Blacks in Power Don't Empower Blacks

4,261,084 Views
Mar 26, 2018

Between 1970 and 2012, the number of black elected officials rose from fewer than 1,500 to more than 10,000. How has this affected the black community? Jason Riley of The Manhattan Institute answers the question in this video.

 

Order Jason Riley's book today: False Black Power

Progressives and the Democratic Party didn’t create the black middle class. Hardworking African Americans did.

  • The Manhattan Institute’s Jason Riley on the “condescending” notion that progressive affirmative action policies “created the black middle class”: “The reality is that blacks were entering the skilled professions—nursing, teaching, law, medicine, social work—at unprecedented rates prior to the widespread implementation of affirmative action policies on college campuses in the 1970s. Between 1930 and 1970, the number of black white-collar workers quadrupled. Earnings for black males rose 75% in the 1940s and another 45% in the 1950s. In the era of affirmative action, the black middle class has continued to expand, but at a slower rate than it was growing before.”View Source
  • While the black poverty rate has decreased overall in the last five decades, economic growth for many black Americans — particularly black males and poor blacks — has slowed since the rise of the welfare state, which has stalled economic progress for many lower income groups.View Source
  • Related reading: “What’s changed for African Americans since 1963, by the numbers” – The Washington PostView Source

Since Johnson first launched the progressive War on Poverty, the overall poverty rate has been flat, and the black poor have lost ground.

  • In the 1940s and ‘50s, black labor-participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes; and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points.View Source
  • While the black poverty rate has decreased overall in the last five decades, economic growth for many black Americans — particularly black males and poor blacks — has slowed since the rise of the welfare state, which has stalled economic progress for many lower income groups.View Source
  • The national poverty rate since the War on Poverty was first launched has remained relatively flat, hovering around 15%.View Source
  • WATCH: Jason Riley on how liberal policies are holding back black America.View Source
  • Recommended reading: “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” – Thomas SowellView Source

Is America making strides in racial equality? The number of black members of the U.S. House has grown over 700% since 1965.

  • Since the Civil Rights Act in 1965, black political participation has grown exponentially. Between 1965 and 2015, the number of African American members of the U.S. House of Representatives increased over 700%.View Source
  • However, despite political success following the Civil Rights Act, the black community has progressed slower economically than whites since then, and the black poor actually lost economic ground. Why? Much of it is connected to the rise of the progressives’ welfare state, which has entrenched the national poverty rate.View Source
  • WATCH: “Black Americans Failed by Good Intentions: An Interview with Jason Riley” - Jason RileyView Source
  • Related reading: “What’s changed for African Americans since 1963, by the numbers” – The Washington PostView Source

Progressives push the false argument that political and community leaders’ social identities matter more than their policies. 

  • When Michael Brown was shot dead after assaulting a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, much was made over the racial composition of the police department and city leaders.View Source
  • However, as the Manhattan Institute’s Jason Riley argues, such thinking reveals a false assumption: that social identities matter as much or even more than policies.View Source
  • The success of politicians among a particular social identity group does not necessarily translate to their constituents. Yet this calculus – political success is a pre-requisite to a better life – remains progressive orthodoxy.View Source
  • WATCH: Jason Riley on how liberal policies are holding back black America.View Source
  • Related reading: “A Better Direction for Black Lives Matter” – Jason RileyView Source

Wages for Black males rose 75% in the 1940s and another 45% in the 1950s. That growth has slowed since the rise of the welfare state.

  • Wages for Blacks males rose 75% in the 1940s and saw another 45% increase in the 1950s. Between 1930 and 1970, the number of Blacks working white-collar jobs increased four-fold.View Source
  • Such economic growth for many black Americans, particularly males and poor blacks, has slowed over the last five decades. What has changed? The rise of the progressives’ welfare state has stalled economic progress for many lower income groups.View Source
  • The Manhattan Institute’s Jason Riley argues that as long as black activists focus on only racism as the cause of inequality, they will not adequately address the social and government-imposed problems that plague the black community.View Source
  • WATCH: “Black Americans Failed by Good Intentions: An Interview with Jason Riley” - Jason RileyView Source

Democrats tell minorities that voting for them will fix their problems, but as black Americans have found for decades, that’s not true

  • Democrats promote the concept that if minorities elect them, particularly minority Democrats, the problems plaguing the community will be fixed. However, as the Manhattan Institute’s Jason Riley, notes, the evidence shows it’s not that simple. “One of the clear lessons from this history is that human capital has proven to be far more important than political capital in getting ahead,” writes Riley. “And that reality helps to explain why blacks fared the way they did not only in the Obama era but also in the preceding decades.”View Source
  • The success of politicians among a particular social identity group does not necessarily translate to their constituents. Yet this calculus – political success is a pre-requisite to a better life – remains progressive orthodoxy.View Source
  • WATCH: Jason Riley on how political power has failed African Americans.View Source
  • Related reading: “False Black Power? Preface” – Jason RileyView Source

Since 1965, the number of black elected officials has exploded. Between 1970 and 2012, it grew from fewer than 1,500 to more than 10,000. And, oh, yes—a black man was elected president. Twice.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that all these political gains would lead to economic gains. But that has not proven to be the case. In fact, during an era of growing black political influence, blacks as a group progressed at a slower rate than whites, and the black poor actually lost ground.

Why was the conventional wisdom wrong?

Because it was based on the incorrect assumption that politics was the pathway to black progress. Only black politicians, so the thinking went, could properly understand and address the challenges facing black Americans.

It wasn’t stable families, hard work, or education that would lift blacks into the middle class; it was more black city councilmen, congressmen and senators.

But the evidence, even according to liberal social scientists like Gary Orfield, “indicates that there may be little relationship between the success of . . . black leaders and the opportunities of typical black families.”

So, while black politicians, from Tom Bradley and Marion Barry to Maxine Waters and John Conyers, achieved considerable personal success, their constituents did not.

Yet this calculus—political success is a pre-requisite to a better life—remains progressive orthodoxy today.

When Michael Brown was shot dead after assaulting a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, much was made over the racial composition of the police department and city leaders.

But if black representation among law enforcement and city officials is so critically important, how do you explain the rioting in Baltimore the following year after a black suspect there died in police custody? At the time, 40 percent of Baltimore’s police officers were black. The Baltimore police commissioner was also black, along with the mayor and a majority of the city council.

What can be said of Baltimore is also true of Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., where black mayors and police chiefs and city councilmen and school superintendents have been in office for decades.

But to what end?

As I document in my book, False Black Power?, when blacks had little political power, they nevertheless made significant economic progress. In the 1940s and ’50s, black labor-participation rates exceeded those of whites, black incomes grew much faster than white incomes, and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points. Between 1940 and 1970—that is, during the Jim Crow era, with its racist laws— and before any affirmative action, the number of blacks in middle-class professions quadrupled. In other words, racial gaps were steadily narrowing without any special treatment for blacks.

And then came the War on Poverty in the mid-sixties. 

This was supposed to close the gap once and for all. Yet, despite billions of dollars of government assistance in the form of welfare payments, housing projects and enforced hiring programs like affirmative action, black poverty rates remained unchanged relative to white poverty rates.

In fact, a strong case can be made that to the extent that a social program, however well-meaning, interferes with a group's self-development, it does more harm than good. Government policies that discourage marriage and undermine the work ethic—open-ended welfare benefits, for example—help keep poor people poor.

No wonder, then, that more black politicians bringing home more government aid has done so little to improve rates of black employment, homeownership, and academic achievement.

As economist Thomas Sowell explains, “The relationship between political success and economic success has been more nearly inverse than direct.”

The history of Germans, Jews, and Italians in America support Sowell’s observation. Each of these groups made significant economic gains before ever attaining significant political power. Asians are the most recent example. How many prominent Asian politicians can you name?

On the other hand, the Irish—whose rise from poverty in the 19th century was especially slow—were very politically successful. Irish-run political organizations in places like Boston and Philadelphia dominated local government. In the US, the Irish had more political success than any other ethnic minority group. “Yet the Irish were,” according to Sowell, “the slowest rising of all European immigrants to America.”

The black experience in America is of course different from the experience of the Irish—or any other ethnic minority—but that doesn’t undermine the obvious conclusion: Human capital is far more important than political capital.

And the formula for prosperity is the same across the human spectrum: Traditional values such as marriage, stable families, education and hard work are immeasurably more important than the color of your congressman—or senator, or police chief, or president.

I’m Jason Riley of The Manhattan Institute for Prager University.

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