What should the limits of liberal tolerance be?

In a liberal society, what theoretical limits should be drawn to the exercise of illiberal social goals through market/property means?

I alluded to this question in my earlier post responding to David Velleman, and as David surmised I have a problem with the laws of public accomodation as they stand, so my response is/was a bit off target given his intended point.[1] Rich Puchalsky's objection brings the question to the fore:

This is clearly not true. If you ran a restaurant in a majority-white, generally prejudiced area, you would get a lot of business by putting up a “no blacks allowed” sign. Sure, some liberals might boycott you, but those people were never much of your customer base anyway, and you would positively attract business from local racists who would see an opportunity for community bonding. In fact, once it became legal to discriminate, there would undoubtedly be created a group of racists who refused to patronize businesses that admitted blacks. If they were 20% of the population in the South, you’d still do better to discriminate as long as the percentage of boycotters and lost black customers was less than 20%.

Now, in an isolated position I think that property owners should be allowed rather broad leeway in determining who they do and do not want to do business with. I think that there are too many 'protected classes' as it is, or rather that the pursuit of protection of the classes has gone a bit too far in terms of disallowing certain kinds of non-pernicious discrimination (the persecution of VMI comes to mind; not all exclusion is oppressive, arbitrary, or wrong a priori).

And as Nick pointed out later in the thread, I pretty clearly believe that there is not 20% of the population in the south that would preferentially dine at whites-only restaurants. I think that in 2005 it would pretty much be economic hara-kiri to operate as an openly racist/prejudiced shop. On the other hand, I don't know why the objection has to be, or should be cast solely in 'whites as oppressors, blacks as victims'. There are plenty of movements for black-only this-or-that in large areas of the South, and in 2005 I can certainly see that while a whites-only restaurant or hotel would probably wither on the economic vine, I'm not so sure a blacks-only version would.

To bring in Rich again before getting to the thrust of my point:

Brandon Berg, the best answer that you can imagine – that deep down, people believe something negative about profit – is not necessarily the best answer. In the case of racial discrimination, it used to be a huge problem for black people to travel, just to take one example, because they could never be sure of finding a place in a small town that would serve them. If you own the only gas station, your town effectively becomes a trap for travellers, who must pay some exorbitant rate to get gas from elsewhere (probably from you, through an indirect channel, so it only adds to your profit margin) if they happen to run out while passing through. And of course black people used to only get inferior services of all sorts. It ignores history to imagine that somehow we start with a clear slate in these matters and that the legacy of American racism has been forgotten, and that people believe that discrimination is bad because of some abstract idea about profit.

The crux of the biscuit is that there is a certain tipping point where if you get enough illiberal oases out there, they begin to feed on each other and help create a norm which may be self-sustaining to a large degree. Rich is absolutely right in that back in the bad ol' days, black people could go hundreds of miles before they would come across a motel or hotel that would allow them to stay, or restaurants that would serve them. That's certainly a grossly illiberal outcome, one that in the case of, say, Ohio, came about without needing Jim Crow laws. In such a case by the very nature of that particular market there was little in the way of self-correcting force to punish the discriminators economically.

So simply because something in the particular, isolated from context, may be acceptable from a property-rights POV, it does not make any consequence from the widespread adoption of the policy OK by default. In other words, non-discrimination (or, more broadly, liberal tolerance) may be a public good if one assumes a sufficiently prejudiced population; if there is a critical mass to make prejudice a private good, then as the saying goes we're on the wrong side of the public goods trap and our analysis needs to change accordingly.

So when should liberals act when illiberal ideas become too rampant? Should we always and everywhere look to non-state methods of correction? Or is there a point where the state should go and rule something out of bounds?

And more importantly, assuming the sufficiently prejudiced population, how does one change it to one that is not, in order to switch the terms of the debate from socio-political to economic?


NOTES:

fn1. I still don't think that the problem with the marginal values voter targeted by the Democrats (e.g. by David as being black church goers) are going to be swayed too much by a simple change in rhetoric either, for the same reasons I mentioned before. Its not as though they're objecting only because they think they have to accept homosexuality if they agree to nondiscrimination. Its that in a great many cases they want to discriminate. That is what I meant by there being no functional difference to the supposed person repelled by homosexuality to be told that they don't have to accept it, since its not a problem of acceptance but one of wanting to actively repel, expel, or deny a portion of the population from a particular area of the social sphere.

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Lastly, I really don’t

Lastly, I really don’t like the argument ad hominem, but this situation almost demands it. It sounds all very well to say that you must respect racists’ rights to discriminate, and that moral condemnation is not symonymous with laws, but how much would you be really risking here? I somehow doubt that many libertarians would personally suffer from racial discrimination.

I seem to recall a survey showing that the majority of libertarians are caucasian, but I'm not aware of actual percentages at present.

I'm repeating myself, of

I'm repeating myself, of course, but I don't see why the burden of proof should be on me for this question. The suggestion is a form of what I call the "ice cream attack". If you are right that the effects of removing the anti-discrimination laws that force no positive actions would be negligible because people are on the whole no longer racist, then it costs nothing to keep them. It then becomes like the libertarian attack on some New England village's law against eating ice cream on Sundays, passed in the 1800s and now ignored. Libertarians may call for its repeal in order to simply to have fewer laws, but really, why bother? On the other hand, if the effect of removing the law is indeed bad, despite your predictions, then I believe that we have the evidence of the responses (and lack of responses) to the thought experiment in this thread to show that libertarians would do nothing (I interpret Joe Miller's response to mean that he's not a libertarian -- correct me if I'm wrong).

I'm not very concerned about this because it's never going to happen. The upside of removing racial discrimination laws (assuming that you're not a racist) is purely abstract, a feeling of "one less law". No one outside the libertarian community really can imagine looking at a "no blacks allowed" sign and sighing with the feeling of freedom on the march. The downside might be quite severe.

Lastly, I really don't like the argument ad hominem, but this situation almost demands it. It sounds all very well to say that you must respect racists' rights to discriminate, and that moral condemnation is not symonymous with laws, but how much would you be really risking here? I somehow doubt that many libertarians would personally suffer from racial discrimination.

Rich, the burden of

Rich, the burden of providing empirical evidence is always on the advocates of state action. Abiola's point is well taken, and there may well be some regions of the South where 20% isn't far off. The question is how large those regions are, and how much effect 20% can really have against the unified contempt and scorn of the other 80%, and of more than 80% nationwide.

On boycotts, you're right that usually economic and political action were combined; few at the time saw much ethical distinction between them. Indeed, segregationists had much less respect for that distinction than integrationists. The Montgomery bus boycott, to take a notable example, was met with violence of both legal and freelance varieties once racist whites realized the magnitude of the economic effect it was having; and city officials refused to allow the bus company to desegregate, even though the boycott had caused them large losses. It is understandable in those circumstances that people believed they had to fight fire with fire. The question of what would have happened had either or both sides been more respectful of private rights is one to which neither I nor you know the answer.

It may be that racism would be somewhat normalized by the relaxation of anti-discrimination laws, though I (of course) doubt it. The problem with that argument is that it proves too much: it implies that whenever those in the majority don't like what a minority believes, they can restrict the rights of that minority by the force of law in order to "send a signal" about what they approve or disapprove of. Whatever else this may be, it isn't liberal. Indeed, the belief some people have that "if it's legal it must be OK" is entirely the fault of statists who have sought to criminalize such a wide range of things they think socially undesirable.

As for the thought experiment: if I ever become President, the first thing I do is abdicate. Seriously. I can't in good conscience rule over other people. That's why I'm an anarchist: I don't think I'm good enough to tell other people what to do with their own property, and I don't think anyone else is either. Humility demands that I respect the right of racists to do as they like with their own property, even if that has social consequences I don't like. But you knew that.

Rich, Meta discussion is

Rich,

Meta discussion is necessary if you ever want to get beyond the surface of a question and delve into why something is happening and why we should or should not do something. A refusal to deal with metaquestions is to put one's head in the sand, at least as far as greater policy debates go.

I said that I don't think that there is as much racism as you do, true, and that what extra prejudicial discrimination that would appear as a result of repealing the laws would be minor and transitory since the economics is against them- it is a clear private bad in the vast majority of the US, and only in subregions and certain backward locals would you have an island of illiberality. That was my point that both you and Abiola chose to ignore in your responses. So yes, arguing against a position I didn't take (that prior restraint on the part of rational Homo Economicus would mean that nothing would change) was a straw man.

But hey, mea culpa if it makes you happy. The answer to that one is moot anyway since, given what Abiola wrote on his blog, he and I already agree on what would happen, we just disagree on the magnitude of the change (and, I assume, on either the permanence or length of the regression to greater private racial discrimination).

I agree with you, too, that there would likely be an overt network of discriminators, but I still think that we're on the right side of the public goods problem in that such a network would be (rightly) shunned and excoriated on a national level, they'd have severe costs to face for their overt racism. The greater culture is such that you can't get away with that without some sort of repercussion, socially. I believe this effect would be enough to reverse the trend over time and erode the network to the pockets of illiberality we already know exist (where, perhaps de facto, we're already or still at segregated economics). I don't believe that the change in American attitudes about race in the US are currently dependent upon (if they ever were) on legal sanctions against discrimination. We obviously disagree.

Which brings us to the meta policy question that cuts through the disagreement - how much should liberals push to eliminate pockets of illiberality, and what tools should be used to do it? Can we identify a level of discrimination that, either in terms of intensity on a local level or frequency of occurrence on a wider level, would warrant some sort of action/intervention?

Thanks, Joe. No, I wasn't

Thanks, Joe. No, I wasn't directing the thought experiment at you only, it was intended for anyone who wants to answer.

At a more general level, I

At a more general level, I think that your insistence on meta-discussion is telling. OK, you have the luxury of writing "I’m not particularly interested in arguing over whether or precisely how racist white america is or isn’t at the time, nor am I going to." Just as Sugar J can say that hey, I get along with everybody in the most diverse zip code on the planet -- in other words, an inner city area in which the local mores strictly forbid overt displays of racism, and in which lo and behold Sugar J has no trouble in living according to the local mores. Isn't this one of the reasons why there are so few black libertarians?

Look at where the insistance on meta-discussion, theoretical limits, and on linking types of laws together by abstract categories gets you. It's the same syndrome that turns libertarian discussions of gun laws into "Should nuclear weapons be permitted for home defense?", drug laws into what the age on consent for legal heroin should be, and discussion of the best kind of response to existing homophobic discrimination into the libertarian defense of "no blacks allowed" signs on principle.

Brian, you can't class every

Brian, you can't class every disagreement as a straw man. You claimed that if anti-discrimination laws were repealed, few or no businesses would choose to discriminate, because they would realize that economics was against them. Abiola and I disagreed with you on matters of fact, by saying that the economics was not in fact against them and that there is more racism then you realize. I also added a sociological mechanism by which discrimination would increase beyond its original starting point, as a method of group identification.

On the other hand, saying that Abiola and I believe that the only thing stopping a return to Jim Crow is the threat of legal sanction *is* a straw man. Neither of us said any such thing. I would guess that there would be a network of businesses in the South that would return to segregation, and probably a whole subculture of overt racism that would define itself in opposition to the larger culture, but this is not the same thing as Jim Crow.

So it's not "one straw man deserves another".

Brian, Except in some of the

Brian,
Except in some of the neighborhoods of our largest cities, I see an increasing tendency toward exclusion. It's not necessarily being done out of racist feelings, but it creates a kind of isolation that increases ones discomfort when confronted with the new and/or different. Even in "liberal" exurbs where kids are taught to be inclusionary, their experience is exclusionary.

I believe that without state sanction it is all to easy for large groups of people to isolate themselves from the rest. Now, people certainly do have a right to live where they please, and with whom they please. But the state has a stake in preventing the destruction of the greater sense of community that is required for large groups of people to live and work together. So in public places, and publicly accessed business (as opposed to membership clubs) I think the state must intervene.

This human tendency to create an "us and them" is a force that acts against community and can fracture a society. It is common enough and destructive enough that the larger community needs to bring it's authority to bear in order to ammeliorate it. Forever, if need be.

Saying stuff “white racism

Saying stuff “white racism isn’t a problem, black racism is", “global warming is a liberal myth” or “pollution externalities don’t exist” is not the way to get thinking people to take one seriously.

Please point out where and when Brian stated any of these things.

Andrew, Well, lets be fair

Andrew,

Well, lets be fair all around, their objections are straw men as well. One straw turn deserves another.

Your comment is more to the original point though. Do you think that what you said is true vs. simply plausible? As in, do you think that it is the threat of legal sanction that is maintaining a lower level of racism now than there would be absent the sanctions, and further if legal sanction were removed we'd see an increased if not increasing level of racism?

Then the question becomes- which is it? Will racism spread like a virus/cancer/wildfire and thus bring us back to a pre-1950s world of racial relations, or will the removal of sanction increase racism by X amount and stay there?

If the former, then yes, you're arguing that the only thing (ultimately) stopping us from the return of a non-state-enforced jim crow is the threat of state sanction now. Otherwise, we have a cost-benefit question.

And finally, Abiola,

And finally,

Abiola, suggesting that I've said "white racism isn't a problem, black racism is" when I clearly have not, is not the way to get thinking people (such as myself) to take you seriously.

"You two (Abiola and Rich)

"You two (Abiola and Rich) are saying that the only thing stopping a return to Jim Crow in America is the threat of legal sanction?"

That smacks suspiciously of straw-man-argument. I think they are saying that the threat of legal sanction is *one* thing that *helps* prevent a return to Jim Crow - without legal sanction, attitudes have in fact changed since then so we wouldn't slide *all* the way back - but we would slide back a significant way. And, in fact, legal sanction and public attitudes about segregation/racism do interact, so without legal sanction, hitherto repressed racism might flare out into the open, and we'd see that in fact, attitudes haven't changed as much as we'd like to hope.

Furthermore, Abiola - while

Furthermore,

Abiola - while the post you made on your blog is hardly indicative of a mass of racist whites willing to go full hog on neosegregation, but rather that (a) you're seeing the economic principle of 'talk is cheap' and revealed preference and (b) the discount rate is ~72% when looking at poll results vs. actual voting- and this is at best, as surely you also know that not everyone who answers a poll votes, or that the every population/side of a question are as motivated to vote as the other, or further that the poll got an accurate count of likely voters in the first place - I'm not particularly interested in arguing over whether or precisely how racist white america is or isn't at the time, nor am I going to. The questions I'm interested in, from a meta perspective, are:

1. At what point does a pervasive prejudice (for whatever reason) among the population make that prejudice a private good vs. a private bad? Or, rather, what is the tipping point where it becomes a net positive in general to conform to the prejudiced standard?

2. Given the situation in (1) where we have prejudice as a net positive for private individuals, what should the theoretical and practical responses from liberal individuals be? This would have two parts, too, as you want ameliorative action to remove the practice, but you'd also want some response that will change the prejudice such that intervention is less necessary in the future (otherwise we're not talking about a liberal worldview of a changable, positive sum view of society but rather a conservative one where people are inherently bad and the state must routinely beat them into submission).

3. Presuming that what is prescribed in (2) works, at what point do you cease doing (2), or are some social ills equivalent to alcoholism, where you have to stay on the wagon forever or risk relapse?

So, let me get this

So, let me get this straight-

You two (Abiola and Rich) are saying that the only thing stopping a return to Jim Crow in America is the threat of legal sanction?

I agree with Abiola Lapite

I agree with Abiola Lapite in that I think that you underestimate the degree of existing racism. But it goes beyond that -- people look for a way to set themselves apart as a special subgroup, and for whites in the U.S., racism is a way to do that. Look at the dismissive comment by Scott Scheule in the other thread, about why people fly Confedewrate flags: "Mainly to be needlessly stereotyped by Northerners, but I suppose pride in one’s history enters into it somewhere." That's classic subgroup identity-building. Once you identify with this, being able to get into whites-only restaurants is a positive reinforcement. Patronage for whites-only businesses would increase because of people who wanted to claim part of this identification, even if those people didn't start out with particularly unusual racism.

Abiola: The Implicit

Abiola:

The Implicit Association test is not scientific proof of whitey racism. Just because someone clicks on the image of a white man instead of a Navajo when the picture of the Grand Canyon pops up means I can't be trusted to dictate who can dine at my restaurant?

Hey, I'll come clean: I scored mildly racist AND sexist on that test. Yet I have never been accused of racism or sexism, and get along swimmingly with just about everybody in the most diverse zip code on the face of the planet. It's pretty easy to do when you're an individualist.

"Saying stuff “white racism isn’t a problem, black racism is", “global warming is a liberal myth” or “pollution externalities don’t exist” is not the way to get thinking people to take one seriously."

Does being taken "seriously" by "thinking people" dictate what is true? Or should the truth be sacrificed for popularity?

Libertarianism and Wishful

Libertarianism and Wishful Thinking
Following is a comment I made in response to a post by Brian W. Doss which seems to have been inspired by some alternate reality. His post is a very good example of what I find most irritating about anarcho-libertarianism

I pretty clearly believe

I pretty clearly believe that there is not 20% of the population in the south that would preferentially dine at whites-only restaurants.

What you "believe" and what is true are very different things, and the fact is that there are very large portions of the south in which the majority of white people would still like to see interracial marriage banned to this very day, while any number of opinion polls show that neighborhood segregation in the south is driven by white opposition, not black. What people say and what they truly feel often greatly differs, and your beliefs are completely uninformed by contact with reality.

in 2005 I can certainly see that while a whites-only restaurant or hotel would probably wither on the economic vine, I’m not so sure a blacks-only version would.

What dream world are you living in to write something like this? It certainly isn't the same one I recognize. If there are "black-only" establishments out there at all, they mostly owe their existence to white exclusion and not any imaginary desire on the part of large numbers of blacks to keep whites "in their place." The average white person in America is far more likely to harbor racial prejudices against blacks than the average black person is against whites.

It may be convenient for your views on the freedom of private businesses to discriminate to imagine that too few whites would do so to make it a viable choice for many businesses to make, but unfortunately for you, the voluminous empirical evidence out there does not play along with such notions. What you display here is an all too common tendency amongst libertarians to wish away difficult facts that stand in the way of their ideologies, when it would actually serve their cause better to propose reasons to support their views *in the face* of said difficulties. Saying stuff "white racism isn't a problem, black racism is", "global warming is a liberal myth" or "pollution externalities don't exist" is not the way to get thinking people to take one seriously.

Now Scott is a

Now Scott is a sanctity-of-contract-be-damned-the-consequences libertarian.

To a point, but it depends on the consequences, of course.

Rich, By 'you' I'm assuming

Rich,

By 'you' I'm assuming that you're not referring to me directly? I'm afraid that my libertarian credentials leave much to be desired. Personally, I'm with you: it's wishful thinking at best (or perhaps misguided revisionism) to think that Jim Crow was going away without state intervention. I'm happy to have laws prohibiting discrimination; I think that they work reasonably well, and I'd like to apply them to gays, too. I'd like to apply them to the Boy Scouts and lots of other 'private' organizations, too. (For the record, when colleges count your activity as a plus toward admissions, then you aren't really a private organization anymore. IMHO.)

Now Scott _is_ a

Now Scott _is_ a sanctity-of-contract-be-damned-the-consequences libertarian. :razz:

"What, if anything, do you

"What, if anything, do you do?"

Personally, I do nothing.

But I think people have the right to trade with whoever they wish.

Joe, you're right that his

Joe, you're right that his post raised the possibility. But it to raise the possibility in theory, and at the same time be so doubtful about it for anti-black racism (hopefully the worst form of prejudice that will ever occur in American history, though I suppose that you never know) is in practice to dismiss it. I'll try to be more fair and say that sure, maybe Brian would come up with a action level that would encourage some kind of state action if things got really bad. But things are probably never going to get as bad as they actually, historically already did, so what's the point?

Similarly, why should I try to quantify my own willingness to take state action? I believe in the effectiveness of anti-discrimination law, so I'm likely to try it for any group of people, such as gays, that I see being discriminated against. No doubt I could come up with some method of figuring out which types of discrimination are so minor that it wouldn't be worth taking action agaisnt them, but in practice, those laws would never pass, and I'd never really try to get them passed because I'd be focussing on other things.

But, OK, maybe I'm being drattedly unfair and there really are forms of state action that libertarians here would support. OK, what are they? Let's try a thought experiment. Assume that you have been elected the President of the U.S. with full support from your libertarian party, which also controls Congress. Basically, the governmental reins of power are yours. You go ahead and (among other things) revoke anti-discrimination laws. Shockingly, you find out that a subculture and network of anti-black businesses does spring up, and people start to complain about the problems we've talked about above (travelling through areas of the South, for instance). And things appear to be getting worse. Assume that you first try the bully pulpit, encouraging private boycotts, arbitration, and so on and that they don't work. What, if anything, do you do?

Rich: _This is just a way to

Rich: _This is just a way to reluctantly come to the conclusion that you wouldn’t do anything. After all, you doubt whether anti-discrimination laws did any good when they were applied against racism against blacks, the most thoroughly ingrained prejudice in American history, so when would there ever be any future time when you would think they are worthwhile? Why not just forthrightly say that you’re libertarians, you believe in the sanctity of contract no matter how uneven the social power on each side on the contract, and that you’re not going to do squat no matter how bad things get?_

This strikes me as terribly unfair. I'm assuming that you're aiming this comment primarily at Brian, in which case I'm a bit puzzled, since, after all, it was his post that raised the possibility that it might sometimes be legitimate for the state to intervene to prevent illiberalism. Indeed, from some of Brian's other comments in various other threads, I would venture to say that he is open to the possibility that not all state action is inherently wrong. Although I can't presume to speak for him directly, I suspect that, at least in this case, your stereotype of him as a sanctity-of-contract-be-damned-the-consequences sort of libertarian is misplaced.

On the other hand, you do raise a nice point in your response to Ken. I think it's important to recognize that people sometimes act out of motives that run counter to their economic self-interests. People are complicated, and act out of all sorts of complex motivations. Racism is one such possible motivation. If that racism becomes deeply enough entrenched, then it may well turn out that, in small towns and even perhaps not so small towns, shopkeepers will turn away non-whites even when doing so costs them money. And I think that you're right that it's not so easy for Yankees to just move in and open up alternative shops. After all, _someone_ has to work in those shops, and those someone's are likely to be locals, unless of course Safeway decides to import an entire workforce from NYC, too. Those locals are going to face the same sorts of community pressure that the lone local shopkeeper felt.

I'm with you on the need for state action to correct certain kinds of illiberalism. I suspect, too, that Brian will agree. Where we likely all differ is on what kinds of state action are legitimate and when that state action is justified. That question, I take it, is the subject of Brian's two posts, no?

Ken, I thought I had alluded

Ken, I thought I had alluded to this one in a previous comment, but it makes perfect economic sense to discriminate in this situation even if you're not forced to by unofficial, terroristic threats. Your analysis depends on there being competition. The fact is that in small towns, there is only enough business to support one gas station. There is no "huge untapped market".

So, if you set up the gas station as whites only, and sell gas through some back-alley method to the rare black person driving through, you still get to sell the same amount of gas, and you get an additional markup on the back-alley gas.

And don't think that the locals can't do jack about it other than piss and moan, even if you do stop them from using violence. In a small town, they can ostracize the gas station owner in various ways. That kind of social pressure is very hard to stand up to. Having a law that says that you can't discriminate allows the gas station owner to blame the law rather than have to take a personal stand, and sets a social norm that discourages that kind of pressure.

Even in urban areas, where there would be a lot of competition, the analysis just doesn't hold up. Seperate but equal is not equal, not when the relative population numbers are so unbalanced. Non-discriminatory gas stations in a majority prejudiced white area would get to charge more just because they would be farther apart, if for no other reason.

This discussion reminds me

This discussion reminds me of David Friedman's saying "Utopia is not an option"

Libertarians should not try to pretend the problem of self-segregation does not exist. Rather, they should suggest that the state A) is powerless to solve the problem and B) makes things worse with the additional costs involved in attemping to solve an impossible problem.

I don't know what the benefits of anti-discrimination laws have been. I think a lot of people will argue and disagree over this point. Pinpointing and measuring them is clearly impossible. But it is clear that the world today is just as segregated as ever because people choose to live that way. The state cannot stop this.

"Rich is absolutely right in

"Rich is absolutely right in that back in the bad ol’ days, black people could go hundreds of miles before they would come across a motel or hotel that would allow them to stay, or restaurants that would serve them. That’s certainly a grossly illiberal outcome, one that in the case of, say, Ohio, came about without needing Jim Crow laws."

But how much did it depend on "unofficial" Jim Crow laws, i.e., the threat of being attacked by masked terrorists? Because if you have the chance to be the only hotel or gas station for hundreds of miles around that will serve a large section of the population, and you don't take it, you're leaving a great deal of money on the table.

(And that holds true even if the racist whites won't come anywhere near your place if you do. Other service providers are already competing for them, and you'd have a whole market all to yourself. At least until the others started wising up...)

If by some fluke all the white business owners for hundreds of miles around were willing to pass up all that cash without any laws, threats of violence, or any sort of coercion by the government or by their neighbors, the problem would still be solved without new laws. It would be solved when a bunch of damn-yankees noticed that there was a huge untapped market and started coming down and opening hotels and gas stations and restaurants and whatnot to take advantage of the situation. If law and order prevail and Jim Crow is absent, the locals can't do jack about it other than wave Confederate flags and bitch and moan. The dreaded multinational chains would work wonders here - stockholders in New York or Tokyo aren't going to give a damn if a bunch of racist rednecks bitch and moan while they're raking in the bucks.

Why oh why won't we discuss

Why oh why won't we discuss this as an abstract issue? Because we know what the answer will be.

First of all, the verbiage about cost/benefit analyses and action levels is just a smokescreen. No one is going to come up with a concrete action level within a blog comment box, or do real cost/benefit analysis. This is just a way to reluctantly come to the conclusion that you wouldn't do anything. After all, you doubt whether anti-discrimination laws did any good when they were applied against racism against blacks, the most thoroughly ingrained prejudice in American history, so when would there ever be any future time when you would think they are worthwhile? Why not just forthrightly say that you're libertarians, you believe in the sanctity of contract no matter how uneven the social power on each side on the contract, and that you're not going to do squat no matter how bad things get?

Second, the abstract issue is equally pointless from the liberal side. Liberals generally do not believe that laws are not passed on the basis of abstract discussions about pluralism. I would guess that most liberals are going to work for anti-discrimination laws against homophobic prejudice, for example, and take whatever they can get. Whatever they can get will be determined by current events, political power, and other elements of real life. No homophobe is going to be convinced by a cost-benefit analysis.

So I think that, to some

So I think that, to some extent, you and Rich and Abiola are talking past one another. You’re interested in a meta-analysis that I’m not sure it’s possible to do at the abstract level you’re trying to do it. Rich and Abiola are digging into empirical questions about this particular society with this particular set of issues. I think that, to answer your question, you may have to do the things that they are doing.

Rich and Abiola are talking past Brian. He has insisted in the prior post and in this one - which he wrote - that he wants to discuss the issues of pluralism that you point out. For whatever reason, they insist on not addressing the issue, going so far as to bring in irrelevant arguments about pollution, heroin, and global warming. So far Michael, Andrew, and you have addressed the question - thank you all.

Brian: _Can we identify a

Brian: _Can we identify a level of discrimination that, either in terms of intensity on a local level or frequency of occurrence on a wider level, would warrant some sort of action/intervention?_

This is going to be a difficult (impossible?) question to answer in the abstract, isn't it? I realize that I'm not nearly as much of a pluralist as many of the regular readers and contributors here, so I'm going to be a lot less likely to tolerate _any_ pockets of illiberalism. Indeed, I'm going to differ from most here in that I think that it is groups that provide the main threat to liberalism and the state that, in the main, has to protect individuals from illiberal groups. My impulse is to say that state intervention is justified to prevent all pockets of illiberalism.

But before everyone starts sending me hate-mail, let me go ahead and back off a bit. As a consequentialist, I obviously recognize that there is some sort of cost-benefit analysis that one must perform. Some pockets of illiberalism might be hard enough to root out that really drastic state action would be required. I wouldn't argue, for instance, that the state should prohibit publication of _The Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ in order to root out antisemitism.

But if I'm following you correctly, the meta-question you're asking is what, precisely, is the point at which benefits outweigh the costs. But I'm not sure that such a question can really be a meta-question. The meta discussion, it seems to me, is to ask _whether_ there might be a point at which benefits outweigh costs. When we start trying to figure out what that point is, well, then I'm not so sure we can do that without some appeal to facts. The point at which intervention becomes justified will depend on lots of factors about the practice, how widespread it is, and what humans are likely to do.

So I think that, to some extent, you and Rich and Abiola are talking past one another. You're interested in a meta-analysis that I'm not sure it's possible to do at the abstract level you're trying to do it. Rich and Abiola are digging into empirical questions about this particular society with this particular set of issues. I think that, to answer your question, you may have to do the things that they are doing.

If what we want to know instead is, when, generally, are we willing to allow state intervention to correct for illiberalism, then we actually will need first to have a different meta-discussion about the degree to which we think that states vs. groups are really responsible for illiberalism and to what extent we're willing to allow states to restrict certain kinds of illiberal liberty (an oxymoron?) in the interest of preserving more fundamental liberties for others.

Nicholas, I could probably

Nicholas, I could probably do some Googliing and come up with some kind of numeric estimate, but why should I in a thread in which no libertarians have provided any numbers? I will point out that Abiola, right in this thread, provided a link to a referendum that showed that in 2000, 50% of whites in Alabama voted to preserve a law against interracial marriage. Given that, I don't think that my complete guesstimate of 20% for certain regions of the South is unreasonable.

As for the effectiveness of the Civil Rights boycotts, they were effective as a political tool largely because they led to legal action. They weren't simply economic. To my knowledge, no racist ever desegregated simply because of economic pressure.

I think that you should read more of David Neiwert's blog Orcinus, if you aren't already. One of the things that he talks about is the mainstreaming of extremism. If you revoke an anti-discrimination law, you send a signal to society that racism is now OK, even if you revoked the law purely for libertarian reasons. The first business to put up a "no blacks allowed" sign is going to get a big disapproving response, sure. But assuming that the first one would be by a committed racist, economic and public relations pressure isn't going to bring down that sign quickly. And the more that people see it, still there after the immediate furor has died down, the more racism is normalized. One of the points that I've been trying to make is that you might well end up with a level of racism far greater than exists now.

Feel free to respond to my thought experiment above, by the way.

Rich, you're right that

Rich, you're right that there is some portion of the population that would group-identify as racist. Nobody's disputing that. But how large do you think that portion is, and can you provide any empirical evidence to back up your estimate? Do you dispute that the portion of the population that chose to self-identify in that way would be, in most areas, scorned and reviled by a large majority?

The civil rights movement achieved a great many of its successes by voluntary boycotts-- calling on whites who abhorred racism, as well as blacks, to boycott businesses that refused to change discriminatory policies. Given the cultural changes of the past 40 years, don't you think such boycotts would be even more effective now than they were then?

"If that racism becomes

"If that racism becomes deeply enough entrenched, then it may well turn out that, in small towns and even perhaps not so small towns, shopkeepers will turn away non-whites even when doing so costs them money. And I think that you’re right that it’s not so easy for Yankees to just move in and open up alternative shops. After all, someone has to work in those shops, and those someone’s are likely to be locals, unless of course Safeway decides to import an entire workforce from NYC, too."

Why not? Or maybe Mexico, while they're at it. Either way, the imported workforces will be less susceptible to community pressure, since they have each other to socialize with and do business with.

Thus, social cohesion is not an unalloyed good, and free trade is a good antidote to local mass idiocy, whether it be Detroit trying to sell us crap for big bucks or racist rednecks turning away paying customers out of pure spite.

Moreover, "moral

Moreover, "moral condemnation" isn't synonymous with "passing laws against."

At least, I don't think it is.

Do you really hold that you

Do you really hold that you aren’t qualified to morally condemn certain really hideous acts? The problem with widespread racism is that it would seem pretty drastically to interfere with the liberty of members of whatever group is being oppressed (I don’t like this word; it’s become to victim-y, but you get the general idea). How is respecting that sort of thing really consistent with liberalism?

It is entirely dependent on how one defines liberty, Joe, and surely you realize as much. If whites don't want to serve blacks at a restaurant they own, what I see is a free act. To force those whites to serve blacks is, as I see it, to violate their liberty. If you define liberty differently, you will of course get a different result.

The true test of one's respect for other peoples' freedom is when you respect their choices even when you disapprove of those choices.

Of course, one only can follow such respect so far--and the distance one goes is dependent on the baseline one is using.

Nicholas, I'm not sure how

Nicholas,

I'm not sure how much really is to be gained by attempts to shift the burden of proof for empirical evidence. Of course a libertarian will claim that state intervention is justified if and only if there is really good cause, thus maintaining that it's up to the statist to provide that evidence. The liberal statist, on the other hand, will claim that groups are frequently coercive and push the pluralist to explain why it is that a particular coercive group should not be regulated. Then we'll all accuse one another of begging the question and that'll be fun, but not very productive.

Where I'm far more interested in engaging is with your last paragraph, which leaves me scratching my head a bit. Just when I start to think that maybe there is something worth taking seriously about libertarianism, I see someone endorse this sort of really radical pluralism at which point I remember where there are so many more of my kind of liberal than there are of your kind. :smile:

Do you really hold that you aren't qualified to morally condemn certain really hideous acts? The problem with widespread racism is that it would seem pretty drastically to interfere with the liberty of members of whatever group is being oppressed (I don't like this word; it's become to victim-y, but you get the general idea). How is respecting that sort of thing really consistent with liberalism?

Another way of putting the point, and it sounds odd to say this I know, is that it's not clear why a liberal should tolerate intolerance. I can understand consequentialist arguments that say that states lead to worse consequences than allowing pockets of intolerance or illiberalism. Those are consequentialist arguments; I happen to think that the empirical claims behind those arguments are false, but, if the facts turn out otherwise, then I'm willing to go where the evidence leads. But your position seems to be different. To claim that no one has the right to judge the intolerance of others, well, short of wearing ideological blinders, I'm just not seeing the moral grounds for such a claim. I'm sure you have one, but for the life of me, I'm not sure what it could be.

Scott, Yes, I do realize

Scott,

Yes, I do realize that much will turn on how one defines liberty. And we’re in complete agreement that “the true test of one’s respect for other peoples’ freedom is when you respect their choices even when you disapprove of those choices”. I couldn’t have put it any better. Where I think we part company lies in your admission, in the next paragraph, that we can “only follow such respect so far”. I’m not sure how the sort of pluralism that Nicholas was endorsing is really consistent with that belief.

I’m pretty sure that neither of us would want, say, a subgroup that sacrifices unwilling virgins to the fire gods. We might both allow such a group to exist, and they could talk all that they wanted to about sacrificing virgins. But when it came time to perform the sacrifice, I think that we’d both be okay with preventing that action (though different mechanisms; I’d choose a state, you a PDA).

In both the active discrimination case and the sacrifice case, the problem, it seems to me, is that one person is using his liberty to perform some act that harms another. I side with Mill in thinking that that has to be the limit of tolerance.

Scott, _Moreover, “moral

Scott,

_Moreover, “moral condemnation” isn’t synonymous with “passing laws against.”_

_At least, I don’t think it is._

No, of course it's not synonymous with 'passing laws against.' I wonder, though, whether it doesn't entail 'trying to eliminate'. There are obviously many ways of trying to eliminate something that one thinks of as morally wrong. Passing laws is one of the more draconian, and as such it isn't appropriate for many, many things. Some would argue, for instance, that abortion is a bad thing and would thus try to reduce the number of abortions while still leaving the option of abortion legal. I would argue that racism is pernicious enough that it merits laws.

What concerns me more is the attitude I sometimes see among hardcore pluralists which seems to shy away from any real moral condemnation and even from active attempts to eliminate immoral practices. This is a concern about pluralists both left and right, not a specific jab at libertarians.

And I with

And I with Nozick.

Regardless, I was only responding to a part of your post.

The kind of pluralism Nicholas endorses is, I imagine, the type that allows people to do with their own property and bodies what they will so long as they don't infringe upon other's rights to do the same. His particular wording was, I think, hyperbolic.

For the record, I have no problem with a state enforcing libertarian law--that including the prevention of virgin sacrifice.

No, of course it’s not

No, of course it’s not synonymous with ‘passing laws against.’ I wonder, though, whether it doesn’t entail ‘trying to eliminate’.

I doubt it. Consider the thought experiment:

You are trapped on a deserted island. There is a lone button on the island that will simultaneously stop every act of racism in the world and kill 50 million Swedish babies. The button stops malfunctioning in five minutes. It's a foregone conclusion you'll never get off the island.

So, this is really your only chance to "try to eliminate" racism. Nevertheless, I believe one can still morally condemn racism without pushing the button.

To wit, if trying to eliminate something that is morally condemned entails unsatisfactory costs, then it seems proper that one should not try to eliminate it.

Rich, You're correct in your

Rich,

You're correct in your interpretation. I'm a liberal in the 20th and not the 18th C sense. All the nice people at Catallarchy have been kind enough to let me hang around and argue from time to time. Play nicely and one can get really intelligent discussion here rather than nasty name-calling. It's great fun. And a great way to suddenly lose a whole evening that I should be using to write an essay.

Scott, I think you may be

Scott,

I think you may be taking my one line out of context, although maybe I could have put the point more clearly. I did specify in the rest of the post that not all possible methods of eliminating something I consider to be morally wrong are okay in all situations. I could have drawn that point more clearly, I suppose, but I think that the rest of the post does pretty much accept something very much like what you've suggested.

Trying to work out exactly how that all would be worded into some formal, analytic definition would be quite the task. It's beyond me to do it off the top of my head in a blog comment.

If you are right that the

If you are right that the effects of removing the anti-discrimination laws that force no positive actions would be negligible because people are on the whole no longer racist, then it costs nothing to keep them.

It does cost quite a bit to keep them, and that cost comes in the form of litigation. If a member of a protected class is passed over for promotion or denied a loan, who's to say whether or not illegal discrimination played a part? Claims of discrimination, legitimate or not, have to be settled in court, often at great expense.

Even granting for the sake of argument that you're right about the effects of repealing anti-discrimination laws, we have to weigh this disadvantage against the benefits of eliminating these frivolous lawsuits.

I somehow doubt that many libertarians would personally suffer from racial discrimination.

I strongly suspect that we would see a few "Whitey Not Welcome" signs hanging in windows if laws barring racial discrimination were repealed. That said, it is probably true that racial minorities are underrepresented among libertarians. But I'm fairly certain that homosexuals are significantly overrepresented in our ranks, and homosexuals are much more likely to be discriminated against than racial minorities.

Joe, Where I’m far more

Joe,

Where I’m far more interested in engaging is with your last paragraph, which leaves me scratching my head a bit. Just when I start to think that maybe there is something worth taking seriously about libertarianism, I see someone endorse this sort of really radical pluralism at which point I remember where there are so many more of my kind of liberal than there are of your kind. :smile:

One alternative argument for this type of pluralism is based on self-interest. As someone who wishes his future children to learn no creationism in biology class, I would much prefer a pluralist "archipelago" of localities determining what is appropriate to be taught rather than imposing my view ("every child should be taught evolution in biology") by law, I think a more likely successful strategy in actually having my kids taught evolution in biology class is the pluralist approach. The power for me to determine for everyone what is appropriate in biology is also the power for everyone else to determine on my behalf what is appropriate in biology class. At least with pluralism, I have the option to move to a place that conforms to my choices if creationists get to make the laws.

(Or as we saw yesterday: it's the same power for those assigned by our collective ancestors to regular interstate commerce to deny life-altering medications to a woman dying of a brain tumor.)

My pluralism is, admittedly, most self-interested. But I also believe pluralism is in nearly everyone's self-interest.

Jonathan, Don't get me wrong

Jonathan,

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not opposed to all pluralism; I think that experiments in living are a pretty nifty thing, and it strikes me as a really good idea to let some communities experiment with social policies before adopting them universally. I'm probably as bummed as the rest of you about the SC decision yesterday.

So it's not all pluralism that I'm opposed to. And while I like the self-interest argument, I'd defend it on somewhat different grounds. The best way to determine truth, after all, is to have a marketplace of ideas.

No, it's not that I dislike all pluralism. It's that I jump off the pluralist bandwagon when pluralism leads to outright intolerance. Consider, say, the goings on at the Air Force Academy. I'm happy to let cadets and officers be evangelical Christians. But my pluralism stops when they begin using their influence and authority to pressure non-evangelicals to convert.

There are, I think, limits to pluralism, and Mill's harm principle is, I think, a nice place to draw that line. But by no means do I think that all pluralism is bad. Sorry to give that impression. I simply worry that pluralism is sometimes defended in instances where it should be abandoned.

There are, I think, limits

There are, I think, limits to pluralism, and Mill’s harm principle is, I think, a nice place to draw that line.

To reiterate, "harm" is another one of those things that different people define in different ways. I suppose I'd agree with Mill's harm principle--but I think different things are harms than you.

There are, I think, limits

There are, I think, limits to pluralism, and Mill’s harm principle is, I think, a nice place to draw that line. But by no means do I think that all pluralism is bad. Sorry to give that impression. I simply worry that pluralism is sometimes defended in instances where it should be abandoned.

I agree with that as a general principle. One narrower interpretation of that principle is what many libertarians base their moral views on : the non-aggression principle. Yet, as Scott said, there are different interpretations of "harm". I think many people would consider second-hand smoke in private restaurants "harm" yet libertarians would say that it does not meet the criteria for "aggression" since the patron entered the restaurant voluntarily.

So one reason for pluralism is that different people have very different conceptions of "harm". As a personal example, I think most Americans would unfortunately consider my views on the education of children "harmful", and I don't look forward to the day when I will have to defend them in practice. Just as I want to be left alone to educate my children in the manner I see fit, I want to extend that same courtesy of "hands off" to others. I suppose this is partly the "self-interest" argument.

As another more relevant example, one argument against making racists not discriminate is that once the state is empowered to make sure interaction between people is along "appropriate" racial lines, the state itself can become dominated by racists. I'm pretty sure you'll disagree but I see affirmative action as an example of this.

Another argument is that even when the vast, vast majority of people agree that sufficient "harm" is being done to some others, the state is a blunt instrument that may create an even greater amount of "harm" in the process of addressing that harm. As I have stated before, I want every tyrant in the world (Mugabe, Kim, previously Saddam, etc) brought to justice in order that people living under them live more freely. But I also realize that the US government is a blunt instrument that in the process of dethroning these tyrants may cause collateral damage, enlarge the US state, torture people, etc. After weighing the two sides of the ledger (Iraqis no longer living under Saddam vs enlarged US state) I was against the Iraq War at the outset. Now that it is already happening, I hope for the best outcome for those previously being harmed - a successful Iraqi democracy. I don't think there's anything wrong with recognizing the harm being done to others while reluctantly realizing that the solution of state intervention may make the harm worse.