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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15385/why-discriminate/

Why Discriminate?

January 21, 2011 by

In the days of yore, to say that a man was discriminating was to pay him a compliment. It meant that he had taste: he could distinguish between the poor, the mediocre, the good, and the excellent. FULL ARTICLE by Walter Block


Brad January 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

“Similarly, female homosexuals, lesbians, rotten creatures that they are…”

Um, what? Did you just refer to lesbians as rotten creatures? Or was that directed at females in general?

Granted I harbor some disdain for Subaru-driving, Patagonia-wearing, recycle mongering hipsters, it is unfair to label them ‘rotten creatures.’ I would appreciate some clarification.

Ryan January 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm


Anthony January 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm


He was speaking tongue in cheek… he was implying that they are rotten because they discriminate against men. It was intended as a joke.

integral January 24, 2011 at 5:26 am

Dear lord…

Edgaras January 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm

brilliant article :) agree almost absolutely with Block.

Jim January 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I would like to ask what happens if, to use your example of the bus in the South, no capital exists with which a black person could have started a business? White bankers won’t lend anyone any money to start a business that they know would be patronized by blacks, and due to the lack of opportunities because of all the businesses being owned by whites, no blacks can raise sufficient capital themselves. The assumption here is that someone with sufficient capital will act rationally, in their own economic self interest, to provide the service. But it does not account for the fact that hatred and disgust override rational thought. Some bus lines may allow blacks on at a higher charge, or force them into humiliating circumstances (back of the bus), but I sincerely doubt each town that needs one would find a white with capital who would overcome their dislike enough to run an enterprise equally as well as it would be run for whites. The business owners will actively accept less profit, and economic hardship, rather than treat blacks as anything other than trash, and they will do so collectively (i.e. social pressure will prevent them from breaking ranks, even if one were so inclined to).

What I described above was the reality in the south at that time. Laws did not compel seperate facilities for blacks (in most instances); the law only stated that this would be allowed. People WANTED blacks to have sub-standard facilites and services, because it reinforced their own notions of superiority and the proper social hierarchy. And due to whites controlling the financial levers in those states, blacks were laregly unable to come up with sufficient resources to fund these things for themselves.

I’m not arguing or refuting the article, just trying to provoke discussion on how the market works in the face of completely irrational hatred. A poor minority can be kept poor by the concerted actions of a disdainful majority, even in the absence of government.

ABR January 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I agree with your conclusion, Jim. Under an extreme scenario, a minority might live as serfs: denied ownership of land (no one in the majority will sell); denied escape (owners of roads won’t allow it); denied capital (pay = room & board, clothing is rented).

In extreme scenarios like this one, members of the minority might decide not to respect property rights, and revolt. As Guard mentioned a while back, libertarians have not (yet) sorted out the inherent conflict between property of person and property of natural resources.

A person, in order to exist, must reside somewhere. If all the ‘somewhere’s’ are owned by others, a conflict can ensue, should the owners be dastardly bastards.

Should we then abandon property rights and embrace collectivism? No. Should we abandon the notion that ownership of natural resources is absolute and unqualified? Perhaps.

Barry Loberfeld January 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

“Laws did not compel seperate [sic] facilities for blacks (in most instances); the law only stated that this would be allowed.”

No: http://reason.com/archives/2006/05/05/when-bigots-become-reformers

Jim January 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

The article doesn’t address the fact that a majority of whites voted into power the state governments which did these things. It also says that the federal gov’t (via the supreme court in a property-rights decision), prevented the south from enacting, “South African–style apartheid at this time, despite widespread white support for such measures.”

Perhaps we’re not having the same discussion. I think you could make an ancap argument to allow discrimination, where no gov’t exists even at the state level, so that the majority doesn’t have the ability to enforce legislation segregating the minority.

But if we’re talking about legalizing it in the world we currently live in (or even in a world with less federal power, and more power devolved to the states), not in the world we’d LIKE to live in, then the majority will always be able to oppress the minority in this regard.

Jim January 21, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I’m having a lot of trouble getting comments to post today for some reason.

Thanks for rephrasing that in a more economics-oriented argument, ABR; it helped clarify some of my thinking.

Anyway Barry, I was thinking on the federal level (i.e. court decisions allowing state discrimination laws), but you’re quite right to point out the state-level laws mandating it. I think one could make an ancap argument for ending anti-discrimination laws in a world without gov’t of any sort, even on the state level. But if we’re talking about the world we live in, not the perfect world of our imaginations, then a biased majority will always be able to impose harsh legislation on a minority against their will.

Daniel Waite January 21, 2011 at 7:57 pm

The assumption here is that someone with sufficient capital will act rationally, in their own economic self interest, to provide the service. But it does not account for the fact that hatred and disgust override rational thought.

Fail. To “act rationally” is to use means to attain ends. Please read the first few chapters of Human Action. “Hatred and disgust” may change an individual’s scale of values, but they are no less rational for acting on those emotions.

Jim January 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I was using it the phrase in the sense that most people in general conversation would understand it (economically rational, i.e. seeking to maximize gain through exchange), but since I am leaving posts on the Mises Institute, I should adjust my vocabulary accordingly.

That having been said, while it may be beneficial to try and use more specific terminology on this particular site, as long as I explain clearly what I mean by a certain phrase, I don’t feel that it’s “Fail” to use my own way of describing things; concepts as specifically worded in HA are not holy writ.

Peter January 21, 2011 at 9:07 pm

People WANTED blacks to have sub-standard facilites and services, because it reinforced their own notions of superiority and the proper social hierarchy. And due to whites controlling the financial levers in those states, blacks were laregly unable to come up with sufficient resources to fund these things for themselves.

That’s ridiculous. Absent the law, the capital doesn’t have to come from their racist white neighbors, does it? What’s stopping anti-racists in other areas (even other countries) fronting up with the resources they need? If there are no such people, where is the incentive supposed to come from for anti-racism laws, etc., which you’re no doubt counting on to solve the “problem” here?

scineram January 22, 2011 at 9:45 am

Antiracists existing does not mean they have the necessary capital too.

Peter January 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm

They don’t have to be explicitly anti-racist, just willing to lend capital to blacks (in this scenario) to make a profit. They could hate blacks with a passion, and still be willing to trade with them. Especially if they’re far away in another state or country. Are you suggesting there would nobody in the world willing to trade with them? But then who would vote for the government that would fix the situation?

Dagnytg January 21, 2011 at 9:49 pm


Some observations:

Your assumptions and concerns take a very homogenous view of human nature.

As much as that notion is emotionally convenient, it’s simply not true. (I need not give a plethora of historical examples of individuals and groups who have defied unethical standards usually at great risk to themselves.)

People can always leave (as many blacks did during the early 1900’s) to other places and form their own communities.

Since when is an election really representative of the majority and how often is this (so-called) majority actually manipulated and lied to during an election?

Furthermore, I don’t think Jim Crow Laws are an outcome of the psychological need for superiority.

If you talk to people (from a variety of cultures) you will find examples of ethnocentrism come from the desire to preserve cultural values. It’s not hatred but fear of losing ones culture. Whether it’s the white supremacists in the South or the Zionists in Israel, the motivations are the same.

(I am only pointing out that their justification is not completely irrational or based on hatred.)

In the absence of government…? Nobody would or could be kept poor for very long. You way underestimate the power of the human spirit in a free or unfree society.

newson January 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm

birds of a feather flock together exists as an adage in so many languages it’s hard to deny that it speaks to some universal part of what it means to be human.

Jim January 22, 2011 at 4:47 am

You make some interesting points Dag. Like I said, I wasn’t trying to start a flame war, though sometimes it feels as if disagreeing with an author on any subject only invites taunts of being a “statist” or an idiot / retard / fascist / etc. I just wanted to have the conversation.

I suppose I think that theory is all well and good, but that (beg your pardon if you are black) we don’t really know what it’s like to essentially be told that you must move in order to be treater fairly, because everyone here dislikes you for no reason.

Imagine if 80% of the population treated you like dirt, and refused to do business with you or charged you higher prices than they did your neighbors, all due to something you have absolutely no control over. I don’t think many of us would be quite so ready to hold to ideological purity in the face of that.

newson January 22, 2011 at 7:29 pm

can laws change peoples’ inner feelings about anything? isn’t that the cornerstone of all social engineering?

Dagnytg January 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm


You need to understand this site attracts a nucleus of well-defined thinkers from the anarcho-libertarian tradition. It’s a voracious bunch and many are not patient.

My personal belief is we don’t help our cause by chasing people away.

But back to your assumptions…

Imagine if 80% of the population treated you like dirt, and refused to do business with you…

I can’t imagine that because it is not what life has taught me even in the most extreme situations.

From 88-95 I lived in a ghetto in Oakland CA. (At one point, Oakland held the highest murder rate in the nation.) As a white middle class kid I came away from that experience with great insight:

a) In the 7 years I lived there, only twice was I confronted because of my color.

b) No one ever turned away my money.

(The corner markets would even extend me credit.) (The BBQ rib place(s) didn’t have two menus and the food was always excellent.) (Tony, the car mechanic, whose shop was across the street (the advantage of living in a neighborhood built before zoning laws) always provided excellent service/price and would even share a beer.)

c) Most people “paid me no mind” as they say. But some actually included me.

(Like the neighbors who talked with me about burning down the crack house next to where I lived (between alcoholic beverages I persuaded them otherwise…) (The diabetic woman who lived in front of my cottage, baked me cookies, shared stories of her youth, and kept an eye on my place when I was gone.) (The black bar owner who drank with me till the wee hours of the morning explaining his business… you might be dismayed at his pricing theory based on inner city psychology… bottom line-a black person would pay more at his bar than at a suburban white bar for the same drink.)

Jim, it isn’t “ideological purity” that has molded my ideas. It is life experience where I have tested and proven my libertarian beliefs.

Remember, libertarianism is self-evident.

We just need to open our eyes and (for some) our minds to see it. Jim, I hope one day you’ll see it:)

Barry Loberfeld January 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm


We must point out that “discrimination” originally referred to the bias, not of individuals in their private dealings, but of government in its defense of the life, liberty, and property of all people (in other words: political equality). That’s because Jim Crow was not a social custom but a political system. Here we come to the reality that the Left cannot face. Ever since the Sixties, the Left has spun the line that racism is the outgrowth of “capitalism.” Without government controls, bigotry will germinate from every square inch of the open society. However, it is a theory of racism that is falsified by the practice of racism. Almost without exception, the history of racism is a history of statism, i.e., of government imposition of racism on society. From the American South to Nazi Germany to apartheid-era South Africa, it is government that (directly or through indifference) murders people because of their race, establishes segregated economic and cultural institutions, criminalizes interracial sexuality and marriage, and in general is responsible for almost every image that comes to mind when we speak of racism. If bigotry is the natural reflex of the social masses, why have racists always had to turn to the State to keep people of different races from teaching each other, hiring each other, marrying each other, and basically living together as members of the same society? Indeed, if there is an organic relationship between racism and capitalism, then history’s greatest racist should also have been its greatest capitalist. Our textbooks would record how Adolf Hitler and his National Capitalist Party created the ultimate racist regime by implementing completely the libertarian free-market agenda: an unregulated economy, freedom of expression, freedom of sexuality, private education, open borders, equality before the law, anti-militarism, etc. Of course, actual National Socialist policy was the polar opposite on every point. Hitler chose totalitarian socialism (that is, total socialism) as the means to his racist end because he understood what every other racist has always understood: that mass bigotry is “socialist,” not capitalist — statist, not societal — in nature. Our anti-discrimination laws were not a response to a history of market bias, but a deduction from the tenets of Leftist dogma, which now seeks to redeem the ideology of statism by placing the blame for bigotry on the American people. Thus, when a Michael Eric Dyson preaches that racism is “America’s original sin,” we must remember that the vision of a virtuous elite taking control of a villainous society that the Left brings to this issue, is the vision that the Left brings (and has always brought) to every issue.

Lee January 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I’ve always wondered how people could rail on so about laws which separated people, then turn right around and demand laws to force them together, and still expect to be taken seriously.

Most species and sub-species prefer groups of their own kind. I don’t know what other species feel about being forced together, but humans generally bitterly resent it. Neither do we like having freedoms taken away.

When we had 50 states with dozens of different counties in each, different cities in each county, all with differing laws, there was a proper answer for what you could do if you didn’t like the way things were in a place__MOVE. It still wasn’t my personal ideal of unconditional freedom for everyone, but it was a hell of a lot closer than it is now where tyrannical laws forbid us to have perfectly natural human behavior. The loss of personal freedom has been catastrophic both for individuals and for the country.

guard January 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Right on. I read a book that tried seriously to argue that we needed government to prevent things such as lynchings that occurred in the South. Totally ignored was the fact the government was in place at that time, and that most of the lynchings were carried out with the acquiescence if not the outright participation of law enforcement.

newson January 21, 2011 at 11:28 pm

i haven’t read the block work cover to cover, but i did note that herrnstein (the bell curve) was at times misspelled as hernstein.

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