Please stop help­ing us

The Covington News - - OPINION - WAL­TER E. WIL­LIAMS COLUM­NIST Wal­ter E. Wil­liams is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. To find out more about Wal­ter E. Wil­liams and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate Web pag

While read­ing the first chap­ter of Ja­son Ri­ley’s new book, “Please Stop Help­ing Us,” I thought about Will Rogers’ Pro­hi­bi­tion-era ob­ser­va­tion that “Ok­la­homans vote dry as long as they can stag­ger to the polls.” Demon­stra­tive of sim­i­lar ded­i­ca­tion, one mem­ber of Congress told Van­der­bilt Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Carol Swain that “one of the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of rep­re­sent­ing blacks is their shame­less loy­alty. ... You can al­most get away with rap­ing ba­bies and be for­given. You don’t have any vig­i­lance about your per­for­mance.” In my opinion, there ap­pear to be no stan­dards of per­for­mance low enough for blacks to lose their loy­alty to their black po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Ri­ley says that be­tween 1970 and 2001, the num­ber of black elected officials sky­rock­eted from fewer than 1,500 to more than 9,000, but black poverty has re­mained roughly the same. Be­tween 1940 and 1960, when black po­lit­i­cal power was vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent, the black poverty rate fell from 87 per­cent to 47 per­cent. Ri­ley points out that there has been sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment among the black mid­dle class but that wide black-white gaps re­main with re­spect to in­come, ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment, un­em­ploy­ment, la­bor force par­tic­i­pa­tion, in­car­cer­a­tion rates and other mea­sures. De­spite po­lit­i­cal gains, there have been dra­matic re­ver­sals in teen un­em­ploy­ment, crime, out-ofwed­lock births and fam­ily sta­bil­ity. Po­lit­i­cal power is nei­ther a nec­es­sary nor a suf­fi­cient con­di­tion for so­cio-eco­nomic progress.

Ri­ley lays out the dev­as­tat­ing deal black po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and civil rights lead­ers have made with la­bor unions, in his aptly named chap­ter “Man­dat­ing Un­em­ploy­ment.” Black lead­ers of the past rec­og­nized that la­bor unions were hos­tile to the in­ter­ests of or­di­nary blacks. Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, in his 1874 es­say “The Folly, Tyranny, and Wicked­ness of La­bor Unions,” ar­gued that unions were not friends of blacks. W.E.B. Du Bois called unions “the great­est en­emy of the black work­ing man.” Booker T. Wash­ing­ton also op­posed unions be­cause of their ad­verse im­pact on blacks.

To­day’s black lead­ers have lit­tle reser­va­tion about giv­ing their sup­port to union poli­cies that harm their con­stituents. They sup­port min­i­mum wage in­creases, which have had a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on black em­ploy­ment, par­tic­u­larly that of teenagers. Re­cently, black teen un­em­ploy­ment reached 44 per­cent, but few peo­ple re­al­ize that dur­ing the late 1940s, be­fore rapid min­i­mum wage es­ca­la­tion, it was less than 10 per­cent and lower than white teen un­em­ploy­ment. Black lead­ers also give their sup­port to a su­per-min­i­mum wage law known as the Davis-Ba­con Act of 1931. The leg­isla­tive his­tory of Davis-Ba­con makes clear that its union and con­gres­sional sup­port­ers sought to elim­i­nate black em­ploy­ment in the con­struc­tion trades.

Ri­ley’s “Ed­u­ca­tional Free­dom” chap­ter de­tails the sorry story of black ed­u­ca­tion. Be­tween 1970 and to­day, ed­u­ca­tional spend­ing has tripled and the school work­force has dou­bled, far out­pac­ing stu­dent en­roll­ment. De­spite these mas­sive in­creases in re­sources, black aca­demic achieve­ment is a na­tional dis­grace. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional As­sess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Progress, known as the na­tion’s re­port card, black 17-yearolds score at the same level as white 13-year-olds in read­ing and math. White 13-year-olds score higher than black 17-year-olds in science.

A num­ber of stud­ies show that black stu­dents who at­tend pri­vate and char­ter schools do far bet­ter than their peers in pub­lic schools. If there were greater parental choice, through ed­u­ca­tional vouch­ers, black achieve­ment would be higher. How­ever, teach­ers unions see school choice as a threat to their mo­nop­oly, and vir­tu­ally ev­ery black politi­cian, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, backs the teach­ers unions.

At an 1865 gath­er­ing of the Mas­sachusetts Anti-Slav­ery So­ci­ety, Dou­glass said ev­ery­body had asked, “What should we do with the Ne­gro?” Dou­glass said: “I have had but one an­swer from the begin­ning. Do noth­ing with us! Your do­ing with us has al­ready played the mis­chief with us.” Later on, Wash­ing­ton ex­plained, “It is im­por­tant and right that all priv­i­leges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more im­por­tant that we be pre­pared for the ex­er­cise of these priv­i­leges.” It’s the aban­don­ment of these vi­sions that ac­counts for the many prob­lems of to­day that Ri­ley’s book does a mas­ter­ful job of ex­plain­ing.

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