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Where do libertarians stand on race? Glad you asked.

Summary:
Almost all Americans agree that the government should not actively discriminate against blacks and other racial groups, and most believe that private race discrimination should be prohibited as well.  Many people would go further and support efforts to reduce the large racial disparities that persist in America despite formal legal injunctions against discrimination.  Some believe that schools and employers have a responsibility to eradicate subtle forms of discrimination and to create environments in which black students and employees can reach their potential.  Some believe that individuals should “call out” specific acts that are racially insensitive or biased.  Many believe that government policy should be sensitive to the unequal burdens that facially

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Almost all Americans agree that the government should not actively discriminate against blacks and other racial groups, and most believe that private race discrimination should be prohibited as well.  Many people would go further and support efforts to reduce the large racial disparities that persist in America despite formal legal injunctions against discrimination.  Some believe that schools and employers have a responsibility to eradicate subtle forms of discrimination and to create environments in which black students and employees can reach their potential.  Some believe that individuals should “call out” specific acts that are racially insensitive or biased.  Many believe that government policy should be sensitive to the unequal burdens that facially neutral policies and institutions – such as the criminal justice system – impose on blacks and other historically disfavored groups.  Others think that government decision makers should focus on disparate burdens so that they are aware of situations, such as COVID, where blacks (and other groups) need tailored assistance.  Some believe in affirmative action.  Some advocate for reparations for slavery, while others favor race-neutral, income-based policies that help all disadvantaged people.

Recently, Donald Boudreaux posted this:

Also in the Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan profiles the great Ward Connerly and his young protégé, Wenyuan Wu – the dynamic duo who are helping to protect Californians from the ugly and ignorant racism of that State’s “Progressives.” A slice:

“Equal citizenship is not negotiable any more,” Mr. Connerly says. “You get the same rights, same responsibilities. You own just as much cultural stock in the country as anyone else.” Black people “have not always been accorded equal citizenship, I can tell you, because I know a little bit about that,” having been born in the South in 1939. But America has overcorrected for past wrongs. “Black people have been accorded a certain stature in American life” because of their history, Mr. Connerly says. “In the race sweepstakes right now, being black means that you get preferred stock.” Unless you’re a “race advocate,” he adds, “that is not a good thing.”

He also linked to this item on “the myth of ‘systemic racism'”, by Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute:

…. is from David Horowitz’s essay “Fighting Words” featured today on the Power Line Blog:

“Systemic racism” is an assertion made reflexively by Democrats that is never accompanied by evidence. For good reason. Systemic racism has been outlawed in America since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If there were actual instances of systemic racism in 2020, there would be lawsuits – plenty of them. Even making the racist assumption, which the Identity Politics crowd does make, that all white people are white supremacists by dint of their skin color, there are tens of thousands of black lawyers, prosecutors, district attorneys, attorneys general, and elected officials who would be filing lawsuits over a practice that is illegal. You never hear of massive lawsuits over systemic racism, because “systemic racism” is a myth. The myth lives because it is an indispensable weapon wielded by Democrats to advance their anti-democratic agendas and quests for power.  [Horowitz]

Corollary: “Systemic labor market sexism” is an assertion made reflexively by Democrats that is never accompanied by evidence (e.g., President Obama’s four-Pinocchio claim in a 2012 campaign ad that “women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn’t just unfair, it hurts families”). For good reason. Systemic labor market sexism has been outlawed in America since the Equal Pay Act of 1963. If there were actual instances of systemic labor market sexism in 2020, there would be lawsuits – plenty of them. Even making the sexist assumption, which the Identity Politics crowd does make, that thousands of employers are sexist, there are hundreds of thousands of female lawyers, prosecutors, district attorneys, attorneys general, and elected officials who would be filing lawsuits over a practice that is illegal. You never hear of massive lawsuits over systemic labor market sexism, because “systemic labor market sexism” is a myth. The myth lives because it is an indispensable weapon wielded by Democrats to advance their anti-democratic agendas and quests for power. [Perry]

Look, if libertarians and classical liberals want to argue that all we owe blacks is formal legal equality, that’s a hard position to defend, but ok.  But these quotes do more than this.  For one thing, both quotes suggest that blacks have in fact achieved formal legal equality.  Connerly tells us that “equal citizenship is not negotiable anymore”.  Hmmm . . . how many state legislatures have passed laws disenfranchising white people since Shelby County?  Both quotes ignore private discrimination.  Horowitz/Perry seem to believe that passing a law against discrimination actually ends discrimination.  Anyone familiar with the difficulty of bringing a lawsuit and proving discrimination knows that de jure equality does not imply de facto equality (as was recently vividly illustrated by the me too movement, which according to Perry’s logic could not have existed, since the threat of legal action would have eliminated all sexual harassment and assault in the workplace).  And of course, even if we successfully ended contemporary discrimination, blacks would still struggle with the weight of prior discrimination, Jim Crow, and slavery.  It is far from clear why that should be acceptable.

But the problem with Boudreaux goes deeper than this.  Rather than trying to clarify difficult issues to help us find areas of common ground, Boudreaux is deliberately sowing division.  He accuses “progressives” (in scare quotes) who think that formal equality is not a sufficient response to past and present wrongs against blacks of “ugly and ignorant racism”.  Horowitz and Perry also charge racism.  Connerly claims that blacks enjoy special privileges, an inflammatory charge in America.

Libertarians have not covered themselves in glory on racial issues in the past.  Murray Rothbard infamously urged libertarians to use right-wing populist and race-baiting messages to gain political power.  My guess is that today most libertarians, especially those affiliated with right wing economic think tanks like Mercatus and the American Enterprise Institute, want to think of themselves as principled defenders of formal equality rather than race-baiters.  But these quotes suggest the truth is otherwise.  Libertarians are going out of their way to stoke racial resentment, taking a page out of Rothbard’s playbook.  It’s not a good look.

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