is there ever a point at which the punishment becomes the issue rather than who is doing the punishing? I have no problem saying that if you're not even allowed to express certain views IN YOUR OWN HOME without punishment, you're not really free so speak. Your view is still an attempt to silence speech you don't like. The fact that it's not being done through the government doesn't change that.

      Two more points:

      1. How can this "marketplace of ideas" work if non-governmental entities have SO much ability to suppress speech?

      2. I thought the cure for bad speech is supposed to be more speech? I guess, in reality, the cure for bad speech is more speech and severe punishment from the NBA?

      And that's why I think this is relevant even if the government wasn't the one doing the punishing -- it still invalidates basic principles of free speech. Oh, and I also don't think that there should be "consequences" for merely adhering to a certain ideology that we don't like. Action is one thing, but he didn't act. He made a statement in his own home. If you support him suffering consequences simply for his beliefs, are you not basically supporting Orwellian thoughtcrime?

  8. Racism? I am not buying it.

    This lady likes black guys (sexually) and Donald Sterling knows it.

  9. I do agree that the problem is often exaggerated by the media, which is not good at this point. The tension between races is present, even though all follow the "non-aggresion principle" (which is an achievement by itself). But we need to furthen our agenda. We can not be satisfied by the fact that blacks are no longer slaves. They are not equal in terms of society, work, education etc.

    In Canada, many hidden racism happens in politics. New laws want to regulate influx of new immigrants. It is a shame for such a developed country. Don't forget that all Americans are immigrants in the first place.

    The biggest fear comes from the unknown. Therefore we should promote more cultural and social interchange between the races. And we should punish those who commit crimes based on religious or racist falacies.

  10. Actually we do get it, Gil. The deplorers are free to deplore and take any action they choose that does not violate the NAP, but so are those who deplore the deplorers. Wenzel is deploring the deplorers.

    Is there a touch of satisfaction in your observation that the richer you are, the greater and more public your suffering?

  11. Two key points, IMO, not discussed:

    1. Undoubtedly there are moral clauses in league rules, that apply to players, and I assume to owners as well. It is entirely within their rights, if they so decided, to prohibit individuals that express any form of racism from being professionally associated with the sport.

    2. Again, have not verified, but odds are the stadium where team plays is in some ways tax supported, so you have an additional layer, where expressing racism may not be permitted.

  12. Statists are an inferior race.
    Call me what you will.
    I don't care.