Rod Dreher opposes Mayor Bloomberg’s New York soda ban. But, in a post at the American Conservative, Dreher is outraged that the NAACP thinks of the ban as a “civil rights issue.”
That is, the NAACP points out that the ban would disparately harm minority convenience-store owners—and to Dreher, this makes them “prostitutes” in the pocket of the Big Beverage Industry.
Now, I’m not in the habit of siding with the NAACP, but I find it impossible to share Dreher’s outrage. In fact, I think that what the NAACP is doing here is downright admirable.
One of the best political developments over the last year or so has been the rise of a group of left-wing libertarian intellectuals (often called “bleeding heart libertarians,” centered around this site). A big part of their philosophy comes from applying liberal insights to generate libertarian conclusions. For instance, in the great new book Free Market Fairness, the philosopher John Tomasi applies Rawlsian principles to support free markets, arguing that, if we really believe—as Rawls did—that societies should be judged by how well they benefit their least well-off members, then free markets are much better than the quasi-socialist welfare states that Rawls actually supported. Free markets lead to higher economic standards of living for the poor, but also—by reducing the scope of the state in the individual’s life—they allow people the ability to be themselves, to choose a meaningful life free of restrictive regulations and bureaucratization, and ultimately to foster ”a special form of self-esteem that comes when people recognize themselves as central causes of the particular lives they are living” (p. 61).
I don’t consider myself part of the libertarian left, but I do find them intellectually interesting. More importantly, by focusing on how libertarianism benefits the poor and downtrodden, they’re introducing free-market ideals to a whole group of people who might not find Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard appealing.
And this seems to be just what the NAACP is doing.
If its true that the soda regulations disproportionately hurt relatively poor minority store owners, why not highlight that fact? For most people, it’s good evidence that there’s something wrong with the regulations. Maybe not conclusive evidence—but why give up an argument that lots of people will find appealing and that might turn them against the ban?
Just because the NAACP is made up of crazy liberals? Or because we don’t want to look all lame and politically correct? Dreher seems to believe something like that. But it would be a shame if we let dislike of liberals get in the way of promising avenues for attacking the regulatory state.