June 6, 2020 Reading Time: 6 minutes

An undated, but obviously recent, copy of your ten “Rise Up Demands” has recently come to hand and I would like to share my thoughts about them with you, and any other interested parties, in the same spirit that Libertarian House Representative Justin Amash (MI) and Democrat House Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA) recently joined forces to introduce a bill to end qualified immunity for police officers.

Libertarian is the name of a political party the members of which believe in classical liberalism, an excellent introduction to which you can find here. Basically, classical liberals believe in maximizing the power of the people by limiting the power of government. Classical liberalism, originally simply called liberalism because of its emphasis on individual liberty, dominated American political thought from at least 1763 until the late nineteenth century, when Progressives, people from both major political parties eager to reform corrupt governments, began to use the term “liberal” to describe themselves.

By the time the smoke cleared from the Great War, the Great Depression, and World War II, “liberal” had come to describe people on the Left of the political spectrum and “conservative” people on the Right. Even more confusingly, those labels transcend party lines, so that some politicians could accurately describe themselves as “conservative Democrats” or “progressive Republicans,” though most liberals are Democrats and most conservatives Republicans.

Likewise, most classical liberals affiliate with the Libertarian party, if they affiliate with any political party at all, though some people with classical liberal views can be found in the ranks of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Most classical liberals, though, view both Democrats and Republicans with disdain because both of their parties consistently work to increase the power of the government at the direct expense of the power of the people. By contrast, classical liberals wish to empower, actually re-empower, the people by checking and limiting the government’s control over all aspects of individuals’ lives.

In short, classical liberals share your overall goal of moving “black people closer to liberation” because we want to move all people closer to liberation. That is not to suggest that African-Americans are not further from liberation than other groups (perhaps all other groups except American Indians living on reservations), simply that classical liberals feel oppression themselves and interact with numerous constituencies facing unnecessary government-imposed restrictions on their liberty.

Classical liberals disdain monopolies in the markets for both goods and public policies and support open competition in both realms of social life. In fact, many of us refer to government as the “compulsory monopoly” and encourage people to replace government with that phrase whenever considering enlarging or maintaining governmental power, the power of the compulsory monopoly in other words.

Many of you, like many of us, were essentially brainwashed by that compulsory monopoly into believing that elections are sufficient to protect us from bad behavior on the part of government officials. While elections can serve as an important check on bad behavior, and we encourage you to vote in the historic elections to be held this November if your conscience so urges, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution built many other checks and balances into our fundamental frame of government. 

Unfortunately, many of those checks have eroded over the years to the point that our state and national governments thought it perfectly acceptable to destroy the livelihoods of 40 million Americans without any real proof of overall effectiveness of shelter-in-place and related lockdown policies. Re-establishing sufficient checks will take considerable work but is ultimately necessary to ensure that any reforms won in the near term can be maintained “for ourselves and our posterity.” We hope you will join us in that coming struggle.

In the meantime, to your demands:

  1. Community Control Over Police: Long ago, a French visitor to America named Alexis De Tocqueville warned us about what he called “the tyranny of the majority.” “Communities” may “control” police via a perfectly democratically elected police board, but what happens if the majority of people in a community are racist and insist on hiring racist officers? Or what if they are religious and insist on having no officers work on Sundays? Or what if they are Rastafarian and insist that police get high on the job?
  2. A Real Civilian Complaint Review Board: This demand appears similar to the bill sponsored by Amash and Pressley and could serve as an effective check against police overreach.
  3. Community-appointed Independent Prosecutor for Police Brutality Cases: No community, even family, is homogenous in its views, so it is unclear how a community could appoint an independent prosecutor. I would suggest instead a random draw from a list of pre-qualified candidates, subject to a veto vote if more than half of the electorate feels strongly that the randomly selected independent prosecutor is for some reason undesirable.
  4. End the 1033 Program: Absolutely. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the police can only use weapons that the local population may lawfully possess and carry. In South Dakota, which has Constitutional Carry, that would mean a wide range of weapons. In New Jersey, which has abused the Second Amendment, police could only use long guns after getting them out of the trunk of their cruisers. This rule is, of course, designed to remind police officers that they are members of the community, and not somehow above it, or more privileged than its members when it comes to Americans’ most fundamental rights.
  5. Moratorium on Gentrification of Historically Black Communities: This demand is unlawful and unconstitutional because it applies unequally by race. It also does not clearly define “gentrification” or “historically black communities.”
  6. Firing and Arrest of Officers: This demand appears if not redundant at least already implied by 2 and 3. Kudos for including other groups but, again, America has made constitutional commitments to treating all people equally regardless of race, gender, and so forth. Officers who assault, rape, rob, or kill anyone should be arrested and fired.
  7. Rehoming: Absolutely. The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment is one of the many checks, referred to above, that Americans have allowed to degrade and that we must all work to restore to its original glory.
  8. Direct Funding of Community-Led AfroCentric Schools: Generally, classical liberals believe that such matters are best handled by the Third Sector, i.e., NGOs, foundations, philanthropies, and the like, or, in other words, private, nonprofit organizations.
  9. Access to Free Healthcare: Unfortunately, very few things that humans need or want are free goods like air. Somebody has to pay for them. The question is who. Our current system is currently broken but turning over control to the government is not the solution as it could then kill blacks, or classical liberals, or any other people it liked, under the cover of medical treatment. Classical liberals believe that free and open competition in healthcare would lead to much less expensive and much higher quality care for all, as it does in Singapore.
  10. Reparations: Again, the Constitutionality of this demand is highly doubtful and it certainly would not be fair to the extent that it came from the pockets of taxpayers, even if one believes in corruption of blood (that one is responsible for ancestors’ bad acts). What if one of the impoverished descendants of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the ardent abolitionist whose novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin made Emancipation possible, lived in Charleston? Would it be just to tax her to pay reparations to a successful black businessman of mixed slave-slaveholder descent? Classical liberals like Phil Magness and myself have thought long and hard about the economics of slavery and discrimination and the sorts of reparations that would be constitutional and fair to all, which are the only kind that have any possibility of long-term success. 

One of those suggested reparations, incidentally, entails assigning a public defender to every law enforcement officer on patrol (LEOs) so that they may immediately represent any person questioned or detained by police. By the time a public defender is assigned, it is often too late and the accused feels compelled to accept a plea bargain. Police officers are highly unlikely to accost an attorney and likely to relent to their pleadings for restraint. I have no doubt that George Floyd and most of the other victims of police brutality would be alive today if LEOs confronted such a check. The policy would be expensive but members of your community could make a good living by obtaining law degrees (that they pay for themselves of course, perhaps with the aid of local nonprofits) and serving in that role.

Finally, classical liberals would also like to see the abolition of the current prison, school, and healthcare systems because they are NOT “capitalist-based” but rather mechanisms for extracting resources from black and many other communities. Some parts of those mechanisms are privately owned but all are controlled by the government for the benefit of politicians and their donors. Many of us would like to see them entirely privatized and subject to competitive restraints so that they can cause no permanent damage to any individual or group and would relish the opportunity to explain the details in a more appropriate venue very soon.

Your cause is just and we hope we can work together in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. If you do not trust us because of the typical color of our skin, that is totally ironic but we understand and urge you to read some of the 30 books written by Thomas Sowell, an African-American economist held in high esteem in the classical liberal community as he approaches his ninetieth birthday at the end of this month. His Black Rednecks and White Liberals is particularly appropriate at present, as is his Discrimination and Disparities.

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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