The GOP & African-Americans: The way forward

Boiled to its essence, the Republican Party can no longer afford to be silent on issues unique to the African American community. Photo: White House Photographic Office

NEW YORK, April 3, 2013 ― Dr. Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning economist and pre-eminent monetary economist of the 20th century, was perhaps one of the most eloquent voices in support of libertarian values as moral values.

Like Friedman, Drs. Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell are economists who have taken strong positions opposing affirmative action, minimum wage laws, and welfare programs. All three strongly oppose government restrictions on school choice.

At their core, their anti-afirmative-action beliefs come from two sources. First is recognition of the history of unintended consequences of “progressive” liberal policies, policies intended to support the disenfranchised Americans ‒ African Americans in particular. They argue that affirmative action fails to address the core challenges of black employment.

The unintended, perverse effects of minimum wage laws are striking. Friedman, Williams and Sowell have all pointed out the strong, direct correlation between minimum wage laws and black youth unemployment. Firms pay workers up to the amount that they believe those workers contribute to increased revenue. If you raise the minimum wage above workers’ contribution to the firm, the firm doesn’t hire them. Worse, if a minimum wage hike raises the wages of unskilled workers relative to more highly skilled workers, employers will substitute skilled workers for unskilled, pushing up demand and wages for skilled labor.

There’s a reason unions, whose members are rarely minimum wage workers, are strong advocates of higher minimum wages. There’s nothing altruistic about union bosses. 

The net effect is to leave young African American males, the least skilled of unskilled workers, effectively frozen out of the job market.

The result is that instead of starting the traditional ladder climb from an entry level position, learning through on-the-job experience and gathering skills that command a higher wage, young people find themselves twice trapped; first because they’re given an inferior public education, second because they’re denied the opportunity to supplement that education with on-the-job training.

Government welfare initiatives further compound the malaise, making it easier to stay out of the work force than to hunt for a job that requires no skills. 

If human action is governed by incentives, and if good governments are those which provide positive incentives for citizens to become reliable and productive, what can we say of a government that creates a welfare system that is more attractive than either the job search or an entry level job? 

The combined impact of welfare programs and minimum wage laws were entirely predictable — one more disincentive to equip African Americans and other disenfranchised groups with the skills training required to progressively demand higher and higher earning power in the free market.  

This problem has been explored in economic literature and the joint impact of welfare and minimum wage laws is explored routinely in economics principles classes. A clear understanding of the problem and a desire to release blacks and other minorities from this trap underpin the Republican agenda for African Americans .

The passage by a Republican Congress of 1992’s welfare reform legislation, the steady rise in African American per capita GDP, and the success of numerous school choice programs are all steps away from traditional welfare systems. So why do the mainstream media and the Black community continue to believe that the Republican party and its ideals have “failed” African Americans?

Some of it is out of pure ignorance.

For Kanye West to suggest that “George Bush hates black people,” when President Bush saved more lives in Africa than any other President in American history, is simply nonsense.

At the heart of this ignorance is the idea that the Republican party is somehow oblivious or opposed to the best interests of African Americans and other minorities. It runs the gamut from crude allegations that the Tea Party is a racist institution, despite its supporting of numerous African American candidates, to reasonable-sounding claims by media personalities like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other.”

This notion is partly born from Barry Goldwater’s refusal to categorically support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Goldwater did so not because he supported racism — he was a leading advocate for civil rights — but out of a fundamental belief in the unconstitutionality of the government’s efforts to dictate morality.

As the argument was laid out by Friedman in 1962, in his work “Capitalism and Freedom, “Is there any difference in principle between the taste that leads a householder to prefer an attractive servant to an ugly one and the taste that leads another to prefer a Negro to a white or a white to a Negro, except that we sympathize and agree with the one taste and may not agree with the other?

“I do not mean to say that all tastes are equally good. On the contrary, I believe strongly that the color of a man’s skin or the religion of his parents is, by itself, no reason to treat him differently; that a man should be judged by what he is and what he does and not by these external characteristics.

“I deplore what seem to me the prejudice and narrowness of outlook of those whose tastes differ from mine in this respect and I think less of them for it. But in a society based on free discussion, the appropriate recourse is for me to seek to persuade them that their tastes are bad and that they should change their views and their behavior, not to use coercive power to enforce my tastes and my attitudes on others.”

This is no argument from hatred or racial intolerance. Nevertheless, the optics of a presidential candidate opposing what was felt to be the necessary means to end Jim Crow held profound ramifications for the resultant exodus of Blacks from the Republican Party.

It is crucial to realize that this exodus was not the result of Goldwater taking a principled if controversial stand in support of his libertarian values. His true failure came from an inability of the campaign, and the party as a whole, to present a viable, attractive and supportable alternative to end the Jim Crow era. When they failed, the Democrats were able to paint themselves as the lone defenders of the interests of African Americans — an article of faith liberals have attempted to ingrain into the national conscious ever since.

In many ways, this is the same challenge that Libertarianism and the Republican Party are faced with today. As a party focused on personal liberty, and especially focused, as Martin Luther King said, on “judging a man not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character,” developing any kind of “racial agenda” has often been viewed as something of an anathema to the worldview of most modern Republicans.

Like Goldwater, however, despite expressing a noble, laudable, and sincere principles, such positions are inadequate when they are not accompanied by an alternative set of policies capable of addressing these same specific challenges in a way that is both adequate and capable of winning large scale public support.

The Republican Party can no longer afford to be silent on the specific issues unique to the African American community, nor to lack a systematic, proven policy for addressing the urban issues of the nation.

In theory, this shouldn’t be a difficult agenda to pursue. After all, given the political monopoly Democrats have had in many major urban centers and the opportunities they’ve had to improve the lives of African Americans over the last 40 years — how much can be said for their track record? It’s worth noting that some of the most significant roadblocks to overcoming poverty in urban black communities are precisely the sorts of things libertarians like Friedman warned against.

From failed schools to crime-ridden public housing projects, from intergenerational poverty traps to egregiously high levels of black youth unemployment, a disproportionately high number of socioeconomic challenges today are the result of misguided government policies — specifically, misguided Democratic policies. Consider that out of the top ten US cities with the highest poverty rates in the nation, all ten are run by Democratics. The ten poorest performers among America’s 50 largest school districts? All led by Democrats.

Similar rankings on crime, urban decay, failing infrastructure and public transport all point overwhelmingly to the same conclusion. What’s more, all of these failings have disproportionately influenced African Americans. In Democrat-governed Detroit, with the eleventh largest school district in the nation, Black dropout rates approach an unprecedented 80 percent. In Democrat-led Washington, DC, HIV rates among African Americans hover over 3 percent, surpassing rates in Somalia, Sudan, Ghana, Ethiopia, and several other third world African nations, and only slightly surpassed by the Republic of the Congo.

Among the 25 most dangerous cities in America for violent crime (again, disproportionately low-income, black, urban communities), not one of the failed cities is run by a Republican.

Given such a long, consistent record of lackluster leadership, it is a wonder of modern marketing that the Democratic Party has managed to brand itself as a party of responsible stewardship for the Black community. It’s an even more amazing failure of modern marketing that the Republicans haven’t wiped the failed urban Democratic brand off the map by shining a massive spotlight on its history of dismal leadership, while offering up attractive, systematic alternatives with proven track records.

The opportunities to compete and win back the African American community are very real. Dissatisfaction with the status quo is palpable. Our values — access to on the job training, expanding options for quality education, and eliminating incentive structures that reinforce intergenerational poverty — equip us with the intellectual framework we need to be able to institute effective long term change. But in the same way that many African Americans were well aware of Lyndon Johnson’s questionable track record on civil rights prior to 1964, this uncertainty and openness to new alternatives will only be relevant if Republicans are capable of offering up clear, attractive, specific solutions to the challenges faced in modern Black communities — in a way that we were unable to offer to the ending of segregation.

*****

About the Author: Andrew Simon is the editor-in-chief of Hip Hop Republicans. As a world public speaking champion and professional web designer, Andrew has provided public speaking consulting, speech writing, and web design services for a wide range of political and business professionals. His political focus is on minority outreach, urban socioeconomic development, and policy promoting entrepreneurship and school choice as a tool for social mobility. He can be reached for web design, speech writing or public speaking consulting, and media requests at andrew.simon@hiphoprepublican.com


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