David R. Henderson  

Milton Friedman on Segregation

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Former co-blogger Arnold Kling writes:

Barry Goldwater and Milton Friedman (at least if I remember correctly the relevant passages in Capitalism and Freedom) were against Federal intervention to protect African-Americans from segregation, even segregation imposed by state and local governments.

I don't know enough about Barry Goldwater's views. But I'm pretty sure that Arnold does not remember correctly Milton Friedman's views. His post caused me to review Chapter VII (titled "Capitalism and Discrimination") of Milton's Capitalism and Freedom. I can't find any reference to Milton's views on federal intervention to protect African-Americans from segregation. But I did find Milton's clearcut statement of principle against local and state governments' imposition of segregation.

Milton wrote:

FEPC [Committee on Fair Employment Practices] legislation involves the acceptance of a principle that proponents would find abhorrent in almost every other application. If it is appropriate for the state to say that individuals may not discriminate in employment because of color or race or religion, then it is equally appropriate for the state, provided a majority can be found to vote that way, to say that individuals must discriminate in employment on the basis of color, or race or religion. The Hitler Nuremberg laws and the laws in the Southern states imposing special disabilities upon Negroes are both examples of laws similar in principle to FEPC.

In researching the FEPC, I find that it began due to an executive order by FDR in 1941 and was focused on discrimination against black people by defense contractors. I doubt that Milton would have opposed that order: after all, it involved government spending and he always favored neutrality in government spending: that is, not having government discriminate, or support discrimination, against a particular group. But I think that by FEPC legislation, he had in mind some broader proposed legislation, which, apparently was never passed, to ban discrimination by employers generally. That certainly is consistent with how the above passage reads.

But back to the point. Given that Milton did oppose FEPC legislation and likened it, in principle, to Hitler's Nuremberg laws and the laws in Southern states that required discrimination, we can be confident that he opposed both the Nuremberg laws and the laws in Southern states. Of course, we cannot be confident that he favored federal intervention to overturn those laws. He simply does not address that issue. Perhaps Arnold has some other article by Milton in mind?


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Capt. J Parker writes:

I'm no expert on Goldwater but, I have read Conscience of a Conservative. My recollection is that Goldwater didn't care for the Brown v Board of Education decision and he didn't care for parts of the Civil Rights Act. His detractors take this as prima facie evidence he was a segregationist. In Conscience of a Conservative Goldwater states his opposition to the Civil Rights Act was because the law had the Federal Government imposing requirements on private citizens and business owners that the Federal Government was not empowered to do under the Constitution. With respect to Brown v Board of Education he said this:

“It so happens that I am in agreement with the objectives of the Supreme Court as stated in the Brown decision. I believe that it is both wise and just for negro children to attend the same schools as whites, and that to deny them this opportunity carries with it strong implications of inferiority. I am not prepared, however, to impose that judgment of mine on the people of Mississippi or South Carolina, or to tell them what methods should be adopted and what pace should be kept in striving toward that goal.”

Now, I suppose it is possible that Goldwater’s “states rights” argument was just a cover. Today still, I hear the argument from progressives that advocates for adhering to constitutional limits and respecting states rights are really just bigots trying to disguise themselves with an antiquated interpretation of constitutional law. However I believe Goldwater was sincere and correct when he said:
“The Constitution, and the laws "made in pursuance thereof," are the "supreme law of the land." The Constitution is what its authors intended it to be and said it was—not what the Supreme Court says it is. If we condone the practice of substituting our own intentions for those of the Constitution's framers, we reject, in effect, the principle of Constitutional Government: we endorse a rule of men, not of laws.”
I find it interesting that Justice Scalia in his dissent to the supreme courts same sex marriage ruling made a similar argument. From his dissent:
”Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention.”

Andrew_Fl writes:

Regarding Goldwater's views, that's an absolute calumny. Goldwater voted for the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts. This is a matter of public record. As is the fact that his opposition to the Act of 1964 pertained entirely to Title II, whose provisions were and remain unconstitutional and immoral violations of freedom of association.

Certainly Goldwater held many views that I would disagree with, especially later in life. But the notion that he didn't care about state imposed discrimination or segregation, is simply false.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"But the notion that he didn't care about state imposed discrimination or segregation, is simply false"

The question is not if he was against or in favor of state imposed discrimination or segregation; it is if he was against or in favor of federal government forbidding discrimination by state and local governments (his opinion about Brown v Board of Education seems to indicate that he was not an enthusiast of federal intervention in this issue).

Arnold Kling writes:

You quoted me correctly, but then you criticized me for saying something else entirely, which I did not say. I never said that Friedman supported state laws enforcing discrimination, and yet you made it sound as if I was making such a statement.

If you had found a statement by Friedman that said in effect that he favored Federal laws to over-ride state laws regarding discrimination, you would have found an error in my memory. As it is, I do not believe that you have found such an error.

I find that sort of carelessness very irritating. Particularly when an issue as sensitive as race involved.

Andrew_FL writes:

Miguel-If state governments are empowered to create schools, they are empowered to decide who can and cannot go to them. Segregation was about more than schools. State governments mandated segregation of entirely private matters. Education was and remains a reserved power of the states, the Department of Education notwithstanding. Therefore one can be in favor of the federal government saying states cannot mandate private segregation, while noting it is not within the power of the federal government to lawfully do so with regard to the socialist public school system.

That being said, there's also what I believe was Bork's opinion: Brown v Board of Education was a case decided correctly in the judgement, but through bad legal reasoning that set a bad legal precedent.

Ak Mike writes:

Andrew - Do you agree with the proposition that you state, that the feds can forbid the states to require private segregation but cannot forbid the states from themselves running segregated programs? Because there is no such legal distinction nor any such "reserved power of the states" - the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids states from denying to any person the equal protection of the law, a provision whose entire purpose is to get rid of any such "reserved power."

You might argue that Brown v. Board of Ed. was wrongly decided because segregation can nevertheless provide equal protection, but you cannot argue that state segregated schools are immune from federal prohibition because of "reserved power."

David R. Henderson writes:

@Arnold Kling,
I never said that Friedman supported state laws enforcing discrimination, and yet you made it sound as if I was making such a statement.
I certainly didn’t mean to make it sound that way.
If you had found a statement by Friedman that said in effect that he favored Federal laws to over-ride state laws regarding discrimination, you would have found an error in my memory.
You’re right.
As it is, I do not believe that you have found such an error.
You’re right on this also. I found no such error. But what I failed to find is any statement in Capitalism and Freedom that says what you thought you remembered his saying. If you find such a statement, I will be happy to write a new post saying so.
I find that sort of carelessness very irritating. Particularly when an issue as sensitive as race involved.
I was not careless. But because issues of race are so sensitive, I don’t think you should have casually made such a comment without checking.

Andrew_FL writes:

@Ak Mike-"Do you agree with the proposition that you state"

No because I do not believe the government, any government should run schools. Next question.

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