Someday I will be able to attend the Objectivist Summer Conference, OCON, but until then at least the Ayn Rand Institute posts videos of some of the presentations, such Andrew Bernstein’s talk about great black innovators in the United States, including the first self-made female millionaire in history, Madame C.J. Walker. He discusses not only examples of the amazing successes achieved by black’s in the United States but also the obstacles they had to overcome to succeed.
Weaving through the talk is the idea of what the minimum necessary condition is for any minority to succeed: capitalism and its strict protection of individual rights, including property rights. He expressed this idea most clearly in the discussion about the flourishing black communities such as the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the early 20th century, Oklahoma became a state and among the first laws passed by the new state legislature were a number of Jim Crow laws that “denied blacks access to the main business districts even as customers, never mind as entrepreneurs.” In response, blacks turned the Greenwood section of Tulsa into a bustling business center complete with neat, middle-class homes lining the streets reflecting their success. Sadly, “the Greenwood district of Tulsa was burned to the ground by a mob of racist thugs in 1921 in a spree of destruction unrestrained by the legal system.” (This made me think of the riots in Baltimore earlier this year and the mayor’s decision to give “those who wish to destroy the space to do so.”) Dr. Bernstein points out that minorities need economic and political freedom with the associated protection of individual rights even more than the majority does.
Even if all whites in the country were so irrational as to fear, hate, and shun blacks, such bigotry would be insufficient to halt economic progress if the rights of black individuals were legally protected. Under capitalism, the purpose of the government is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. Tragically, the Tulsa government failed to operate on this fundamental capitalist principle and let mobs of white looters burn the Greenwood section to the ground. The black producers of Tulsa did not need paternalistic government, or even its good will, they didn’t even need an end to bigotry. The absolute bottom line minimal condition they did require was the protection of their legal rights as U.S. citizens, including their property rights. And their own enterprise took care of the rest.
Perhaps the most concise summation of the theme of the talk is this short sentence:
Capitalism is the bigot’s worst enemy.