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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
10 Feb 2016
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The Right To Discriminate


Rand Paul of Kentucky, U.S. Senate hopeful, is caught up in a swirl of controversy in response to his comments on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show." He has been dishonestly accused of saying he thinks that private businesses have a right to discriminate against black people. Here's a partial transcript of the pertinent question in the interview:

Maddow: "Do you think that a private business has a right to say, 'We don't serve black people'?" To which Paul answered, "I'm not, I'm not, I'm not in ... yeah ... I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form."

The "yeah" was spun in the media as "yes" to the question whether private businesses had a right to refuse service to black people. Paul had told Maddow that while he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act in general, he thought that provisions banning private discrimination might have gone too far.

Democrats launched an attack on Paul accusing him of being a racist. Republicans criticized and in the words of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, Paul's "philosophy is misplaced in these times." He added that Paul has a libertarian perspective and "(has) a very, very strong view about the limitation of government intrusion into the private sector."

Should people have the right to discriminate by race, sex, religion and other attributes? In a free society, I say yes. Let's look at it. When I was selecting a marriage partner, I systematically discriminated against white women, Asian women and women of other ethnicities that I found less preferable. The Nation of Islam discriminates against white members. The Aryan Brotherhood discriminates against having black members. The Ku Klux Klan discriminates against having Catholic and Jewish members. The NFL discriminates against hiring female quarterbacks. The NAACP National Board of Directors, at least according to the photo on their Web page, has no white members.

You say, Williams, that's different. It's not like public transportation, restaurants and hotel service in which Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act "prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment." While there are many places that serve the public, it doesn't change the fact that they are privately owned, and who is admitted, under what conditions, should be up to the owner.

If places of public accommodation were free to racially discriminate, how much racial discrimination would there be? In answering that question, we should acknowledge that just because a person is free to do something, it doesn't follow that he will find it in his interest to do so.

An interesting example is found in an article by Dr. Jennifer Roback titled "The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars," in Journal of Economic History (1986). During the late 1800s, private streetcar companies in Augusta, Houston, Jacksonville, Mobile, Montgomery and Memphis were not segregated, but by the early 1900s, they were. Why? City ordinances forced them to segregate black and white passengers. Numerous Jim Crow laws ruled the day throughout the South mandating segregation in public accommodations.

When one sees a law on the books, he should suspect that the law is there because not everyone would voluntarily comply with the law's specifications. Extra-legal measures, that included violence, backed up Jim Crow laws. When white solidarity is confronted by the specter of higher profits by serving blacks, it's likely that profits will win. Thus, Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights represented government countering government-backed Jim Crow laws.

One does not have to be a racist to recognize that the federal government has no constitutional authority to prohibit racial or any other kind of discrimination by private parties. Moreover, the true test of one's commitment to freedom of association doesn't come when he permits people to associate in ways he deems appropriate. It comes when he permits people to voluntarily associate in ways he deems offensive.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at








7 Comments | Post Comment
Once again Walter Williams tries to prove how accommodating he can become to the plight of long suffering whites over intergration. I retired from the U S Army (7 yrs active-- 20 yrs reserves) and commanded many soldiers who thought like you and your hero , Pauls. Some whites had never been lead by african americans nor slept in the same building . Most black soldiers understood how whites felt about them and did not want to associate with them either. If I follow your logic ( or lack thereof ) , the Army should wait until we decide to accept each other and merrily walz to the battlefield arm in arm as equals. As a drill instructor at several post, Fort Jackson, SC , Benning Ga. and Ft Bragg, NC , we knew that these soldiers had to live together inorder to become a formiable fighting force in todays world. The armed forces knew what would happen if separatist views infiltrated the ranks and brought about racial division. There were clubs off post that didn't accept the "brothers", that's african americans if you forgot, and the post commander put them off limits to everybody. Randall Paul was asked about a known private establishment before he nearly choked on his words before thinking. You are playing a dangerous with a divided country. Oh , by the way, I find it hard to believe that the kkk wouldn't let you join !!
Comment: #1
Posted by: Ciscero T . Warren , Jr.
Wed Jun 2, 2010 4:27 PM
Kudos to Mr. Williams and his enlightened perspective. If more people had the courage and intellectual honesty of Mr. Williams, race relations would be at a much higher level than they are today. Every race has been enslaved, subjugated or discriminated against at some time in history. The Roman legions enslaved Germans, French, English, Scottish and anyone who dared resistance. The Vikings who terrorized the world from the 8-10th century sold light-skinned, blue eyed women to eager buyers in the Mediterranean basin. The indigenous Indians of the Caribbean were enslaved by the French, Spanish, English and Dutch and later native Africans. Rand Paul is not promoting discrimination against anyone but rather attempting to rekindle the intent of our founding fathers when they wrote the Declaration and Bill of Rights to protect the individual freedoms of people. And, for some to punish and hold accountable future generations for the acts of people who lived decades,hundreds or thousands of years ago is not only unfair but is a sad excuse for their own personal prejudices or failures.
Comment: #2
Posted by: ron
Thu Jun 3, 2010 4:16 PM
Re: Ciscero T . Warren , Jr.
You miss the point entirely, but in the Army's case, if you view the POTUS as the "owner" of the Army, you may understand. Mr Williams writes, "When white solidarity is confronted by the specter of higher profits by serving blacks, it's likely that profits will win." Well, the Army doesn't play to profits, but what does matter most to the Army is a team effort, and unity of command - sort of what you stated in your piece. And like you wrote, you can't become a formidable fighting force if outright discrimination existed. Thus, the Army's "owner" (POTUS) has decided that he will outlaw open discrimination in his "shop" so that he can reap the benefits, which are teamwork and unity of command. This is the same decision the store owner makes, allowing him to reap the benefits (profits) by not discriminating against anyone who wants to patronize HIS shop. Mr Williams is right on point - to those who can get past superficial arguments to understand the real issues.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Jay
Thu Jun 10, 2010 2:58 AM
Sifting through this nonsense is a bit more challenging, because here we have a successful professor of economics that on the surface has presented a logical rationale for owners of private businesses to discriminate on the basis of race etc.. If we say it another way, private owners of public businesses, I think we should get a totally different point of view.

Private implies that the business itself was set up to serve a certain sector of the public, such as the Italian Brotherhood, or the sons of the confederacy, which is not considered the general public. As such an African American would probably have no interest in seeking acceptance/entrance/service in these, shall we say specialized establishments.
But this is a far cry from a business that serves the public at large, a lunch counter or a fast food restaurant, gas station, or travel lodge, in other words a business that serves the general public.

Let's look at the role of government in these cases. I don't think anyone would argue, that protecting the public/public good is indeed a responsibility of government, thus this is where civil rights and individual rights collide. Basic services, is and should be a civil right, and should not be left up to the individual to enforce those rights. If they were, from an extreme view point, Dr. Williams, could very well find himself living in public housing instead of that house sold to him by a private company. It is through the government protection of his civil rights that gives him the right to live where he chooses, whether a private company profited from it or not. The government also protects his right to marry the woman of his choice whether she be black, white, Jew or gentile. Quite frankly I find it absurd even for a Doctor to compare those apples to these oranges. I also find it hard to believe, given the history of this country, that someone of his educational level just don't get it!
Comment: #4
Posted by: Curve Adams
Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:03 PM
LOL. Walter Williams, the Tea Baggers jester, is rationalizing discrimination. The king of the Run & Fetch is beholding to so many (whites) for giving him so much for doing so little. Had he taken the hard road of teaching himself how to fish he wouldn't have to beg for his next meal. Its an example of Affirmative Action gone awry
Comment: #5
Posted by: BuyAmerican
Tue Jun 15, 2010 7:09 AM
Re: Ciscero T . Warren , Jr.
"Some Whites had never been led by African Americans nor slept in the same building"
In the voluntary army soldiers sleep in barracks and are subordinate to somebody. Soldiers are not all of the same race. Army culture dominates culture of origin.
There is No Deficiency in a White soldier that has never been led by or slept in the same building with a Black soldier, and vice versa. If you prefer desegregation, you may disagree, but your subjective preference is of no concern to society as a whole unless it is imposed upon society by coercion.
There is No Deficiency in a Black or White Soldier who prefers his culture of origin over other cultures. By voluntarily entering the army, a soldier has voluntarily left his culture and assumed a military culture. Soldiers do not have to respect other cultures of origin, as long as they respect the military culture.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Cloward Piven
Mon Sep 5, 2011 3:46 AM
Re: Curve Adams

Wrong. Private business has a legal meaning stemming from private property rights and the right to make a living, which are derived from the inalienable right to live. The owner(s) of a private business determines with whom they will enter into voluntary exchanges in free markets. Free markets maximize social utility. Any coercive act by government to cause a private business to enter an involuntary exchange reduces social utility since one party is harmed.

Unfortunately, you miss the point that it is a racist offense to force a private business owner who is a member of another race into involuntary exchange by force of government. This is true, even if the that private business owner is in fact, a racist. Thus an involuntary, forced exchange has facilitated your racism.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Cloward Piven
Mon Sep 5, 2011 4:02 AM
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