We Can Fight Discrimination Without Govt Intervention

Wednesday, 02 Jun 2010 09:46 AM

By John Stossel

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"Backwards and hateful ideas . . . oust John Stossel," said Colorofchange.org.

In a newspaper, the organization went on: "It's time that Fox drop Stossel . . . we'll go directly after the network with a public campaign unlike anything we've pursued to date."

Media Matters joined: "By airing Stossel's repugnant comments, Fox legitimizes his indefensible position."

What "indefensible" position did I take?

I said this: "Private businesses ought to get to discriminate. I won't ever go to a place that's racist, and I will tell everybody else not to, and I'll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist."

Read that carefully: I condemned racism. I said I'd speak out against and boycott a racist's business. But to some people, I committed heresy. I failed to accept the entire catechism. I didn't say that we need government to fight racism and prohibit racist policies in private establishments.

For this, they demand that I be fired.

This controversy started when Rand Paul, who had just won a senatorial primary, told TV talker Rachel Maddow that the part of the Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination by private business is improper interference with property owners' rights. He, too, condemned racism.

But the chattering class's reaction to Paul's statements must have made him uncomfortable. The next day, he issued a statement saying that he would have voted for the entire act because federal intervention was needed.

Maybe. At the time, racism was so pervasive that such an intrusive law may have been a good thing. But, as a libertarian, I say: Individuals should be surrounded by a sphere of privacy where government does not intrude. Part of the Civil Rights Act violates freedom of association. That's why I told Fox's Megyn Kelly, "It's time now to repeal that part of the law."

You can't say that in America?

America's fundamental political philosophy has deteriorated quite a bit if we can't distinguish between government and private conduct.

I enthusiastically support the parts of the civil rights act that struck down Jim Crow laws, which required segregation in government facilities, mass transit, and sometimes in private restaurants and hotels. Jim Crow was evil. It had no place in America.

Racist policies in private restaurants are also evil, but they do not involve force. Government is force, so it should not be used to combat nonviolent racism on private property, even property open to the public.

I just don't trust government to decide what discrimination is acceptable. Its clumsy fist cannot deter private nonviolent racism without stomping on the rights of individuals.

Today, because of government antidiscrimination policy, all-women gyms are sued and forced to admit men, a gay softball team is told it may not reject bisexuals and a Christian wedding photographer is fined thousands of dollars for refusing to take photos of a homosexual wedding.

I'll say it again: Racial discrimination is bad. But we have ways besides government to end it. The free market often punishes racists. Today, a business that doesn't hire blacks loses customers and good employees. It will atrophy, while its more inclusive competitors thrive.

In the pre-1964 South, things were different. But even then, private forces worked against bigotry. White owners of railroads and streetcars objected to mandated segregation. Historian Jennifer Roback writes that in 1902, the Mobile Light and Railroad Company "flat out refused to enforce" Mobile, Alabama's segregation law.

In cities throughout the South, beginning in 1960, student-led sit-ins and boycotts peacefully shamed businesses into desegregating whites-only lunch counters. Those voluntary actions were the first steps in changing a rancid culture. If anything, Washington jumped on a bandwagon that was already rolling.

It wasn't free markets in the South that perpetuated racism. It was government colluding with private individuals (some in the KKK) to intimidate those who would have integrated.

It was private action that started challenging the racists, and it was succeeding — four years before the Civil Rights Act passed.

Government is a blunt instrument of violence that one day might do something you like but the next day will do something you abhor. Better to leave things to us — people — acting together privately.


John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at www.johnstossel.com.


© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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