Thomas Sowell vs Jim Crow

A.C. Gleason
6 min readDec 2, 2018

There is a daily blogger who appears in my feed almost every day, because many months ago I made the mistake of commenting on something he’d written. It was a mistake because his daily columns are easily some of the worst examples of “economics” in existence. Occasionally I tweet out this trash with a snarky comment. And because of that the blasted algorithms keep sending me more. Someone should write a book about the natural moral consequences of clickbait.

In any case this writer is an embarrassment to “leftism.” He is reminiscent of the 60s communal Marxists who refused to read anything for fear of being corrupted by capitalism. Because of this his attempt at intellectualizing brings to mind a hog reveling in slop. His columns are nonsensical. For one thing he equates capitalism with fascism. That’s beyond idiotic. Fascism is a leftist political philosophy that doesn’t believe in free markets. But like many this writer has bought into the myth that fascism is antithetical to “socialism” in every way. And since capitalism is antithetical to socialism it must also be fascist. Anything that isn’t socialist becomes fascist to this kind of person. This is what the French call tres dumb.

Recently I responded to a couple of these inane orgies of distortion. In my most recent response I highlighted this ridiculous statement:

“You don’t get it, dude! Capitalism is the natural state of the universe! Just look around — nature made us like this!!”

This is supposed to be an argument for capitalism from one of the capitalist swine. In reality it is no such thing. It might be an argument for social Darwinism or any number of awful philosophies. But it isn’t an argument for free markets.

In any case this is how I initially responded:

“Anyone who says that is very stupid and I’ve never heard any pro capitalist say such a thing. Capitalism is deeply unnatural which is why it’s been the greatest source of peace between humans ever. Whereas Socialism is extremely natural and causes violence, famine, and hatred. Hayek called economics catallaxy or friendship for this reason. Socialist policies created Jim Crow. Capitalist policies would’ve ended discrimination in the south decades before the Civil War. Thomas Sowell has pointed this out numerous times. The busing companies didn’t like Jim Crow because it was bad for business. Free markets turn potential enemies into potential friends because good business is doing what others want not what you want. Socialism turns friends into enemies because it can’t sustain itself as is and black markets always arise which will be governed by non accountable entities. Milton Friedman pointed this out long long ago. Umair simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. These posts are an endless abyss of ignorance sadly enabled by a free market enterprise called Medium. I’m glad we live in a world where ignorant people like Umair can say extremely stupid things and get paid for it. At least that’s an honest and free world.”

Oh yes his name is Umair. And now that he has been named he will exit this story.

A few days later someone responded to my response with a very silly minor rant. First they quoted me:

“Socialist policies created Jim Crow.”

Then they stumbled around trying to refute this:

“What, what? What does that even mean? The free market didn’t end Jim Crow, after all its hard to make a profit if the white Citizen’s Council organizes boycotts against business that allow integrated customers, or the KKK burns it down. It took Federal intervention to end the Jim Crow Laws and FBI involvement to police the terrorism committed by white supremacists.”

I probably shouldn’t have said socialist policies in this context. That was a bit of a Dinesh D’souzian slip on my part. Socialism is a specific thing and in theory should be anti something like Jim Crow. Although China (which is and is not socialist) has had their own version of Jim Crow for quite some time now (see this article I wrote for Conatus News). But for many American right wing thinkers socialism has become a bogey man word for any sort of free market interference, and that’s sloppy. Without going any further down that tangent it needs to be made clear that Jim Crow was certainly not capitalist. Neither was slavery. These institutions were in fact deeply anti capitalist.

And after looking at what I wrote again I’m pretty sure I didn’t intend to say that Thomas Sowell thinks free market solutions would’ve ended southern discrimination before the Civil War. I’m relatively sure that I meant before the Civil Rights movement. Sowell hasn’t argued the former but he has famously argued the later.

So my response clearly has some problems. But they weren’t the problems that my “interlocutor” produced. In fact nothing in that tiny rant really needs to be responded to. The poor soul is under the Obamaish delusion that in America there only exist two entities: the state (i.e. Federal Government) and the individual.

To defend the substance of what I was trying to argue about the nature of capitalism as catallaxy (friendship) the rest of this post is an extensive quote from an old piece I wrote for The Federalist about Jordan Petersen:

Now that Peterson has seen the logical legal connection between the U.S. civil rights movement and contemporary sexuality issues, he has a harsh reality to face. He seems to understand that forcing people to do things does not make for healthy public policy, but he also thinks that some civil rights legislation was a good thing. This is probably where most reasonable Americans are.

The truth is that big government solutions are never good for anyone in the long term. The reason that decisions like Brown v. Board of Education occurred at all is because segregation was (Democrat-enforced) law in the South. Economist Thomas Sowell, an African-American, has been pointing out for decades that southern racism was an act of big government. Civil rights laws merely replaced one type of government coercion with another, rather than ending the coercion so people could work out their problems socially, free of force.

“It was politics that segregated the races, because the incentives of the political process are different from the incentives of the economic process,” Sowell says. “Both blacks and whites spent money to ride the buses but, after the disenfranchisement of black voters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, only whites counted in the political process.”

Segregation was a coerced social system in the South, and the free market fought against it, Sowell points out:

“The incentives of the economic system and the incentives of the political system were not only different, they clashed. Private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies in the South lobbied against the Jim Crow laws while these laws were being written, challenged them in the courts after the laws were passed, and then dragged their feet in enforcing those laws after they were upheld by the courts. These tactics delayed the enforcement of Jim Crow seating laws for years in some places. Then company employees began to be arrested for not enforcing such laws and at least one president of a streetcar company was threatened with jail if he didn’t comply.”

In other words, segregation was an act of tyranny foisted upon the South. The civil rights laws that came from Washington should have focused just on declaring that forced segregation was unconstitutional. But they did the opposite, and forced desegregation.

The exact same solution in the opposite direction is still the same solution with the same problems, just as laws and policies forcing bakers to bake cakes for weddings are. The best solution to problems of discrimination like this come from free markets, not laws that force people into economic transactions. And freedom of speech clearly contributes to this process.

Sowell concludes:

“People who decry the fact that businesses are in business ‘just to make money’ seldom understand the implications of what they are saying. You make money by doing what other people want, not what you want. Black people’s money was just as good as white people’s money, even though that was not the case when it came to votes. Initially, segregation meant that whites could not sit in the black section of a bus any more than blacks could sit in the white section. But whites who were forced to stand when there were still empty seats in the black section objected. That’s when the rule was imposed that blacks had to give up their seats to whites. Legal sophistries by judges ‘interpreted’ the 14th Amendment’s requirement of equal treatment out of existence. Judicial activism can go in any direction.”

Big government is never a good solution. Civil rights laws have obviously had some extremely good effects, but better civil rights laws could produce racial justice without causing other negative unintended consequences, like introducing the precedent of government forcing people into private economic transactions. This would have had the added benefit of more quickly reducing, rather than inflaming, social discord.