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Friday, January 02, 2009

Transitionary libertarianism: Acknowledging cultural legacies

I am a staunch libertarian.  In terms of my morality and basic philosophy, I am pushing the cusp of anarchism, as many libertarians are; government is at best, a necessary evil.  But recently, some of my friends have noted that I appear to embrace statist policies. 

Case and point: on my recent appearance on the Michael Coren Show—where Noa Mendelsohn Avi and I squared off with Warren Kinsella and Bernie Farber—I took the position that  Human Rights Commissions do have a place in dealing with housing and employment discrimination. 

This came as a shock to some of my cohorts, but it’s really been a consistent position I’ve had all along if you read between the lines.  While I’ve never outright criticized HRC abolitionists like Ezra, I’ve also never ended my rants with “Fire. Them. All.” either.

The reason is quite simple—if nuanced—but I completely agree with the HRC abolitionists.  Just not right now.  Right now, the HRC needs to get out policing thought and speech. 

It’s only a matter of time until some learned student of philosophy points out the logical parallels between Marx’s temporary “dictatorship of the proletariat” and my position on transitionary libertarianism.   And they’d be right to make it. 

I believe, like Marx, that cultural legacy is hard to break.  And that the palatability of any political position to the body politic is directly linked to the consummate cultural state of the society. 

While I am sympathetic to the view, that a shift towards individualism would be a form of shock therapy that would set the stage for certain societal woes working themselves out of a series of generations (or sooner), one must understand that the durability of that political arrangement is directly based on contentment of the populace it embodies.

A deterioration of living conditions for large swathes of people, resulting from the cultural legacies of racism, sexism, and other isms, in my view will lead to a backlash against said policies, and set the stage for even more statism.  This is of course the thinking of incrementalism.  And for all our chest pounding moral superiority, it is also immensely practical, which brings me back to the Human Rights Commissions.

I believe that using tribunals to adjudicate discrimination cases within society in order to correct cultural legacies is probably a lesser evil than the other inevitable option: welfare and state-run housing programs.

Denial of employment or housing for reasons of racial intolerance, while in a perfect world is simply a property owner exercising their property rights, in reality is contributing to the systematic exclusion of certain groups from market participation.   Which in turn, leads to the unfortunate trends of ghettoization, increases in crimes against persons and property, and ultimately societal pressure to increase state intervention through policing, jailing and other social welfare programs. 

Liberty is a cultural trait.  Not a political one.  It only becomes a political trait when it’s culturally embraced.  Where cultural legacies exist, which come into conflict with liberty, we must work to address them in order to preserve the cultural value of liberty itself.

This is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of libertarians.  And it should be a temporary pill, that we one day plan to stop administering once these cultural legacies are adequately diminished. 

It is the responsibility of us libertarians who would like to one day see an end to such state interventions to ensure that these sometimes necessary transitional steps are not engrained in our society as inherent, but rather seen as a temporary system to encourage, not diminish, participation in the free market and acceptance of personal responsibility. 

It also means that we should be pushing towards social programs that are means tested, as opposed to universally applied.  Moving towards school voucher programs to allow people to at least opt-out of the public system, is another example of a step.

It means we should be endorsing these programs as necessary evils, but only towards an ultimate correction.  

Note: This thread is no longer accepting comments for some unknown problem with the blogging software.  I am trying to figure out what's wrong.

Posted by Mike Brock on January 2, 2009 | Permalink

Comments

Mike: You are quite right that liberty is a cultural trait. Homo sapiens is not by nature a liberty-seeking species; we very much seek to fit into the herd and to be told what to do by a higher authority. Libertarianism is therefore not a natural human political orientation. It will take decades if not centuries of education and aculturation to get people to move toward libertarian institutions. There are also practical problems (along the lines of the "transitional gains trap") for substituting market or voluntary association arrangements for statist ones, without unacceptable disruptions. Libertarians should be in favour of an incremental transition to liberty, and not risk chaos.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2009-01-02 2:53:54 PM


A deterioration of living conditions for large swathes of people, resulting from the cultural legacies of racism, sexism, and other isms, in my view will lead to a backlash against said policies, and set the stage for even more statism.
Posted by Mike Brock on January 2, 2009

You sound more like a liberal or an NDPer. Do you advocate affirmative action as well? Why should Canada enact policies to correct "wrongs" that in most cases occurred in other countries.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-02 3:17:40 PM


"Do you advocate affirmative action as well? Why should Canada enact policies to correct "wrongs" that in most cases occurred in other countries?"

I believe that affirmative action could be a necessary step to correct cultural legacies. Do I think it's necessary today in Canada? No.

Your statement that I sound like an NDP or Liberal supporter is interesting, and ignorant. For one: because the answer is no on both counts, and secondly because you totally missed the point.

I might actually agree that some degree of state interference for the express purpose of overcoming cultural legacies is a necessary step, to ensure broad participation in the market. But my goal is to overcome cultural legacy itself, not to enforce egalitarian wealth redistribution. It's to amend the cultural impediments that some in our society have to engaging in wealth creation.

A government run by Mike Brock, would involve significant tax reduction, spending reform, privatization, and curtailment of many programs.

I think you are projecting a package-deal fallacy. Where-as, if I accept the premise that affirmative action is necessary, that somehow ties me to socialism in your eyes.

It's more that I feel that the cultural move to liberty and freer markets will involve overcoming cultural legacy, and that programs that serve to overcome these legacies will create a more palatable atmosphere for broader acceptance of liberty and free market principles. This does not mean that I endorse broad-base social spending, or welfare programs. If you read my piece wholly you'd see I most certainly don't.

If you are unable to contemplate that nuance, then I suggest you take a breather and read my piece again carefully.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 3:32:27 PM


But my goal is to overcome cultural legacy itself, not to enforce egalitarian wealth redistribution. It's to amend the cultural impediments that some in our society have to engaging in wealth creation.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 3:32:27 PM

I am a staunch libertarian. In terms of my morality and basic philosophy, I am pushing the cusp of anarchism...
Posted by Mike Brock on January 2, 2009

Sounds like social engineering. Or libertarian socialism.

A government run by Mike Brock, would involve significant tax reduction, spending reform, privatization, and curtailment of many programs.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 3:32:27 PM

And just about ever government in Canada for the last 100 years has claimed exactly the same thing, including our current government.

If you are unable to contemplate that nuance, then I suggest you take a breather and read my piece again carefully.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 3:32:27 PM

In other words "If you are unable to contemplate that nuance", I must be stupid. Now you sound like a libertarian socialist elitist. You've also lost a listener to your show.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-02 4:27:37 PM


I'm sorry to hear you won't be listening to the show anymore. But you did accuse me of being a socialist, and now a libertarian socialist.

As for that, I'm curious to how you can come to that conclusion. My argument is that a truly libertarian society is not possible without ameable cultural conditions. You did not debate me on this, but rather engaged in an at hominem to pigeon hole me into the other side of your false dichotomy.

My response was to essentially ask you to reconsider the premise of your comments.

You believe this makes me an elitist. I think that's an unfortunate characterization, but then I don't tend to view myself as an elitist. So I admit bias on that count.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 4:38:33 PM


"It’s only a matter of time until some learned student of philosophy points out the logical parallels between Marx’s temporary “dictatorship of the proletariat” and my position on transitionary libertarianism. And they’d be right to make it."

Is it? Do you really think you'll be on the syllabi of university philosophy courses soon?

And what would the parallels be - millions killed before real libertarianism takes hold?

BTW, where did Marx ever talk about "culture"?

More seriously, you need to read Becker and Sowell on the economics of discrimination before you can make the case that the absence of anti-discrimination laws would in fact lead to widespread exclusion from jobs, housing, etc.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-02 5:19:14 PM


Craig, I have not read the cited material, but I'm suspicious in general of the treatment of culture in both political science and economics as a minimal or non-factor. Or something that is overriden by other factors, making it minor.

I posit that culture's role in politics and economics is reciprocal, not derivative. I hold this to be universally true.

Why are Jews over-represented in positions of business leadership? Why is every single Hollywood movie studio headed by a Jew?

Why are Asians better at school than other groups in North America?

Why are Blacks underrepresented?

Economics does not explain this. But cultural legacies do.

These cultural legacies are strong, pervasive, and have persited across generations.

I find it amusing that political activists on the right find it of little or no consequence. You can't explain away these things by through bad political policy. Rather, bad policy is often the result of bad cultural traits. This is the reciprocal relationship.

Individual liberty is valued culturally in America, and less so in Canada. But we mistakenly associate that with a political legacy. When it is the cultural legacy we are the product of.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 5:58:44 PM


I would like to clarify: I didn't mean to imply that Jews being successful at business or Asians good at school was a bad thing. Rather, I consider those positive cultural traits. When I re-read it I felt it could be incorrectly construed that way... So I am clarifying.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 6:03:11 PM


I think Mike makes a few good points. Striving for a more Libertaian culture should not be tantamount to chaos and is therefore something I'd like to see happen incrementally. On a very simple basis it might be as easy as starting with the last stupid law of control, examining its merits and then very probably repealing it.
And then the one before that...and so forth.
The problem most people have with individual liberty is that it comes with individual responsibility...and there enlies the crux of the matter. People don't want to be responsible for themselves.

Posted by: JC | 2009-01-02 6:03:40 PM


The only truly free person is one who accepts personal responsibility and acts accordingly.

All these arguments about unshackling from an imagined oppression point out a misunderstanding of this basic truth.

As long as anybody continues to blame somebody else for his actions, they cannot be truly free.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-01-02 6:57:54 PM


"As long as anybody continues to blame somebody else for his actions, they cannot be truly free."

As sexy as it sounds to assume that you have complete "free choice" it's not the reality of the matter. People need to be taught responsibility.

Personal responsibility is a required trait for success, but it is not the only component of success. Relative success is also a matter of circumstance in many cases; knowing the right people, discovering an opportunity you wouldn't otherwise knew existed if you weren't exposed to it.

Cultural legacies create both strength's and weaknesses. And I should point out that what you just said is making a cultural statement.

You say "The only truly free person is one who accepts personal responsibility and acts accordingly".

I agree. But someone who is never exposed to a culture of personal responsibility, is as likely to take responsibility in the first place.

When you look at Europe, where there is much less emphasis on personal responsibility compared to North America, is your position that they are simply all just lazy? Or it it possible they are the product of their culture.

This idea that every person is a unique individual that is separate from their environment and upbringing is simply illogical. There's no rational basis for it. All you need to do is analyse the behaviours of your parents and friends carefully, and you'll find that you have ways about you that more similarly resemble that of your parents than your friends. Then you have already disproven the assertion that individuals are blank slates, indepedent of their upbringing.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 7:11:11 PM


"Denial of employment or housing for reasons of racial intolerance, while in a perfect world is simply a property owner exercising their property rights, in reality is contributing to the systematic exclusion of certain groups from market participation. Which in turn, leads to the unfortunate trends of ghettoization, increases in crimes against persons and property, and ultimately societal pressure to increase state intervention through policing, jailing and other social welfare programs."

How do you explain, then, since "Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968),[1] a United States Supreme Court case which held that Congress could regulate the sale of private property in order to prevent racial discrimination" over forty years ago, that segregation, crime and state coercion increased astronomically? In an environment, where freedom of exclusion was denied and execrated in the most venal manner the ills you profess to oppose have grown on a massive scale.

Apologies for the bluntness, however, if you do indeed hold these views, in light of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then you sir are an idiot.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-02 7:45:18 PM


It is clear to any seeing human that Drummond Wren, the Racial Discrimination Act of 1944, the Noble and Wolf case and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act were nothing more than blatant acts of ethnic aggression against the freedoms of the founding people of Canada.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb039/is_/ai_n28957938

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-02 7:54:14 PM


DJ,

I would not support the measures you have cited. I believe there has to be a careful balance with things like this. Dictating who you can and cannot sell your property to is beyond the pale.

I think the rental market is slightly different. And unlike a lot of people on the left, I think that the burden of proof should be on the discriminated party to prove that the rejection by the landlord was on grounds of racial discrimination.

I do think that if a person of a specific ethnicity or race cannot find housing due to widespread racism, this represents a serious problem.

That being said, I think that the world of 40 years ago and the world of today are completely different worlds.

The racial segregation in the United States was extremely unlibertarian, from slavery to political alienation. Then you turn around and say, the cultural legacy left behind is simply the fault of Black Americans for not stepping up to the plate, is quite simply beyond the pale. You call me an idiot, but I don't see how these things are not self-evident to you.

Simply casting Black Americans the vote, granting them political rights, and going along on your merry way does not correct the cultural legacy left behind. It's a good starting point. But that's the equivalent of just saying: "Yeah... you know the whole oppression thing... well... we were wrong. We're sorry about that, and we hope you have a nice day."

You leave behind a whole class of people who are not prepared or capable of participating in the economy on an even keel. On one side you still have persistent racism, and on the other side you have an undereducated and under-represented minority who will now struggle to break free of the culture of victimhood. The other side then blames them for not doing enough to help themselves, and the cycle continues. The personal responsibility argument would be compelling here, if it wasn't for the fact that said oppressed group was denied the opportunity of self-responsibility up until the mid-century. Time heals wounds, but cultural legacies are like double-sided tape that you just can't get off your fingers.

This isn't to say that state intervention is always the answer, or that all policies were good policies. But you don't go from outright oppression to prosperity by waving a magic wand.

You, and others can point me to books, studies, reports and the likes... about X policy failed or Y policy failed, call me and idiot and so on, but in so doing: you've totally missed my point. I never advocated for X policy or Y policy. I said that cultural legacies are important, they are an impediment to the libertarian movement, and ignoring them as you are is simply counterproductive.

This isn't an argument over the efficacy of affirmative action by the way. It never was. It was about libertarians coming to grips with the realities of cultural legacy. What I am hearing is that many libertarians simply disregard the subject as unworthy of attention, which I fear represents an unfortunate dogmatism.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 8:09:09 PM


Dictating who you can and cannot sell your property to is beyond the pale.
I think the rental market is slightly different.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 8:09:09 PM

How is it different at all? If it's your property you can do what ever you want with it. A real libertarian would not stand for any restrictions on what he could do with his private property.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-02 8:26:37 PM


Stig,

I agree. But my point is given cultural legacies, temporary compromises on property rights as it pertains to employment and housing should be considered to the extent they may be required to address these bad cultural legacies.

I would hope that these measures will have run their course within the next decade or two, as generational shifts rotate in. At that point we should continue to reform and remove these programs. And I believe that will happen as libertarians and fiscal conservatives keep up the pressure.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 8:33:35 PM


Mike -

You should not be blogging about this topic if you haven't read Becker or Sowell on the economics of discrimination. Sowell, for example, shows that even in the face of high levels of discrimination (legal and cultural) some minorities have thrived (the Chinese in South Asia for example). Also, as many free market scholars have argued (for example, David Bernstein and Jennifer Morse), even in the face of entrenched racism, state and local governments in the south still needed to violate freedom of association in order to exclude blacks from employment or services because the self-interest of private entrepreneurs undercut the effects of racism (Morse shows that private street car owners did not deny services to blacks until local ordinances compelled them to). Walter Williams made a similar point about apartheid years ago. In other words, as Becker argued, discrimination is economically irrational and will, over time, be punished on a free market.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-02 8:45:02 PM


One more thing - transitionary is not a word.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-02 8:50:30 PM


"Simply casting Black Americans the vote, granting them political rights, and going along on your merry way does not correct the cultural legacy left behind. It's a good starting point. But that's the equivalent of just saying: "Yeah... you know the whole oppression thing... well... we were wrong. We're sorry about that, and we hope you have a nice day."

You miss the point entirely. African Americans were not, after the 1965 Civil Rights legislation, left with the vote and to fend for themselves. There was forced integration at the point of a gun from Selma, Alabama to South Boston. How many blacks, if they had the means, prior to Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer were not able to own a home in a black neighbourhood? Zilch!

A half century of a ghettoized, crime ridden, impoverished African American citizenry, when separate but equal was practised, not exclusion is then followed by a half century of a ghettoized, crime ridden, impoverished African American citizenry on a much larger scale.

Where's the difference? You tell the Boston Irish, fuck you, we're busing these folks into your neighbourhood and if you don't like it you can fuck off even though de facto segregation was not unconstitutional.

"In the early 1970s, the Supreme Court began to turn its attention from schools in the South to those in the North. The justices soon discovered that achieving desegregation in these schools would require different tactics. In the South, blacks and whites had lived in close proximity to each other for hundreds of years; therefore, desegregation was simply a matter of assigning students to the school closest to their home. This strategy did not work in the North because of segregated housing patterns. So in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971), the Court approved the utilization of measures that were "administratively awkward, inconvenient, and even bizarre" to achieve integration. Busing was among the measures specifically approved by Swann."

Despite the fact that de facto segregation was not illegal they still used the Boston police to force integration. And what was the result, the crime, segregation and violence moved to South Boston. The powers of the state were used to crush the legality of de facto segregation. It's tyranny plain and simple and produced a result that did not change the status of the African American community.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-02 8:57:47 PM


Craig,

The Jews thrived in America in the face of racism too. Different cultures have different cultural advantages. This isn't easily reducable to racism. Some cultures that don't experience racism also do quote poorly too.

These cultural legacies are complex and can't be easily isolated. To try and apply an economic formula to the problem is going to be fruitless.

You can't compare the Chinese experience to the African American experience. One may have thrived relative to another. But to even say that racism against the Chinese was on the same level as it was against Blacks shows you aren't very familiar with the circumstances of both cases. Asians were often referred to as above Blacks but below Whites--they were a preferred minority. Similar to the Milatto's versus Darks in Jamaica, where lighter skin people enjoyed more rights. This is known today as shadism.

The argument you make rests on the idea that all racism is created equally, and should result in similar effects. But there is no reason to think that.

I think it's kind of condescending to say I shouldn't post on this until I have read the material you're presenting. You clearly haven't read as much material on the cultural influence on society as I have.

Instead of appealing to your material as an authority, you should present your position by responding to my points. Maybe you'll convince me of something. Maybe I'll convice you of something. Maybe we will agree to disagree and we will both learn something.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 9:01:14 PM


I agree. But my point is given cultural legacies, temporary compromises on property rights as it pertains to employment and housing should be considered to the extent they may be required to address these bad cultural legacies.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 8:33:35 PM

What cultural legacies are you specifically referring to? Jim Crow maybe? Most of the "cultural legacies" you you seem to be referring to happened in other countries. I see no reason why Canada needs to enact laws that redress the conditions that exist / existed in another country.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-02 9:05:20 PM


DJ,

Your right with the Irish reference. But that's my point. This is about cultural legacies. All cultures. We're getting side tracked onto the African American issue. But that's not what this is about. Everybody is coming out of the woodwork to rave against the failure of affirmative actin programs. That's all fine. But I just wanted to open a debate about the role of cultural legacy in achieving a libertarian society.

I confess that I'm frustrated here. But my point is, the goal of this incrementalism is not for economic benefit but to overcome cultural legacies.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 9:09:24 PM


But I just wanted to open a debate about the role of cultural legacy in achieving a libertarian society.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 9:09:24 PM

Christianity is a cultural legacy of Europeans in Canada. Are you advocating the elimination of Christianity in Canada?

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-02 9:16:13 PM


The Stig,

I never called for any new laws. I have in fact called for a stripping-down of the HRCs. I have only said that a temporary role for them in employment and housing remains. But they're already doing these things. When did I call for expanded powers? I never did. If I had my way, the commissions would b far more restrained than they are today.

But you're somehow projecting something. I'm not sure what it is. It seems you're not happy that I do not support their outright abolition. The fact I want Sec. 13. repealed and an end to their advocacy and activism work ended isn't enough. The fact I want them scales back to simple tribunals for adjudicating housing and employment cases is somehow offensive to you. That's fine. But you called me a socialist and are representing me as calling for more laws. I'm not.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 9:17:24 PM


Stig,

I'm not advocating for elimination of all cultural legacies. You can't. You can change them, though.

The point is they exist, they matter, and they have consequence.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 9:19:47 PM


I'm not advocating for elimination of all cultural legacies. You can't. You can change them, though.
Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 9:19:47 PM

More to the point. Would you try to eliminate the Christian cultural legacy of Canada because some groups may feel offended by it?

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-01-02 9:31:56 PM


Michael,

HRCs adjudicating housing and employment issues are a waste of tax payers money because they do not work.

"The racial turmoil in Boston over school busing eventually began to drive white families out of the city and into the de facto segregated Boston suburban schools. By 1976 it was estimated that more than 20,000 white students had transferred to parochial schools, private schools, or had moved out-of-town with their families. As a result, by the late 1970s black students constituted a clear majority of Boston's school population. People began to talk about "resegregation," the concentration of blacks in central cities and the fleeing of large numbers of whites to the surrounding suburbs."

Attacking the freedom of the individual by protecting privileged groups from the common law principles of property and contract, no matter how harsh they may seem, will produce an undesired effect. English common law is based upon non-kinship based reciprocity. In other words it creates a nation of strangers. If that structure is removed, protection can only be guaranteed by extended families, like a mafia. In the end you promote retaining cultural legacies because you promote protection by group. This is what the HRC is doing. Rather than individuals engaging in a contractual arrangement, and the state protecting that arrangement, the state coerces arrangements based on protected group and thus discourages freedom to act individually.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-02 9:45:15 PM


Thanks for bringing up your Coren show performance, Mike. You did a great job but I'm inclined to believe landlords have the same right of exclusion as publishers for the same reason -- property rights. I've written about it here:

http://westernstandard.blogs.com/shotgun/2008/12/hotties-and-naughties-for-2008-bccla.html

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-02 10:09:53 PM


"While I’ve never outright criticized HRC abolitionists like Ezra, I’ve also never ended my rants with “Fire. Them. All.” either."

Ezra actually shares your view, Mike. He's not an abolitionist.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-02 10:23:22 PM


"You did a great job but I'm inclined to believe landlords have the same right of exclusion as publishers for the same reason -- property rights"

I have the same inclination, which is why I believe these tribunals must ultimately be phased out.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 10:29:52 PM


DJ,

But the problem with you (and others) putting forward these pieces of evidence for failed affirmative action policies is setting up a straw man argument. Fore-mostly because I never directly said I support such policies--and I don't.

I said that I believe that the tribunals should be scaled back to deal with employment and housing issues, to the exclusion of all other jurisdictions. I gave my primary reason for this, which is the existence of cultural legacies, which are an impediment to the cultural acceptance of libertarian principles.

This is important point. Everyone here (especially The Stig) is focusing in on my position as being analogous to that of leftist grievance industry. But it's not. It's completely different.

It's about moving society towards a cultural acceptance of free markets, personal responsibility, and self-ownership.

My belief is that we suffer cultural impediments to this. But the discussion has been moved unjustifiably towards focusing on affirmative action, and the whole reverse-discrimination debate. This is not where I meant to move the conversation.

To that point, none of the people arguing against me have even legitimized my key point: which is cultural legacies are important and effect political outcomes. Instead everyone flew their bombers right over, and began carpet bombing an entirely different country.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 10:41:17 PM


I'm not opposed to incrementalism, but I'm also reminded of something Ludwig von Mises wrote. I can't find the quote, but he wrote that the problem with compromise is not that we give up ground, but that we corrupt the logic of our argument.

Why should a publisher have the right to exclude Muslim writers, but a landlord not have the right to exclude Muslim renters?

If we can tell a landlord that he can't discriminate, why not a publisher? It doesn't make any sense. A lot more damage can be done to racial and religious harmony with a magazine, than with an apartment building.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-02 10:52:31 PM


Actually, yours is the straw man argument, Michael.

"Denial of employment or housing for reasons of racial intolerance, while in a perfect world is simply a property owner exercising their property rights, in reality is contributing to the systematic exclusion of certain groups from market participation."

Where's the evidence?

The Dresden case is a prime example.

"One of the Dresden area blacks who refused to accept this Canadian version of "Jim Crow" was Hugh Burnett, a World War II army veteran who owned his own carpentry business. In 1943 he sent a complaint to the federal Minister of Justice about racial discrimination in Kay’s Café, a Dresden restaurant owned by a prominent local citizen named Morley McKay. He was informed that the government could do nothing. Then, about 1948, he launched a lawsuit against McKay, although he did not proceed with it, probably because in the wake of the pre-war Supreme Court decision of Christie v. York the law provided little leverage.55"

Firstly, freedom of association is not separate but equal. Secondly, Burnett's carpentry business thrived, in Dresden, prior to the Fair Business Accommodations Act, because a bunch of his customers were white. After the furor over exclusion, he went bankrupt and had to leave town. Before the government coercion Burnett thrived because he was skilled and people, mostly white, contracted for his services, as individuals free to make their own choice. After the intervention of the Frost government, at behest of special interests, suddenly people were not purchasing the services of Hugh Burnett, the carpenter, but now they were forced to consider Burnett because he was black.

http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/llt/47/03lamber.html

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-02 11:02:37 PM


"Why should a publisher have the right to exclude Muslim writers, but a landlord not have the right to exclude Muslim renters?"

This is a good question, and I've given it a lot of thought. I think it comes down to a scale of rights. On one end, we have what I would consider fundamental rights: right to life, right to freedom of speech, expression and conscience, right to belief. Then on the other hand we have livelihood rights: right to property, right to freely exchange our property, right to free mobility.

Although I hold that all of these rights should be absolute in theory, I assert that there may be practical limitations. The justice system is one place we put limitations on these rights (someone arrested temporary loses their mobility rights). But those limitations should be temporary, and meant to redress a problem.

Part of the problem, and I agree with you on your point about incrementalism, is that what I am saying carries with it a serious danger. The danger is that we contradict ourselves, and play into the hands of the enemies of liberty. I accept this, and this is why I'd like to have an honest debate about this with fellow libertarians; to talk about the risks, the cost of compromise, and so on.

The difference between the Muslim being discriminated against for housing in this case and by publisher is that one form of discrimination can be said to effect basic livelihood, and the other would override a fundamental tenet of liberty: freedom of expression.

The negative effects of limiting freedom of expression are immeasurable and untenable. The negative effects of housing and employment discrimination tribunals are much more measurable, and tenable. There is a negative component to them--the infringement on property rights, which is why I take the position these limits must be temporary and nature and scaled back over time as these cultural legacies are diminished.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 11:13:53 PM


DJ,

Well, I have a better example for you. First hand experience.

My friend Rohit, who is a Gujarati Indian and a Hindu, was turned away from several apartments after September 11th in Charlotte, North Carolina when several ignorant landlords said they didn't want to rent to "foreigners", "arabs", "towel heads", etc.

They thought he was Muslim or that Hinduism was a form of Islam.

There were actually plenty of stories like this at the time, after the attacks. And luckily the craziness subsided. But for no other reason than the colour of his skin, despite the fact he a widely successful 27 year old who had spent 3 years at Goldman Sachs in NYC, he was--let's face it-- considered a terrorist by a bunch of ignorant landlords.

I actually ended up going with him to one of the open houses, and saw first hand how he was treated. Another Indian employee Prashanth suffered similar exclusion.

Luckily this was a short lived cultural blip of out-of-control hatred and patriotism. But it's easy to shrug your shoulders and say "too bad, property rights" when you've never been in that position.

Rohit probably could have sued, as US law carries similar anti-discrimination laws as Canada when it comes to housing. He didn't. But I think the thing I most took away with it is that, cultural legacies (like the American South's muted racism and ultra-patriotism) are hard to crack and let's face it: victimize people like Rohit for not logical reason.

You could argue that Rohit should have just gone back to India, or move back to New York where they are more accepting of brown skinned people, but then what did that solve about the muted racism and ultra-patriotism?

In this case, the problem was not the cultural legacy of Rohit. If anything, Rohit's cultural legacy taught him to remain resolved and forgiving in the face of this adversity (a good cultural trait). The problem was the cultural legacy left behind by slavery and the civil war in the Southeastern U.S. It's getting better. But the cultural legacies set in motion over two-hundred years ago, live on. And anybody who has lived (like I have) in the American South, can relate to it.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-02 11:26:25 PM


Michael, It's unclear why it's a better example, except that you're using an anecdote to establish the rule. It still does not provide any broad evidence that "in reality it's contributing to the systematic exclusion of certain groups from market participation."

If a de jure right to exclusion were evident, the event you describe is avoidable.

Traveling from the beach in LA back to my hotel room, a stop was made to buy a bottle of wine. The vendor was black and clearly desired not to serve a white man. A sign stating clearly, Blacks Only, is clearly preferable to dancing around a free expression of choice. If this black man did not want to serve a white man, that's cool, however, state coercion made an avoidable situation into a hassle for both parties. Again, by embracing a coercive position, you create an uncomfortable outcome. It's like Jim Brown said, "A liberal is willing to cut your leg off, just to say he gave you a crutch."

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-02 11:54:34 PM


Mike wrote: "The negative effects of limiting freedom of expression are immeasurable and untenable."

Sure, which is why a landlord who excludes certain tenants for reasons of conscience needs to be protected by the law, not prosecuted by it.

Furthermore, the negative effects of limiting property rights are also immeasurable and untenable.

Your livelihood rights vs. conscience rights dichotomy doesn’t work for me. I was vice president of the WS when we published the cartoons. Our right to make publishing decisions was a livelihood right. It was our business, and we needed the freedom to make publishing decisions to which we thought our readers would respond positively. Our competitive advantage in a very tough media market was – and is – a willingness to colour outside the lines, to tell it like it is, to publish stories considered off limits by the mainstream press.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-03 12:05:19 AM


DJ,

I apologize for making both an appeal to evidence and appeal to emotion.

I really think this argument has gotten far from my post, which is the importance of cultural legacies. I understand why everyone is gravitating toward this issue. And I think it will be more relavent once I've further established my premises.

I might touch on this on the Al & Mike Show. I'd love to debate any of you on the show. It could be fun.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-03 12:23:21 AM


Matthew,

I accept your logic, and your goals. But I'm not thoroughly convinced that anti-discrimination laws have completely negative effects.

That's not to say they haven't been negative in some ways. But my gut tells me there has been some positive progress made in breaking down old cultural legacies. I'm open to being convinced that this progress could have been made faster or without these measures.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-03 12:57:58 AM


Mike -

I was simply making the point that you haven't even bothered to read the most basic free market literature on the economics and history of discrimination, the conclusions of which undermine your claims.

But before you do that, perhaps you could also inform us (since your views are destined to be discussed in the history of thought next to those of Marx) why freedom of expression is a more fundamental right than the freedom of association?


Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-03 1:17:02 AM


Craig,

I'll make sure to add those to my reading list.

Freedom of expression wins over association because expression represents a persons only ability to express their political views, up to and including disagreeing on this very issue.


Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-03 1:40:52 AM


Mike -

You really should read Sowell's cross-cultural account of discrimination before you make these kinds of broad claims.

You have also talked a lot about culture in this discussion without once defining what you mean by that protean term.

As for freedom of expression versus freedom of association - what about the case of Scott Brockie (I think I have the name right) who was taken before the Ontario HRC (and lost) because he refused to print flyers for a gay group (he's a Christian). This case is another illustration of the point that Mathew made earlier in the comments - that freedom to use your property is inseparable from freedom of expression.

Thanks for starting an interesting debate.

PS You really need to improve your writing. I teach at at a university and wouldn't accept the prose in your original post in any of my undergraduate classes. I am not trying to be mean here. I like your passion for ideas and listen to your show. I just think you'd be a much better advocate if you expressed your self in a clearer, less awkward fashion.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-03 6:46:47 PM


Mike, if I understand your take on culture correctly, I have to disagree with you. Culture is more often, not always, created by policies, be they educational, political or economic. A case in point is Black Americans, though not limited to them. The American collectivist welfare state is totally responsible for creating a Black culture of illegitimate children and fatherless families. As more than one Black American scholar has pointed out, prior to this welfare culture Black American families were pretty well intact even when living in a racist society. They had strong family values and work ethics, that they passed on to their children. I suggest that a very similar situation exists with Native North Americans and Whites born and raised for a few generations in the welfare culture.

As for accepting the existence of the HRCs to deal with discrimination in housing and employment, I again disagree. In Canada you would be hard pressed to find landlords unwilling to rent to people based on their colour. There may be the odd one but not enough to prevent responsible people from finding housing. That a landlord may not want to rent to someone without references, a stable income or likely to thrash the place should be his or her right. The same applies to employment. Crying discrimination is an easy out, such as the over-the-hill female stripper case or Muslims in the health care and food industry refusing to wash their hands. There will be plenty of other Muslims more than willing to follow the rules should they be able to work in these industries. Once the state steps in to codify discrimination and legislate against it, it is too much of a temptation for people not to see it everywhere and this in turn creates a victim culture. Last of all no one takes into consideration what these "rights" cost others, such as the landlord or employer.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-01-03 6:48:16 PM


Craig, the issue of the printing shop refusing service is one I'm familiar with, and I didn't (and don't) support the ruling. Nor do I think the tribunal should have had juristiction over the matter. I've made clear that of the extent to which I think the commissions and tribunals should have juristiction.

As for my writing style, this is the second time that you've commented on my writing style--the last was several months ago.

I will only say this in my defense: I have had two other university professors complement on my writing style (a philosophy professor, and the editor of my free speech article at the C2C Journal).

I admit that I write in an extremely conversation style, and I'm not striving for a formal writing style. I also have a knack for blogging on my mobile phone (as I am now).

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-03 7:09:31 PM


Posted by: JC | 2009-01-03 7:13:25 PM


Mike,

Case in point - you can't "complement on" someone's writing. Complement means something that fills up, completes, or makes perfect. You can, however, compliment someone's writing. I suspect that this is what you were trying to say. But even then, it's incorrect usage to "compliment on" something. This is grammar 101. But I digress.

As for your position on the Brockie case, I am somewhat confused. If you are for anti-discrimination laws, then you should celebrate the Ontario HRCs heroic strike against the cultural legacies you are so concerned about (and which you have yet to define). After all, gays in Canada have been discriminated against for decades so why shouldn't they be able to protest their treatment by violating the property rights of their fellow citizens? (and remember: this was not a free speech case but concerned denial of service).

Posted by: Craig | 2009-01-04 12:07:03 AM


Craig, as an engineer I'm fully aware of the difference between "compliment" and "complement".

Like I said I am using an mobile phone, and I type fast and rely on the phone's auto-complete/auto-correction that I'm sure explains the mistake.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-04 12:26:36 AM


And yes, I missed the punctuation after "like I said" in the previous comment. Have you ever tried blogging on an iPhone. It's a pain in the ass. :)

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-04 12:28:48 AM


Craig,

I'm differentiating between housing and the abstract notion of a service in my logic. I realize that it's an arbitrary line in the sand. But I'm arguing for a transition towards cultural acceptance for liberty and free markets by overcoming cultural legacies that plant the seeds for statist sympathies.

If we are talking about an incremental transition then we cannot expect this to fit into a discrete ideological framework.

Why don't you come on the show this Wednesday? :)

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-04 12:37:43 AM


"Why are Jews over-represented in positions of business leadership? Why is every single Hollywood movie studio headed by a Jew?

Why are Asians better at school than other groups in North America?

Why are Blacks underrepresented?

Economics does not explain this. But cultural legacies do.

These cultural legacies are strong, pervasive, and have persited across generations."

Mike,

Sorry, I don't have a definitive answer to these questions, but yours is a false dilemma. There is another possible answer, which, though extremely politically incorrect (you'll remember the PC police recently went after economist Walter Block for merely mentioning it http://westernstandard.blogs.com/shotgun/2008/11/walter-block-co.html), may hold some truth. It's one of the arguments put forward by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in their 1994 book The Bell Curve: that individuals have largely heritable and relatively immutable IQs and that average IQs differ between races. If these claims are correct and IQ levels affect things like business and academic success in the way Murray and Herrnstein describe (i.e. that high IQs and a good work ethic is pretty much sufficient to meet with success), this would go a long way towards explaining the pervasive and persistent achievement gaps between individuals of different racial groups.

I don't remember the book well and read it a long time ago (when I was in high school and too young to read it critically enough), and I'm therefore agnostic on its assertions. Nevertheless, it seemed like a serious, well-researched and well-argued work of social science whose theses must at least be dealt with. Have you considered this argument, and if so, why have you dismissed it?

Cultural legacies of racism like the ones you described with your Gujarati friend in the American South are, in my view, very problematic from a moral perspective. But since (as Craig argued) the evidence and sound economic thinking support the Bernstein-Morse-Becker-Williams contention that "self-interest of private entrepreneurs undercut the effects of racism" and "discrimination is economically irrational and will, over time, be punished on a free market," I favour enforcement of property rights and economic freedom rather than government meddling in social relations, freedom of association and property rights as the best solution.

Let me grant, for the sake of argument, that you have excellent and convincing replies to the questions and objections above, and that the government ought to interfere with property rights to combat racial prejudice. Why, given your many criticisms on the processes of the HRC/HRT systems in Canada (e.g. little guys can't defend themselves, the HRC staff are biased against people with certain political and religious beliefs), would you think that they are competent to address the given problem?

Finally, if HRC interventions in housing and employment discrimination cases is a "necessary evil" and not a good, your case for their retention rests on the supposed inevitability (more shades of Marx and his historical determinism?) and greater evil of the other option "welfare and state-run housing programs."

How can you demonstrate this inevitability? How do you know that more economic freedom and respect for property rights will actually result in "a deterioration of living conditions" and then a backlash resulting in more statism?

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-01-04 6:18:17 AM



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