Feb 202014
 
Walter Block (via loyno.edu)

Walter Block (via loyno.edu)

Comments in The New York Times by a Loyola University economics professor defending the right of businesses to refuse service to black customers — such as the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counters that became an icon of the fight against segregation in the 1960s — have sparked an academic controversy that drew a rebuttal from the university president. Weeks later, the topic continues to dominate the pages of the student-run newspaper, The Maroon.

In late January, two political reporters from The New York Times wrote a lengthy front-page profile of Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a possible Presidential contender seeking to bring his strong libertarian beliefs into mainstream American politics. The article focused on the tension between Paul’s campaign and the logical extremes to which some of the “libertarian faithful” carry their principles, including Dr. Walter Block of Loyola University in New Orleans. Midway through the article, the reporters write:

Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who described slavery as “not so bad,” is also highly critical of the Civil Rights Act. “Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,” he said in a telephone interview. “Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.”

A week later, Loyola University president Kevin Wildes sent a letter to The Maroon describing his “dismay” at Block’s statements and pointing out logical flaws he saw in Block’s arguments.

“If these remarks were made in a paper for my class, I would return the paper with a failing grade,” Wildes wrote. “This is hardly critical thinking. Rather it is a position filled with assertions, without argument or evidence, to gain attention.”

Wildes’ letter ran alongside another letter from 17 faculty members “outraged” over Block’s statements, arguing against his point about slavery and urging the university to “condemn and censure” him. A week later, more letters were published, this time from a Loyola student and a pastor in Gretna defending Block.

Those letters have drawn dozens of comments in response on the Maroon’s website, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Aaren Gordon, editor of The Maroon, said the editorial page has received “no less than 50″ written letters about the issue, so much so that it will be covered by news reporters in Friday’s edition.

“To have 50 people sending letters, in response to a letter we published, is huge for us,” Gordon said.

‘Immoral and indecent’
In an interview Wednesday, Block said he too has received letters, hundreds of them, in support of his statements. The New York Times took his comment about slavery out of context, he said — he does believe that slavery is wrong, but because it was compulsory, not because of the conditions that it created. (Block has expanded on this argument in a response to The Times at the libertarian news and opinion website lewrockwell.com, and it is this article that the Loyola faculty were addressing in their letter).

But Block took less issue with the presentation of his defense of segregation at Woolworth’s lunch counters. Private businesses should not be forced to serve anyone against their will — likening the race issues in the 1960s to modern debates over whether Christian wedding venues should be able to turn away homosexual couples marrying. In time, market forces will drive businesses with practices out of step with society out of business, Block said.

“It is immoral and indecent and improper refuse to serve people due to color of skin, but should it be against the law?” Block asked. “Nobody should be forced to associate against anyone against their will.”

This is not the first time his remarks have created a stir, Block noted. Previously, a 2012 column by Block criticizing feminism also earned a failing “grade” from Wildes in the letters section of The Maroon.

But despite their disagreements, Block said the university leadership has taken no action against him.

‘Moral authority’
For half of its 100-year history, Loyola University was a private institution only open to white undergraduates, until four black men enrolled in 1962. One of them, former Orleans Parish assessor Kenneth Carter, said that he is partly surprised that debates over segregation are continuing 50 years later, and partly proud that his alma mater is leading the conversation.

Part of what makes America great, Carter said, is the free and open debate of ideas that may not be popular, such as Block’s. And yet, the more progressive stance promoted by Wildes reminded him of his own efforts to integrate Loyola in the 1960s — when the university leadership was actually more supportive of integration than the community at large.

“It’s a free country. Block and others have a right to their views,” Carter said. “What makes me feel really, really good is that there’s significant moral authority that exists and that it’s coming from the president of the university. … It was that kind of moral authority that made the movement successful.”

Block’s ideas overlook two crucial points, Carter said. The first is that private institutions Block where would support allowing segregation actually receive numerous benefits — such as police protection — paid for by tax dollars paid by all people, even those they would choose to shun. Segregation of Mardi Gras krewes remained legal until the intervention of the city of New Orleans in the 1990s, arguing similarly that public streets should not be closed for the benefit of all-white clubs.

“Those people who were denied the same rights that other citizens had, how long should these people have waited?” Carter asked. “How many generations would have passed?”

The second point Block misses, Carter said, is that the decision to segregate is not made in a vacuum — it does real harm to the community at large, harm that the government has a duty to prevent.

“Unfortunately, guys like Block cannot understand the negative impact that segregation and exclusion have on an individual and their families,” Carter said. “We’re talking about human beings and morality. If he for a moment could feel the pain that was endured, economic damage and personal damage, and if he can’t appreciate that, then there’s something wrong with him.”

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  • Mark Poepsel

    On Dogma
    Walter Block doesn’t believe that markets should be beholden to social pressures other than those at play in the marketplace itself. This ignores aspects of lobbying, legacy, and other pressures that we all see shaping not just behavior within markets but the actual marketplace itself (or marketplaces themselves) all the time. Telecomm in America is a good example (http://billmoyers.com/segment/susan-crawford-on-why-u-s-internet-access-is-slow-costly-and-unfair/).

    Block is dogmatic about markets to the detriment of markets, I’d argue because markets are games and games without rules are pointless, unpredictable and inefficient. “What is the right amount of regulation?” is a question that will be debated endlessly, but societies enables markets to work just as much as markets enable societies to flourish.

    There is no lunch counter that exists outside of society, or it wouldn’t have anyone to feed. The fear of oppressive regulation of markets shouldn’t keep societies from exacting reasonable controls. Lately, the problem with our global marketplace has not been a lack of regulation. Let’s take the social disgust we have for some of Block’s points of view and direct the concern where it can do the most good now – toward exercising our agency as consumers to regulate the marketplace for the common good.

    Per Block and all of his Block-heads, be they at Loyno or in Austria, the marketplace is ultimately supposed to benefit society. If that’s not your goal, then it’s the market for its own sake, (which doesn’t make sense because people are the market) or the market for the few, the privileged, the ones who can shape it without social consent and no group of oligarchs has proven they can do it well enough, although America in the 20th Century may be the closest they ever came.

    Of course that was the same century (the middle part anyway) that saw our unions, wages and social safety net grow faster than ever.

    • jexni

      Doesn’t your argument presuppose that Mark Popesel knows what is best for society and those that may differ with his view are just wrong about the rules he desires?

    • Mike Flood

      Mark , do you always ramble on so much? If you would not drink shine before writing, or perhaps re-read it the following day and then post it.

      • http://sps.bigwhoop.org caspian915

        Mike, do you always post pointless questions and ad hominem attacks?

        • Mike Flood

          caspian….I just read some of your past post. The pot is calling the kettle black!

  • Craig

    $50 says this guy is an avid Duck Dynasty fan.

    • Mike Flood

      No, he is not a fan. Please send the $50. to Mitch Landrieu.

  • best_in_show

    Uh, let me get this straight. A PROFESSOR at a respected university said WHAT? How did this man get a job teaching? The “laws” that the Jim Crows enacted were the foundation for “legally” depriving human beings of the rights others enjoyed. The Nuremberg Laws passed at the encouragement of the Nazi Party were also “laws” that allowed untold horrors to be inflicted on millions of people. This was part of the “defense” of war criminals in the legal profession: that whatever inhumane practices were done were actually part of the legal system in Germany at the time so they did not break any laws.
    It was literally against the law to serve black people at lunch counters, against the law to teach black children in white schools, against the law to sit next to white people on busses and movie theaters, etc., etc. The signs that read, “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone” was specifically posted to warn black people to not even THINK of sitting there.
    Anyone with a smattering of knowledge of the history of slavery and segregation in this country knows this. Anyone.

  • Jim McArthur

    Ah, isn’t free speech nice: until your use of it irks the powers that be. . .

  • Blase

    Perhaps Loyola’s sense of “moral authority” is a reason it’s going broke.

  • flyover

    I have just one word, “tenure.”

  • Tim9lives

    I think when Walter says…It was not that bad….He meant by “that days standards. ”
    The 1700′s and 1800′s were pretty crappy times if one wasn’t royalty….etc.
    Indentured servants….sharecroppers….Serfs…..None of it was that great. Slavery was one of the worse….But only the Royalty lived well back then.

    • Matt Lobb

      And he could also have meant that American slavery was nowhere near as bad as slavery in the rest of the world. A slave in the middle east or asia would often die within 5 years of purchase.

    • best_in_show

      Tim9lives:
      Notice that things have not changed very much. The “Royalty” has a different name these days, but the set-up is still the same. Indentured servants have become the working poor and the serfs are now the middle class. All it took was brainwashing the “have nots and have littles” into accepting that this is the way it should be. The only real change is some poor guy will not be hanged for “poaching” the “king’s” deer. Oh, wait…..???

  • Overbrook

    Block and others in the Loyola economics department have been yakking this drivel for years. yea, we get it, let a few thousand die from spoiled meat and the bad meat producer will be driven out of business by market forces. Thanks Dr Block, we get it. But out of the other side of their mouths, the insist on subsidies, special tax breaks, et al for businesses. Block is the poster boy for Right Wing socialism.

  • Shanna

    Block’s logic becomes circular after awhile. In his world, the end result becomes serfdoms with strange borders. There’s no accounting for deviant actions or malicious rulers within his paradigm or how society can civilly handle these sorts of abuses with any sort of justice, and protecting minorities or the nonpowerful of any sort is not part of what he thinks is important. Block’s ideas so flawed and there’s a lot of historical evidence that proves this to be true. His statements even when he “clarifies” them and puts them into context… just get more offensive.

    It’s “liberty and justice for ALL” not just powerful classes of people.

    Block is a Libertarian in the extreme and likely embraces the ideas Ayn Rand.

  • John

    In traveling a fair number of countries I have seen “segregation” in many forms. People will often choose to stay close to those with the same culture or religion or race. To make it the law of any land is to induce social friction. As long as people live law abiding lives and interact with common sense and courtesy they can coexist with those of other races and religions. It is when any race, religion or culture imposes its will on their fellows that the worst of human weakness surfaces.

  • Penelope de Mornay

    Mr. Carter makes some excellent points, all of which I agree to,
    especially when it comes to Glambeaux. Glambeaux is the all female, and
    mostly white, group of torch carrying marchers that recently and
    beautifully graced the Muses parade. These courageous women felt it was
    time in our Civil Rights evolution to step up and be equal on the
    public streets of New Orleans, and to represent their gender proudly.

    Unfortunately, many have expressed hatred, outrage and disgust with these brave and beautiful women for taking their right to march, albeit the traditional Flambeaux carrriers are supporting their efforts. Glambeaux has proceeded in a most respectful way and never tried to diminish the tradition and legacy of the Flambeaux. And, they never tried to force their way into the traditional Flambeaux.

    The people who vile Glambeaux remind me of the bitter wife in a divorce: “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine. ” If it is being
    disrespectful to the traditional black male Flambeaux for mostly white women to march with torches, Then why was it not “disrespectful” to FORCE traditional all white Carnival Clubs to equally enroll blacks?

    Tradition has its place and I for one love and honor tradition. But, as with the Carnival Clubs, progress and evolution happens.

    Do they not see the double standard here?…. Wanting their cake and eating it too.