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Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

I’m at the Capetown Airport, about to leave South Africa, so this is an opportune time to share some thoughts on what I learned in the past seven days.

1. Land Seizures – The number-one issue in the country is a plan by the government to impose Zimbabwe-style land confiscation. I already wrote about that issue, so I’ll cite today an editorial from the Wall Street Journal.

South Africa needs another enlightened leader like Nelson Mandela, but it keeps electing imitations of Robert Mugabe. President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed recently that his government plans to expropriate private property without compensation, following the examples of Zimbabwe and Venezuela. …Supporters of expropriation claim black South Africans own less than 2% of rural land, and less than 7% of urban land… But the government’s 2017 land audit used questionable data… The Institute of Race Relations estimates black South Africans control 30% to 50% of the country’s land. …Mandela insisted that land reform is best achieved through a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle, as it is in other democracies with a strong rule of law. …snatching private property is about as destructive a policy as there is. The ANC was founded as a revolutionary party, and the tragedy is that it won’t let the revolution end.

To be sure, whites generally got the land illegitimately in the first place (something settlers also did to the Indians in America), so it’s not as if they are the angels in this conflict.

I’m simply saying that copying Zimbabwe-style policies would be catastrophically destructive to South Africa’s economy. Rich landowners obviously will be hurt, but poor black will be the biggest victims when the already-shaky economy goes under.

It’s unclear at this stage how far the government will push this policy. But since the nation already has suffered the biggest year-over-year decline in the International Property Rights Index, any additional steps in the wrong direction would be most unfortunate.

By the way, the news of property rights isn’t all bad. Here’s a video showing how poor people are getting titles to their homes.

2. Mandela’s Legacy – I remarked on my Facebook page that Nelson Mandela should be viewed as a great leader. I was one of many people who thought South Africa would descend into civil war between the races. Mandela deserves an immense amount of credit (along with unsung heroes in the South African community of classical liberals, such as Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation) for ensuring the nation enjoyed a peaceful transition.

Did Mandela have some misguided views? Of course. He was a socialist, at least nominally. And he joined the South African Communist Party at one point.

But so what? Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slaveowners, yet we recognize that they played key roles in the founding of America. Simply stated, people can do great things yet still be imperfect.

3. Race – Notwithstanding South Africa’s peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, the nation faces some major race-related challenges. Simply stated, blacks are relatively poor and whites are relatively rich. And that’s what leads some politicians to pursue bad policy, such as class-warfare taxation and the aforementioned land confiscation.

To make matters even more complicated, there is also a significant – and very wealthy – Indian minority. Indeed, they are the ones who have benefited most from the end of apartheid, which has aroused some racial resentment.

Last but not least, there is also a significant mixed-race community that is culturally separate from native blacks (they speak Afrikaans, for instance).

4. Dependency – I wrote about this problem in 2014 and my visit has led me to conclude that I understated the problem. Simply stated, South Africa is not at the stage of development where it can afford a welfare state. Western nations didn’t travel down that path until the 1930s, after they already reached a certain level of development and could afford to hamstring their economies.

5. Labor law – Similarly, South Africa also has European-style labor protection laws, which discourage job creation. Such policies reduce employment in developed nations, but they cripple employment in developing nations.

By the way, if you want a great understanding of South Africa’s economic challenges, you should buy South Africa Can Work by Frans Rautenbach.

6. Corruption – In addition to the anti-market policies described above, South Africa also has a pervasive problem with political sleaze. Simply stated, politicians have been using government as a means of looting the public.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the New York Times.

…city officials drove across the black township’s dirt roads in a pickup truck, summoning residents to the town hall. …the visiting political boss, Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane, sold them on his latest deal: a government-backed dairy farm… The dairy farm turned out to be a classic South African fraud, prosecutors say: Millions of dollars from state coffers, meant to uplift the poor, vanished in a web of bank accounts controlled by politically connected companies and individuals. …In the generation since apartheid ended in 1994, tens of billions of dollars in public funds — intended to develop the economy and improve the lives of black South Africans — have been siphoned off by leaders of the A.N.C. …Corruption has enriched A.N.C. leaders and their business allies… that is just a small measure of the corruption that has whittled away at virtually every institution in the country, including schools, public housing, the police, the power utility, South African Airways and state enterprises overseeing everything from rail service to the defense industry.

That last sentence is key, though the reporter never made the right connection. The reason there is so much corruption is precisely because the government has some degree of power over “every institution in the country.”

Shrink the size and scope of the state and much of that problem automatically disappears.

Here’s another excerpt, which is noteworthy since it overlooks the fact that the government created laws requiring black shareholders and directors. Needless to say, that system wound up enriching politically connected blacks rather than ordinary citizens.

A smattering of influential figures, like the current president, Mr. Ramaphosa, amassed extraordinary wealth. They were allowed to buy shares of white-owned companies on extremely generous terms and invited to sit on corporate boards. They acted as conduits between the governing party and the white-dominated business world. Some of the A.N.C. leaders who were left out of that bonanza quickly found a new road to wealth: lucrative government contracts. The public tap became a legitimate source of wealth for the well connected, but also a wellspring of corruption and political patronage, much as it had been for the white minority during apartheid.

7. Crime – The biggest quality-of-life problem in South Africa is crime. The homes of successful people are often mini-fortresses, with big spiked walls topped by electrified wires. Large aggressive dogs and private security patrols also are ubiquitous. Sadly, the government doesn’t do a good job of policing, yet it also makes it difficult to legally own firearms.

8. Education – To be blunt, government schools in South Africa generally are a disaster. Reminds me of the mess in India, except there isn’t a similar network of private schools to give parents better options.

Much of the problem is the result of schools being run for the benefit of unionized teachers (sound familiar?) rather than students. There is some movement in the Cape province to allow charter schools, so hopefully that reform effort will bear fruit.

9. Concluding thoughts – I’ll close with a couple of random non-policy observations. First, South Africa still has some quasi-independent tribal kingdoms. Not exactly the Swiss model of federalism, but it’s better than nothing. Second, it is possible to have multiple wives (I thought of Oscar Wilde’s famous saying when I heard that). Third, everybody should visit South Africa for the scenery and wildlife. I spent a day at Kruger National Park and it was breathtaking even though I barely scratched the surface (by the way, Frans also wrote a great book about the Park).

P.S. Here’s my comparison of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Botswana is the obvious success story of the three.

P.P.S. The IMF predictably is pushing anti-growth policy on sub-Saharan Africa.

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I’m a fan of college football rather than the NFL, so I haven’t paid much attention to the controversy over players protesting against police misbehavior during the national anthem.

However, the topic is now trending. The 2018 season about to start and Colin Kaepernick is being featured in a new ad campaign for Nike, so I figure why not insert myself into the discussion.

The bottom line is that Kaepernick and the other players have identified a very real and very important issue.

I’ve written on many occasions about the need for better policing.

Though I don’t think the problem is systemic racism or pervasive brutality.

Some of that exists, of course, but I assume the vast majority of cops want to do a good job and treat people fairly (except when giving me traffic tickets).

The real problem is that politicians have enacted far too many laws, many of which don’t make sense or don’t have any victims, and then they expect the police to use those laws to generate more revenue.

This is a recipe for more Eric Garner tragedies.

That being said, NFL players are not going to win the hearts of middle America by actions that can be portrayed as being anti-flag, anti-police, anti-military, and/or anti-country. Heck, they’re playing into Trump’s hands with that approach.

The players would have much more success (both in terms of the issue and with respect to their own popularity) if they portrayed their cause as one that affirms and extends American ideals.

NFL players should come up with some inclusive pro-America slogan about “The Constitution Protects Everyone” or “The Principles of the Founding Fathers Apply to All Americans.” And then they should be ostentatiously patriotic (in the proper sense), standing for the national anthem, with one hand over their hearts and one hand holding both an American flag and some sort or symbol of their campaign.

Trump would have a hard time attacking that kind of approach.

More important, I’m guessing a lot of Americans who heretofore have been rejecting the message of Kaepernick, et al, may start paying attention. And that would be the ideal outcome. After all, the goal should be to change policy, not generate noise and controversy.

For all intents and purposes, I’m suggesting the football players adopt the strategy Martin Luther King used when fighting Jim Crow laws. Dr. King explained that equality of law was an American principle. He embraced the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, even though slavery and other sins meant America was grossly imperfect at that point.

But he wanted an inclusive message. I hope that today’s NFL players copy that approach. Assuming, of course, they actually want better policing and a better America.

P.S. Until and unless there’s a better strategy, Nike will probably suffer the same adverse consequences as Dick’s, which lost customers after kowtowing to the anti-gun crowd. Irritating a big chunk of the buying public is not a wise idea.

P.P.S. I believe in a tough-on-crime approach, but only if laws are just.

P.P.P.S. If you want some cop-related humor, click here, here, and here.

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The racist march in Charlottesville, VA, was awful news. The vehicular murder of a woman by one of the racists is even worse news.

The good news is that almost everyone in the nation is united in condemning the marchers.

I especially like what Senator Ben Sasse said about how America isn’t an ethnic identity, but rather a nation of ideals.

It’s also good news is that the free market punishes racism. That’s because people who make decisions based on irrational hatred are less efficient and productive and therefore lose market share.

Indeed, here’s the abstract of an encouraging study on that topic.

Economic theory has long maintained that employers pay a price for engaging in racial discrimination. According to Gary Becker’s seminal work on this topic and the rich literature that followed, racial preferences unrelated to productivity are costly and, in a competitive market, should drive discriminatory employers out of business. …This research pairs an experimental audit study of racial discrimination in employment with an employer database capturing information on establishment survival, examining the relationship between observed discrimination and firm longevity. Results suggest that employers who engage in hiring discrimination are less likely to remain in business six years later.

Indeed, another academic study showed that racist managers result in a less-productive workforce.

Examining the performance of cashiers in a French grocery store chain, we find that manager bias negatively affects minority job performance. In the stores studied, cashiers work with different managers on different days and their schedules are determined quasi-randomly. When minority cashiers, but not majority cashiers, are scheduled to work with managers who are biased (as determined by an Implicit Association Test), they are absent more often, spend less time at work, scan items more slowly, and take more time between customers. Manager bias has consequences for the average performance of minority workers: while on average minority and majority workers perform equivalently, on days where managers are unbiased, minorities perform significantly better than do majority workers. This appears to be because biased managers interact less with minorities, leading minorities to exert less effort.

Writing for Capitalism, Richard Ebeling explains how markets punish racism.

…one of the most important aspects of the free market is precisely that it tempers irrational action. The market ultimately rewards producers by one test and only one test: can a producer deliver the desired goods and services more cheaply and with better quality than another producer who is competing for the same consumer business? Any employer who fails to judge the usefulness of the resources he can buy or hire — including labor — according to the standards of cost and quality efficiency will run the risk of losing business he otherwise could gain. The market, therefore, penalizes those who judge prospective employees on the basis of their race rather than on the talents and expertise they could contribute to the production of a commodity desired by the consuming public. Why? Because the profit motive acts as an incentive for some businessmen to set aside their racial prejudices for the sake of maximizing their net revenues. And, over time, this puts pressure on an increasing number of prospective employers to do the same — if they are to avoid losing out to their market rivals. …The free market…is the great destroyer of racial prejudices and the great liberator of the individual from the bondage of racial barriers.

But let’s move beyond academic analysis.

Given the horrid events in Charlottesville, I want to share some uplifting stories, sort of like the heartwarming story from Ferguson, MO, that I wrote about in 2014.

I have four examples of racial progress from both blacks and whites

Here’s an example from the New York Times of how people should think and behave.

What the black state trooper saw was a civilian in distress. Yes, this was a white man, attending a white supremacist rally in front of the South Carolina State House. And yes, he was wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika. But the trooper concentrated only on this: an older civilian, spent on the granite steps. Overcome, it appeared, by an unforgiving July sun… The trooper motioned for help from the Columbia fire chief, who is also black. Then, with a firm grip, he began walking the wilted white man up the steps toward the air-conditioned oasis of the State House. …The meaning of this image — of a black officer helping a white supremacist, both in uniform — depends on the beholder. You might see a refreshing coda to the Confederate flag controversy… But what does the trooper see? His name is Leroy Smith, and he happens to be the director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. …Mr. Smith said he was taken aback by the worldwide attention but hoped the image would help society move past the recent spasms of hate and violence… Asked why he thinks the photo has had such resonance, he gave a simple answer: Love. “I think that’s the greatest thing in the world — love,” said the burly, soft-spoken trooper, who is just shy of 50. “And that’s why so many people were moved by it.”

I have to imagine that Mr. Smith experienced more than enough racism as he grew up.

Yet not only did he become a successful professional, he developed an attitude that should inspire people of every color.

Here’s a story that’s also amazing. It’s about a black guy who has a mission of saving Klan members.

When someone Daryl Davis has befriended leaves the Ku Klux Klan, he often gives Davis the robe he wore as a member of that group. Over the years, Davis, by his own account, has amassed dozens of these retired jerseys of hate. …Davis goes to Klan rallies. He has invited Klansmen to his home and visited them. He calls some of them “friend” even as they call him inferior. In one moving segment, the film recounts how Davis met the daughters of an incarcerated Klan member at the airport and drove them to the prison so that they could visit their father. Eventually the family noticed that none of the man’s Klan colleagues were serving or loving them as much as Davis was. Their ideology of hate collapsed in the face of undeserved compassion. …Part of what makes him so effective at talking to the Klan is that he has read every book he can find on the subject. He asks questions. He gathers information. He listens. …“I never set out to convert anyone,” he says in the film. Through a mix of diplomacy and Socratic questioning, he will sometimes see a racist begin to think about his ideology rather than simply proclaim it. Eventually, “they end up converting themselves.” …Davis believes we will be better and stronger and healthier and happier together as one nation than as a segregated one. …Ornstein asks Davis what he is feeling as he watches a video profile of former racists who have left the Klan. What Davis says next was both profound and powerful, a message of hope to a nation… “These are my fellow Americans.”

Wow. I hope some day to be half as good a person as Mr. Davis.

The Washington Post has a heartwarming story about a kid who was raised to be racist and ultimately discarded that poisonous form of collectivism.

Derek Black was already hosting his own radio show. He had launched a white nationalist website for children…He was not only a leader of racial politics but also a product of them. His father, Don Black, had created Stormfront, the Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site, with 300,000 users and counting. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous racial zealots, and Duke had become Derek’s godfather. They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him “the heir.”

Then he went to college.

Derek finished high school… He decided he wanted to study medieval European history, so he applied to New College of Florida, a top-ranked liberal arts school with a strong history program. …New College was in Sarasota, three hours across the state, and it was the first time Derek had lived away from home. …He watched zombie movies with students from his dorm, a group that included a Peruvian immigrant and an Orthodox Jew.Maybe they were usurpers, as his father had said, but Derek also kind of liked them, and gradually he went from keeping his convictions quiet to actively disguising them.

But then he was outed.

He left after one semester to study abroad in Germany, because he wanted to learn the language. He kept in touch with New College partly through a student message board, known as the forum, whose updates were automatically sent to his email. One night in April 2011, Derek noticed a message posted to all students at 1:56 a.m. It was written by someone Derek didn’t know — an upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online when he stumbled across a familiar face. “Have you seen this man?” the message read, and beneath those words was a picture that was unmistakable. The red hair. The cowboy hat. “Derek black: white supremacist, radio host…new college student???” the post read. “How do we as a community respond?”By the time Derek returned to campus for the next semester, more than a thousand responses had been written to that post. …He returned to Sarasota, applied for permission to live outside of required student housing and rented a room a few miles away.A few of his friends from the previous year emailed to say they felt betrayed, and strangers sometimes flipped him off from a safe distance on campus.

  Here’s the part of the story that’s really great.

One of Derek’s acquaintances from that first semester decided he might have an idea. He started reading Stormfront and listening to Derek’s radio show. Then, in late September, he sent Derek a text message. “What are you doing Friday night?” he wrote. …Matthew had spent a few weeks debating whether it was a good idea. He and Derek had lived near each other in the dorm, but they hadn’t spoken since Derek was exposed on the forum. Matthew, who almost always wore a yarmulke, had experienced enough anti-Semitism in his life to be familiar with the KKK, David Duke and Stormfront. He went back and read some of Derek’s posts on the site from 2007 and 2008: “Jews are NOT white.” “Jews worm their way into power over our society.” “They must go.” Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.

And here’s what happened, thanks in large part to Matthew Stevenson.

It’s a long excerpt, but very much worth reading.

Nobody mentioned white nationalism or the forum, out of respect for Matthew. Derek was quiet and polite, and he came back the next week and then the next, until after a few months, nobody felt all that threatened… On the rare occasions when Derek directed conversation during those dinners, it was about the particulars of Arabic grammar, or marine aquatics, or the roots of Christianity in medieval times. He came across as smart and curious, and mostly he listened. He heard a Peruvian immigrant tell stories about attending a high school that was 90 percent Hispanic. He asked Matthew about his opinions on Israel and Palestine. They were both still wary of each other: Derek wondered whether Matthew was trying to get him drunk so he would say offensive things that would appear on the forum; Matthew wondered whether Derek was trying to cultivate a Jewish friend to protect himself against charges of anti-Semitism. But they also liked each other, and they started playing pool at a bar near campus. Some members of the Shabbat group gradually began to ask Derek about his views, and he occasionally clarified them in conversations and emails throughout 2011 and 2012. …Derek was becoming more and more confused about exactly what he believed. Sometimes he looked through posts on Stormfront, hoping to reaffirm his ideology, but now the message threads about Obama’s birth certificate or DNA tests for citizenship just seemed bizarre and conspiratorial. He stopped posting on Stormfront. He began inventing excuses to get out of his radio show, leaving his father alone on the air each morning to explain why Derek wouldn’t be calling in. …“Get out of this,” one of his Shabbat friends emailed a few weeks after Derek’s graduation in May 2013, urging Derek to publicly disavow white nationalism. “Get out before it ruins some part of your future more than it already irreparably has.” Derek stayed near campus to housesit for a professor after graduation, and he began to consider making a public statement. He knew he no longer believed in white nationalism, and he had made plans to distance himself from his past by changing part of his name and moving across the country for graduate school. His instinct was to slip away quietly, but his advocacy had always been public — a legacy of radio shows, Internet posts, TV appearances, and an annual conference on racial tactics.

But Derek decided he needed a public break.

He took out his computer and began writing a statement. “A large section of the community I grew up in believes strongly in white nationalism, and members of my family whom I respect greatly, particularly my father, have long been resolute advocates for that cause. I was not prepared to risk driving a wedge in those relationships. “After a great deal of thought since then, I have resolved that it is in the best interests of everyone involved to be honest about my slow but steady disaffiliation from white nationalism. I can’t support a movement that tells me I can’t be a friend to whomever I wish or that other people’s races require me to think of them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements. “The things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all. I am sorry for the damage done.”

If you read the whole story, you’ll get fascinating details on how Derek’s family dealt with his epiphany.

You’ll also learned that he became a Hillary voter, which is disappointing since he should have become a libertarian.

But that’s a minor detail. The main thing is that he cast aside the collectivism of racism and group-think.

Here’s another story about a white guy that did the right thing.

Ten years after getting a tattoo, the expression on a stranger’s face changed a man’s heart and mind about his tattoo. …A man, who declined KVUE’s request for an interview, recently called Texas Bob’s asking Barr for a cover up. “He’s got an old tattoo of a skull with a rebel flag bandana around his head,” he said. An expression on a woman’s face changed his heart. “An older black lady saw him and saw the tattoo and her expression changed as she saw it,” Barr said. “That seemed like it just broke his heart a little bit and he decided that day that it was time to do something about it.” Barr blacked out the rebel flag bandana on the man’s tattoo. “He seemed like a little weight had been lifted from him,” Barr said.

By the way, it’s very possible that the guy didn’t have any racist motive when he first got the tattoo. He may simply have been from the south and didn’t think beyond that. Or maybe he just thought it was cool, or edgy.

But it is heartwarming that he changed his mind – not because he was forced to – but because he saw that it hurt someone else’s feelings. That’s a very good type of empathy.

And this isn’t a one-off story, at least if this report from the Washington Post is any indication.

Randy Stiles learned the hard way: Having a Confederate flag tattoo that reads “Southern Pride” with a noose hanging off it isn’t a path to success. “A lot of public ridicule came from it,” Stiles, 25, said this month as he waited to get the flag on his right forearm removed. “I’ve got to get it gone.” Eliminating a tattoo like that takes hours under the needle and usually costs as much as $500. But Southside Tattoo in Brooklyn Park, Md., is removing the hate for free, covering up racist and gang-related tattoos as part of its mission.

I realize that these stories are just anecdotes, but I suspect that 90 percent-plus of Americans have the right aspirations when it comes to race.

Professor Glenn Reynolds wrote about this positive sentiment back in 2015.

…if you leave the politicians, the pundits and the crazies aside, ordinary Americans are behaving quite differently. Maybe we should be paying more attention to that bit of good news. And maybe so should the politicians and pundits. After the Charleston shooting, citizens of South Carolina, both black and white, joined hands, and more than 15,000 of them marched in a show of love and friendship. …20,000 people show up for a multiracial “All Lives Matter” march in Birmingham, Ala. It could be the largest such march there since MLK. Glenn Beck and Chuck Norris were there, but that’s not all. …“Alveda King, a niece of civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., marched in the front row. Bishop Jim Lowe, pastor of the predominantly black Guiding Light Church in Birmingham, co-organized the march with Beck and marched with him at the front. As a child, Lowe attended Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where the march started, a headquarters church for the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Lowe and his sisters were in the church when a KKK bomb blew up the church and killed four little girls on Sept. 15, 1963.” …Once again the national news media, noted Washington Post blogger David Weigel, “was largely absent.” No time for positivity where race is concerned, I guess. Meanwhile, in Houston, more than a thousand people of all races gathered at an impromptu memorial for murdered Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth. As station KHOU reported, “Those gathered lit candles and gave hugs, hoping to turn the murder from hate to healing.” From hate to healing: That’s what’s bubbling up from the American people, even as our political leadership sows division. Which will win out? That depends on what we all do next, doesn’t it? The American people have a strong spirit of egalitarianism and kindness, one that shows over and over again. But our political class sees more gain in promoting hatred and division. Who will win? If we’re lucky, our “leaders” will follow the people on this.

Incidentally, we obviously have some problems still to solve in America, but we should be proud of how far we’ve come.

Especially compared to the rest of the world, as illustrated by this map.

Courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute, here’s some more evidence of societal progress.

Opinions about interracial dating and marriage on a personal level have…evolved significantly. In 1971, 48 percent nationally said they would not approve of their own children dating someone of another race, while 28 percent said they would approve. In 2014, nearly eight in ten Americans said it wouldn’t matter at all if someone in their family was going to marry someone of another race. Nine percent said they would be happy about it, while 11 percent said they would be unhappy. Today, a majority of whites (54 percent) say they would neither favor nor oppose a close relative marrying a black person. Blacks are slightly less ambivalent, with 42 percent of them giving that response about a close relative marrying a white person. Fifty-two percent favor the idea compared to 30 percent of whites. Along with these changes in public opinion, interracial marriage is also becoming more common in the United States. Pew Research Center analysis of the 2013 American Community Survey found that 6.3 percent of all marriages that year were between people of different races, compared to less than 1 percent in 1970.

And progress isn’t just about attitudes.

Thomas Edsall of the New York Times wrote an encouraging column about economic progress among African-Americans.

…the black upper middle class is ascending the economic ladder at a faster rate than its white counterpart. … William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at Harvard and the author of “The Truly Disadvantaged,”…wrote…”One of the most significant changes in recent decades is the remarkable gains in income among more affluent blacks. When we adjust for inflation to 2014 dollars, the percentage of black Americans earning at least $75,000 more than doubled from 1970 to 2014, to 21 percent. Those making $100,000 or more almost quadrupled to 13 percent (in contrast white Americans saw a less striking increase, from 11 to 26 percent).” In an NBER paper issued in November 2016, Patrick Bayer, an economist at Duke, and Kerwin Charles, a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago, published comparable findings, reporting that “higher quantile black men have experienced substantial gains in both relative earnings levels and their positional rank in the white earnings distribution.”

Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal also opined about black progress.

During a period of legal discrimination and violent hostility to their advancement, blacks managed to make unprecedented gains that have never been repeated. Black poverty fell to 47% from 87% between 1940 and 1960—before the implementation of Great Society programs that receive so much credit for poverty reduction. The percentage of black white-collar workers quadrupled between 1940 and 1970—before the implementation of affirmative-action policies that supposedly produced today’s black middle class. In New York City, the earnings of black workers tripled between 1940 and 1950, and over the next decade the city saw a 55% increase in the number of black lawyers, a 56% increase in the number of black doctors and a 125% increase in the number of black teachers.

Let’s hope all this progress continues.

In part, this means public policy reforms such as school choice and welfare reform. Another part of the answer is for government to simply get out of the way since even policies designed to help minorities can backfire.

But mostly this is a question of individual morality. We should all try to be like Daryl Davis and the rest of the people in the above stories.

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Last night, I retweeted an image that rubbed me the wrong way.

It showed three kids who were handcuffed by undercover cops for criminal activity.

And what was their crime? Were they picking pockets? Beating up tourists? Slashing tires?

Nope, none of those things. Instead, they were (gasp!!) selling water to thirsty people. And they didn’t have a piece of paper from the government giving them permission to participate in voluntary exchange. Oh, the horror.

And everyone knows that selling water without a license is a gateway drug to the ultimate underage crime of operating an unlicensed lemonade stand. Or maybe even shoveling snow, cutting grass, or selling worms without government approval!

Here’s the original tweet.

This really sums up why libertarians don’t like government. All too often, it’s the unfair application of force against innocent behavior.

This episode of government thuggery has received a surprising amount of coverage. Here are some excerpts from a story by U.S. News & World Report.

Police handcuffed three teenagers Thursday evening for attempting to selling water without a permit on the National Mall.Photos tweeted by passerby Tim Krepp, a tour guide and writer, show three plainclothes U.S. Park Police officers detaining the three African-American teens near the Mall’s Smithsonian Castle, located between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.

The good news is that the kids weren’t actually arrested.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Park Police, Sgt. Anna Rose, confirms three teenagers were detained for vending without a license, but says she feels “this has gotten blown out of proportion.” The three teens, ages 16 and 17, were detained for “illegally selling water” but were not charged, Rose says. They were held until their parents arrived. A fourth individual was immediately released after officers determined he was uninvolved, she says.

If you click on Mr. Krepp’s tweet and read the comments, you’ll notice some discussion of whether white kids would have been treated the same way.

I don’t like to assume racism without real evidence, so my default assumption is that the cops were primarily motivated by a desire to fill their quota and have some proof that they weren’t goofing off.

But it’s also worth noting that the over-criminalization of society creates opportunities for bad people in government to target minorities (or other groups that fall into disfavor). And if it’s danger to ride a train while black, then it’s also possible that it’s risky to sell water while black.

The broader lesson is that it’s a good idea to have fewer laws. And the laws that do exist should be designed to protect people from external aggression. Especially given the horror stories that are produced by the alternative approach.

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I’ve explained many times that an economy’s wealth and output depend on the quantity and quality of labor and capital and how effectively those two factors of production are combined.

Let’s look today on the labor portion of that formula. And since I’ve already expressed my concerns about the quantity of labor that is being productively utilized, now let’s focus on the quality of labor. In other words, we’ll look at the degree to which the workforce has the skills, knowledge, and ethics to be productive.

This is why education is very important, but also why we have big reasons to be concerned in the United States. Consider, for instance, the late Andrew Coulson’s famous (and discouraging) chart. It shows that politicians routinely increase the amount of money that’s being spent (on a per-student basis, American schools get more funding than any other nation), yet student test scores are both mediocre and flat.

But that’s just part of the story. We also have the national disgrace of substandard education for minority communities.

Here’s some of what Walter Williams wrote about the scandalous failure of government schools to produce quality education for minority children.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card, nationally, most black 12th-graders’ test scores are either basic or below basic in reading, writing, math and science. “Below basic” is the score received when a student is unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at his grade level. “Basic” indicates only partial mastery. Put another way, the average black 12th-grader has the academic achievement level of the average white seventh- or eighth-grader. …In terms of public policy, what to do? …Many black parents want a better education and safer schools for their children. The way to deliver on that desire is to offer parents alternatives to poorly performing and unsafe public schools. Expansion of charter schools is one way to provide choice. The problem is that charter school waiting lists number in the tens of thousands. In Philadelphia, for example, there are 22,000 families on charter school waiting lists. Charter school advocates estimate that nationally, over 1 million parents are on charter school waiting lists.

The above excerpt from Walter’s column is scandalous.

The excerpt that follows is nauseating.

The National Education Association and its political and civil rights organization handmaidens preach that we should improve, not abandon, public schools. Such a position is callous deceit, for many of them have abandoned public schools. Let’s look at it. Nationwide, about 12 percent of parents have their children enrolled in private schools. In Chicago, 44 percent of public-school teachers have their own children enrolled in private schools. In Philadelphia, it’s also 44 percent. In Baltimore, it’s 35 percent, and in San Francisco, it’s 34 percent. That ought to tell us something. …Politicians who fight against school choice behave the way teachers do. Fifty-two percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have school-age children have them enrolled in private schools.

By the way, what happens when ordinary black children have a chance to escape the government’s monopoly school system?

Thomas Sowell has opined on the amazingly positive results that occur when black children have this opportunity.

We keep hearing that “black lives matter,” but they seem to matter only when that helps politicians to get votes… What about black success? Does that matter? Apparently not so much. We have heard a lot about black students failing to meet academic standards. So you might think that it would be front-page news when…ghetto schools not only meet, but exceed, the academic standards of schools in more upscale communities. …Only 39 percent of all students in New York state schools who were tested recently scored at the “proficient” level in math, but 100 percent of the students at the Crown Heights Success Academy school scored at that level in math. Blacks and Hispanics are 90 percent of the students in the Crown Heights Success Academy. The Success Academy schools in general ranked in the top 2 percent in English and in the top 1 percent in math. …Black students in these Success Academy schools reached the “proficient” level more than twice as often as black students in the regular public schools. What makes this all the more amazing is that these charter schools are typically located in the same ghettos or barrios where other blacks or Hispanics are failing miserably on the same tests. More than that, successful charter schools are often physically housed in the very same buildings as the unsuccessful public schools.

But Prof. Sowell echoes the point Prof. Williams made about poor children being trapped in bad schools because of limits on school choice.

If black success was considered half as newsworthy as black failures, such facts would be headline news — and people who have the real interests of black and other minority students at heart would be asking, “Wow! How can we get more kids into these charter schools?” …minority parents have already taken notice. More than 43,000 families are on waiting lists to get their children into charter schools. But admission is by lottery, and far more have to be turned away than can be admitted. Why? Because the teachers’ unions are opposed to charter schools — and they give big bucks to politicians, who in turn put obstacles and restrictions on the expansion of charter schools. …If you want to understand this crazy and unconscionable situation, just follow the money and follow the votes. Black success is a threat to political empires and to a whole social vision behind those empires. That social vision has politicians like Bill de Blasio and Hillary Clinton cast in the role of rescuers and protectors of blacks.

Notwithstanding everything written up to this point, the purpose of today’s column isn’t to argue in favor of school choice.

Yes, that’s critical for the nation and vitally important for minority advancement.

But I want to focus instead on the question of why school choice hasn’t become the civil rights issue of the 21st century. And to be even more specific, I want to explore the scandalous decision by some people at the NAACP to betray black children.

The Wall Street Journal opined about this topic today.

The outfit that helped end segregation in public education now works to trap poor and minority kids in dysfunctional schools. Last month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People introduced a resolution at its national convention in Cincinnati calling for a moratorium on charter schools… The resolution must be formally adopted at a board meeting later this year.

Here’s some very relevant data.

Some 28% of charter-school students are black, which is almost double the figure for traditional public schools. A report last year from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that across 41 urban areas black students in charters gained on average 36 extra days in math learning a year and 26 in reading… Black students in poverty notched 59 more days in math. This is the definition of “advancement.” …A 2013 poll of black voters in four southern states by the Black Alliance for Educational Options found that at least 85% agreed that “government should provide parents with as many choices as possible.” …Another sign of support is the hundreds of thousands of black students nationwide who sign up for lotteries for a seat at a charter.

The conclusion is very unflattering.

The group’s real motive is following orders from its teacher-union patrons. …The National Education Association dropped $100,000 in 2014 for a partnership with the NAACP.

Jason Russell of the Washington Examiner was similarly scathing about the NAACP’s actions.

One of the few education reforms that has actually succeeded in helping African-American students get a better education is school choice, especially the growth of public charter schools. So it didn’t make much sense, to put it kindly, when the NAACP approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. …Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told the Washington Examiner that…”The fact that the NAACP wants a national moratorium on charter schools, many of which offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children, is inexplicable,”…Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, also criticized the NAACP in a statement. “The public charter school moratorium put forward at this year’s NAACP convention does a disservice to communities of color,” Jeffries said. …Steve Perry, founder and head of Capital Preparatory Schools,…said the national group is “out of touch even with their own chapters … This is more proof that the NAACP has been mortgaged by the teachers union and they keep paying y’all to say what they want to say.”

Since this has been a depressing topic, let’s end with an uplifting video from Reason TV about the success of various models of charter schools.

P.S. Even though I’m not partisan, I understand that coalition politics are important. Reagan, for instance, had his three-legged stool of small-government libertarians, social conservatives, and military/foreign policy hawks. All three groups were united in the belief that their respective goals could be advanced by Reagan, even if they bickered with each other about the relative importance of various issues and occasionally had fights with each other (one of my first battles in Washington was advocating for a sequester during Reagan’s second term over the objections of the hawks, a battle that was repeated back in 2013).

With this in mind (and especially since the teacher unions bring a lot of campaign money to the table), I definitely understand why Democratic politicians are willing to sacrifice the interests of black families and their children by opposing education reform. I even partially understand why the NAACP feels pressure to accommodate the demands of teacher unions (and I fully understand, from the perspective of coalition politics, why the NAACP made absurd accusations against the Tea Party).

But surely there must be a point where coalition politics has to take second place and the interests of black families should be in first place (an issue addressed in another great video from Reason).

P.P.S. Some folks on the left are willing to break ranks. Jonathan Alter wrote about charter schools for the Daily Beast. Here are some excerpts.

…the backlash against education reform among liberals who should know better has been disheartening. …the top quintile of charters—the highly effective ones run by experienced and widely-respected charter operators—not only beat traditional public schools serving students in the same demographic cohorts, they often outperform them by 20, 30, or even 50 points on many metrics.

He cites New Orleans as an example.

New Orleans is a good example of where charters, which now educate 95 percent of New Orleans public school students, are working. A decade ago, New Orleans had the worst schools in the country…The results in New Orleans are impressive. Over the last decade, graduation rates have surged from 54 percent to 73 percent, and college enrollment after graduation from 37 percent to 59 percent. (There’s also a new emphasis on helping those who attend college to complete it.) Before Katrina, 62 percent of schools were failing. Today, it’s 6 percent. The biggest beneficiaries have been African-American children, who make up 85 percent of New Orleans enrollment. The high school graduation rate nationally for black students is 59 percent. In New Orleans, it’s 65 percent, which is also much higher than the state average. Test scores are still low overall, but thousands more African-American students are taking the ACTs and doing better on them.

And even Newark.

In Newark, where 25 percent of students attend charter schools, the percentage of African-Americans choosing charters is closer to 50 percent in some grade levels. Contrary to the claim that charters succeed only by “skimming” or “creaming” the students from more stable and middle-class families, Newark’s charters enroll a higher percentage of poor students than district schools.CREDO numbers show Newark charter school students gaining the equivalent of more than five months per year in performance in reading and math—a huge advantage over their counterparts in district schools. The percentage of black students in Newark who are doing better than the state average for African-Americans has more than doubled.

I guess this means I’ll have to add Mr. Alter to my collection of honest leftists.

As for the NAACP, I can’t even imagine how the advocates of the resolution can look at themselves in the mirror.

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I thought it was a remarkable development last year when a columnist from the New York Times reported that supposedly pro-feminist policies actually backfire against women.

Maybe this would help readers recognize that there are adverse unintended consequences of government intervention. Bastiat would be very happy!

Now we have a new example from the academic world. Two economists, one from the University of Virginia and the other from the University of Oregon, conducted a study of “ban the box” laws that restrict employers from figuring out whether job applicants have criminal records.

The purpose of these laws almost surely is noble. Everyone presumably would like to help ex-convicts mainstream back into society. Especially since many of them are minorities who may already face discrimination and other challenges (and maybe they were thrown in jail for silly reasons, such as draconian drug laws).

So it sounds very compassionate to impose these laws, right? Who could object to helping ex-cons get in the door for interviews, at which point they can hopefully show potential employers that they have value.

Well, the study shows that these laws hurt more than they help. Here are some passages from the abstract.

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted “ban the box” (BTB) policies preventing employers from conducting criminal background checks until late in the job application process. Their goal is to improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment. However, removing information about job applicants’ criminal histories could lead employers who don’t want to hire ex-offenders to try to guess who the ex-offenders are, and avoid interviewing them. In particular, employers might avoid interviewing young, low-skilled, black and Hispanic men when criminal records are not observable. This would worsen employment outcomes for these already-disadvantaged groups. In this paper, we use variation in the details and timing of state and local BTB policies to test BTB’s effects on employment for various demographic groups. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of being employed by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men, and by 2.3 percentage points (2.9%) for young, low-skilled Hispanic men. These findings support the hypothesis that when an applicant’s criminal history is unavailable, employers statistically discriminate against demographic groups that are likely to have a criminal record.

The most relevant bit of info from the abstract is that these laws reduce employment for young black men and young Hispanic men with low skill levels (and don’t forget these are groups that already are disadvantaged thanks to minimum wage laws).

And if you dig into the study, you can learn more about what’s really happening.

Figure 2 shows a local linear graph of the residuals from equation 1, for young, low-skilled black men. Time is recentered so that 0 is the effective date of a jurisdiction’s BTB policy. …Based on the pre-BTB period, the identifying assumption that BTB and non-BTB jurisdictions would evolve similarly in the absence of BTB…looks reasonable: the two lines follow each other closely before the date-zero threshold. After that date, however, the lines quickly diverge, with employment outcomes worsening in BTB-adopting places and improving slightly elsewhere. …it appears that BTB dramatically hurt employment outcomes for this group.

And here’s the accompany chart from the study.

Here’s another section that I found fascinating.

The laws restricting criminal background checks lead to more discrimination all across the nation, but the least amount of additional discrimination against African-Americans is in the south.

Given differences in racial composition and labor markets across the country, we might expect BTB to have different effects in different places. …young, low-skilled white men are not affected by BTB anywhere. However, the employment probabilities of their black peers are significantly reduced in three regions: the Northeast (7.4%), the Midwest (7.5%), and the West (8.8%). The negative effect on black men is much smaller (2.3%) and not statistically significant in the South… These results suggest that the larger the black or Hispanic population, the less likely employers are to use race/ethnicity as a proxy for criminality.

For what it’s worth, I also wonder if the South, on a person-to-person basis, actually is less racist.

Here’s another interesting – albeit discouraging – bit of information from the study. When the economy is weak, these laws are even more damaging for minorities.

…at all unemployment rates the effect of BTB on white men is near-zero and statistically insignificant. …the effect on black men…is more negative when unemployment is high, but now the estimated total effects are relatively large and negative even at low unemployment. The negative total effect becomes statistically significant at 7% or 8% unemployment, and at 9% unemployment the total effect of BTB on black men is over 3.6 percentage points and statistically significant.

The most logical interpretation of these results it that there’s more discrimination when employers have a buyer’s market, meaning lots of potential job applicants for each position.

Here’s the most depressing bit of data from the study. The effects of these laws last a long time.

BTB’s effect on black men is large and grows over time. BTB reduces employment for black men by 2.7 percentage points (not statistically significant) during the first year, 5.1 percentage points (p < 0.01) during the second year, 4.1 percentage points (p < 0.10) during the third year, 8.4 percentage points (p < 0.01) during the fourth year, and an average of 7.7 percentage points (p < 0.05) during the fifth and later years. This suggests that BTB has a permanent effect on employment for black men.

And here’s the man-bites-dog conclusion. Blacks and other minorities are hurt by the laws, so guess which group benefits?

BTB has a positive effect on white men with no high school diploma. On average, white men in this group are 3.9 percentage points (5.6%) more likely to be employed after BTB than before.

That may be the perfect (in a bad way) example of government in action: Good intentions leading to bad results. Just like the War on Drugs. And the War on Poverty. And licensing laws. And antitrust laws. And…oh, never mind. You get the idea.

No wonder this is my favorite poster.

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I’ve written before about the tremendous success of Hong Kong. The jurisdiction routinely is ranked as being the world’s freest economy, and its fiscal policy is a role model for spending restraint.

One reason Hong Kong has prospered is that it has enjoyed a policy of benign neglect, particularly when it was a British colony prior to 1997. More specifically, the United Kingdom by happenstance appointed John Cowperthwaite to help govern the colony. And his view of governing was to leave things alone.

…while the mother country lurched in a socialist direction at home under Clement Attlee, Cowperthwaite became an advocate of what he called “positive non-interventionism” in HK.

Cowperthwaite was especially wise in realizing that collecting statistics was risky because advocates of big government would want to justify and implement intervention on the basis of data.

To Cowperthwaite, the planner’s quest for statistics was anathema. So he refused to compile them. When Friedman asked him in 1963 about the “paucity of statistics,” Cowperthwaite answered, “If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.”

This may seem to be an arcane point, but imagine how much freer we would be if Washington didn’t have access to our private information.

Consider these examples.

  1. The burdensome modern income tax would be impossible if government didn’t have information on our income and assets.
  2. Disgusting examples of asset forfeiture would no long occur if the government didn’t have data on our bank accounts.
  3. Failed interventions such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core would be impractical if Washington didn’t have education statistics.
  4. Our medical system wouldn’t be messed up by Obamacare, Medicaid, and Medicare if politicians didn’t have data about healthcare.

The list is almost endless.

And now we have another disturbing example. As the New York Post reports, the Obama Administration is engaging in an intrusive and Orwellian data-collection exercise as a precursor for central planning of the economy and manipulation of private behavior.

Unbeknown to most Americans, Obama’s racial bean counters are furiously mining data on their health, home loans, credit cards, places of work, neighborhoods, even how their kids are disciplined in school — all to document “inequalities” between minorities and whites. This Orwellian-style stockpile of statistics includes a vast and permanent network of discrimination databases.

Why are they doing all this snooping? To justify more intervention, of course.

The bureaucrats are guided by the theory of disparate impact, which is based on the absurd notion that any difference in racial statistics somehow is a sign of malignant racism.

So it doesn’t matter if there isn’t any evidence of racism. It doesn’t matter if there’s any suggestion of actual discrimination.

What matters if that a bunch of bureaucrats want power to micro-manage the economy and control our lives.

Here’s what’s happening, for instance, in housing.

…the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing database, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development rolled out earlier this month to racially balance the nation, ZIP code by ZIP code. It will map every US neighborhood by four racial groups — white, Asian, black or African-American, and Hispanic/Latino — and publish “geospatial data” pinpointing racial imbalances. The agency proposes using nonwhite populations of 50% or higher as the threshold for classifying segregated areas. Federally funded cities deemed overly segregated will be pressured to change their zoning laws to allow construction of more subsidized housing in affluent areas in the suburbs, and relocate inner-city minorities to those predominantly white areas.

By the way, if you think this is just hyperbole, the federal government has been using Westchester County in New York as a guinea pig based on residential housing data. With terrible results, as you can imagine.

And the Department of Housing and Urban development also has been using subsidized housing as a tool for central planning of society.

Needless to say, this is the wrong approach. Instead of letting bureaucrats in Washington act as some sort of national zoning commission, we should shut down HUD and get the federal government completely out of the housing sector.

And, more broadly, we should heed the wise words of John Cowperthwaite, who helped Hong Kong become rich by denying bureaucrats access to data.

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