Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The 1964 Civil Rights Act

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a piece of legislation which ended discriminatory procedures for voting applications and made it illegal for local (i.e. state and municipal) governments, and agencies receiving federal funds, to deny access to public facilities because of race and to use race as a criterion for employment, respectively. A lot of what ended the Jim Crow laws was in this act. The act also granted positive rights such as racial segregation in schools and places of work, content with which some people will legitimately take issue (e.g. "why not just abolish mandatory discrimination rather than also mandate specific hiring practices"?).

I don't expect any respected and coherent philosophy or social science to deplore the greater ease of voting (except insofar as poor people may be less informed about policy and blacks are poorer than are whites, and except also for the possibility that voting may not actually change policy outcomes) and the greater possibilities for blacks to use public resources. While I do not personally care about my right to vote, the end of any mandatory discrimination is certainly something I celebrate. As noted, one may take issue with remaining bits of the Act.

However, if one compares the Black-White income gap over time, one finds that it was closing much faster during the several years leading up to the Act than it was during the several years after its implementation. Why this is so is a great puzzle. Alas, I have no link to data, but I believe Census statistics will back me up if anyone cares to search for sources. The aforementioned mandated hiring practices may absolutely encourage tokenism, and labour-market nonsense such as minimum wage legislation will hurt blacks disproportionately more than they hurt whites. However, I know of no really good explanation for the dismal performance of African Americans. (The minimum wage was introduced in 1933 as part of the Recovery Act and so is not immediately connected to the income gap, but I believe it reached its historical all-time high in constant dollars in the late 1960's and remained quite high long thereafter, which is why I include it among "small" explanations.)

These trends suggest to me that the Act could not have been an important step towards race equality. What gargantuan affliction would have happened to the black population of the US that was prevented because of the Act? If anything, its being passed in a democracy is indicative that at least popular opinion may have become friendlier to the racial minority. A great calamity would have had to have been avoided, because absent that, surely progress should have sped up rather than slowed down.

Not knowing what caused the slow-down in progress, I am also at a loss to suggest remedies. Not that one should expect groups to have similar outcomes, but I have never seen anything to suggest to me that blacks should have any inherent incapacity to do as well as do whites. The best I can do is to continue to favour abolition of minimum wage legislation and special favours directed to blacks, and to support market competition. Another thing to do is to legalize the drug trade, which is presently ensuring the imprisonment of many, many blacks while denying individuals the right to do what they want to themselves.

Those suggestions are mostly in a classical liberal direction. One authoritarian measure which would surely work if it were ever implemented is the enforcement of interracial marriages and production of "mixed" children. That way, there would no longer be any distinguishing features between races and consequently no more income gap. However, equality would only be achieved rather slowly as many non-mixed persons would take a long time to die off. If I am right about the unpalatability of many parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, maybe this could be a proper Act for this year?

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