What the U.S. Needs is Broader Economic Opportunity rather than Less Inequality

My recent posts have been directed primarily to the issue of racism, real and perceived, in American society.  My conclusion is that black social advancement (and a decrease in racism) will be aided by faster black economic advancement.  This, in turn, depends on blacks developing a greater sense of personal agency, i.e. a better appreciation that they have control over their own destiny.

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But really, this argument applies much more generally than just to minority advancement.  I think the issue of economic inequality in the U.S. is vastly overhyped.  Consider, for example:

  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, worth $180 billion, is the wealthiest person in the world.  But the social value of Amazon, which he created, is far greater than his own personal wealth.  Being able to have almost any product in the world shipped to one’s doorstep overnight at a low price is incredibly valuable.  Perhaps Amazon should be more tightly regulated as a monopoly but that’s a separate issue.
  • Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire-Hathaway, worth $70 billion, lives in Omaha NE where I also live. His great wealth has been an enormous benefit to Omaha over the years.

Income inequality is caused primarily by the growth of technology and the globalization of commerce.  Both of these trends, getting stronger all the time, are producing enormous societal wealth overall but people with education and technical skills benefit the most. 

The solution to this problem should be quite clear:

  • Provide more economic opportunity for those on the bottom by:
  • Keeping the unemployment rate as low as possible, ideally under 4%, to create more job openings, and
  • Improving educational outcomes at all levels: K-12 and above. Not everyone needs to go to college.  But everyone needs skills of some sort, whether technical or intellectual.

Conclusion:  What minorities and all low-income people need most is more economic opportunity.  Growing income and wealth inequality is a distracting bugaboo.  It needs to be recognized as an inevitable consequence of human progress, rather than a stumbling block to individual advancement.

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Combatting Racism in the Land of the Free

“People might not get all they work for in this world but they must certainly work for all they get.”
Frederick Douglass, 1818 – 1895

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Racism, real and perceived, has become a big issue in the U.S. after the brutal death of George Floyd in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer.

I do not believe there is structural racism in the U.S. today, but there certainly is latent racism exhibited by a substantial number of white people.

Some people say that racism is a result of white privilege and that the only way to combat it is to dismantle white cultural supremacy.  In other words, to lift black people up, it is necessary to pull white people down.  I reject this attitude.

It is not sufficiently recognized how much progress blacks have been making in America, see here and here.  The key to this progress is “individual agency,” i.e. taking responsibility for the course of one’s own life.  The institutional engines of this progress for blacks are:

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  • College graduation
  • Full-time employment
  • Military service
  • The black church
  • Marriage

What do all of these institutions have in common?  They require and instill a sense of personal belonging and willingness to accept personal responsibility for one’s actions.

Unfortunately, “black culture today not only condones delinquency and thuggery but celebrates it. …  Hip hop music immortalizes drug dealers and murderers.”  Blacks who succeed often have to escape from this inner-city delinquent culture.

Conclusion.  Racism in America is not primarily the result of white privilege or perceived white cultural supremacy.  It is mainly the fault of destructive personal behavior by too many young blacks who are caught up in inner-city delinquincy, unable to escape from it into productive lifestyles, thereby creating a negative image of blacks.  It is not surprising that this turns off many people.

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What Blacks Need Are Better Economic Opportunities

Let’s agree that racism still exists in the U.S.  The disagreement is over how bad it is and what to do about it.  Naming white cultural supremacy as the villain is overkill and counter-productive, in my opinion.

Several prominent black scholars agree with me about this.  See, for example, Ward Connerly, John McWhorter, Ian Rowe, and Thomas Sowell.

What blacks need, most of all, are better economic opportunities so that more of them can move into the middle class or above.  Of course, this is already happening to a significant extent but more progress is readily doable.  Here is how:

  • Faster economic growth to push down the unemployment rate to 4% or less and keep it at this low level. This had already been accomplished before the pandemic hit and, hopefully, this high standard will soon be restored.
  • Better K-12 educational outcomes for all kids from low-income families. This can be done in at least two ways:
  • Early childhood education so that kids from low-income families are ready to succeed academically when they get to kindergarten and first grade.

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  • Charter Schools in the large inner cities, see here and here. In many cases inner-city charter school students are outperforming their peers in the wealthiest and whitest suburban school districts in the country. Any honest assessment of the data shows that school choice is a boon for groups that have long been poorly served by the system.

Conclusion.  The most effective way to confront the latent racism that still exists in American society is by working to improve blacks economically rather than by claiming that white cultural supremacy excuses poor performance by blacks.  In short, we need to lift blacks up rather than tear whites down.

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Are White People Inherently Racist?

As most of my readers know, I live in Omaha NE.  There are 11 school districts in the Omaha metro area, and one of them, Millard Public Schools, the third-largest school district in Nebraska, has decided to require all 70 administrative personnel to read the book White Fragility by Ms. Robin Diangelo.

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In view of the current national climate of widespread racial protests, let’s take a look at what Diangelo is saying in her book.  The description below is mostly verbatim quotes  (largely from Chapter 2):

  • Racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society.
  • Racial disparity between whites and people of color continues to exist in every institution across society.
  • White privilege is the system of social advantages taken for granted by whites and that cannot be similarly enjoyed by people of color.
  • White fragility is the discomfort and anxiety exhibited by white people when challenged about their presumed superiority and entitlement.
  • White supremacy is the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white, and the practices based on this assumption.
  • The United States is a global power and the ideology of white supremacy is circulated globally, promoting the idea of whiteness as the ideal for humanity well beyond the West. White supremacy has shaped Western political thought for hundreds of years.
  • Naming white supremacy changes the conversation in two key ways: it makes the system visible and shifts the locus of change onto white people, where it belongs.

My summary of the book: White people benefit from a culture that perceives whiteness as the ideal.  Whites are defensive about discussing their racism (i.e. their overwhelming cultural advantages).  This system can only change if and when white people admit their responsibility and take the lead in dismantling our racist culture.

My response:  I agree that there is latent racism remaining in the U.S.  But the Diangelo description of our society is fundamentally misguided and damaging to all minorities, and especially to blacks, because it treats them as victims and implies that they are not responsible for their own behavior and status in life.

My solution to racism: coming next week.  Stay tuned!

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What is the Radical Left Really Complaining About?

America has some serious problems right now.  We are in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic which has caused a severe recession and high unemployment rate.  The brutal killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has led to a nationwide outbreak of racial protests.  Although I believe that America is a great nation, and constantly getting better, I understand that many people have a different point of view.

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I have just come across an excellent essay, “Denying Progress is Key to the Left’s Rhetoric,” by Robert Doar from the American Enterprise Institute.  He points out that:

  • America has made much progress since 1960 and the work of the antiracist progressives is full of false comparisons of America’s present with its past especially in two important aspects of American life: civil rights and the fight to reduce poverty.
  • Black and minority legislators make up a significant portion of our federal and state legislatures, city governments, and public school boards. 57 current members of Congress are African American; in 1960 there were just 4.  African American college graduation rates have quadrupled over the past six decades.
  • Millions of black men have reached the upper-income bracket. Median black household income (adjusted for inflation) has risen 45% in the past 50 years.
  • What other country in the world can claim this kind of peaceful rise of a racial or ethnic minority? The U.S. remains the top destination of emigrating “people of color” as they escape the inadequacy of their own homelands.
  • Our nation’s war on poverty has been hugely successful. In both relative and absolute terms, there are fewer American children living in poverty than there were 40 years ago, despite a significant increase in population.
  • We spend $800 billion per year on anti-poverty programs that provide food, housing, and medical care for the needy. This spending is supplemented by billions more from charities and thousands of smaller efforts from churches, synagogues, and communities across the country.

Why are the radicals so effective at making it sound like all this progress is not true?  The answer to this question is one word: equality.  The equality promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is about equal treatment under the law, not equal outcomes in all aspects of life.  Individual outcomes in educational attainment, income, housing, and wealth still depend on individual effort and work.  The radical left is asking for far more than our limited system of government can, or should even try, to deliver.

Conclusion: The contest for the future of our country will be waged on this ground.  Our system of limited government is suited to achieve the goals of civil rights under law and the elimination of severe material hardship.  We have made huge progress in accomplishing these goals and will continue to do even more in the future.
Our system of government is not capable of producing guaranteed middle-class income for all, because this depends on individual effort.

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The Outlook on Independence Day 2020: More Positive than Negative!

2020 has been a year like none other in recent memory.  The unemployment rate jumped from 3.5% in February to 14.7% in April.  New coronavirus infections settled down to 20,000 per day in May and now have spiked as high as 50,000 per day.  Race riots flared up in early June with demands to “defund the police.” As expected, China has finally cracked down on freedom of expression in Hong Kong.  Is the world, and especially the U.S., falling apart? There certainly are plenty of people who think so!

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But let’s take a sober look at what’s good and what’s bad about life in mid-2020 both in the U.S. and around the world.  First, the negative:

  • The coronavirus pandemic. It originated because of inadequate public health procedures in Wuhan, China, and is still rapidly spreading around the world.  New infections appeared to be under control in the U.S. at 20,000 per day but have now spiked as high as 50,000 per day.  At this point, we badly need an effective vaccine to quickly arrive on the scene.

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  • The U.S. economy has been badly hurt with millions of workers being laid off by forced government business closures.
  • The U.S. national debt outlook, already horrible before the pandemic, is now even worse!
  • Race riots around the country as the result of the brutal killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. This has led to all sorts of different suggestions for how to address racism in America.

But the highly unfortunate events so far this year need to be kept in perspective by comparison with the positive things that are also happening:

  • Freedom and democracy are thriving around the world. Freedom House data show that, despite today’s big challenges, the world today is far more free than unfree.  We can never take freedom for granted but it is alive and well today, both in America and many other parts of the world.

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  • The U.S. economy appears to be bouncing back quickly from a deep recession. The unemployment rate dropped to 13.3% in May and then 11.1% in June.  The huge spike in new daily infections need not slow down this rapid recovery (more later).
  • The U.S. debt problem, as awful as it is, is still solvable. As soon as we are confident that the pandemic is under control and receding, it will be time to focus hard on fixing the debt.
  • Progress on racism. In spite of the latent racism in the U.S., it is important to be aware of the significant economic advances having been made by blacks in recent years.  See here and here.

Conclusion.  Yes, there are many problems in the world in mid-2020.  But we will get past the pandemic in the coming months.  Then our country’s fundamental economic and social strengths will again be quite apparent.  On Independence Day 2020 we should all be proud and grateful to be an American!

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Addressing Racism in the U.S. IV. Personal Agency is Key

My last three posts have addressed various aspects of racism in the U.S., see here, here, and here.  I have been making a case that fundamental change requires going beyond police reform, as valuable as some police reforms might be.

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Here is another key point made by Ian Rowe, a black scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  He says that “the narrative that white people hold the power conveys a wrong-headed notion of white superiority and creates an illusion of black dependency on white largess.”  “The next generation of Americans – black  and white – might grow up believing that the entire destiny of one race rests in the hands of another, which must denounce its privilege before any progress can be made.”

Along this line, a 2018 report, “Black Men Making It in America” from the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, is very informative.  Consider:

  • Black men’s economic standing. 57% of black men have made it into the middle class or higher as adults today, up from 38% in 1960.  The share of black men who are poor has fallen from 41% in 1960 to 18% today.
  • The institutional engines of black men’s success. In addition to higher education and full-time work, three other institutions – the military, the black church, and marriage – play significant roles in black men’s success.
  • The importance of individual agency. 52% of black men who had a higher sense of agency – feeling like they are determining the course of their own lives – as  young men, had made it into the middle class when they reached age 50, compared to 44% of their peers who did not have that sense of agency.
  • Contact with the criminal justice system. By midlife, only 28% of black men who had contact with the criminal justice system when they were young have moved into the middle or upper class, compared to 57% of black men who had no contact with the criminal justice system at a younger age.

Conclusion.  “There are pathways to power for young black people.”  An important goal of K-12 education should be to help black girls and boys cultivate a sense of personal agency and convince them that their well-being is determined more by their own actions than by support from the dominant race.

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Addressing Racism in American Society III. Looking Forwards rather than Backwards

The death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis several weeks ago demonstrates once again that racial bias is entrenched in American society.  It reminds us that we must do a much better job to improve race relations in our country.  How will this be accomplished?  I have already discussed some things that will work and others that won’t, see here and here.

Another way to look at it is backward thinking vs forward thinking:

Examples of backward (negative and not especially useful) thinking are:

  • Reparations.  Suggestions for reparations paid to the descendants of slaves are again being made.  A figure of $14 trillion is used to equalize wealth distributions between whites and blacks.  The basic problem with this approach (besides the exorbitant cost) is that America stands fundamentally for equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.  Despite the slavery of their ancestors, what we owe blacks is an equal opportunity to succeed, not a guarantee of equal success.

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  • The limits of police reform.  Strong police forces are needed to maintain law and order.  Most police are not racist but there are a few bad apples.  Making it easier to fire bad cops (without  interference from police unions) is a very good idea but of overall minor value in improving black lives.

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Examples of forward (positive and useful) thinking are:

  • Affirmative action. Giving blacks more opportunities to succeed economically is now solidly entrenched in American society and can have a positive effect on a company’s financial success.

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  • Better educational opportunity.  In an opportunity society like the U.S., a good K-12 education is indispensable.  Unfortunately, many large metropolitan areas have poor inner city public schools.  The answer is to promote both charter schools for these areas as well as early childhood education.
  • Economic opportunity. In the U.S. everyone is ultimately responsible for their own welfare and success.  What society can and should do is to provide strong economic opportunity by supporting general economic growth as well as training for skilled jobs.  Restoring our economy to its pre-pandemic status will be very beneficial to all low-income workers including blacks.

Conclusion.  The most effective thing we can do to help blacks achieve a more comfortable niche in American society is providing more and better opportunities for them to work their way up the economic ladder.  False promises such as reparations for slavery and unrealistic police reform will only lead to more disappointment and resentment.

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Addressing Racism in the U.S. II. Achieving Fundamental Change

My last post suggests that police reform, while beneficial if done carefully, will not bring about the fundamental change in U.S. race relations which is so badly needed.

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There is only one way to bring about such fundamental change.  Whites and Blacks must be able to interact with each other more comfortably as social peers.  Historically this has been difficult to achieve.  The overall social and economic status of Blacks in American society has to improve significantly for this to happen on a widespread basis.  How can this be accomplished?

  • Adopt a colorblind approach to addressing poverty in the U.S.  What I am suggesting is a major coordinated program to give a socio-economic boost to all low-income individuals and families, including Blacks.
  • Early childhood education. There is a huge academic achievement gap between middle class kids and kids from low-income families.  It is already apparent by grade three and continues to get progressively worse throughout middle and high school.  An effective way to improve educational outcomes for low-income kids is through early childhood education.  This means intensive intervention with low-income kids at least by age three, if not younger, to make sure that they are ready to succeed academically when they get to kindergarten and first grade.
  • Enhanced Economic Opportunity. The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute have put together an excellent proposal for improving economic opportunity for all members of the working class.  What is needed is a new social contract, emphasizing the centrality of work but also making it more fulfilling for blue-collar workers.  This would include such features as enhanced career education in high school, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit to boost wages, and increased work requirements for public assistance programs (to provide extra motivation to find and hold onto a job).

Summary.  Substantially improving the black/white racial climate in the U.S. requires lifting the socio-economic status of American Blacks so that Blacks and Whites can interact on a more equal peer-to-peer basis.  This can be more effectively accomplished on a universal interracial basis and could perhaps be considered as the next goal to work for in a more generalized civil rights movement.  More concrete details soon!

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Addressing Racism in the U.S.

The brutal death of George Floyd during an arrest by a white police officer in Minneapolis has tripped off widespread protests and race riots around the U.S.  There is a general consensus that black/white racism is still pervasive in the U.S.  How should we deal with it?  First, we have to separate myths from facts.

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For example:

  • Myth #1. There is strong evidence of widespread racial bias among police.  In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1004 people, most of whom were armed. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops (235), even though they commit 53% of homicides and 60% of robberies.  Of course, officers who use excessive force should always be held accountable.
  • Myth #2. Police departments should be investigated for systemic racism and reformed.  When police departments have been investigated following incidents of deadly force that went viral, police activity declined and violent crime spiked.  In Chicago there was a 90% drop in police-civilian contacts immediately after the announcement of an investigation.

If more thoroughly monitoring police behavior will do little to decrease racism, then what will work?  Consider:

  • Fact #1. Blacks have been making big gains in employment in recent years, but unfortunately these gains have not yet begun to close the income gap between black families and white families.  The very low unemployment rates for both blacks and whites as recently as February 2020 have now been at least temporarily wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.Capture131Capture132
  • Fact #2. Poor education is a large barrier to Black progress.  There is a huge academic achievement gap between middle class kids and kids from lower-income families.  Unfortunately the gap gets worse as kids progress through the K-12 grades.  It is very difficult to land a good job and hold on to it without a decent education.Capture133

Conclusion.  Black/white racism is endemic in American society even though much progress has been made.  Removal of bad cops is needed but systemic police reform will be counterproductive.  What really is needed in more and better economic opportunities for blacks, aided by more effective K-12 education.  More on economic progress next week!

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