Note on “The Color of Law”

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein is about anti-black government policies imposed by federal and state governments in the United States that segregated housing in the United States by race. I will discuss a couple of examples of topics covered in the book.

In Chapter 2 the author explains that there was a shortage of housing in the US from the 1930s to the 1950s because of the Great Depression and WW2. A New Deal agency called Public Works Administration (PWA) built housing . The PWA adopted a rule that the racial composition of the residents of its new housing should match the previous racial composition of the neighbourhood. The PWA often broke this rule and reserved the housing it constructed for white people. In chapter 9 the author explains that when a black family tried to move into a neighbourhood mobs of their neighbours would sometimes attack their persons and property and the government would refuse to enforce the law against the mobs. 

In chapter 5 the author explains that many developers required people who purchased their houses to sign covenants saying that they wouldn’t sell the house to black people. Governments often enforced these covenants at the expense of black people who tried to purchase such properties. I don’t think such provisions should be enforced either now or in any future ancap society. The purpose and effect of these provisions is to hurt people for stupid reasons not to facilitate cooperation. Also the supposed reason for excluding black people was that black people would lower property values, but the response of neighbours to black people moving in was to throw bricks through their windows, burn crosses on their lawns and use physical violence. Did the people who acted this way think that having different colour skin would lower property values but not threats, violence and vandalism? We shouldn’t concede anything to this kind of stupidity and evil.

The book has some weaknesses. The author thinks minimum wage policies are good when in reality it leads to unemployment among people with low pay (see Capitalism by George Reisman, pp. 382-384). He claims that income and social mobility have stagnated in the US which will make fixing the lack of integration between black and white people more difficult. So he wants the government to try to fix this problem by incentivising black people moving into white neighbourhoods with tax policies. It might be a good idea to arrange compensation in cases where there is an identifiable wrong to some identifiable person or group. Also, the market works to correct mistakes in the way resources are being used. Anyone who isn’t productive has to sell goods to maintain his life which will be bought by those who can use them productively (see Capitalism, pp. 316-319). The government doesn’t know how to do this and allowing it to try will only benefit those with political pull, not people who have been mistreated.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

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