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Chapter 2: "Civil Rights" and Disabilities

Rothbard deepened his attack, taking on the entire civil rights movement.

On the entire question of legally and judicially imposed “civil rights,” we have been subjected to a trap, to a shell game in which “both sides” adopt the same pernicious axiom and simply quarrel about interpretation within the same framework. On the one side, left-liberalism, which in the name of equality and civil rights, wants to outlaw “discrimination” everywhere, has pushed the process to the point of virtually mandating representational quotas for allegedly oppressed groups everywhere in the society; be it jobs and promotions, entry into private golf clubs, or in legislatures and among the judiciary. But the Official Conservative opposition, which includes not only neocons but also regular conservatives, conservative legal foundations, and left-libertarians, adopts the self-same axiom of civil rights and equality. In the name of the alleged “original” civil rights vision of Martin Luther King, conservatives also want to outlaw discrimination in jobs and housing, and to allow federal courts to mandate gerrymandering of electoral districts. But while Official Conservatives fully endorse outlawing racial and other discrimination, they want to stop there, and claim that going beyond that to mandating affirmative action measures and quotas is perverting the noble original civil rights ideal.

The original sin of “civil rights,” which would have been perfectly understood by such “old conservatives” as the much maligned Nine Old Men who tried to block the measures of the New Deal, is that anti-discrimination laws or edicts of any sort are evil because they run roughshod over the only fundamental natural right: the right of everyone over his own property. Every property owner should have the absolute right to sell, hire, or lease his money or other property to anyone whom he chooses, which means he has the absolute right to “discriminate” all he damn pleases. If I have a plant and want to hire only six-foot albinos, and I can find willing employees, I should have the right to do so, even though I might well lose my shirt doing so. (Of course I should not have the right to force the taxpayers to bail me out after losing my shirt.) If I own an apartment complex and want to rent only to Swedes without children, I should have the right to do so. Etc. Outlawing such discrimination, and restrictive covenants upholding it, was the original sin from which all other problems have flowed. Once admit that principle, and everything else follows as the night the day: Once concede that it is right to make it illegal for me to refuse to hire blacks (or substitute any other group, ethnic or gender or whatever you wish), then left-liberalism is far more logical than official conservatism. For if it is right and proper to outlaw my discriminating against blacks, then it is just as right and proper for the government to figure out if I am discriminating or not, and in that case, it is perfectly legitimate for them to employ quotas to test the proposition. Current conservatives say it is OK to outlaw discrimination if such a result is intended by employers or landlords, but that it is monstrous and illegitimate for the government to use statistics and other objective measures to figure out whether discrimination exists. Hence the spectre of quotas. But how can we figure out anyone else’s subjective intent anyway? Given the premise of outlawing discrimination, then mandatory quotas, despite the undoubted horrors they bring in their wake, make perfect sense. It is not “going too far” that causes the trouble. The problem is not the abuse of the anti-discrimination axiom; the problem is the axiom itself. Nothing will help except challenging the basic axiom and reversing the “civil rights” revolution. Libertarians and conservatives who have any spunk left must drop their blinders and call not for “the original King equality” or the original civil rights ideal, but for throwing over the entire structure and restoring the absolute right of private property. “Freedom” must mean the freedom to discriminate.

Economies tank for big reasons and small, but usually both. The 2003 stagnation was prompted by investment imbalances created in the late 1990s that needed to be liquidated. But it was made worse by a thousand bad policies, some of which are being added by those seeking to “stimulate the economy,” but not knowing how; others have long been on the books.

Consider: the government reports that job discrimination complaints against private employers increased 4 percent in 2002, to a total of 84,442, the highest level in seven years. Those filing complaints took in $310.5 million in monetary benefits. The main complaint involves race, followed by sex, but the big increase came with allegations involving religion, age, and national origin. The trend represents a huge diversion from the main goal of restoring economic growth.

The numbers themselves come nowhere near capturing the colossal costs associated with the laws that make this litigation possible. Every employer must constantly prepare and organize to diminish the likelihood that a complaint will be filed. In doing so, they take steps that lead to inefficiencies or avoid steps that might improve efficiency. Also, consider the costs imposed by those who threatened to file and did not because the issue was settled informally. Then consider the vast drain in human energy spent actually litigating these complaints (the typical case takes half a year to settle).

Hardly anyone is willing to talk about what these numbers really symbolize: a massive attack on freedom and free enterprise. The preeminent issue is property rights, the foundation of liberty and prosperity. The employee has no legitimate ownership over the property seized in the course of a complaint. His only legitimate ownership is over the contractually agreed-upon wage or income stream due him in the course of providing agreed-upon labor services. To the extent an employee grabs more than that, it is nothing more than theft under the cover of law.

In practice, discrimination law limits the freedom of property owners to use their money as they see fit. To understand this, we need to conceive of the employment contract as an exchange like any other. One person agrees to perform certain services and the party with whom he is making an exchange agrees to surrender a certain amount of his property in exchange for such services.

The contractual nature of the exchange is no different from a consumer’s purchase of a gallon of milk from the store. The parties to the exchange agree on a voluntary basis to certain terms. To file a discrimination complaint is like going back to the store with a dagger (symbolizing the labor regulators at the EEOC) and demanding a retroactive price cut. Imagine if every store owner saw every customer as a person who has the potential of doing this legally, and you begin to understand how antidiscrimination law rattles the labor market.

The implied assumption behind all these laws is the idea that judges and bureaucrats can discover the real motivation behind every hiring, firing, or labor-management decision. It further assumes that the basis of all decisions taken in the workplace can be reduced to a simple form such as: I will not promote this person because she is a woman, too old, too non-religious, etc.

Everyone knows that decisions concerning the labor force seldom work this way. It’s possible, of course, that a manager has a bias of a certain kind, but the nature of the marketplace is precisely to punish irrational biases with losses and reward objective decision-making with profits. It is for this reason that in a free market in the long run, good workers of any race, age, sex, or religion are rewarded for their virtues, while bad workers of all kinds are punished.

In practice, of course, bureaucrats do not actually feel the need to demonstrate that they have discovered the secrets of the human heart. What they do is assume certain motivations based on looking at overall patterns within the workplace. If women are generally earning less than men, for whatever reason (and there can be a million reasons unrelated to irrational bias), the burden of proof is on the employer to show that sex is not a consideration.

Ironically, the best way to demonstrate this is to adopt an opposite bias in favor of the criterion in question where necessary, and otherwise avoid, when possible, people who might file a successful complaint. For this reason, a law that forbids, say, race discrimination yields perverse results. People already hired from the known class of racial victims are likely to earn more than they otherwise would, even as new members of that group are less likely to be hired in the first place, precisely because they are more expensive than their expected labor inputs can justify.

Through this complicated economic, legal, and sociological process, we get de facto quotas, subsidized wages, gaps of unemployment, and a huge range of odd labor-market distortions. Such distortions can be absorbed in boom times, but they can make the difference between profits and bankruptcy in recessionary times like our own.

That is why the practices symbolized by the EEOC numbers hinder our prospects for recovery. Like protectionism, high taxes, deficits, massive government spending, and every other form of intervention in the free market, antidiscrimination law impedes the recovery that we desperately need. Business needs the freedom to manage its labor force according to its own lights right now. It does not need to spend its time and money dealing with DC discrimination bureaucrats.

In 1917, at the turn of the century, hotel entrepreneur Ellsworth M. Statler issued an instruction to his managers. It said:

From this date you are instructed to employ only good-natured people, cheerful and pleasant, who smile easily and often. This ought to go for every job in the house. … If it’s necessary to clean house, do it. Don’t protest. Get rid of the grouches, and the people that can’t keep their tempers, and the people who act as if they were always under a burden of trouble and feeling sorry for themselves. You can’t make that sort of a person over; you can’t do anything with them profitably, but get rid of him.

The man built a great business. That ethic created a great America. Today, he would be in big trouble, just like the hotel business, just like the economy.

Rothbard did not hesitate to strike at the greatest of all sacred cows: the Brown decision:

The fundamental basis of the Brown decision was rotten law because it was not law at all, but the supposed “science” of sociology. The crucial grounding of Brown was the alleged finding of the revered socialist Dr. Kenneth Clark that black schools in the South were not really equal to white because black students in segregated schools don’t do as well as blacks in integrated schools. That was the basis, and from that came all the horrors of compulsory integration, forced busing, and white depopulation and decay of the inner cities. And what has been the result? It is universally acknowledged that the education of black students in current integrated schools is much worse than what they received in the segregated schools; and indeed, the old segregated black schools are now being looked upon as a veritable Golden Age. Indeed, the latest trend among blacks is to try to reestablish all-black grade schools and high schools. Very well, but from that, several things must follow. One is that since the sociology of the Brown decision is all wet, and Brown was based upon lousy sociology, that Brown should be reversed. It has also been ruefully acknowledged by integrationists that black and white students always tend to segregate themselves voluntarily — socialize among themselves, eat by themselves in the school cafeteria, etc. Much as Jacobin integrationists deplore this phenomenon and try to discourage it, we have to recognize that the process is voluntary and natural, and that there is nothing wrong with it.

Are we “racists” for holding these views? This of course raises the question: what exactly is “racism”? I want to look at two words that the State and its hangers-on have employed with much success on behalf of increases in government power. One is racism. The other is equality.

What exactly is “racism”? We almost never hear a definition. I doubt anyone really knows what it is. If you’re inclined to dispute this, ask yourself why, if racism truly is something clear and determinate, there is such ceaseless disagreement over which thoughts and behaviors are “racist” and which are not?

If put on the spot, the average person would probably define racism along the lines of how Murray N. Rothbard defined anti-Semitism, involving hatred and/or the intention to carry out violence, whether State-directed or otherwise, against the despised group:

It seems to me that there are only two supportable and defensible definitions of anti-Semitism: one, focusing on the subjective mental state of the person, and the other “objectively,” on the actions he undertakes or the policies he advocates. For the first, the best definition of anti-Semitism is simple and conclusive: a person who hates all Jews….

How, unless we are someone’s close friend, or shrink, can we know what lies in a person’s heart? Perhaps then the focus should be, not on the subject’s state of heart or mind, but on a proposition that can be checked by observers who don’t know the man personally. In that case, we should focus on the objective rather than the subjective, that is the person’s actions or advocacies. Well, in that case, the only rational definition of an anti-Semite is one who advocates political, legal, economic, or social disabilities to be levied against Jews (or, of course, has participated in imposing them).

This, then, seems reasonable: (1) someone is a racist if he hates a particular racial group, but (2) since we can’t read people’s minds, and since accusing people of hating an entire group of people is a fairly serious charge, instead of vainly trying to read the suspect’s mind we ought instead to see if he favors special disabilities against the group in question.

Back to Rothbard:

But am I not redefining anti-Semitism out of existence? Certainly not. On the subjective definition, by the very nature of the situation, I don’t know any such people, and I doubt whether the Smear Bund does either. On the objective definition, where outsiders can have greater knowledge, and setting aside clear-cut anti-Semites of the past, there are in modern America authentic anti-Semites: groups such as the Christian Identity movement, or the Aryan Resistance, or the author of the novel Turner’s Diaries. But these are marginal groups, you say, of no account and not worth worrying about? Yes, fella, and that is precisely the point.

On the other hand, maybe a “racist” is someone who believes different groups tend to have common characteristics, even while acknowledging the axiomatic point that each individual person is unique. But whether it’s family structure, a penchant for alcoholism, a reputation for hard work, or a great many other qualities, Thomas Sowell has assembled a vast body of work showing that these traits are not even close to being distributed equally across populations.

The Chinese, for example, gained reputations in countries all over the world for working very hard, often under especially difficult conditions. (As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons American labor unions despised Chinese workers in the nineteenth century.) By the mid-twentieth century, the Chinese minority dominated major sectors of the Malaysian economy even though they were officially discriminated against in the Malaysian constitution, and earned twice the income of the average Malay. They owned the vast majority of the rice mills in Thailand and the Philippines. They conducted more than 70 percent of the retail trade in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

We could tell a similar story about Armenians in various parts of the world, as well as Jews and East Indians. Japanese-Americans went from being so badly discriminated against that they were confined to camps during World War II to equaling whites in income by 1959 and exceeding whites in income a decade later by one-third.

Likewise for Germans, whose reputations and accomplishments in craftsmanship, science, and technology have been evident not only in Germany but also among Germans in the US, Brazil, Australia, Czechoslovakia, and Chile. They had more prosperous farms than Irish farmers in eighteenth-century Ireland, than Brazilian farmers in Brazil, Russian farmers in Russia, and Chilean farmers in Chile.

Jews earn higher incomes than Hispanics in the US; this, we are solemnly told, is the result of “discrimination.” Oh, really? As Sowell points out, how then are we to explain why Jews earn higher incomes than Hispanics in Hispanic countries?

According to the inane rules governing American society, Sowell, being black himself, is permitted to discuss such phenomena, while the rest of us face demonization, destroyed careers, and ruined reputations should we make note of any of this forbidden testimony.

In order not to be suspected of “racism,” therefore, one must play it as safe as possible by at least pretending to believe the following propositions:

  • income disparities among groups are explainable entirely or in very large part by “discrimination”;
  • if a minority group is “underrepresented” in a particular profession, the cause must be “racism”;
  • if minority students are disproportionately disciplined in school, the cause must be “racism,” even when the teachers involved themselves belong to the same minority group;
  • if test scores — both in school and in the private sector — differ by racial group, this is evidence that the tests are culturally biased, even though the questions showing the greatest disparity happen to have the least cultural content.

Not one of these statements is defensible, needless to say, but every one of them must be believed. Skeptics are, of course, “racist.”

The following opinions or propositions have all been declared “racist” at one point or another, by one source or another:

  • affirmative action is undesirable;
  • antidiscrimination law is a violation of private property rights and freedom of contract;
  • Brown v. Board of Education was based on faulty reasoning;
  • the extent of racism in American society is exaggerated.

There are many grounds on which one could advance these claims. But since according to popular left-wing sites like Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, and Media Matters it is “racist” to believe in any of them, it doesn’t matter what your arguments are. You are a “racist.” Protest all you like, but the more you try, the more the commissars smear and ridicule you. You may pretend that you have logically sound and morally unimpeachable reasons for your views, but this is all a smokescreen for “racism” as far as the commissars are concerned. The only way you can satisfy them now is by abandoning your views (and even then they’ll still question your sincerity), even though you do not hold them on disreputable grounds.

Thus charges of “racism” nearly always involve attempted mind reading — e.g., that person claims to oppose antidiscrimination law out of some kind of principle, but we know it’s because he’s a racist.

To see libertarians, who of course should know better, jumping on the thought-control bandwagon, or pretending that the whole issue is about the freedom to be a jerk, is extremely short-sighted and most unfortunate. The State uses the “racism” racket as justification for its further extension of power over education, employment, wealth redistribution, and a good deal else. Meanwhile, it silences critics of State violence with its magic, never-defined word “racism,” an accusation the critic has to spend the rest of his life trying to disprove, only to discover that the race hustlers will not lift the curse until he utterly abases himself and repudiates his entire philosophy.

If he tries to defend himself by protesting that he has close friends who belong to the group he is accused of hating, he’ll be ridiculed more than ever. Here’s Rothbard again:

I also want to embellish a point: All my life, I have heard anti-anti-Semites sneer at Gentiles who, defending themselves against the charge of anti-Semitism, protest that “some of my best friends are Jews.” This phrase is always sneered at, as if easy ridicule is a refutation of the argument. But it seems to me that ridicule is habitually used here, precisely because the argument is conclusive. If some of Mr. X’s best friends are indeed Jews, it is absurd and self-contradictory to claim that he is anti-Semitic. And that should be that.

It’s hard to argue with Rothbard here. If someone had been accused of disliking ground beef, but it could be shown that he very much enjoyed hamburgers and goulash, that would pretty much demolish the accusation, wouldn’t it?

I know no one who hates entire groups, and those people who do are in such a tiny minority that their organizations are equal parts lunatic and FBI informant. Likewise, I know no one who favors the use of official violence against particular groups.

We should want to treat people justly and with respect, of course. Any decent person feels that way. But how and why does “equality” enter the picture, except in the trivial and obvious libertarian sense that we should all equally refrain from aggression against one another?

The State likes nothing more than to declare war on drugs, or terrorism, or poverty, or “inequality.” The State loves “equality” as an organizing principle, because it can never be achieved. In the course of trying, the State acquires ever more power over ever more practices and institutions. Anyone who questions the premise of equality is hectored out of polite society. Quite a racket, this, and certainly no place for libertarians to be.

If it’s material equality we want, it would vanish the moment after we achieved it, as soon as people resumed their normal spending patterns and the goods and services offered by some people were more highly valued than those offered by others. If it’s “equality of opportunity,” then we would have to abolish the family, as so many socialist schemes have seriously contemplated, since conditions in the household play such an important role in children’s success.

Yes, of course we oppose the inequality that results from special State privilege enjoyed by certain people and groups. But the real issue there isn’t inequality per se, but justice and private property.

Even the old saw about equality in the eyes of God isn’t quite right. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, the traditional Catholic and classical liberal, noted that Judas, who betrayed Christ, was in no way the “equal” of the beloved disciple, and that the origins of “equality” lay in Lucifer’s urge to be the equal of Christ. He added:

Egalitarianism under the best circumstances becomes hypocrisy; if sincerely accepted and believed in, its menace is greater. Then all actual inequalities appear without exception to be unjust, immoral, intolerable. Hatred, unhappiness, tension, a general maladjustment is the result. The situation is even worse when brutal efforts are made to establish equality through a process of artificial leveling (“social engineering”) which can only be done by force, restrictions, or terror, and the outcome is a complete loss of liberty.

If we want to be free, therefore, we must shun the State, its methods, and its language.

These days, practically every conceivable group is quick to charge discrimination. Unfortunately, the old are no exception. Concerning the issue of age discrimination, the Supreme Court in Meacham v. Knolls said that the burden of proof resides on the employer. If a company lays off too many older people (meaning, incredibly, people older than 40), it is under the gun, and must show that factors other than age account for the disparate impact. Otherwise, the courts will rule in favor of the plaintiffs and the business will be forced to fork over, even to the point of bankruptcy.

The age-discrimination law in question is 40 years old and an embedded part of the machinery of social planning by the courts. This decision is yet another move toward government control, but the real problem is more fundamental. Step back and think what it means for the government to make and enforce such a law.

Labor relations are as complex as any human relations. There are many reasons why people choose to associate or not associate. How do you decide whom to invite to a birthday? What are the standards you use? There is a scarcity of space and food, so you must discriminate in some way. There is no choice about that.

Think of the last party you held. There are some people you did not invite simply because you can’t stand those people, usually for many reasons. And there are some who just might not mix well with others. Some people you want to invite but cannot because you have to cut the list somewhere.

Now imagine that the government appoints a party planner who says that you can invite or not invite whomever you want, provided that one consideration is not part of the mix: you must not decline to invite someone on grounds of hair color. Now, it may never have occurred to you to think along these lines. But now you have to. You notice that you have no redheads attending the party, much to your alarm.

What if this fact is taken as evidence that you are discriminating? Will it? You can’t know for sure. You think again: even if no redheads are coming, this is surely not the reason why you are not inviting them. There are other factors, too many factors to name. In any case, how can the state’s party planner know for sure what your motivations are? Isn’t it astounding that a government agency would presume to read your mind, know your heart, and discern your innermost emotions and motives?

Truly it is totalitarian.

It is precisely the same in workplace management. There are an unending variety of factors that go into the makeup of the workforce of a single firm. How the mix turns out in the end is not something you can entirely plan. It might be dictated by any of a million factors depending on time and place.

The state says that you the employer may not discriminate on grounds of age. Fine, you think. You would never think to do that. You just want a job well done. But let’s say your firm is heavily into new technologies. Everyone must have great programming skills and quickly adapt to new web interfaces and innovations.

That has no direct bearing on age. A 60-year-old can in principle be just right for the job. But it so happens that the young have more technological skills than the old. Your workforce, then, is dominated by people under 40. Then a Federal Reserve recession comes along, and you must choose the better programmers. The remaining people over 40 are cut.

Have you discriminated on grounds of age? Not to your mind. You are thinking only of job skills and profitability. But from the perspective of a government planner with an agenda, it is different. Looking at the facts, it seems like a clear case of age discrimination.

With this new court decision, the burden of proof is on you to show otherwise. But how can something like the absence of a motivation be demonstrated? Now, it is possible or even likely that you might be able to show that factors other than age constitute the main reason for the disparity. But it is a toss-up as to whether the court or the EEOC will agree with you.

The only way to be off the hook completely is to pad your workforce with people hired because they are older. In the name of proving that you are not discriminating against a group, your only protection is to discriminate in favor of that group. And by doing so, you are necessarily discriminating against other groups, since young people will be turned way to make room for the older group.

But isn’t this a case of age discrimination of a “reverse” sort? Of course. After all, everyone is either young or old. The charge that the employer is weighing decisions by age can be trumped up in every case one can imagine. Here we see an amazing thicket, created entirely by a state that presumes the capacity and the right to read minds like a swami guru or mystic soothsayer. The state has assigned to itself superhuman powers, and it is up to you to obey.

In contrast, here is what the free market permits. Employers can hire or fire for any reason they want. Employers can be biased, bigoted, or have poor judgment, but it is the employers’ judgment to make. The same is true of employees. They can quit for any reason, including one that discriminates against some trait of the employer.

Imagine if the state said that you may not quit your job on grounds that you dislike your boss’s age, race, religion, or sex. If that is your reason, you must stay working there. We would all recognize that this is a case of involuntary servitude. It is an attack on freedom. So why do we not see that it is the same with the employer?

Under freedom, if an employer decides, for no good reason, that employees should not be older than 40, that is his judgment. If it is a bad decision, the competition will gain an edge by hiring the people who have been passed over.

A final point about the employee. Would you want to work for a company that doesn’t really want you there, that is only maintaining your job for fear of the bureaucrat? That is not a prescription for a happy life. The happy life comes through permitting maximum freedom to associate and choose — a freedom that applies to everyone and under all circumstances, without exception.

And what about the disabled? In the 1930s, the great excuse for the dole was unemployment. In the 1960s, poverty. But in the victim-ridden twentieth-first century, it is summed up in one word: disability, and what a preposterous word it is.

Disability: falling short of the average capacity for accomplishing a task, any task. Just as ability is a universal human trait, so too is disability. How many tenured professors in this country can play volleyball? How many Olympic athletes will someday be tenured professors? Everyone is disabled in some particular way.

The idea that a disability as such should mark a person as a victim stems from a nutty egalitarian assumption, namely, that all people should have exactly the same capacity for accomplishing any and all tasks. A Marxist or Leninist might conjure up such a fantasy, but it is utterly alien to normal human experience.

Yes, there are people who are, on the whole more disabled and there are those who are, on the whole, more able. But that does not prevent people from cooperating to their mutual advantage. The point of freedom and the division of labor is that people discover their own comparative advantages and skills and concentrate on them while avoiding areas where they are, comparatively, less skilled. Thanks to the free market, there is a place for everyone within this brilliant system.

Then in walks the state. The state says: no, your lack of ability in a particular area entitles you to the property of others. You have no value that the state does not grant you. Your status with the state entitles you to impose yourself on employers. It entitles you to live off the fat of the land and do no work, so long as you can muster enough pathos to convince an administrative judge of your plight.

This crazy system has a long history, but it has really taken off since the last President Bush made such a fuss about the Americans With Disabilities Act. That act is problem enough for American business, but the larger effect has been politico-cultural. It said to an entire generation of workers that if you can discover anything about you that is slightly discomforting, it might entitle you to an early retirement.

Do you find it discomforting to sit for six straight hours during an eight-hour day, or to stand for two straight hours? If you can possibly think of circumstances under which the answer is yes, you are probably eligible for a fat check from the government and all the medical benefits you can use.

Same goes for the great racket of our age: mental disability. Not that there is any doubt that plenty of people are afflicted with grave mental disabilities (look at the Executive Branch!). But bureaucracies are in no position to judge the scientific merit of each case, and so, inevitably, the entire issue becomes political. And if you doubt that mental disability is a disease over which the entire national wealth should be redistributed, you are a heartless troll.

In ten years, the amount transferred from your wallet to those living off disability claims has more than doubled, and become the largest income-support program in the federal budget ($60 billion), larger than unemployment benefits or food stamps.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you are a low-skilled laborer who loses a job. You are sitting at home trying to figure out what to do. In the old days, the answer was: go out and get another job, even if it means lowering the price for your labor.

After the Great Society there was always the option of going on welfare. But these days, there are many strings attached to receiving welfare. The benefits are not fabulous, and bureaucrats bother you to do things like enroll in a job-training program.

After 1990, the word got around: disability is the most reliable cash cow. All you do is make a claim that is impossible to refute. The overwhelming numbers of disabilities claims come down to two essential sources: back trouble and mental disability. Who is to say you don’t have back trouble? Actually, does anyone over the age of 40 not have some form of back trouble? As for mental disability, there’s nothing like idle hands to create the illusion of grave mental trouble.

It’s not quite an outright scam. Most of the lounge lizards are fully convinced that they have a problem that justifies getting a check. You can try this yourself. Next time you are at the mall, stand on a planter, wave five one-hundred dollar bills and say: if anyone has back trouble, this money is yours. If you had an unlimited pot of taxpayers’ money, you could blow $60 billion in an afternoon.

No discussion of disability is complete without drawing attention to the role of lawyers. Whole law firms have been established and profited from shepherding disability claims through the courts. If Christ asked his disciples to be fishers of men, these law firms are fishers of victims, and they use your money as bait.

If the New York Times is right that disability is growing at alarming rates, and without end, the time could come when the whole of the American welfare state will be recast as an egalitarian disability assistance fund. And who is willing to stand up to this? Who is willing to tear away the mask of the disability movement and expose it as the proto-socialist plot that it is?

Let us draw some lessons. First, it is not enough to reform welfare. It must be abolished, lest the same programs be reinvented under a new rationale. Second, Republican welfare (the GOP gave the disability racket its biggest boost) is as bad or worse than any Democratic form. Third, the state’s rob-and-pay machine is incredibly creative at using even the smallest wedge to accumulate massive power, in this case, using the working class to loot the middle class to fund the overclass.

On the first day of the Clarence Thomas hearings, Joe Biden waved a copy of Takings by University of Chicago law professor and economist Richard Epstein. In the work, Epstein argued that the welfare-regulatory state is unconstitutional. An apoplectic Biden demanded that Thomas repudiate Takings, which he quickly did.

If Takings drove Biden crazy, I can hardly wait to see him with a copy of Epstein’s later book, Forbidden Grounds, which advocates the repeal of all anti-discrimination laws, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

When that law was passed, we were promised a new dawn of happy race relations; 54 years later, bitterness between the races is the norm, especially in the workplace.

The only solution ever proposed is more government intervention. Are we really condemned to a series of evermore draconian and far-fetched civil rights bills? Yes, says Epstein, unless we deny the government the power to impose what is, in effect, racial central planning on the economy. Civil rights laws have made us poorer and angrier, while reducing efficiency, undermining merit, and expanding bureaucratic power. They must, he shows, be junked.

Wouldn’t some people then discriminate? Sure, says Epstein, but so what? If a black beauty salon wants to exclude white hairdressers, that’s fine. If an Asian restaurant wants a homogeneous workforce, that’s fine too. Companies are more than abstract production units; they are micro-cultures. Shared tastes, values, and traditions can help a firm appeal to the Mexican market, for example. Why should it be forced to hire Anglos, especially since the free market ensures everyone a place in the division of labor?

But is this fair? Epstein says yes. Fairness means freedom to own property and to contract. Both require the repeal of the anti-discrimination laws.

Unless we do so, we will have gradual labor-market paralysis. Even the supposedly anti-quota 1964 Civil Rights Act effectively decreed them. When prosecutors found it difficult to prove bad motives by “non-diverse” firms, bureaucrats started playing Count the Minorities, and businessmen were forced to adopt quotas.

Ironically, this harmed the most vulnerable. To fill their quotas, employers seek only the most capable minorities. Others are shunned, no matter what the job category, since there is less chance they will work out, and firing any member of a federally protected minority — no matter how incompetent — can mean a federal lawsuit.

Epstein would also have us reevaluate the politicians who opposed the 1964 act; they correctly foresaw quotas and economy-wide social engineering. But even the most prescient did not predict the outlawing of written tests that fail to produce racially proportionate scores, or the banning of company rules against hiring ex-cons, since more blacks fall into that category than whites.

Moreover, Epstein shows that the damage is done by all anti-discrimination laws, whether based on race, age, sex, or disability. Therefore all of them must be wiped from the books.

Mandatory retirement, for example, is an essential part of the free market. You know, when hired, that at a certain age, you will have to retire. On the margin, employers want to have the option of hiring the younger employees who are more likely to be productive in years ahead. It does not always work out that way, of course, but such standards are more efficient than case-by-case determinations.

To retire an older person isn’t to kick him out of the division of labor or to judge him incompetent. He can get other jobs in other capacities, if he wishes, and he is spared the humiliation of a competency hearing.

The government says that mandatory retirement ages discriminate against old people, as of course they do. Such a rule assumes that older people are different from younger ones, something the government refuses to recognize. The government claims there is no difference, but if that were true, private employers would not discriminate and there would be no issue.

What’s next? Laws forbidding discrimination against the young? In fact, it’s just the opposite, as the government refuses to allow anyone under 16 to work for a living.

The government’s intervention in employment contracts is particularly egregious in universities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is attempting to abolish mandatory retirement for tenured faculty. Amendments to the anti-age discrimination law in 1986 exempted universities until December 31, 1993, but the EEOC hasn’t waited.

As Epstein notes, “The internal operation of universities (especially the prominent research universities) will suffer if mandatory retirement is eliminated — more I suspect, than most pessimists fear.”

Given tenure, which tends to dampen productivity anyway, mandatory retirement is the only way to preserve the intellectual vitality of universities. Automatic tenure termination allows all parties to avoid endless evaluations by peers and administrators that could cause only bitter hatred. If the government forbids tenure termination, promising young scholars in economics and other disciplines will be crowded out.

So absurd are the EEOC’s rules that if a university set up a panel to review the status of its oldest faculty, that itself would be a violation of anti-discrimination regulations.

The government forgets that many faculty whose tenure is terminated on schedule find teaching positions in other universities if they wish. A case in point is philosophy professor Paul Weiss, whose tenure at Yale ended in 1969. He left for Catholic University. Until the age of 91, the university kept him on a year-by-year contract. He required graduate students to help him get around and do his shopping and could not hear very well.

When the university sought to place Weiss on a part-time contract, he claimed age discrimination. Yes, but so what?

William F. Buckley, Jr., however, took the left-liberal view. This is just one more piece of evidence that, as Epstein says, all law against age discrimination ought to be “repealed forthwith.” Like other anti-discrimination laws, they are an attack on property, the free market, and the freedom to contract. They serve special interests and state power, setting black against white, men against women, and young against old.

If this book isn’t burned by the ACLU, it will permanently alter the debate on civil rights. For that, Epstein deserves the Pulitzer. But given today’s climate, he may have to be satisfied with the spittle running down Biden’s chin as he reads Forbidden Grounds. After all, a Biden denouncement can only increase sales.

Murray Rothbard has made clear the nature of the fanaticism that underlies the left’s desire to impose its values on us and to destroy freedom in so doing:

For some time I have been hammering at the theme that the main cultural and political problem of our time is not “secular humanism.” The problem with making secularism the central focus of opposition is that, by itself, secularism would totally lack the fanaticism, the demonic energy, the continuing and permanent drive to take over and remake the culture and the society, that has marked the left for two centuries. Logically, one would expect a secular humanist to be a passive skeptic, ready to adapt to almost any existing state of affairs; David Hume, for example, a philosophic disaster but quietly benign in social and political matters, would seem to be typical. Hardly a political and cultural menace.

No: the hallmark and the fanatical drive of the left for these past centuries has been in devoting tireless energy to bringing about, as rapidly as they can, their own egalitarian, collectivist version of a Kingdom of God on Earth. In short, this truly monstrous movement is what might be called “left-post-millennialist.” It is messianic and post-millennialist because Man, not Christ or Providence, is supposed to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth (KGE), that is, in the Christian version, that Christ is only supposed to return to earth after Man has established the 1,000-year KGE. It is leftist because in this version, the KGE is egalitarian and collectivist, with private property stamped out, and the world being run by a cadre or vanguard of Saints.

During the 1820s, the Protestant churches in the Northern states of the U.S. were taken over by a wave of post-millennial fanatics determined to impose on local, state, and federal governments, and even throughout the world, their own version of a theocratic statist KGE. A “Yankee” ethnocultural group had originated in New England, and had migrated to settle the northern areas of New York and the Middle-Western states. The Yankees were driven by the fanatical conviction that they themselves could not achieve salvation unless they did their best to maximize everyone else’s: which meant, among other features, to devote their energies to instituting the sinless society of the KGE.

These newly mainstream Yankee Protestant churches were always statist, but the major emphasis in the early decades was the stamping out of “sin,” sin being broadly defined as virtually any form of enjoyment. By the later years of the nineteenth century, however, economic collectivism received increasing attention by these left millennialist Protestants, and strictly theological and Christological concerns gradually faded away, culminating in the explicitly socialistic Social Gospel movement in all the Protestant churches. While every one of the Yankee Protestant denominations was infected and dominated by left millennialism, this heresy prevailed almost totally in the Methodist Church.

Academia has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. Take a look at the catalog of Duke University Press, once a prestigious publishing house. Today it features third-rate, race-obsessed, sex-obsessed, solipsistic tirades masquerading as scholarship.

Let’s take a peek. In Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America, Linda Kintz puzzles as to why “so many women are attracted to” conservative Christianity since it is “an antiwoman philosophy.” And she criticizes the left for “underestimating the power” of public menaces like militias, Rush Limbaugh, and groups that promote “Christian entrepreneurship.”

As revealing as Kintz’s treatise must be, it is surpassed by Jane Lazarre’s Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness. This is her “memoir of coming to terms with” the reality that, though her father is black, her mother is Jewish, and her husband is black, she is not black but white, or so her biracial son reveals to her. This “painful truth” informs her “powerful meditation on motherhood and racism in America.”

She’s got a comrade in Katya Gibel Azoulay, who has written another classic, Black, Jewish, and Interracial: It’s Not the Color of Your Skin, But the Race of Your Kin, and Other Myths of Identity. This worked is praised as a “brilliant analysis” by Michael Eric Dyson, author of Between God and Gangsta Rap. Think of both as companion volumes to Displacing Whiteness, edited by Ruth Frankenberg, which in turn is praised as “excellent” by David Roediger, author of Towards the Abolition of Whiteness.

Then there’s the emerging classic Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction edited by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The contributors “explore queer worlds of taste, texture, joy and ennui, focusing on such subjects as flogging, wizardry, exorcism, dance, Zionist desire, and Internet sexuality.” At 520 pages, the publisher suggests it is “essential for all literary critics.”

Indeed it may be, which is all we need to know about literary criticism, and the modern academy. It is possible, these days, for a student to blast through undergraduate and graduate school without being required to know the first thing about American and European history, constitutional law, Western literature, economics, or political philosophy.

Thanks to the proliferation of elective-based academic ghettos within the university, students can isolate themselves into a host of phony fields. And the message in each is one of malice: hate bourgeois civilization and the ideas and literature that spawned it. Spin that thought out, and you’ll get an “A” most of the time. Ironically, the more prestigious the school, the more malevolent the teaching.

How can we account for the crumbling of the liberal arts education? It is not, as many conservative critics suggest, due to a mysterious evaporation of the canonical texts. Such a problem might be easily dealt with by gimmicks like “national standards.” The problem has deeper roots in three institutional shifts that afflicted the academy from the New Deal to the present: democratization (1930–1960), affirmative action (1964–1985), and polylogism (1987–present).

It was a staple of American economic life, from the founding until quite recently, that each generation would be better off than the previous one. The level of education each generation could achieve was a reflection of the growing prosperity that capitalism made possible. But in time, cause and effect were reversed: instead of seeing how prosperity generated a better-educated public, it was widely believed that education by itself created prosperity.

The education myth took hold as the Great Depression hit, as parents aspired to put their children through college as a way out of lower-class living standards. On the face of it, this was an absurd assumption. Education is among the most economically costly activities a person can undertake. The student leaves the workforce during what would otherwise be some of his most productive years. He graduates with ratified knowledge which may or may not help him. Only some can benefit.

That’s why, from ancient Greece until the twentieth century, higher education was reserved for the wealthiest and smartest segments of the population. Capitalism made the wealthy segment much larger, but it did not erase and could not erase distinctions between social and intellectual classes. Even in the freest societies, there has always existed a marked separation between an educated class and a working class, a separation that only violent intervention in the market could destroy.

And destroy it, it did. Academic standards began to unravel as early as the mid-1930s, with the growth of centralized, tax-funded higher education, and the democratization of elite private institutions. Cultural critic Albert Jay Nock saw this early on. He wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, much to the shock of readers, that academic standards would continue on their downward path so long as we embrace the idea that everyone is equally educable. The curriculum would be watered down to shore up that mythology.

Democratization received a huge boost after the Second World War, as the G.I. bill poured government aid into universities in unprecedented amounts. The purpose was not, as is assumed, to give soldiers academic training for civilian life. Government planners had wrongly feared the consequences of so many new entrants into the workforce. The purpose of the G.I. bill was to keep as many as possible out of the workforce, thereby restraining unemployment. In fact, a growing and recently unshackled economy was able to absorb all of them almost overnight. However, government control followed government money, as it always does, and one G.I. bill legacy was the virtual nationalization of accreditation boards and thus the centralization of educational standards. By the time of the civil-rights revolution of the early 1960s, universities would become instruments of federal race policy and its affirmative-action subtext. Quotas in admissions followed, and over the next decades, what was left of academia’s high standards was pushed aside to accomplish egalitarian goals.

It was only a matter of time before egalitarian standards invaded the composition of the faculty itself. Special interest groups argued that it is as unjust to have predominantly white faculties as it is to have predominantly white student bodies, whether merit was involved or not.

The imposition of multiculturalism — where affirmative action professors guide affirmative-action students to degrees in the glories of affirmative action — was merely the mopping-up operation. Of course, the publishers joined forces to produce specialized books for these classes. One result is the Duke book catalog, not atypical for an academic press these days.

The key to understanding multiculturalism is Mises’s 1957 classic Theory and History. He identified a central assumption of Marxist social theory: polylogism, the view that standards of reason are not independent of person and place.

Remarkably, as early as 1949, Mises, writing in Human Action, had seen how the left would apply this menacing doctrine to race theory. Racial polylogists nod in agreement with the Nazis who said there was a specifically “German” way of thinking that is valid in its own terms. The members of racial groups, too, have different structures of mind, and so all judgments regarding valid and invalid forms of reasoning are either arbitrary or an expression of group self-interest.

In practice, this results in the exaltation of irrationalism and the demand that any theory that asserts the universality of logic and truth — meaning practically all Western thought — is to be done away with. In modern academia, where polylogism reached its wits’ end, there is only one invalid and even evil way of looking at the world: with Western eyes using Western concepts such as truth and reason.

Decent faculty and students have been subject to a terror campaign on behalf of this new and perverse orthodoxy. Faculty conduct their classes as best they can while avoiding conflicts and lawsuits; and students suffer through periodic Pol-Pot style re-education camps in the aftermath of any political flare-up.

Meanwhile, non-leftist faculty have been forced to drain serious, systematic thought from their presentations, for fear of the polylogist thought police. And students have been forced to suffer in silence as their dream of true learning turned into a politically correct nightmare.

In the social sciences, economics remains one of the few disciplines that has not been seriously damaged by the new polylogism. The profession has its share of feminist economists, who claim there is a specific woman’s way of theorizing, but it has remained largely untouched by this nonsense. It has its own problems — positivism, unreal modeling techniques, and the planning mentality — but the student who likes economics is mostly spared the polylogism of the modern academy.

Indeed, just as it is possible for students to take only PC courses and read only Duke-style books, it is also possible for the conscientious student to avoid them. This is what the good student must do, or risk wasting years of his life.

Moreover, for a complete education, it is not enough to take classes only in fields that have yet to be bowdlerized. Wilhelm Röpke once commented that an economist who knows only economics can never be a good economist. To be thoroughly understood and intelligently applied, economics needs disciplines like history, philosophy, and the history of ideas. In short, economists need a liberal arts education of the sort that Mises, Rothbard, Menger, and Böhm-Bawerk had.

But where are they going to get it today? Every summer the Mises Institute holds an intensive program that attempts, in a small way, to make up for the deficiencies of modern education. The students who come our way are interested in economics in part because it has been spared the multicultural mania. And though they are among the brightest students in school today, they too have been denied an opportunity to root economics in a wider and more systematic worldview.

Our faculty provide this, and we see our summer university’s value appreciating each year. This is expressed in the student evaluation forms, which praise the faculty’s fearless approach above all else. These students typically continue on in their studies and obtain the requisite credentials for entering academic life themselves, all the while carrying on separate reading programs to give them the grounding in serious thought that the modern academy has denied them.

Contrary to the pessimism of many conservatives, there is no reason to despair. Our programs are reinforced by dissident faculty and curricula in independent-minded colleges and universities across the country. This dissident force, and their students, is growing larger by the day, and it displays a warrior-like courage.

The signs of success are all around us. The best students no longer believe the nonsense they are force-fed. A new generation is being raised up amid the excesses of egalitarianism, determined to reverse them.

In the long run, ideas can’t rule by intimidation alone. When a new generation of brave and well-educated teachers has the lion’s share of intellectual passion on its side, their opponents can be toppled.

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