Discrimination and State Power
By Pierre Lemieux
Reading a column by Karen Attiah in the Washington Post (“Monuments of White Supremacy Obscure the History of Colonial Crimes. That’s Why They Must Come Down,” June 13, 2020), I remembered the guy who defended the state by asking, “If the state did not exist, who would have abolished slavery?” The real question is, of course, “If the state did not exist, who would have protected slave owners with overwhelming monopolistic force?” The guy should have known Article IV, Section 2 of the US Constitution about fugitive slaves, which remained in force until the 13th Amendment in 1865:
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
Most of Ms. Attiah’s column can be read as a justified attack on the governments who financed and enforced racial discrimination, not only by erecting statues but in more direct ways. She mentions Belgian king Léopold II, a “brutal colonial ruler” whose
claim to genocidal fame was his orchestration of mass violence against the people in the Congo, a large portion of which he considered his personal territory for cultivating and exporting rubber and ivory.
She also writes:
Powerful governments erased the contributions of black people, the customs and traditions of native populations during colonization—and then whitewashed the evidence of the great harm done to these communities.
She ignores many things, though, such as zoning laws, which were originally adopted to prevent black Americans from using their economic freedom to move into white neighborhoods and which continue incognito to play that function today. (See my Regulation review of Jonathan Rothwell’s recent book, A Republic of Equals: “The One-Percenter State,” Regulation, Spring 2020; and my Econlog post “Rothwell Si, Piketty No!” But, to be fair to Ms. Attiah, one can’t talk about everything in one column.
The problem has not been private discrimination but government-enforced discrimination.
I suspect Ms. Attiah is not a closet anarcho-capitalist, because such people are rather rare at the Washington Post. But if what she wants to defend is individual liberty instead of group identity, she might want to reflect on the following classical-liberal principle and apply it also to other issues than race: Grant to the state only powers that would not be dangerous if the worst racist (or hater of any minority) came to its helm. Who knows, you might not always be in a group preferred by the government.