As a person of mixed race living in the northeastern United States I feel a constant pull from modern liberals, trying to draw me in with their claim that theirs are the only policies beneficial to minority groups. I believe that libertarians, with our commitment to free markets, individualism, and race-blindness are actually far better for minorities than liberals. We should try to attract
more members of racial minorities to the libertarian movement, but in order to do so we need a coherent set of arguments proving that capitalism isn’t racist.
Liberals who view capitalism as inherently “white,” and who believe it is impossible for the members of racial minorities to prosper except with government aid, fail to understand the principled approach to fighting racism. They assume that either you are for the government helping minority groups or else you must hate minority groups and want the government to help only the white race. Actually, however, one can hold, as libertarians do, that a race-blind government is more helpful to minorities than a meddling modern-liberal or socialist state. Race-blindness is based on the ethical premise of individualism, the idea that a person should be held responsible for his own actions and not for the actions, good or bad, of people who happen to share the same ethnic identity. The principled ethical solution to the problem of racism is race minority groups in places where the market is not large, but as a largescale business model such a strategy doesn’t make any sense.
There is nothing in the nature of capitalism that gives a competitive edge to any particular race. In fact, it is demean- ing to think that the members of racial minorities would not be competent enough to prosper under economic freedom. If
When the leaders of minority groups obtain government favors, they create a perpetually poor and needy subculture.
the government meddles in the economy to help people in racial minorities (or majorities!) who do not have the talent and determination to succeed in a free market, it will reward them for their race but not for the work they do. Anyone should be able to see that this isn’t fair.
That is a simple argument. Yet a “sophisticated” critique of capitalism insinuates that capitalism is de facto racist because it is “only” individuals, not racial groups, who succeed or fail in the market system. True, wealth, in this system, is not held by races; it is held by individuals — and it is individuals by whom it is enjoyed. What difference would it make to you if your race were doing better than another race, according to some set of economic statistics, so long as you yourself were not allowed to prosper? (And in nations dominated by racial economics, few people do prosper.) It should also be pointed out that economic statistics that are focused on racial groups tend to obscure the significance of individual effort for individual success.
Liberals often argue that racial minorities need government help because minority races do not have the same opportunities in America as white people. But why is this? Free-market capitalism creates jobs, and jobs are opportunities, created by capitalist enterprise for people of all groups. It cannot be said that members of racial minorities lack opportunities to get high-paying jobs because racism prevents us from getting degrees from good colleges. University admissions officers who reject deserving applicants because of their race will decrease the quality of their student body and lower their school’s academic reputation, whereas schools that accept hard-working people from minority groups will benefit their academic rankings. If the public schools that serve minority communities do not properly encourage children to aspire to college, then we should blame the public schools — which are run by the government and the teachers’ unions — for the failure to provide opportunities.
The general truth for both white people and ethnic minorities is that life is not easy but perseverance and hard work usually pay off. Some whites do not face the same obstacles as some members of minorities, but happiness is not automatic for anyone. Whites do not live in a fantasy paradise, the doors to which are locked against others. President Obama might not be good for much, politically, but he does prove
blindness, and capitalism is race-blind.
In a free-market economy individual talent and hard work tend to be rewarded. Businesses depend on the talent of their employees in order to compete with their rivals. If a racist businessman refuses to hire a talented person, it is in the interest of some other businessman, who is not a racist, to hire him and by doing so be able to compete successfully against the racist. The invisible hand of the market punishes the racist and dispenses rewards to talented workers, regardless of their ethnic identity. It is sometimes argued that racism forces members of minority groups to overpay for the retail goods they buy. Yet any racist who based his business model around overcharging in this way could be put out of business by the first nonracist who was willing to undercut his prices. If you want lower prices, unfettered competition is the most efficient way to get them. It is plausible to think that some unscrupulous people have victimized low-income racial that members of racial minorities can now achieve any station in life that we desire if we exert ourselves with hard work and determination. No one is owed a life that is easy; all we are owed is the chance to succeed, which is precisely what the free enterprise system gives us.
As to the claim that government should help to end residual racism by acting “affirmatively” in aid of ethnic minorities: if it is obviously unethical for the government to help the white race at the expense of the minority races, why wouldn’t it be unethical to help minority races at the expense of whites? People who argue otherwise sometimes claim that African Americans, in particular, are owed various kinds of restitution for past abuses. Slavery is indeed an ugly scar on the face of American history. Yet America fought the Civil War in order to eliminate slavery, and our goal as a nation should be to reach a time when we will be able to move beyond the past and embrace the future. The people who participated in slavery are all dead; no further restitution can fairly be exacted for the crime of slavery — a crime that, incidentally, was licensed and maintained by law and government, not by the individualism of the free market.
The free market gives to the members of minority races the freedom that matters, the freedom to choose whom we deal with and on what terms. In this day and age, with no remaining state-enforced racism, the sins of slavery are the liberals’ excuse to turn the government into a perpetual restitution machine that will “equalize” the white race and the minority races by artificial means. Such a program can only damage the people it is officiously meant to help. People who earn their own wealth in the free market earn the right to be proud. They enjoy their prosperity and independence. But when the leaders of minority special interest groups buy their followers’ loyalty with government favors, they create a perpetually poor, weak, needy, helpless, hopeless, welfare-addicted subculture. Racism was at one time widespread and state-enforced. It is a good thing that movements arose to combat it. But now, though it is still a problem, enough progress has been made for us to shift gears and promote race-blindness as the only feasible long-term program of achieving racial equality.
Leftists sometimes try to scare members of racial minorities by saying that libertarianism “protects the right to be a racist.” Yes, and it protects our right to be free from racism having the power of law. Libertarianism calls for an end to the use of force except in self-defense. Racial discrimination should by all means be eliminated, even when it operates without the power of law or violence, but it is properly combated by means of persuasion, by educating people on the virtues of race-blindness, and not by trying to outlaw thoughts. If you can’t persuade a person that racism is evil (and any person worth dealing with will be persuaded), and the other person is not threatening you with violence, what gives you the right to force that person to obey you? Political correctness easily snowballs into censorship. It is used as a means of getting what its purveyors want — as when people who oppose the modern liberal agenda are automatically labeled racists. I am optimistic that future generations will leave racism behind without sacrificing the freedoms to which American citizens are entitled.
But are traditional American ideas of freedom really just “white” ideas, as professors of ethnic studies often assume? Of course, the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were white; they relied on the ideas of such philosophers as John Locke, who were white; and the early theorists of the free market, such as Adam Smith, who were white. Yet the ideas they propounded have universal applications. They account for the experience of people of all races, throughout the world. They speak for the rights of every man and woman. If an idea corresponds to reality and human nature, it is equally true for everyone, with no advantage given to “white” culture.
Capitalism flourished in that vaguely defined set of territories, “the West,” in most of which the population was predominately white. For that reason it developed an early association with Western culture. So what? Economic freedom can exist everywhere, and exists today in nations throughout the world. It matters not because you are white, but because you are a human being. People in China, Venezuela, and Iran need freedom just as much as Americans do. Their cause is not well served by cultural relativists, who constantly desire to protect other cultures from the dreadful influence of “hegemonic” Western culture. These merely patronize nonwhite people with the belief that we are too primitive to understand useful ideas such as capitalism and individualism.
Racism is a monstrosity that should be destroyed. But a government that is truly race-blind, which treats every citizen with the same evenhanded justice, would act as a role model for ending racism, and should be more effective at fighting it than a government that promotes a utopia of reverse discrim-
ination, insidiously based on the idea that your race determines your value. Only race-blindness is a true alternative to racism. Racists in America are not so powerful that they have the means to cripple the resiliency of American minorities, and the members of racial minorities are not so weak that we need a welfare state to take care of us. Only if we get the government and its poisonous interference out of the race game can we create attitudes and motivations that can solve the problem of race in America.
Libertarians are in the vanguard of the fight against racism. Whether they call themselves libertarians, free-market conservatives, objectivists, or “radicals for capitalism,” thinkers who have adopted libertarian ideas have taken landmark positions against racism. Many examples come to mind, though I am thinking particularly about Ayn Rand’s famous essay “Racism” (1963) and Thomas Sowell’s several works in the field, especially “Race and Economics” (1979). I want to see this tradition continue. Some prominent members of racial minorities, such as Clarence Thomas, understand the truth about racism, but many members of minorities remain fooled by liberal propaganda. We need to spread the message of race-blindness in order to add more people to the libertarian movement.
The issue of racism in America is particularly important to me because I am myself a member of two minority groups: I am part Bangladeshi Muslim and part Russian Jewish. I consider myself to be living proof that racial diversity can be achieved without state-controlled social engineering. Drawing upon Thomas Sowell’s analysis, I would observe that in spite of our history of persecution, many Russian Jewish immigrants have achieved considerable prosperity by pursuing higher education and seeking high-paying jobs, not by relying upon state charity, whereas many Bangladeshi immigrants, coming from a nation permeated by various strains of modern liberal and socialist thinking, face substantial poverty and have not yet accomplished what we have the potential to achieve. The world has seen what horrors are spawned by a government obsession with helping some races and ethnicities at the expense of others. For the United States government to treat some races differently, even for a supposedly noble purpose, elicits an intense distrust from me — perhaps because I believe that the “equal protection” clause of the Constitution was intended to safeguard legal equality, not to legalize new kinds of inequality. How long will it be before America realizes that members of minority groups can achieve prosperity and pride without becoming helpless victims, needing to be rescued by politicians?