Edit: When the Paul duo associates itself with the neo-Confederates at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, it’s hard not to accuse them of racism. But I don’t think this interview is an instance as such, and that’s the point of this post.
Brad DeLong takes us to Ian Millhiser on Rand Paul’s recent interview. The interview is seething with a dedication to states’ rights and “localism” but is not, ultimately, racist as Millhiser suggests with this picture:
The thrust of Paul argument is captured in the sentiment of private property rights:
You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.
This is the hard part about believing in freedom—is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example—you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things […] It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.
Surprisingly, I think Paul is correct about everything. Except the distinction between private and public property. The State has the same right to proscribe certain practices – such as discrimination or cruelty – as it does to levy any form of taxation. An Obama soundbite, “you didn’t build that”, understanding the sentiment that every business can succeed only through a melange of government support and subsidy: of education, of law and, maybe most importantly, of contract.
Oh and the network is so much more complicated than that. Local businesses (and Coke) receive greater demand through government transfers for the poor. Tax breaks for small companies realign incentives to their benefit. I can name a million reasons why a local shop exists because of, and only because of, a government.
And this doesn’t mean, literally, that “you didn’t build it”. It doesn’t undermine private enterprise. Indeed, at its best, it only kindles such entrepreneurial spirits. But that’s a different story. When Rand Paul cedes that public resources have no place in discriminating against black or white, he must tacitly cede whichever position he holds on local, privately “owned”, entities.
“Owned” because property is derived from the State. This is a controversial logic for the libertarians who see private property antecedent to the State which is (in its only legitimate form) a collective action of the holders thereof. This is similar to the classically liberal attitude towards property, John Locke:
believed that ownership of property is created by the application of labour. In addition, he believed property precedes government and government cannot “dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily.
However, for Rand Paul’s beliefs on abortion to be internally consistent, he must accept a Benthamite interpretation of property rights. Only when private property is delegated by the State, and exists solely under its existence thereof, can pro-life policy exist. The right of full agency on a women’s womb is retained by the State.
This further compounds his confusion regarding the Civil Rights Act. Since property rights are ultimately mediated through the State, it would be improper for a free society to grant the right of cruelty and discrimination to property “owners”. In this sense, by holding the deed to a restaurant, I have many rights. I have the right to block involuntary seizure or unwarranted search by the State. I have the right to bake pizzas. These are my rights as a citizen of the United States. But until unless the government condones discrimination itself, I do not have the right to discriminate unfairly.
Because Republicans are so fond of slippery-slope arguments (remember? if you legalize same-sex marriage men are going to get married to pigs, or something), I’m going to make one here. The strong form of Rand Paul’s argument suggests that I have the ultimate right to do what I will on my property. (In other words, he mistakenly applies Lockean values of liberalism). This would mean owners could kill, maim, torture, and steal those who enter their property.
Of course, the libertarian argument might go that if the market learned of such cruel acts, the shop would be snubbed until it modified its practices. In the mean time, I’m happy to live in post-1964 America, run by Kenyan, anti-market, socialist (has anyone heard of Chained CPI?), Muslims.
So Rand Paul isn’t racist, just wrong. If he had a more open approach to abortion, he could even have an internally consistent ideology supporting a crippled version of the Civil Rights Act. Millhiser doesn’t seem to think Paul’s ideology is compatible with a free society. It is, just not our free society.