Thursday, May 20, 2010

You've Been Aynrandized

The talk of the day is about Rand Paul's views on individual property rights and how those feed back into his views about civil rights:

In an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Mr. Paul appeared uncertain about whether he would have supported forcing private businesses to desegregate in the 1960s, suggesting that might run afoul of his libertarian philosophy. His views emerged as Ms. Maddow asked Mr. Paul if he thought a private business had the right to refuse service to a patron who was black.

(Mr. Paul's campaign issued a statement late Thursday morning following the Maddow interview, in which he said he supported the Civil Rights Act. It appears below.)

"I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form," he said. " I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race."

But things got murky from there in the interview: "Well, what it gets into is, is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant, even though the owner of the restaurant says, well, no, we don't want to have guns in here? The bar says we don't want to have guns in here, because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each other. Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?"

That's the proper libertarian view, by the way. That Paul chose to express it in the context of race is where he put his wingtip in his mouth.

But the libertarians do regard the property rights of individuals as more important than such things as civil rights: An owner of a firm (say, IBM) should be free to decide who is going to work in that firm, even if that owner's choices are sexist, racist, anti-semitic, homophobic and so on. Any problems this causes can be solved through private boycotts or private negotiations (in the libertarian paradise without government-provided street lights). This ignores the vast power differences between the IBM and your average job-seeker.

And that is one big problem with libertarianism: It assigns many more automatic rights to those with more property. It also tends to ignore the webs of complicated causes-and-effects which real societies have and the way those webs shake and shiver when two libertarians make some private transaction which is not supposed to affect anyone else at all. Whenever I try to imagine what the world would look like if it was run by libertarians I start with the Wild West myths. Then I remember that they were myths and that the U.S. government had a lot to do with the "winning of the west" by building railways and by awarding land. A more realistic picture of such a world would most likely be a banana republic with a few gated communities and lots of misery and lack of sanitation elsewhere.

It's not that the libertarians don't have some good points. They do. Even the wingnuts have a few good points! I'm a tolerant goddess willing to extend my fangs in all directions. But I always get scared when I read about the dreams of fanatics.
Paul's mistake was to remind us that he is one.