In a truly free libertarian economy, businesses would be free to discriminate. Businesses could hire, fire, serve, or refuse service on the basis of race, gender, age, etc. Thus, liberals conclude, we must intervene in the market on behalf of these groups through affirmative action and mandatory service laws.
Libertarian intellectuals have produced countless studies that show the ill effects of such intervention. For anyone interested in these arguments, I recommend the work of Thomas Sowell, who has written at length on these issues. Here is a great introductory essay to his way of thinking. My goal is not to reproduce these arguments or refute this claim directly. Rather, my goal to show that the modern liberal concern – that the free market alienates underprivilaged groups – contradicts a concern once voiced by conservatives.
Southern conservatives once decried the free market with the same enthusiasm as modern liberals, but for the opposite reason. What was their concern? That business owners would cater to anyone to make a buck – even to the black underclass. As the institution of slavery crumbled, southern conservatives had to restrict the market processes that would have rushed to meet the new need.
In contrast to modern liberals, southern conservatives saw business owners as “notorious liberal progressives” who undermine “community values” by hiring and serving the social underclass. Their biggest fear? That business owners might hire blacks instead of whites because blacks were cheaper to hire, or that businesses would serve rather than shun the black underclass. Southern conservatives knew that business incentives were too strong; the free market would undermine the racist and classist culture they were trying to preserve by providing jobs, goods, and services to the the black underclass.
White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other national socialists have long criticized free market capitalism on the grounds that it erodes racist and hierarchical values. Racists and national socialists see that free market capitalism encourages one to trade with one’s enemy and to hire the best person for the job despite their affiliation. Racists fight a losing battle; people prefer jobs and cheap goods and services to a racially pure homeland. But the national socialist knows how to correct this problem: he must suppress the means by which this preference is exercised – he must suppress free market capitalism.
One sees a parallel between modern liberals and southern racists in the battle between unions and immigrants. White union workers know they must restrict the free market if they are to prevent Hispanic immigrants from taking their jobs. These situations testify to the extent to which the market equalizes privilege and disadvantage, and how quickly the status quo moves to prevent this. The modern liberal mistakes the results of intervention for a failure of the free market.
If we could learn anything beneficial from the racists, it would be that the free market is the most dangerous weapon against privilege, racism, classism, and sexism. Since I oppose racists, sexists, and classists, I support their dissolution through free market processes.
Unfortunately, the free market presently has few friends. Economist Joseph Schumpeter put our situation eloquently: “Capitalism stands trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever defense they may hear; the only success that victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment.”
Since the two indictments above are contradictory, my hope is that modern liberals will take pause, consider the behavior of their true political adversaries, and act contrarily by supporting free market capitalism.