All Commentary
Saturday, June 1, 1996

The New Color Line: How Quotas and Privilege Destroy Democracy

Government Intervention Boomerangs and Makes Things Worse

Dr. Peterson, an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation, is the Distinguished Lundy Professor Emeritus of Business Philosophy at Campbell University in North Carolina.

Item: The O. J. Simpson criminal trial verdict brings gasps and cheers. Polls show whites believe “O. J.” to be guilty by about 75 percent while blacks concur with the verdict of “not guilty” by about 75 percent.

Item: The Million Man March on Washington puts the spotlight on its promoter, Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, who declares President Clinton, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole to be part of an overall “white supremacist mindset,” adding: “We must be prepared to punish them if they are against us.”

Add race riots from Detroit in 1968 to Los Angeles in 1992, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s affirmative action program seems to confirm what I call Peterson’s Law—government intervention boomerangs and makes things worse. All of which makes the Roberts-Stratton book a timely tool to unlock the riddle of the upsurge of racism and polarization in America.

Paul Craig Roberts, the John M. Olin fellow of the Washington-based Institute for Political Economy, and Lawrence M. Stratton, an Institute research fellow and member of the Virginia and D.C. bars, see that the 1964 civil rights law soon deteriorated into statistical race and gender quotas (which its sponsor Senator Hubert Humphrey promised would never happen), that merit loses out to preferment, that many white males have experienced “reverse discrimination,” that the law breaks with Thomas Jefferson’s Golden Rule for domestic tranquility of “equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”

Today the vast majority of Americans, including many blacks, think affirmative action is for the birds. Ditto forced busing to achieve “racial balance” in public schools, and a host of other interventions governing racial “proportionality” for such things as bank credit and government contracts. State-decreed “fairness” becomes, manifestly, state-decreed unfairness supported by dollars from very frequently unwilling taxpayers. Worse, it’s a threat to the ability of Americans to live peacefully together.

No question that racism is a deep social problem but the larger question is its origin—who or what is responsible? Racism, wisely hold Roberts and Stratton, is largely traceable to the state. Some of it of course reaches back to state-sanctioned slavery—terminated by the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment.

But much of it harks back to the New Deal’s creation of a Welfare State with its mentality of “entitlements” such as Social Security and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), both enacted in 1935. Judicial, legislative, and bureaucratic action of the last 30 years or so, apart from the impact of ghetto public schools, has but intensified America’s polarization.

Schools and parental choice are, I think, critical. The authors point to the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court five-to-four decision in Missouri v. Jenkins. In 1987 U.S. District Judge Russell Clark ordered that property taxes in Kansas City, Missouri, be doubled because school authorities had failed to achieve “racial balance,” a situation exacerbated by “white flight” to the suburbs. The Supreme Court upheld Judge Clark’s order, with Justices Kennedy, Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Scalia dissenting that “the power of taxation must be under the control of those who are taxed.”

Judge Clark had required that the Kansas City schools provide, among other things, radio and television studios, swimming pools, greenhouses, a planetarium, and a model United Nations wired for language translation. Initially the cost was estimated at $700 million. The final bill was more like $1.3 billion, or almost twice as much.

In the intervening years Kansas City citizens cried “No Taxation Without Representation!” and dumped tea-bags on the courthouse steps. To no avail. White flight continued, and when CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a segment on Kansas City schools in 1994 a camera panning over a high school class revealed a number of students zonked out, their heads on their desks.

Is there a way out of this induced social trauma? Yes. It’s back to Jefferson’s bidding of no special privileges. It’s back to see that the 1964 law’s express prohibition of quotas—section 703(j)—means nothing at the hands of federal judges who “interpret” the law, that Uncle Sam, the social engineer, only makes things worse, that Americans have to revert to an era of good will and laissez faire to restore social peace. Conclude Roberts and Stratton: “There is no way to govern a society composed of implacable separate interests except through coercion from above. If we continue the assaults on good will, we will lose our democracy.”

  • William H. Peterson (1921-2012) was an economist, businessman and author who wrote extensively on Austrian Economics. He completed his PhD at New York University in 1952 under the supervision of Ludwig von Mises.