The False Promise of Political Power
I recently watched a YouTube video produced by the Hoover Institution called “False Black Power,” where Hoover fellow Peter Robinson interviewed Wall Street Journal editor Jason Riley. I recommend that anyone wanting to understand the relationship between political power and the condition of the black community watch this video.
In the discussion, Mr. Riley noted that many immigrants coming to America concentrated on building their human capital as the best way to achieve the American Dream. They increased their human capital through getting a good education and saving and investing their earnings in order to build wealth that they could pass on to the next generation. Once their human capital was well established, they were able to step forward and take their place in American businesses and government. This was true for many groups from Western Europe and later from Eastern and Southern Europe and included many different religions and ethnicities. This phenomenon has been more recently replicated by Asian communities that are growing in America.
Mr. Riley further commented, as has been emphasized repeatedly by Hoover fellow Thomas Sowell, that after emancipation the black community also followed this route even though they were greatly impeded by Jim Crow Laws and segregation. Barred from many traditional institutions because of the color of their skin, they created their own black institutions such as the historically black colleges.
But Mr. Riley stated that around the time of the Civil Rights Era, the strategy of the black community changed, de-emphasizing the creation of human capital, and focusing on increasing political capital as a means to access government power. And they have been very successful in gaining access to government power. Racially gerrymandered political districts guarantee minority representation in Congress and in state government. However, despite this increase of political power the slow but steady economic progress of the black community has stalled.
Not only do cities that have a majority black population, such as Baltimore, Atlanta and Newark, have black mayors. So do major cities that do not have a black majority such as Chicago, Dallas, Charlotte, Washington DC and St. Paul. And many of these cities also have black police chiefs, fire chiefs and other senior officials. But the economic progress of the black community in these cities has stagnated as they descend into crime and violence.
Mr. Riley is quick to point out that correlation is not causation and that many other cities have similar problems. But it is important to note that black access to political power has not improved the lives of those in the black community that elected those black leaders. The real underlying reason for that is that it was the condition of the black community that elected those black leaders to power and that changing that condition would threaten the black leaders hold on political power.
Mr. Robinson interjected that President Obama was elected with 95% of the black vote in 2008 and reelected with 93% of the black vote even though the economic situation of the black community had deteriorated with 9 percent unemployment and 31% unemployment among black youths. Under the Trump administration (the video was recorded before the pandemic) black unemployment had fallen to record lows but President Trump’s approval rating among blacks only increased from 8 percent to 9 percent. If voting for a white candidate solely because the candidate is white is considered racist, what would voting for a black candidate solely because the candidate is black be considered?
No matter what they say, political leaders like the status quo, because it was the status quo that got them into power. And they use that power to come up with feel good solutions that appear to address the status quo but which actually do little to change the status quo. Trillions of dollars poured into the government’s War on Poverty have done little to raise poor people out of poverty, but only make them ever more dependent on government, therefore increasing the need to keep their political leaders in power.
The Black Lives Matter movement does not want to advance the black community by building up the human capital of black people. They do not believe in the “Sequence” described by Dr. Wendy Wang, Director of Research at the Institute for Family Studies, as; get educated, get a job and get married before having children. Many studies have shown that people that follow the sequence can escape the poverty trap. And Dr. Sowell and Mr. Riley have revealed that the black community in the first half of the twentieth century was able to close the gap between whites and blacks in education and income despite Jim Crow and segregation. Mr. Riley states in the video that during this period, the marriage rate of blacks actually exceeded that of whites. They were following the steps outlined in the Sequence and building human capital.
Black Lives Matter specifically rejects the nuclear family on their website as a Western-prescribed concept (as if people all over the rest of the world don’t get married and have children). Many blame the Enlightenment philosophy on which American principles are founded for systemic racism in America. I don’t know what form of country they envision coming out of all these protests. But demanding that police departments retreat from black communities, rejecting the steps of the sequence in order to build human capital, replacing the family with some sort of village cooperative – how is this going to help the black community?
The Black Lives Matter protestors are now holding up signs and chanting to defund the police. They want radical reform of police departments and how policing is done and have correctly identified police unions as a major obstacle to their reform efforts. Unions are created to benefit members and police unions are no different. Police unions not only fight for higher pay and fatter pensions (which you cannot defund) but also push to create procedures to protect the jobs of the police from a public that often has justified complaints about police conduct.
But while BLM protestors and other progressives have rightly identified police unions as an obstacle to reform, they fail to make the leap to the fact that teachers’ unions are a major obstacle to reform of an education system that is badly failing our children (and especially the children of the black community). And teachers’ unions not only fight for higher pay and cushy pensions, but also to protect teachers from justifiably angry parents.
The irony is that, despite resistance to reform by police unions, police departments have, generally, become more professional and less biased over recent decades. And we have statistics to back this up. Nationwide, crime and violence have declined dramatically. Between 1980 and 2008, the homicide rate of black people was cut in half (from 37.6 per 100,000 to 19.7 per 100,000). That’s tens of thousands of black lives saved. As appalling as the documented violence of a few rogue cops is, the greatest danger facing the black community is not the police (and keep in mind that cops kill more white people than black people).
Meanwhile, teachers’ unions and their progressive allies are trying to block people’s access to educational choice (sidebar: if, as progressives assert, a woman has the right to choose to have an abortion, why can’t a mother have the right to choose where to educate her child?). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings place the United States in the middle of the pack, between Czechia and Portugal. But while US students rank poorly in academic subjects, they rank number one in self-esteem.
The self-esteem movement started, where else, in California. It was thought that if students had high self-esteem that they could avoid the maladaptive responses associated with low self-esteem such as “violence, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, welfare dependency, teenage pregnancy, academic failure, and child and spousal abuse” according to Democratic Assemblyman John Vasconcellos in his efforts to pass a Promote Self-Esteem law in 1986. The result of schools promoting grade inflation, participation trophies and a general lack of discipline has created a generation of young people ill-suited to the rigors of modern living. They are the ones that are out on the street protesting.
If Black Lives Matter, the political organization, and the people that are protesting to assert that black lives matter really want to help the black community they should try and help the people in the community build their own human capital. They should work with the police to make their community safer for families as well as safer for property which is a key element in building human capital. They should encourage educational choice so that parents make informed choices about their children’s education and not have to accept only what politicians offer them. And they need to realize that government can only do so much and cannot change hearts and minds. Only people can do that.