Libertarianism and the Civil Rights Act

From: M
Sent: Saturday, June 11, 2016 7:48 AM
To: Walter Block; walter block
Subject: a libertarian question re: the civil rights act

Hi Walter, Here’s a question I would love you, or Tom Woods, to respond to.

Some background:  I’m 46 and my views are very much libertarian.  I consider government the problem, and seeing where the Democrat and Republican parties and their politicians stand pretty much puts me at perennial odds with most all of them.  I believe no man/woman and/or no group of men/women have any authority to preside over their fellow men/woman and create laws for the supposed “betterment of society”.  I do believe in laws that protect against encroachment of people’s liberties, so I am OK with government for that purpose.  Better local, though, as opposed to our nationalized system today where much of local or state gov’t just seems to serve/assist/aid and expand federal power.  But I also am always open to seeing problems with those beliefs and considering these things as best I can without a bias.

My question is regarding the problem libertarians have with the aspects of the civil rights act that, for example, prohibits business from not allowing people through their door based on race.  The classic example of the shop-owner with the sign in the window “whites allowed only”.  Libertarians believe that this shop owner has that very right to decide who can and cannot come into his store to shop.  If a shop owner chooses to be foolish and racist, we say he is free to put that sign up.  Surely, our free society will handle it best, and those that are not allowed in his store will have many other stores to choose from that offer the same products or services.  But that was essentially the problem in the post civil war South:  In any given town or county, or even any given southern state, there was no shop an African American could enter into to purchase groceries or get a hair cut, or…whatever.  These AA’s have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we all agree.  But what if they cannot get anyone to freely sell them food, give them a job, … etc?  Are they not being denied the pursuit of happiness, from the perspective of the society they lived in seemed intent on denying them, in every possible way, their liberties?  If one had repealed every single law on the books in the South that infringed on blacks, it seems that Southern society still freely did things in quite an amazingly coordinated fashion to deny these people in every way.  I think it’s easy for libertarians today to proclaim that if these civil rights act laws i am referring to  were non-existent, there would be no problem, for surely if one idiotic grocery store owner decided to commit commercial suicide by putting the proverbial “no blacks allowed” sign in his window, that shop-owner would be run out of business, the whole town would be appalled and stop shopping there, and in the meantime, the blacks in question would have many other stores to freely purchase food, needed items, etc.  But what is the libertarian solution when the entirety of a societal system is using their free will to exclude people of a different race?  Am I not correct that the liberty of the AA to purchase food, etc has now been infringed upon by that society, except not through any government law, but through free association?

Obviously, I understand that, the way we ended up getting there in the 19th century was not due to any free movement, but rather due to government force, government codifying the legality of slavery, and of blacks being “three fifths of a person” and all that sicko stuff, created and supported by government.  So as libertarians, we do take great pains to point that out.  How would things have gone if for example, between 1776 and 1789 the laws written were explicit in saying everyone, regardless of color/race has equal standing as free people and government exists only to protect those freedoms, and no law shall be written to infringe upon those freedoms, etc etc….

But I believe we also have to take things the way they are now, and be able to discuss what a libertarian society would be like if, for example, the government had agreed with the libertarian view in 1965 and not included the provisions in the civil rights act that infringed upon a business owners right to exclude anyone they wanted to come into their store.  As a libertarian, I admit, I can see why these laws were implemented, because they had 100 years of proof that there would be no way that our African American brothers and sisters would have access to the free market the same way whites did.  Sure, you could say, the AAs could open their own stores!  But how would they get the needed capital if all the banks refused to lend to people unless they were white?  The AA might decide to operate his/her own patch of farmland to grow their own food.  But how to, in a society where all banks, with their white lending managers, are dead set on placing road blocks up to prevent that them from getting a loan to buy that land, and buy the needed seeds, etc etc?

So then one could say, well they all can just move to the North where these problems did not exist (at least not in such blatant/persistent form).  That sounds fine, unless you are a poor person in Mississippi and have no means to get yourself to Ohio or Pennsylvania or New Hampshire.

I am sure I am belaboring the point by now.

I welcome your thoughts and response.

Thank you Walter!


Dear M:

There were plenty other grocery stores for blacks to shop in. Otherwise, they would all have died, or had to leave. Neither occurred. QED. A better example would be, why didn’t other bus companies spring up to allow blacks to ride in any seat on the bus. The reason was, in order to start up a bus company you had to get a permit, and these were given out, or not, by the same people responsible for Jim Crow in the first place. In a free society that libertarians favor, anyone else could set up a bus company. Read some Tom Sowell and/or Walter Williams on this issue. See below for a bibliography.

Best regards,


If it moves, privatize it; if it doesn’t move, privatize it. Since everything either moves or doesn’t move, privatize everything.

Becker, 1957; Benbow and Stanley, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984; Block, 1982, 1985, 1992, 1998; Block, and Walker, 1985; Block and Williams, 1981; Block, Snow and Stringham, 2008; Gottfredson, 1986; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Jensen, 1981; Levin, 1987, 1997; Lynn and Vanhanen. 2002, 2006; McMaken, 2016; Mercer, 2005; Murray, 2007;  Rushton, 1988,1991,1995, 1996,  Rushton and Osborne, 1995; Rushton and Ankney,1993; Seligman, 1992; Sowell, 1975, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 2000; Walker, Dauterive, Schultz and Block, 2004; Whitehead, Block and Hardin. 1999; Whitehead, Block. 2002, 2004; Williams, 1982, 2011; Wood, P., 2015; Woods, T. 2016

Becker, Gary. 1957. The Economics of Discrimination, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Benbow, Camilla and Julian Stanley. 1980. Sex Differences in Mathematical Ability: Fact or Artifact?” Science. 210. December

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Benbow, Camilla and Julian Stanley. 1984. “Gender and the Science Major: A Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. Advances in Motivation and Achievement. 2.

Block, Walter. 1982. “Economic Intervention, Discrimination and Unforeseen Consequences,” Discrimination, Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, Walter E. Block  and Michael A. Walker, eds., Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, pp. 101-125.

Block, Walter. 1985. “Directions for Future Research in Equal Pay Legislation,” Towards Equity: Proceedings of a Colloquium on the Economic Status of Women in the Labour Market, Muriel Armstrong ed., Ottawa: The Economic Council, pp. 119-21, 134-135, 179-182.

Block, Walter. 1992. “Discrimination: An Interdisciplinary Analysis,” The Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 11, pp. 241-254;

Block, Walter. 1998. “Compromising the Uncompromisable: Discrimination,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 57, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 223-237;

Block, Walter E., Nicholas Snow and Edward Stringham. 2008. “Banks, Insurance Companies and Discrimination.” Business and Society Review, Vol. 113, No. 3, September, pp. 403-419;

Block, Walter and Michael A. Walker. 1985. Focus on Employment Equity: A Critique of the Abella Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, Vancouver:  The Fraser Institute.

Block, Walter and Williams, Walter, E. 1981. “Male-Female Earnings Differentials: A Critical Reappraisal,” The Journal of Labor Research, Vol. II, No. 2, Fall, pp. 385-388;;

Gottfredson, Linda S. 1986. “Societal consequences of the g factor in employment.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 29, 379-410.

Herrnstein, Richard J., and Murray, Charles. 1994. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, New York: The Free Press

Jensen, Arthur R. 1981. Straight Talk about Mental Tests. New York: Free Press

Levin, Michael. 1987. Feminism and Freedom, New York: Transaction Books

Levin, Michael. 1997. Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean, New York: Praeger.

Lynn, Richard and Tatu Vanhanen. 2002.  IQ And The Wealth Of Nations, New York, N.Y.: Praeger Publishers

Lynn, Richard and Tatu Vanhanen. 2006.  IQ and Global Inequality, Washington Summit Publishers

McMaken, 2016. “The Trouble with “Public Accommodation.” June 3;

Mercer, Ilana. 2005. “The Silly Sex.” Janury 6.

Murray, Charles. 2007. “Jewish Genius.” Commentary, April;

Rushton, J. Philippe. 1988. “The reality of racial differences: A rejoinder with new evidence,” Personality and Individual Differences, 9, pp. 1035-1040.

Rushton, J. Philippe. 1991. “Reply to Wilerman on Mongoloid-Caucasoid Differences in Brain Size,” Intelligence, 15, pp. 365-367

Rushton, J. Philippe. 1996. “Brain size and cognitive ability: Correlations with age, sex, social class and race,” Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 3 (1), pp. 21-36

Rushton, J. Philippe, and Ankney, C. D. 1993. The evolutionary selection of human races: A response to Miller. Personality and Individual Differences, 15, 677-680.

Rushton, J. Philippe, and Osborne, R.T. 1995. “Genetic and environmental contributions to cranial capacity estimated in Black and White adolescents.” Intelligence, 20, pp. 1-13

Seligman, Daniel. 1992. A Question of Intelligence, The IQ Debate in America. New York: Citadel, Carol Press

Sowell, Thomas. 1975. Race and Economics. New York: Longman

Sowell, Thomas. 1981. Markets and Minorities,  New York, N.Y.: Basic Books

Sowell, Thomas. 1982. “Weber and Bakke and the presuppositions of ‘Affirmative Action,'” Discrimination, Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, Walter E. Block  and Michael Walker, eds., Vancouver: The Fraser Institute, pp. 37-63

Sowell, Thomas. 1983. The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective. New York, Morrow.

Sowell, Thomas. 1984. “Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality,” New York: William Morrow.

Sowell, Thomas. 2000. Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books

Walker, Deborah, Jerry W. Dauterive, Elyssa Schultz and Walter E. Block. 2004.  “The Feminist Competition/Cooperation Dichotomy: A Critique,” Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 55, No. 3, December, pp. 241-252;

Whitehead, Roy, Walter E. Block  and Lu Hardin. 1999. “Gender Equity in Athletics: Should We Adopt a Non-Discriminatory Model?” The University of Toledo Law Review, Vol. 30, No. 2, Winter, pp. 223-249;

Whitehead, Roy and Walter E. Block. 2002. “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Property Rights Perspective,” University of Utah Journal of Law and Family Studies, Vol. 4, pp.226-263;

Whitehead, Roy and Walter E. Block. 2004. “The Boy Scouts, Freedom of Association and the Right to Discriminate: A Legal, Philosophical and Economic Analysis,” Oklahoma City Law Review, Vol. 29, No. 3, Fall, pp. 851-882;

Williams, Walter, E. 1982. The State Against Blacks, New York, McGraw-Hill.

Williams, Walter, E. 2011. Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2011

The Weekend Interview  The State Against Blacks

Wood, Paul. 2015. “First They Came for the Bakers.” May 22;

Woods, Thomas E. 2016. “Fashionable Libertarians Declare: HERE We Need Aggression!” June 7;


9:57 am on February 25, 2019