The Crusade Against South Africa

By Murray Rothbard

This article first appeared in The Free Market in July 1985.

For many years, America’s campuses have been sunk in political apathy. The values of the 1950s are supposed to be back, including concentration on one’s career and lack of interest in social or political causes.

But now, suddenly, it begins to seem like a replay of the late 1960s: demonstrations, placards, even sit-ins on campus. The issue is apartheid in South Africa, and the campaign hopes to bring down apartheid by pressuring colleges and universities to disinvest in South Africa. Coercion against South Africa is also being pursued on the legislative front, including drives to embargo that country as well as prohibit the importation of Krugerrands.

I yield to no one in my abhorrence of the apartheid system, but it must never be forgotten what the road to Hell is paved with. Good intentions are scarcely enough, and we must always be careful that in trying to do good, we don’t do harm instead.

The object of the new crusade is presumably to help the oppressed blacks of South Africa. But what would be the impact of U.S. disinvestment?

The demand for black workers in South Africa would fall, and the result would be loss of jobs and lower wage rates for the oppressed people of that country. Not only that: presumably the U.S. firms are among the highest-paying employers in South Africa, so that the impact on black wages and working conditions would be particularly severe. In short: the group we are most trying to help by our well-meaning intervention will be precisely the one to lose the most. As on so many other occasions, doing good for becomes doing harm to.

The same result would follow from the other legislative actions against South Africa. Prohibition of Krugerrands, for example, would injure, first and foremost, the black workers in the gold mining industry. And so on down the line.

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