As the long, hot summer of 2020 winds into fall, protestors still throng the streets of American cities demanding justice, citing unequal outcomes as proof of systemic racism, widespread misogyny or other forms of discrimination. The purveyors of identity politics can slice and dice the country’s demographic statistics to create all sorts of injustice and discrimination. There was even a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the injustice and discrimination suffered by black female sommeliers.
But if you think about it, America was not really founded in order to cater to the statistical outcomes of this or that group, it was founded to promote the flourishing of individual people. A government was created to protect your life. It was created to protect your liberty. It was created to protect your right to speak freely. It was created to assure your right to worship as you see fit. It was created to permit your right to bear arms. And it was directed to promote your economic freedom and your ability to seek your own unique American Dream.
America wasn’t founded so that the government would give these things to you. It was founded to restrain the government’s ability to keep you from achieving these things yourself. And how are you supposed to achieve all these things without the government’s help? Well, if you are self-reliant and work hard you have a good start. If you try to be objective and think rationally that will help. If you believe in the nuclear family and that you are working and saving to make a better life for your children, you are on the way to success. If you protect your private property and compete to achieve your goals, you will find your own American Dream.
Hey, wait a minute! Those are the attributes the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture ascribed to white culture or whiteness in a chart about white culture in America on their website. But these attributes of supposed whiteness weren’t adopted by European peoples because of their race. They were adopted because they worked. Very well.
For most of recorded history, the vast majority of people were subservient to their lords, kings, emperors and various other tyrants. If your father and grandfather were peasants (or peons or serfs), and you were a peasant and your children were going to be peasants no matter their aspirations, then you wouldn’t be highly motivated to build up your human capital. Reading, writing and arithmetic are not of much use to a peasant. More likely to get him in trouble.
But the feudalism of the Dark Ages began to break apart as the Renaissance, the Reformation and ultimately the Enlightenment gave human beings greater options. The Enlightenment revealed that everybody had equal rights, not in the afterlife, but here on Earth. The Enlightenment did more than give people greater freedom and more life options. It made human capital valuable. People could use their skills and knowledge to improve their lives. And improve their station in life. Merchants and artisans were not part of the aristocracy, but they could live a good life if they were smart and able to provide people with the goods they needed. But the structured classes of European society still limited the options of many people and change came slowly.
In the American colonies, however, people could have many more options and greater ability to take advantage of their human capital. There was a huge demand for labor in the colonies and people sold their labor as indentured servants to pay for their passage over the ocean. But once their indenture was over, they could employ their human capital for their own benefit. The human capital in the colonies, unfettered by the social classes of Europe, increased rapidly. And when England tried to capture the value that all that human capital had produced, the colonists rebelled and created the United States of America, which unleashed torrents of human capital and the economic growth that resulted from that employment of capital, drawing hordes of additional immigrants to America’s shores.
The slaves in the South were not allowed to develop their human capital. They were destined to the lowest forms of physical labor. But the undeveloped human capital of the South kept the South relatively poor compared to the rapidly growing North. After the Civil War to end slavery, short-sighted racism in the South feared the potential of the human capital of the freed slaves, resulting in the imposition of Jim Crow laws and segregation on the freedmen. But the South remained poor as the rest of the country grew.
But despite the barriers they faced, the black community made great progress in developing the human capital of its people. As Wall Street Journal columnist Jason L. Riley points out in his book, False Black Power, blacks made enormous strides after the Civil War, increasing their literacy, buying homes and teaching their children. Thomas Sowell has often pointed out that marriage rates for blacks during this period were higher than that of whites. The Black community was using attributes described by the Smithsonian as white culture, to increase the human capital of their people so that they, too, could achieve their own unique American Dream.
So, what happened. Now that Jim Crow is history and segregation put behind us, why is the black community not flourishing. Because about a hundred years after the Civil War, the government decided to help black people.
The underdevelopment of the human capital of a significant proportion of the American population (blacks are about 13% of the total US population) not only deprives them of their ability to achieve their own unique American Dream, it deprives the entire country of the productive energy of their efforts to achieve their American Dream.
You see, America did not become the most powerful and prosperous country in the world because of a government designed industrial policy. Its success is not due to the robber barons of the nineteenth century or the giant corporations of the twentieth century. No, America became great and powerful through the productive efforts of millions upon millions of people striving to achieve their American Dream. Whether their unique American Dream was a suburban house with a white picket fence, retirement on a sunny beach or in the mountains, becoming the CEO of a tech start-up, or being an artist or musician, they had to work, save, study, defer gratification, wait to have kids and build for the future in order to achieve their dream.
Those are the same attributes that the Smithsonian describe as white culture, but the Smithsonian got it wrong. It is American culture. The immigrants from Eastern Europe that came to America in the nineteenth century got it. The Asians immigrating from India, China, Viet Nam and the Philippines get it. The six Asian guys that share a renthouse down the street from us, get it. They work long hours so you only see them early in the morning or coming home late at night. They are probably engineers at the high tech companies around here. Soon they will have enough money to bring their families over here and get their own houses. They are on the way to achieving their American Dream.
Heck, even black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa get it. A Pew Research study found that black immigrants earn about 30% more than native African-Americans. They also have more education and are more likely to live together with a married spouse. Sounds like they understand what Dr. Wendy Wang of the Institute of Family Studies calls the Sequence, which is simple: get educated, get a job and get married before having children. How come African-Americans don’t get it?
Ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, liberals and progressives have been telling the black community that systemic racism has blocked their progress and that they cannot advance without the government’s help. This despite the fact that Stanford Professor Thomas Sowell has asserted (with facts and figures) that blacks made more progress while enduring Jim Crow laws and segregation, than they have since the War on Poverty.
You cannot give people the American Dream. Giving people the output of other people’s efforts, not only impairs the ability of those putting in the effort to achieve their American Dream, it deprives the receivers of the feeling of achieving something through their own agency. And it robs the country of the productive efforts of those receiving goods and services rather than producing goods and services. That is why egalitarian states (and their weak sisters, the welfare states) have such low productivity.
Helping the black community become more productive would not only be beneficial to black people all across this country, it would be good for the country as well. So, why don’t we do it?
It is indeed racism that is holding back the black community. But it is the racism of the people telling blacks that they can’t advance on their own but need the help of the government to improve their lot. This is the racism that is holding them back. The soft racism of low expectations.
White people can’t give black people their American Dream. Nor can the government. It must be the black people themselves that must build their human capital. So, they have to work, save, study, defer gratification, wait to have kids and build for the future in order to achieve their dream. Just like everybody else.