Stossel: The state against blacks


John Stossel’s most recent television program was titled The State Against Blacks, and it dealt with the topics of affirmative action, welfare, and the minimum wage.

A featured guest on the show was Dr. Walter E. Williams, an economist at George Mason University. His most recent book is on this topic, and it’s titled Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? A preview of the book is available at that link.

On welfare, Williams told Stossel: “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery could not have done, the harshest Jim Crow laws and racism could not have done — namely, break up the black family. Today, just slightly over 30 percent of black kids live in two-parent families.” He contrasted this with much higher numbers of intact families in the past. A video clip is below.

In another clip from the show, Williams discusses the war on poverty and how the minimum wage is harmful to those it is meant to help.

Summarizing at the end of the show, Stossel told the audience that limited government — not an expansive welfare state — is best for everyone, including the poor, immigrants, and minorities:

There’s no question that in America that blacks, on average, are economically behind whites. Average black household income is about 40 percent less than for whites. Why? Other minorities were once that far behind, but they prospered. In 1910 Chinese immigrants were 10 percent poorer than other Americans. Their grandkids, in 1985, were 35 percent richer than other Americans.

Other minorities rose out of poverty: Italians, Hungarians, the Irish, and so on. So why not most blacks? Because just at the time that blacks like Walter Williams were lifting themselves out of poverty, President Johnson created a government war on poverty. Trillions of your dollars were spent on welfare programs that unintentionally reward dependency.

And then came more regulation like licensing rules and minimum wage rules that stifle entrepreneurship. Politicians like Jessie Jackson say racism is why blacks still struggle today. But Walter Williams taught me that’s just nonsense. There is still racism today. But if that’s such an obstacle, explain the success of black immigrants in America. Their skin is just as dark, but they knew well they’d proposer. Immigrants from Jamaica are poorer than the average American, but a few years later their kids are one percent richer than the average American.

Why? For one reason, it’s harder for immigrants to get government assistance. They don’t grow up in a culture of handouts, so they’re forced to make it on their own. And that makes all the difference. What helps poor people most is limited government, simple rules that everyone understands, that leave newcomers free to braid hair, for example, or drive taxis, or start companies.

If the state keeps the peace but then gets out of our way, people prosper. I didn’t understand that until Walter Williams taught me. And many Americans still don’t get it.

Stossel’s column on this topic is Is Government Aid Helping or Hurting Blacks? Video from Williams’ 1985 PBS documentary “State Against Blacks” is available here. Video from the “Good Intentions” series is here.


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