Over the weekend there was a short “debate” between Jesse Jackson and Ben Carson. Within the exchange lies the real issue behind Ferguson.
According to the Left, the economic hardships blacks face are largely due to latent racism. According to Ben Carson, and many other conservatives (Larry Elder also comes to mind), big-government policies, not racism, are the primary force suppressing black advancement.
History shows Ben Carson is right, and Jesse Jackson is wrong. Let’s go back 50 years.
The Joseph Gantt Era
Joseph and Clara Gantt married in 1948. Soon after, Joseph Gantt went off to Korea to fight and never came home—until last week when his remains were finally identified. Joseph Gantt was a good man. Even though Joseph asked Clara to remarry if anything were to happen to him, she never could bring herself to do so.
Gantt, a black man, lived in a time where much of America was not kind to him. Segregation, open bigotry, and lack of employment prospects were widespread. Yet during Gantt’s time on earth, despite the oppression, blacks were making laudable advancements.
According to economist Walter Williams, “[f]rom 1900 to 1954, blacks were more active than whites in the labor market. Until about 1960, black male labor force participation in every age group was equal to or greater than that of whites … As early as 1900, the duration of black unemployment was 15 percent shorter than that of whites; today it’s about 30 percent longer.” According to economist Thomas Sowell, “[t]he poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs … In various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959.”
Most important, back in Gantt’s day, his and Clara’s devotion to each other was the norm. In fact, from 1890 to 1940, the black marriage rate was slightly higher than that of whites. In 1950, only 9 percent of black families with children were headed by a single parent (today, roughly two-thirds of black children are now raised in single-parent families).
The End of the Joseph Gantt Era
Surely the way America treated blacks during Gantt’s lifetime was deplorable, and surely we have made many important advances since the Civil Rights era. Yet the point here is that black economic progress was advancing steadily during the first half of the twentieth century, but proceeded to flat-line in the 1960s and 70s.
If Gantt were to see black America today, he would be struck by both society’s progress and the black community’s backslide. This must mean racism is not the main contributing factor to the black community’s current ills. Sure, in today’s America white privilege exists, and so does racism. These are problems, but despite what the Left says, this is not what suppresses blacks economically.
What happened, then? Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1960s-era big government happened. Welfare laws were constructed that didn’t view black men and women as human beings in the image of God, but as useless children and at best tools for political gain.
Laws like the Davis Bacon Act, which barred federal contracts from paying less than union wages, pushed black men out of federally funded or -financed construction jobs at the behest of white unions; segregated public housing pushed blacks into inner-city ghettos where poverty was concentrated and its impact worsened; government handouts punished those who tried to work; and, most evil of all, men who had limited employment prospects were offered a way to feed their families via the federal government—as long as they packed up and left.
Back to Ferguson Today
This is why American leftists salivate over Ferguson. The Ferguson tragedy allows them to perpetuate the lie that failure in the black community is caused by racism, not a bloated federal government. If race tensions ceased, blacks might discover the Left as the sole engineer of the black community’s current condition. Worse for the Left, many blacks might discover the true face of the conservatism.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream was an America that judged blacks by the content of their character, not their skin color. For that to happen, we need economic equality among blacks and whites. Yet economic equity will only happen when the government gets out of the way and allows blacks to rise according to their own God-given talents.
Here is a short collection of policies, which Democrats largely oppose (aside from No. 4), that would help stop government from keeping black people down.
1. Help Broken Families
Programs that pay out more when dad is not around should be changed so that poor married couples receive an added benefit for being married. Taxes that penalize marriage among the poor should be scrapped. Don’t cut aid to single mothers, but raise aid to poor married couples. The states can start by looking at childcare and medical assistance programs. The federal government can immediately reform the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) so that the credit pays out more when dad sticks around.
2. Expand Labor Market Participation
The current push to raise the minimum wage is nothing more than another handout to unions, who don’t make minimum wage but receive wages indexed to the minimum wage. The group of people hurt most by minimum-wage laws are not business owners or fast-food consumers, but young black men, who find themselves the first to get priced out of the labor market. These entry-level jobs are important because they teach skills that allow a higher salary later in life. A better policy would be the expansion of the EITC, or replacing it with a similar measure that tops up the pay of the working poor.
There are many other policies that can help people get off the streets and into jobs. Barriers to entry for poor unskilled workers embodied in state licensure laws should be significantly reduced or done away with altogether. Congress should pass Rand Paul and Corey Booker’s plan to allow non-violent felons to seek jobs without disclosing their felony. America should allow more energy exploration on federal land. North Dakota is a boon to job-seekers only because its energy reserve largely sits upon private land. And Paul’s plan for economic freedom zones within urban areas (such as Detroit) should be implemented immediately
Improve Education Quality
The recent court case out of California proves what we’ve always known—teacher tenure hurts kids, and minority kids worst of all. Schools in wealthy areas face competition because wealthy parents have time and money to send their children to a private school if the public school underperforms. Poor area schools do not face this competition. Poor parents working several jobs and many long hours don’t have the time to even drive their child elsewhere, let alone pay for a different school. That’s why it’s time to put school choice in the hands of parents and students, through a school voucher program that—with a few safeguards—allowed competition in K-12 education.
At the state level, licensure laws that prevent professionals from teaching K-12 courses should be scrapped. These laws also serve teachers unions, not students.
4. End the Drug War
Young black men growing up in poor communities face a stark choice: Either they remain in low-performing high school, or they drop out of school and sell narcotics, making more money than their families have ever seen. This is partly why there is a race disparity in incarceration rates for drug-crimes. Worse, the young men caught selling drugs are sent to prison as nonviolent offenders, and leave prison violent and with limited opportunities.
Liberal-minded states like Colorado and Washington legalized pot to grow state revenue. High pot taxes mean the cartels and street violence stick around (because the shadow market still exists). Only conservatives will legalize marijuana for the sole purpose of breaking the back of the cartels, without mind to growing government.
The Democrats offer blacks top-down redistributive solutions that seem to assume blacks can’t make it without the government, although these offer blacks nothing more than a permanent position in the underclass, and a permanent position in the grievance wing of the Democrat Party. Conservatives offer blacks something so much better: Prosperity. That’s the fruition of King’s dream.