Bryan Caplan  

Where Was the Backlash Against Desegregation?

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Many moderately pro-immigration thinkers, most notably Tyler, see the Open Borders movement as self-defeating.  Why?  Because excessive immigration provokes nativist backlash.  In effect, there's a policy Laffer Curve; when you ask for too much immigration, you get less immigration than if you ask for less.

As you may know, I regard immigration laws as morally comparable to Jim Crow laws.  But I'm not going to ask, "Should the opponents of desegregation have moderated their demands?"  That's non-responsive to Tyler.  Instead, I'm going to ask, "Where was the backlash against desegregation?"  After all, segregationist laws were abolished in just a few short years, over the vociferous objection of most white Southerners.  Auspicious circumstances for a backlash, no?  And yet no serious movement to reinstate Jim Crow ever got off the ground.

I suppose you could call George Wallace a form of backlash.  Or perhaps the partisan realignment of the South.  But if you warned the proponents of desegregation, "Tread carefully!  If you push too hard, there will be George Wallace and partisan realignment," they wouldn't have trembled.  Nor should they have.  If this is what qualifies as backlash, it is not a bang but a whimper.

Anything I'm missing?




COMMENTS (17 to date)
johnleemk writes:

Bryan, I would say the backlash against desegregation came in more subtle, slightly less bad but still quite bad forms. Redlining -- the use of federal and corporate lending policies to exclude the "wrong" kinds of people -- was replaced by zoning to achieve the exact same ends. Legalised lynching and other forms of legal intimidation or political discrimination were replaced by the War on Drugs (which, similar to slavery and Jim Crow, had the curious of effect of excluding large swathes of African Americans from both the electorate and free society at large).

Similarly, the backlash to the US Civil War's liberation of black slaves and Reconstruction came in the form of "Redemption" -- the process by which white Americans in the South instituted Jim Crow and all its associated evils.

To your point, I don't see how any of this proves that it was a mistake for the US Civil War to free the slaves, or a mistake for the 1960s US civil rights movement to abolish blatant forms of racial segregation. Indeed, although each case of backlash was somewhat predictable, it clearly did not wholly undo the progress that prior liberation movements achieved. But I would argue it's quite mistaken to say no backlash occurred.

JLV writes:

Of course there was a backlash. White people took their kids out of public school, and, eventually moved to the suburbs.

Thirty years later, the children raised in the resegregated suburbs voted in Republican legislatures who started chipping away at the voting rights act, to not inconsiderable success.

Lawrence D'anna writes:

Desegregation was imposed on the South by a rest-of-the-country who's political system didn't depend on the consent of white southerners for political stability or perceived legitimacy.

Who is going to impose open borders on America?

Phil H writes:

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Colombo writes:

I never understood how people claim that it was illegitimate for some politicians to promote segregation, but it was legitimate for other politicians to fight segregation. There is no political authority to segregate or to integrate. There are only popular desires, good and evil. The good ones can be easily corrupted, and the evil ones are almost imposible to straighten.

J Storrs Hall writes:

Search google for

Most of the signers experienced ostracism, persecution, threats, and some violence.

Note: my father was one of the ministers.

MikeDC writes:

@ Colombo,

There is no political authority to segregate or to integrate.

At least in the US, folks generally accept that "political authority" derives from the people. Hence, laws that treat members of the polity differently are fundamentally at odds with that.

Now, I admit that the type of polity folks belong to is endogenous. If you and enough other people want to just throw out the existing view and take the "all power flows from the barrel of a gun" stance about politics, you can. But that sort of polity comes with lots of negative consequences.

Anyway, in a polity with membership, segregation and unequal treatment of members is obviously bad. Unequal treatment of members and non-members is not.

Brad writes:
Of course there was a backlash. White people took their kids out of public school, and, eventually moved to the suburbs.

That may have happened in the North, but I don't think that happened much in the South. My mother was in HS when schools were integrated in NC. Very few left the public schools and 25 years later when I was in HS only the very rich sent thier kids to private schools and the public schools were 20-30% black.

Psmith writes:

School segregation has increased since Brown v. Board in northern states and has returned to 1967 levels in southern states. See, e.g., the UCLA Civil Rights Project's "Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat, and an Uncertain Future." Or Orfield, Gary, et al. "Deepening segregation in American public schools: A special report from the Harvard Project on School Desegregation." Equity and Excellence in education 30.2 (1997): 5-24.

The results about Latino students are also of interest. Has Bryan offered an opinion about Nathan Smith's "How Would a Billion Immigrants Change the American Polity"?

Seth Green writes:

The argument I would be interested in hearing your response to is "the federal government suppressed the backlash." That story would go, there would have been a hundred Tulsa race riots if not for the National Guard.

Not saying I believe this -- I don't know much about implementation, didn't live through it, etc. -- but this seems to me an area where a libertarian response would be of general interest.

Kenny writes:

I concur with the points made by JLV and Lawrence D'anna in their comments. It certainly seems like there was considerable backlash against desegregation, tho in fairness to your point it was mostly (?) private action. Underlying that is the fact that desegregation was fairly easily avoidable by private action whereas national immigration cannot be 'avoided' by anyone (in so far as it has national effects).

Given that some, significant, amount of segregation persists despite a (mostly one-time) 'imposition' of desegregation, international immigration is much more fragile as it is, and will likely continue to be, a more steady flow than a one-time shock (and thus liable to be stemmed or stopped).

NZ writes:

I think you're right: if you flood the country with low-skill immigrants from 3rd world countries, there will be grumblings among many of the natives but no movement to effectively undo the border erasure will get off the ground, because the media and main institutions--all in silent collusion--will run with their sob stories and ethnomasochism, and silence the natives. That's what's going on in Europe right now.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Yes, Mr. Caplan, you are missing something(s).

Parts of the process you refer to as "de-segregation" required "integration." The reactions (backlash) to the means used for integration reached places like Boston, where mothers beat black children off busses.

Although not involved, I was an associate in the Virginia law firm that spearheaded resistance and shaping of alternatives to integration (and whose senior partner was on the first Civil Rights Commission. The results were pervasive changes (which remain)in the sympathies of the dominant coalitions of that society for the minority. A lot of help that was needed was not forthcoming, and still is not (but has been "replaced" or substituted by "programs").

During that period, I transitioned to a partnership in a firm in Birmingham, AL., where the reactions took a different form. However, there was that notable change in sympathies, which was not ameliorated for another generation.

If you were not there, and did not experience those reactions, and only look back through attitudes formed through one and two generations later, it is understandable you might make your inferences.

But, the "adjustments" have taken their toll on the way regional and urban societies have developed.

Rocinante writes:

Oh, the backlash was far more than that. There was violence and hatred directed at students who were being integrated. This doesn't mean they shouldn't have done it.

Conscience of a Citizen writes:

Jim Crow was dismantled during arguably the most prosperous years in American history. While abolishing Jim Crow altered the relative status of some people in the US and redistributed a certain amount of wealth, the worst negative effects on individuals* were cushioned by the simultaneous deployment of Great Society subsidies to many Americans. Furthermore, abolishing Jim Crow did not increase the number of people in the USA, so domestic capital-per-worker didn't change and productivity remained high. In that era the burgeoning US economy provided increased pay to nearly everyone-- growth overcame the slight downward pressure on wages caused by liberating black Americans.

(*Referring here strictly to short-term economic effects, not any questions of morality.)

Opening America's borders to mass immigration today would yield less satisfaction than abolishing Jim Crow did. Today the US economy stinks on ice and the government has almost no fiscal latitude to increase social-welfare spending. Mass immigration would decrease per-worker industrial capital, reducing productivity. Productivity losses would magnify downward pressure on wages from greater competition for jobs-- the opposite of the situation when Jim Crow was lifted.

In 1950-1970 abolishing Jim Crow benefited the black 1/8 of Americans very much and harmed the white 7/8 of Americans very little, so far as they could tell at the time. Mass immigration in 2015 would harm 8/8 of Americans, black and white, very much. One could expect more of a "backlash" under those circumstances!

Six decades after integrating America's public schools and fifty years after integrating everything else under the Civil Rights Act, Americans can feel justly pleased with having finally shared American liberties among all citizens. Nearly all Americans now cannot imagine things any other way, and even people who reckon the cost to those among their parents' generation whose neighborhoods or schools or even personal safety were sacrificed to the change will generally concede that for America overall, the gains were worth more than the cost.

However, there is a another lesson to be learned. Removing legal disabilities can't fix low IQ's.

Lifting Jim Crow was morally right. It allowed black Americans to earn the pay and status their personal qualities entitled them to in an open society with all other Americans. Jim Crow was always immoral and we are well rid of it.

But abolishing Jim Crow did not magically endow black Americans with more innate ability. With Jim Crow gone, talented black Americans (one-sixth of black Americans are smarter than half of white Americans!) could rise and untalented white Americans could fall, but it became clear that some black Americans were not as talented and would not rise appreciably despite their liberation. Many people will not admit this; they insist that all Americans are equally talented and assert that any differences in performance are due to white racism. They do a lot of harm forcing their ideology on the people around them.

Worse, several generations of experience and experiments-- with anti-racist remedial schemes like race-based subsidies, affirmative action ("positive discrimination"), frantic witch-hunts among schoolteachers and public officials, etc-- have confirmed that the distribution of academic ability (and therefore of earning potential) is substantially and intractably different among black Americans than white (or brown, or yellow) Americans.

Not because of Jim Crow, which we abolished long ago, but because of statistical differences in personal qualities which we are unable to remediate, a large fraction of black Americans are unable to earn more in the marketplace than they can obtain from welfare programs and crime.

To prop up black Americans, the US now deploys a plethora of interventions like affirmative-action job set-asides and sinecures, welfare payments, and even bizarre "civil settlements" to "black farmers" who never saw a sprout in their lives. These measures are a kind of "reverse Jim Crow" (though less dreadful because they rob 7/8 for the benefit of 1/8 instead of the other way around) so they are resented, and to maintain them all dissent is harshly suppressed (indeed, any academic who even repeats the facts stated here may be punished by immediate loss of employment).

A policy of open borders would-- according to its advocates!-- admit hundreds of millions of immigrants with lower human capital and heritable potential than black Americans. We know from experience that many black Americans cannot earn a decent living by their own talents in the US. This provokes the sympathy of all the other Americans, who then support their less-capable fellow citizens at gigantic cost. The story of America's black citizens shows us that open-borders advocates are wrong about the likely effects of mass immigration by low-ability people. They will not contribute to the American economy any more than low-talent black Americans do. On the contrary, they will drag it down, consuming wealth transferred from more productive people-- party through welfare schemes and partly through the costs of crime.

Nathan W writes:

@ Conscience of a Citizen

Your concern about IQs could be misplaced. It may just be that black people, for cultural reasons, are less motivated to perform on silly tests that have nothing to do with anything. Dozens of other explanations exist.

Meanwhile, racism of people such as yourself may easily explain their continuing inability to access equal outcomes on average.

In the meantime, I propose that we cull all people with IQ>130 before we all get too smart for our own good and destroy everything.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

@ Nathan W

You are indeed on a useful track when you suggest considering motivations.

If one reads Charles Murray's Coming Apart (which concerns white populations)carefully and receptively, one is drawn to consider the role of commonalities of motivations in social cohesion, as well as that of motivational differences in segmenting society.

The "backlash" discussed ignores the segmentations (and the returns to and continuities of segmentations) that are the natural result of variances in individual motivations.

Examination of the sources of the formations of initial motivations, together with a better analysis (absent confirmation bias) of the adjustments to and changes in those originating motivations, will take us further to understanding of and sympathy with one another than all the expressions about reactions and "backlash."

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