Why Rand Paul is wrong about the Civil Rights Act
Given that the Civil Rights Act is in no danger of repeal and the libertarian-ish wing of the Republican Party offers some interesting opportunities for coalition building on civil liberties and foreign policy, I’m kind of surprised by the liberal reaction to Rand Paul’s nomination. That said, everyone with libertarian sympathies can acknowledge that Rand Paul is completely, utterly wrong on desegregation. I was going to write a post about this, but then I remembered that Jason wrote a great paper explaining why the Civil Rights Act was a necessary response to institutionalized discrimination:
Some skeptics of the civil rights movement have viewed racial discrimination as an essentially private matter that did not warrant the extensive state intervention. This view is untenable. Although certain measures passed in the name of black civil rights still raise serious legal issues in light of strict constitutional construction, the civil rights movement also dismantled a wide variety of even more troubling measures. Most of these can be characterized as straightforward impediments to the freedoms of movement, trade, and association. Although, if given a free market and a neutral state, economic incentives will tend to work against racial discrimination, American history has never witnessed a neutral state. Instead, and until the mid-20th century, the market incentives that might have worked against discrimination were repeatedly frustrated. Recent historical scholarship, notably from left-leaning scholars, has done much to show the depth and surprising recentness of state support for discrimination.
As a result, even those not ideologically on the left can rethink the civil rights movement as a complex set of tradeoffs that moved the United States from one type of interventionism to another, much more benign one. On the whole, state intervention into the lives of ordinary citizens shrank in this area of life, rather than grew. Although libertarian and conservative intellectuals of that era viewed certain developments, notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with great alarm, this alarm was badly misplaced.
I guess this raises some interesting hypotheticals: If discrimination was pervasive and a purely private affair, would libertarians still support something as intrusive as the Civil Rights Act? Regardless, the idea that institutionalized segregation justified a countervailing federal response is totally correct. Somebody should tell Rand Paul.