Sunday, July 27, 2008

Does Government Spending Help or Hurt Race Relations?

This is a quote from Barack Obama on Meet the Press, 7/27/08 (link):

"The biggest problem that we have in terms of race relations, I think, is dealing with the legacy of past discrimination which has resulted in extreme disparities in terms of poverty, in terms of wealth and in terms of income. Our inner cities are a legacy of what happened in the past.

And the question is less assigning blame or rooting out active racism, because that's not the reason that those inner cities are in such bad shape, but rather figuring out are we willing to make the investments to deal with that past history so we can move forward to a brighter future? And that involves investing in early childhood education, fixing the schools in those communities, being willing to work in terms of job retraining. And those are serious investments."

It seems to me that Government and the "War on Poverty" were set up to adress those issues. We have been pumping taxpayer money into government programs for over four decades. Where has it gotten us?

It is a fair question to ask what amount of poverty is on account of government spending and the bad incentives that come with government entitlement programs.

Out of wedlock births for black Americans now top 70%. In the 1960's on 24% of black children were born to a single mom. We began programs that starting assisting single moms by giving them government payments. One of the basic rules of economics and government spending is based on incentives. If you pay for something you are going to get more of it. If you start paying for single mothers don't be surprised when you get more single mothers. If you start cutting checks for disabled kids don't be surprised when you get more disabled kids.

From the looks of it another round of Government anti-poverty programs could be a huge waste of resources that only make the problem worse. I am sure that past racism did have a negative affect on the black community, but I am not sure that government policies over the past four decades have done any better. If any "legacy" has more impact on the current envioronment I would venture that it is the more recent and massive federal programs.

Don't look for the "legacy" argument of black poverty to go away. If 70% of of black children are being born to single moms, what sort of poverty rate will they have 25 years from now when they are in their prime child bearing years? Looks like we have to deal with legacy for a long time.

Here are some of Thomas Sowell's thoughts on that legacy (From the book "The Quest for Cosmic Justice")...

In the United States, for example, many of the social problems of the contemporary black underclass are almost automatically attributed to "a legacy of slavery." The prevalence of fatherless families in the black ghettos, for example, has been widely explained by the lack of legally constituted families under slavery. But if one proceeds beyond plausibility and guilt to actually seek out the facts, an entirely different picture emerges.

A hundred years ago, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery, the rate of marriage in the black population of the United States was slightly higher than that of the white population. Most black children were raised in two-parent families, even during the era of slavery, and for generations thereafter. The catastrophic decline of the black nuclear family began, like so many other social catastrophes in the United States, during the decade of the 1960s. Prior to the 1960s, the difference in marriage rates between black and white males was never as great as 5 percentage points. Yet, today, that difference is greater than 20 percentage points- and widening, even though the nuclear family is also beginning to decline among white Americans....


The fact that large numbers of black Americans today who are not in the labor force has also been one of those things causally (and often rather casually) attributed to slavery. But again, if we go back a hundred years, we find the labor force participation rates among blacks were slightly higher than among whites, and remained so, on past the middle of the twentieth century. If we want to know why this is no longer so, again we must look to events and trends much closer to our own time.

Black literacy has also fallen. It is no legacy. Here is Gary North from Lew Rockwell on "The Good Old Days"

"By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Notice that for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were nevertheless literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 percent of blacks and 17 percent of whites can’t read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, white illiteracy quadrupled. Before you think of anything else in regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money on schooling as we did sixty years ago, but sixty years ago virtually everyone, black or white, could read."

We can talk about the legacy of slavery and racism all we want, but historical facts fly in the face of Obama's "conventional" thinking. The real legacy that we are seeing come to play in regards to todays urban poor is the legacy of our Government's misguided and misdirected "War on Poverty".

Additional Reading
Broken Cities
By Steven Hayward
Liberalism’s urban legacy
Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Let Me Be Frank said...

You hit the nail on the head.