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Hiding behind the “free market” is just cowardly

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, January 20, 2011 16:19 EDT
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G.D. takes a look at the argument that the “free market” would have neatly solved the problem of segregation if those impatient civil rights people had just waited it out. G.D. tackles a writer at Human Events for this, but this argument is sadly more mainstream than that. It was Rand Paul’s argument for why he wouldn’t have supported the Civil Rights Act, for instance. Most Republicans wouldn’t go on the record saying this, but this argument is made so often in conservative circles that I actually think it’s a matter of faith at this point. Jay Nordlinger, as I noted yesterday, suggested that Martin Luther King would have regretted badmouthing the radical right that pushed Barry Goldwater to win the 1964 Republican nomination, and the reason in Nordlinger’s mind is that Goldwater’s rejection of federal laws against segregation were “classic liberalism”. This comment makes no sense on its face, but it does make a little bit more sense if you understand that “the free market would have forced desegregation eventually!” is the rationale at work here.

G.D.’s reply to this nonsense is well worth reading in its entirety, so click the link. A sample:

It actually is a pretty abstract proposition, since this is never the way American life, and the crushing racism of the Jim Crow South in particular, actually worked. Flynn’s example assumes a past in which Negroes had economic leverage with whites and their institutions, that some white business owner would have graciously accepted black patronage because, well, money is money. But even the most mundane transactions between blacks and whites in the Jim Crow South were proscribed by custom and law, and backed up by the prospect of bloodshed. So who was going to complain that the white renter was gauging him, or that the white foreman cheated him out of a day’s work? And to whom would that person appeal? Which white business owners were willing to risk the loss of their white clientele (or a melee) for suggesting that they dine or watch movies next to Negroes? In this world, the competitive advantage actually lay with the people who never paid their sharecroppers a cent for their labor, who didn’t sully their store’s reputations by selling to niggers.

It is this last point that I want to talk about more, because the people who are making this “free market solutions” argument are ignoring, I think in most cases deliberately, that the “classic liberals” (which is a euphemism for “reactionaries that dress their assholery up in fancy pants language”) of their time were supported by the Tea Partiers of their time, and the latter were under no illusions about why they preferred “free market” solutions. And that reason is they wanted to keep black people out of their stores, neighborhoods, etc. And their rationale for this was…..economic. They believed and argued strongly that black customers are bad for business. They did not believe black money spends as good as white money.

A couple of years ago, historian Rick Perlstein put up a post at Our Future where he talked about the letters that poured in from white Chicagoans to Senator Paul Douglas when Martin Luther King came to town to help organize for open housing laws that would make it illegal for a someone selling a house to reject a customer based on race. If the free marketers are right, then this shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place, since surely a person selling a house would sell it to anyone buying, right?

Wrong. On the contrary, white people in Chicago saw it as a matter of their own economic interest to keep black people from buying houses.

Rick has a lot of letters he collected, one of which likens MLK to Hitler, but one theme strongly emerges, which is that the white letter writers saw open housing as an assault on their economic interests. A sample:

I was forced to sell my home in Chicago (‘Lawndale’) at a big loss because of the negroes taking over Lawndale–their morals are the lowest (and supported financially by Mayor Daley as you well know)–and the White Race by law.
Please don’t take away our bit of peace and freedom to choose our neighbors.
What did Luther King mean when he faced the nation on TV New Year’s day–announcing he will not be satisfied until the wealth of America is more evenly divided?
Sounds like Communism to Americans. ‘Freedom for all’–including the white race, Please!…..

This is not Civil Rights. This takes away a person’s rights. We too are people and need someone to protect us.
We designed and built our own home and I would hate too think of being forced to sell my lovely home to anyone just because they had the money……

We white people have taken a lot from the Negro. We have been patient, and now find ourselves pushed up against a wall by groups that feel it is their God given right to have our property. We have worked hard and saved to get what we now own. Because we do work hard and wish to maintain our property are we to be denied the right to dispose of our property as we see fit? Is the ultimate aim the same as the Soviet Union when all property was collectivized….

It is safe to say that not a single white person has ever moved into a negro neighorhood yet there has been over a million white people dumped, shoved, or pushed out of their homes by expansion of negroes….
“NEGROES HAVE BEEN MADE THE BOSS OF THE UNITED STATES……

OUR SLOGAN: ‘Your Home is your castle–Keep it that way by Voting STRAIGHT REPUBLICAN.

White people in the 60s used the “free market” excuse because they explicitly saw it as a way to keep black people out, and if they had been convinced that the free market would have let black people in, they would have objected to the free market. Personally, I don’t believe that the people who claim the free market would have led to desegregation often buy their own bullshit. After all, the explosion of white-dominated exurbs demonstrates that this isn’t true.

I will also point out that the term “free market” is an inexact term. You could just as easily argue that open housing laws are more free market than allowing white people to unify to keep certain people out. It’s not a free market if your money changes value depending on your skin color, and the law can regulate that. Of course, while they support the right of homeowners to unite to keep black people out, free market types switch positions and object if laborers want to unify to extract concessions out of employers. The principles of the “free market” change depending on the situation, morphing as needed to protect the dominant class from having to share power with an oppressed class.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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