Why Has Black Progress Stalled in America?


The noted author, Robert Putnam, has recently addressed the topic of black economic and social progress in America.  He and his coauthor, Shaylyn Garrett, show that blacks had already made much progress before the civil rights era of the 1960s.  For example:

  • The life expectancy gap between black and white Americans narrowed most rapidly between 1905 and 1947 (see chart), after which gains were much more modest.

  • The black/white ratio of high school completion improved dramatically between the 1940s and early 1970s, after which it slowed (see chart).

  • Income by race converged at the greatest rate between 1940 and 1970, and has since stalled (see chart).

  • The South saw a dramatic increase in black voter registration between 1940 and 1970 which has since slowed down (see chart).

The authors attribute the lack of faster progress in the above measures since the civil rights era to:

  • white backlash and
  • a widespread change in American society from a sense of shared values to a more self-centered culture. The authors measure this trend with an inverted U-shaped I-We-I curve (see chart) which, they show, has fundamental social significance.

I do not doubt the value of the I-We-I interpretation of American history and society.  It will prove to be a useful explanatory tool in many contexts.  But it is not a major factor in understanding the stalled black progress of recent years.

As I have already discussed, too many blacks consider themselves victims of white supremacy and therefore unable to make it on their own.  The American way, the reason we are the most economically and socially advanced societiety on earth, is based on our belief that personal success depends on individual initiative.
Of course, some people have a head start in life.  But the answer to this reality is to strive to provide more opportunity for everyone, and especially better opportunities for the disadvantaged.   More on this coming soon!

Conclusion.  The inverted U-shaped I-We-I curve is an important sociological discovery with many ramifications.  But blacks will move up more rapidly in American society as they take more personal initiative for their own success and stop considering themselves as victims of white supremacy.

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Looking Forward to the Post-Pandemic World

Even though the U.S. infection rate is now over 200,000 per day, several effective vaccines are near approval by the FDA.  Distribution to both front-line healthcare workers and nursing home residents could begin in a few weeks.  In other words, we are likely over the hump and relief will arrive soon.

(On a personal note, I live in Omaha and, even though the Nebraska infection rate is relatively high at 69,000 per million residents, I feel very safe in Omaha with its mask mandate.  Many other Nebraska cities have mask mandates as well.  Furthermore, the Nebraska unemployment rate is now down to 3% (for October), the lowest in the nation.  In other words, Nebraska is handling the pandemic quite successfully.)

In my last post, I expressed great optimism for the future of the “American project.”  For sure, there are always ways to improve society.  But there are also several significant issues on the horizon whose sensible resolution will provide much more stability going forward:

  • The national debt is now growing rapidly (partly because of the pandemic) and is essentially out of control. There are many reasons (which I will be discussing in detail soon) why debt control is so urgent.  It is not yet clear whether the new Biden administration will take debt seriously as the economy recovers.
  • Populism and nationalism aren’t going away just because Trump was defeated for reelection.  Simply put, this means paying more attention to the problems of ordinary, working-class Americans and worrying less about the rest of the world.
  • Polarization in national politics. National officeholders reflect the views of the polarized constituents who support them.  Polarization should substantially decrease if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate after the Georgia runoff elections.  This will force President Biden to work closely with the Republican majority in the Senate.

Conclusion.  The political success of the supposedly unqualified Donald Trump means that populism and nationalism will continue to be addressed by political leaders.  Likewise, polarization will likely decrease if the voters continue to support divided government.  Debt is thus our biggest problem. Without requiring a balanced budget, as all the states do, national officeholders are always under political pressure to spend more rather than to spend less.

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America: the Land of the Free and the Hope for the Future

What a year 2020 has been!  A pandemic, a fractious presidential election, and race riots have all created unprecedented interest and public discussion about life in America.


  • The pandemic. Since early March we have experienced rolling waves of new infections of the coronavirus  The third and largest wave peak so far now appears to be subsiding (see chart).   Our national coping strategy is decentralized: governors are in charge of making mask mandate and lockdown decisions in their states.  The overall economy is recovering rapidly with the unemployment rate already down to 6.9% for September.  Vaccines will soon be available, letting us return to normal life.

  • The presidential election. President Trump narrowly lost his bid for a second term in an apparently scandal-free election with a huge turnout of 67% of all registered voters.  This is democracy in action!  At the same time, Republicans more than held their own in down-ballot races.  In other words, voters used discrimination in making their ballot choices.
  • Race riots. The death of George Floyd, while being arrested by the Minneapolis police, led to summer-long rioting in many cities across the country.  But is there really systemic racism in the U.S.?  Blacks lag behind in terms of economic advancement and other measures of social success, but a big problem is their mindset of victimization.  Still, the government might be able to help by focusing attention on the need for better educational outcomes.   
  • Foreign policy. We’re in good shape domestically (as described above) but how about relations with the rest of the world?   Our unipolar world status since the end of the cold war is now being challenged by China.  But China has much bigger problems than we do.  We should treat China as a strong competitor (economic and geopolitical) rather than as an existential threat to freedom and democracy (more later).
  • Political polarization is, of course, detrimental to our political discourse. But our elected representatives are reflecting the views of the polarized constituents who support them.  Here is a little bit of hope on this score.  The liberal NYT columnist, Maureen Dowd, lets her pro-Trump brother write her column every year on Thanksgiving weekend.  I give her much credit for doing this!

Conclusion.  I am upbeat about the future of the “American project.”  Prosperous democracies like the U.S. can always get better.  The biggest issue we’re facing right now (besides our debt problem, of course, more later!!!) is a fundamental shift, instigated by Donald Trump, towards populism and nationalism.  So far, we are making this needed shift in a relatively smooth manner, considering the magnitude of the issues involved.

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Is Donald Trump Subverting Democracy by Refusing to Concede the Election?

Joe Biden has clearly won the presidential election with 306 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 232 electoral votes.  One of the closest votes was in Georgia which has now done a recount showing that Biden still won by a similar margin.

Consider the following:

  • The Trump campaign claims vote voter fraud was committed in the election process but has not been able to convince any court to intervene and time is running out.  It has also tried to persuade state legislators in Michigan to intervene in the vote certification and electoral-college vote assignment process which would surely be challenged in court if it happened.
  • The 2020 presidential election attracted an unusually high 67% of registered voters. Far more voters were voting against Trump than were voting for Biden.  In other words, Trump has dramatically increased political participation in the U.S.  This bodes well for the future of democracy.
  • Donald Trump will no longer be the U.S. President as of 12:00 noon on January 20, 2021. But his influence on American politics will continue.  At this point, he virtually owns the Republican Party whose candidates in the election did surprisingly well all over the country.  In other words, Trump has big coattails, even in defeat.
  • As for his political future, he will likely keep up his daily tweeting after he leaves the White House. Furthermore, he has the option of running again in 2024.  If he does, he will be the frontrunner in the Republican primaries.  His chances in the general 2024 election will depend on how the Democrats do in the meantime.

Conclusion.  Trump’s clumsy attempt to overthrow the election results may appear appalling and antidemocratic.  But this is the crude and politically incorrect style responsible for his enormous political success in the first place.  Overall, his participation in U.S. politics has been, and will continue to be, highly effective in maintaining public interest in the political process and therefore strengthening American democracy.

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The Wisdom of the Voters

After a long, contentious election campaign, it appears that Joe Biden has been elected President and that Congress will remain divided with the Republicans continuing to hold the Senate.  In other words, the American people have rejected Donald Trump but have voted to keep a partially conservative Congress.  I consider this to be a good outcome.

What will be the practical effects of this new balance of power?  Consider:

  • The pandemic is far from over but the economy continues to recover briskly even as the daily coronavirus infection rate is growing. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.9% in October from 7.9% in September.  A vaccine is expected to be available soon.  President Biden might decide to declare a national mask mandate but this will have little effect beyond the many statewide mask mandates already in place.
  • Additional economic stimulus will now be more sparing with the Republicans retaining control of the Senate. It will be carefully targeted toward the shrinking number of people who are still adversely affected by the coronavirus.  Such an approach is more fiscally responsible considering our rapidly growing national debt.
  • The wish list of the progressive left is stymied. No banning of right-to-work laws nationwide; no $15 an hour national minimum wage. It is much better to let the states decide such issues for themselves, just as Florida adopted its own $15 minimum wage last week.
  • Identity politics may be on the wane as Trump received 45% of the Hispanic vote statewide in Florida and 36% in Texas. In California, voters upheld the existing ban on affirmative action in college admissions, public hiring and contracting.
  • Limited, decentralized, democratic government was a big winner on Tuesday.  In addition to all of the above reasons, 160 million Americans voted this year, 67% of all registered voters, an enormous turnout. Since each state sets its own rules and voting procedures, there is much less likelihood of widespread fraud.

Conclusion.  The presidential election proceeded very smoothly.  The country voted for divided government, rejecting President Trump but retaining a Republican Senate.  Such an arrangement will promote practical, consensus-oriented legislation well serving our politically polarized country.

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The Real Issue in the 2020 Presidential Election: Do You Want Limited, Decentralized Government or the Opposite?


If you haven’t voted already, then on Tuesday you will vote for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump.  Or, more simply, whether or not Trump has four more years.  Even though I haven’t said explicitly who I will be voting for, it should be obvious to the readers of this blog.

I am in favor of limited, decentralized government.  Here are some pertinent examples:

  • The pandemic. Our country’s strategy to combat the pandemic is decentralized.  No national mask mandate.  The governors are in charge of policy for their own states.  Especially the governors must decide how quickly they can reopen their economies.  The red-state governors are doing a much better job of this than the blue-state governors.
  • The Electoral College. The U.S. was founded as a republic, i.e. a collection of states, with many governmental responsibilities of their own.  It would dilute state authority to elect presidents by the national popular vote, rather than by electoral college vote, as we do now.
  • The Supreme Court. Newly sworn-in Justice Barrett is of high moral character with an outstanding record of constitutional originalism and textualism on the federal bench.  She is the type of person we need on the Supreme Court.

  • Global warming is real and California has a severe forest fire problem. But no amount of more renewable energy or more electric cars in California will stop the drought.  Worldwide, carbon emissions are still increasing, due especially to China and India.  What California can do to reduce forest fires is to adopt better forest management procedures (i.e. cleaning out underbrush and dead trees).  Such action is directly under the control of state officials.
  • National issues. Even in a republic like the U.S. with a decentralized government, there are many responsibilities that only the national government can fulfill, such as foreign affairs, military strength, administering welfare and entitlement programs, and much more.  Congress and the President should focus on purely national issues and let the states do the rest.

Conclusion.  It is a relief that the presidential election campaign is almost over and that the country will make a decision, one way or the other.  Even though big issues are at stake, our country is very strong and democracy will survive and flourish for many years to come.

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What Will Replace the U.S. Based Liberal International Order?

As the tightly contested U.S. presidential election draws to a close, what effect will the outcome have on U.S. foreign policy?  I have already discussed this question in two recent posts.  First of all, we should not overly fear the rise of China, because China’s population, and especially its working-age population, will soon be in decline.  Secondly, Trump’s nationalistic and populist leanings are here to stay, regardless of how much longer Trump, himself, remains in office.

The political scientist, Michael Beckley, has a more extensive discussion about this in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Says Mr. Beckley:

  • The era of liberal U.S. hegemony is an artifact of the Cold War’s immediate afterglow. In the coming decades, rapid population aging and the rise of automation will dampen faith in democratic capitalism and fracture the free world at its core.  The burdens of caring for older populations and the job losses resulting from new technology will spur much competition for resources and markets.
  • In the next 50 years, only Australia, Canada and the U.S. will have growing populations of working-age adults. China will lose 225 million working-age adults, 36% of its current total.  By 2050, Russia’s spending on pensions and medical care for the elderly will increase by 50% as a share of its GDP and China’s share will triple.  In the U.S. such spending will increase by only 35%.

  • The wide-spread adoption of smart machines will reduce the United States’ economic dependence on other countries. For decades the U.S. has chased cheap labor and resources abroad.  Now, automation will allow the U.S. to rely more on itself.
  • This rise of smart machines will also help the U.S. contain the military rise of its rivals. Drones and missiles will be capable of destroying enemy invasion forces.  The U.S. can capitalize on a fundamental asymmetry in war aims: whereas U.S. rivals need to seize and control territory (Taiwan, the Baltics) to achieve regional hegemony, the U.S. needs only to deny them that control.
  • The working-age populations of U.S. democratic allies will shrink by 12% over the next 30 years, while their senior populations will expand by 57%, the same problem facing China and Russia. Such challenging conditions will inevitably breed nationalism and extremism.
  • At the same time, North America will be the only region with all of the ingredients necessary for sustained economic growth.
  • The post-cold war order has fostered the most peaceful and prosperous period in human history. As it recedes, the world will become a more dangerous place with the return of great power mercantilism and new forms of imperialism.  A major example is China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its attempt to create a closed-off, parallel internet.
  • A nationalist mood has taken hold in the U.S. But warding off authoritarian powers such as China and Russia can be accomplished with advanced technology even while foreign bases are being eliminated or cut back.  Overall, this represents a realistic realignment of U.S. foreign policy rather than a retreat from the world.

Conclusion.  “The best hope for the liberal world order is that the U.S. find ways to channel growing nationalist impulses in internationalist directions.”  For example, the U.S. has previously undertaken liberal campaigns for selfish reasons.  It nurtured a community of capitalist democracies to crush Soviet communism.  The secret is to figure out how to continue this kind of outreach in the new, coming nationalistic era.

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The Long Term Social Effects of the Pandemic

With the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S.now increasing, we are reminded that the pandemic is not yet over and that each of us needs to continue to act in a responsible manner by practicing social distancing and wearing masks in some situations.

The longer the pandemic continues, the more profound will be its lasting effects on American society.  The social science scholar, Nicholas Christakis, has taken a stab at delineating many of these social effects.  For example:

  • A vaccine won’t give us an early exit. A vaccine may not be widely available before the U.S. achieves herd immunity, which will likely occur no later than 2022.
  • Providing medical care over the internet is now not just permissible but even widely encouraged. Telemedicine has achieved a big advance in the last few months.
  • Many restaurants have now reopened but often at only 50% capacity. Of the 15 million people previously employed in restaurants as waiters, cooks, etc., half of them have lost their jobs.
  • Many other small retail firms have gone out of business, often replaced by the growth of giants like Amazon, Walmart and Target. More people will continue to work from home which means a much lesser need for office space.

  • Cramped-in apartment dwellers may want more living space prompting them to move to less dense urban areas. This will have a major effect on the real estate industry.
  • Working conditions will change. Before the pandemic less than half of shift workers had access to paid sick leave.  But a contagious disease makes it clear why this is a bad idea. Many companies, from Apple to pizza delivery businesses, are now providing paid sick leave to hourly workers for the first time.

  • Covid-19 may drive up wages in the U.S. The pandemic has emphasized the country’s dependence on all sorts of low-wage workers.  This will likely lead to better pay in the future.  In part this could take the form of more paid sick and family leave as well as more flexible work schedules and child-care subsidies.

Conclusion.  As the pandemic eventually subsides, life will return to a “new” normal, with major changes in employment and living conditions.   On the whole, these changes will reflect improvements in the quality of life in the U.S., especially for lower-income workers.

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The Economic Stakes in the 2020 Election

I continually try to clarify this blog’s point of view. I am a (mostly) non-ideological fiscal conservative and social moderate. One of the great strengths of our democracy is the constant competition between the two main parties. If one party gains too much influence, then the other party will make a comeback in the next election.

I have stated in recent posts that I like Donald Trump’s emphasis on populism and nationalism, and that progressive policies are often ineffective. 


Today let’s look at the economic policies proposed by the two presidential candidates. First of all, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget takes a dim view of both platforms. It projects a national debt under the Biden plan of 128% of GDP in 2030 as compared with a debt of 125% of GDP in 2030 under the Trump plan. These are both huge increases from the current level of about 100% of GDP today. While much different from each other, their platforms are quite similar in terms of new debt incurred.


Now let’s turn to the economic effects of their policies, a more complicated subject. Here is one analysis by Casey Mulligan from the University of Chicago, “The Real Cost of Biden’s Plans.” 

• New regulations implied by Biden’s plans will cost the lowest income quintile of Americans 15.3% of its total income.

• A ban on fracking, required to meet his goal of 100% clean energy by 2035, will alone cost the lowest income quintile 6.8% of annual income.

Conclusion. Many things are at stake in the 2020 presidential election, but economic effects are among the most important. In this regard, there is a clear difference overall between the two candidates.

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How Well Do Progressive Policies Work?

I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.  I have not yet endorsed a presidential candidate and probably will not.  However, I have definite views about major political issues, and I discuss them on this blog.  For example, I like Trump’s nationalist and populist leanings.

Today I report on another hot political issue, the effectiveness of progressive policies.  Joel Kotkin, the Ex Dir of the Urban Reform Institute, has an interesting article, “Blue Today, Bluer Tomorrow” in the current issue of the National Review.

Mr. Kotkin points out that:

  • The worst places for minorities are generally those metro areas that are bluest, such as New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and San Diego. They do best in southern metro areas such as Atlanta, Raleigh, El Paso, Nashville and Phoenix.
  • Blue strategies such as affirmative action, higher taxes, expanded social programs and more regulation have not slowed down poverty’s spread. Between 1980 and 2018, the number of high-poverty metropolitan census tracks have doubled while the wealth gap between these areas and affluent areas have grown.
  • Today our core cities suffer a level of inequality far worse than in the countryside or suburbs and more closely resemble social conditions in Mexico. Rather than supporting a robust middle class, core cities suffer an ever-wider gap between the two critical constituencies – the highly educated professional class and the urban poor.
  • The recent wave of riots, the most widespread in 50 years, is not likely to make cities any more attractive. Yet in the face of these threats to public order, many blue-city politicians have taken a remarkably hands-off approach to looting and other forms of violence.
  • Urban policy is just one example of blue policies that are hurting the poor and working classes. Once a major energy producer, California is now coping with gas and electricity prices that are among the highest in the nation.  For all this suffering, California’s junior Green New Deal has provided little benefit for the environment.  The state, not including the ruinous effects of fires, ranks a mediocre 40th in per-capita greenhouse-gas reduction over the past decade.
  • Blue-city K-12 school districts are notorious underachievers. Many core-city school districts such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit, produce extraordinarily bad student test scores.  Some mostly red states such as Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and Ohio are already shifting resources to skills education that is more practical for many minorities and working-class whites.
  • The woke agenda represents only 8% of the population. Conservative traditionalism represents only 25% of Americans.  Roughly 2/3 of Americans are thus in the “exhausted majority.”  Even nominally progressive millennials, once they begin to raise children, buy houses and start businesses are likely to reject the more intrusive policies pushed by New Left urbanists.
  • Forcing the two parties to go after suburban and small-town voters is the country’s best long term political hope. “Here lies an opportunity, born of massive blue failures, to forge a new politics that is fundamentally pragmatic and reflects the middle-class aspirations that have long defined and blessed this country.”

Conclusion.  Our country is in a big political mess right now.  Progressive left policies, so currently in vogue in many blue cities and states, are making things worse.  But there is hope in the political center if it can figure out how to assert itself.

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