A Cure for Racism

[Among the more controversial turns in thinking among some black leaders in recent years has been a new emphasis on advancement through "black capitalism." Two alumni of the Congress for Racial Equality. Roy Innis and Floyd McKissick, seek respectively to have blacks patronize black-owned stores only, and to create, with $14 million in federal funds, a "Soul City" capital in the Carolinas for black enterprise.

An unusual attack on this trend comes from a right-wing professor--who nonetheless advocates capitalism as the "cure for racism." George Reisman, a professor of economics at St. Johns University in New York and author of a forth-coming book on racism and the welfare state, last week spoke here in a forum sponsored by H-R Individuals For a Rational Society. Crimson reporter Mark C. Frazier talked with Reisman shortly before his speech. The following are excerpts from that interview.]

Crimson: Rightwingers usually aren't thought of as the greatest opponents of racism going. Why are you particularly interested in this subject?

Reisman: I started writing a series of articles a couple of summers ago dealing simply with the fact that under capitalism there couldn't be any difference between the wage rates of negroes and whites, as well as rents and prices charged to them. I saw that there was a very great interest in this subject.

Crimson: What do you think of as the most unique aspect of your work?


Reisman: The essence of it is simply that there is no inherent racial conflict, there's no conflict by the nature of things--that if men were left free from physical force by the government and those in the government who would sanction such things as nightriders--that then there would be no basis for the existence of racial discrimination. Self-interest would make men act with reason and justice toward one another.

The only reason for racial discrimination is the fact that it is either directly imposed by the government, as under the various segregation statutes that used to exist in the south, or in another way, without discrimination being intended, as the byproduct of the whole mixed-economy welfare state. Virtually the entire mixed economy welfare state has the effect of perpetuating the poverty and inequality of Negroes. It prevents them from utilizing those opportunities that are open to them. For example there are jobs that Negro teenagers could have if they were allowed to take them, if employers were allowed to offer them. But those would be jobs in many cases paying below the minimum wage, so the government says we will not let you take these jobs that you could have. The pro-labor legislation, the union legislation, acts the same way. It allows the labor unions to claim a monopoly on employment in the unionized industries. That artificially reduces the number of jobs available--the higher the wage level, the fewer the job opportunities--so there are people who could have these jobs who are prevented from getting them.

Crimson: Before the minimum wage laws were passed, and before the union laws were passed, you had a situation at least in the North where these jobs would have been available to blacks and members of other minority groups. Why didn't you see the economic advancement you say would happen?

Reisman: The main thing to remember about this period before the New Deal is that at this time still approximately 90 per cent of the Negro population was living in the South. In the South there were open segregation laws--it could impose segregation both by explicit legislation and by threat. So Negroes in the South could not have acted in the way they would under self-interest. ...In the North, you did observe great progress. The situation of Negroes in the North was vastly superior to that of Negroes in the South.

Crimson: But relative to whites, why wasn't it equal?

Reisman: Well, I think in part the explanation would be historical, that many had been migrants from the South. ...In addition, there can be factors that are less well known that applied--for example, it's certainly possible that there was some amount of open intimidation and coercion in the North too.

Crimson: How do you see it being possible to get rid of legal barriers to the advancement of blacks and chicanoes and other minority groups?

Reisman: The only way to get rid of the barriers is to repeal those acts of legislation which erect the barriers. In order for these barriers to be lifted, it has to be first understood that its necessary to lift them. That's the thing to accomplish.

Crimson: What do you think of the attempts by Floyd McKissick in South Carolina to set up a haven for black capitalism?

Reisman: I'm against the whole concept of "black capitalism" because I believe that Negroes and whites should have the entire country as their field of operation. There's no reason why Negroes should want to deal exclusively with Negro businessmen, or Negro businessmen should want to deal exclusively with Negro customers, or why businessmen of both races shouldn't want to deal with customers of both races. In fact, the concept of black capitalism, carried to its logical conclusions, implies a Negro nation. If you are to adopt the policy that Negroes are to buy solely from Negro businessmen, that would mean you have no relations between the Negro population and the white population...On top of that, how would you stop Negroes from patronizing white businessmen, since whenever white businessmen can offer Negroes a better deal it's in the interest of Negroes to buy from them? The only way you can do it is by prohibiting the Negroes from dealing with white businessmen, and that's what people like Roy Innis--not McKissick as far as I know--propose. He proposes establishment of a "tariff" around the so-called Negro "community." To enforce it requires that you have a forcible rupture of intercourse...

I don't mean by capitalism a system in which some people become capitalists. I mean by capitalism a system in which the individual is free from the initiation of force, in which the government protects the individual from all private force--murders, raping, robbery--and in which the government does not initiate force. ...In that society, an individual may or may not become the owner of means of production. Capitalism simply means the establishment of freedom from coercion.

The average Negro is not benefited by other Negroes happening to become capitalists. Why should an individual Negro take any special comfort from the fact that some other Negro is a major stockholder in General Motors, rather than a white? What's it to him? It's simply an individual.

This doctrine of black capitalism, that the solution is to make more Negroes capitalists, clearly rests on the Marxian view of class conflict. Those who accept Marxism but don't want to establish socialism say, "Well, let's give more people the interests of capitalists by making them capitalists." But that's not the answer. The fact is that capitalism is a system in the interest of everybody. You don't have to require that people become capitalists to be interested in preserving capitalism. If I own no means of production, I still have an interest in the existence of capitalism. I have an interest in a system where the most efficient individuals have the freedom to become the owners of the means of production.

Crimson: Why do the majority of blacks today on this question accept socialism as the cure to racism and to many of their other economic ills? Why would you say this is so?

Reisman: Because the great majority of whites accept socialism too.

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