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Friday, January 05, 2007

Wrong Lessons Learned During Civil Rights Struggle

Standing before the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressing the throng gathered there to hear him, called for equality of opportunity. He rightly said, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

There were two distinct approaches blacks used to express their discontent with discrimination and particularly Jim Crow in the South. Malcolm Little in the North took a more confrontational approach. Dr. King took inspiration from the success of Ghandi in winning independence for India from England; non-violent civil disobedience. Like Ghandi, King won the day. He was the leader and collective action and message discipline it seemed were required for success.

With the passage of the Voting and Civil Rights Acts this nation finally lived up to its promise. Certainly there were and continue to be remnants of pre-1965 America but the march of progress has been inexorable if unduly deliberate on some fronts. But why has relative economic progress been so slow? Many would argue that some nebulous corporate influence is to blame (“the good ole’ boy network”). I think that when Dr. King died, many who were accustomed to being led and acting collectively, looked to apply the success of that movement to all other aspects of political life in America, especially economics. It was the wrong lesson.

There are two general methods of organizing an economy; centrally or by markets. One method has produced 25% of the world’s wealth from just 5% of its population. One method has produced freedom, the other, the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, etc. As the European (including the Nordic states) states move toward socialism, all are experiencing great difficulty sustaining the entitlements they have codified and require a huge influx of foreign workers to support the programs’ continued existence.

One need not even leave the shores of the United States to see the adverse effect of central economic organization. Every credible study has shown that government imposed artificial wage requirements create unemployment, particularly for black teens. As the 110th Congress is sworn in, Nancy Pelosi argued for “paygo.” Something that if enacted will mean an immediate tax increase. Yet despite 9/11, Katrina, Corporate scandal, a recession, two wars and Medicare part D, tax cuts have increased revenues to the federal coffers, lowered unemployment and reduced the deficit.

Despite the empirical and even anecdotal evidence that tax cuts work and that increasing the minimum wage doesn’t, many of us still support the collective approach. Populism is appealing because it strikes out at the perceived elite. So attacks on Wal Mart carry political resonance because they don’t provide health care to all employees, when in fact they provide health care to more Americans than any other company. Wal Mart also makes it easier for the elderly and low income citizens of America to improve or maintain their standard of living. As those who attack Wal Mart as a symbol and attempt to keep them out of certain markets, they should do so with the recognition that they are eliminating jobs for their neighbors.

Some day, we will see through populism and collectivism to realize that the ability to live the dream is ours. Individual choices, effort and determination can produce far more than any government program. I’m optimistic though. I see signs that like the children of Israel who wandered in the desert for 40 years (as we near the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death) before taking Canaan, we have sent out scouts and some are bringing back a faithful report. We will have to subdue the land by effort, it will not be given to us. I can almost hear the choir tuning up to sing Free at Last.
- Posted by Craig Bardo

link | posted by Jae at 8:33 AM |


Blogger GraemeAnfinson commented at 1:10 AM~  

The Bush tax cuts are nothing but subsidies for the ruling class. More big government for the rich.

Blogger CB commented at 12:53 AM~  

That is the classic crab in a barrel argument.

Market economics is not a zero sum game. The pie actually grows with less government meddling. The pie has grown so much in the U.S. that there is no longer an official government category of people who are in "hunger." It has been replaced with the term "low food security."

I beleive it was that right wing conservative Republican, John F. Kennedy, who when faced with a stagnant economy and rampant unemployment, "A rising tide lifts all boats." This just before he lowered the top marginal tax rate from 70%! Guess what? Unemployment plummeted and the economy grew...go figure. That was his sop to the rich.

Envy politics doesn't help the guy looking for a job, but "tax cuts for the rich" does.

Blogger GraemeAnfinson commented at 1:40 AM~  

The pie has grown so much in the U.S. that there is no longer an official government category of people who are in "hunger." It has been replaced with the term "low food security."

And shell shocked has become combat stress reaction. We like less threatening language, it makes us feel more civilized.

Production is up, profits are through the roof and jobs that haven't been shipped overseas are continuing to pay as little possible. But that is not surprising, that is legally how a business is supposed to operate. Our businesses are externality machines, with most consequences being negative.

The solution isn't tax cuts for the rich and big business, in the hopes the money will translate into more 8 dollar an hour jobs. The solution,i believe, has to do with ensuring that people that are producing the goods, have control over them.

The fantasy that the workplace is some unbiased entity and if you put your time in and do good work, you will someday run the place is a nice feel good thought, but it doesn't have much truth to it (like strippers all stripping to pay tuition). I suppose it does happen, about as often as the kid in town with the nice jumpshot wins MVP of the NBA.

Blogger CB commented at 7:14 PM~  

It is not merely semantics. In Mexico, there is hunger. In Central and South America, there is hunger. In the Carribean, Africa, Europe, Asia and every other part of the world there are people who can't get enough to eat. They suffer from malnutrition. That doesn't happen in America. The biggest health problem for America's "poor" is obesity!

Since over half of America's households own stock in the companies where you suggest that profits are up, don't the "workers control the means of production" already? They certainly benefit from it in the form of retirement funding.

The workplace is benign. The decisions of individuals make as they take their skills to the marketplace is what can make a difference. I have seen determination, hard work, charm, perserverance, persistence and risk taking, pay huge dividends for people. I have seen people work several jobs and go to night school or through self study programs increase their skills and be rewarded for it. If their current employer doesn't, then some other employer will.

If we had the yoke of government oppression removed from us in the form of these confiscatory taxes we pay, we would all benefit the more.

Blogger GraemeAnfinson commented at 1:59 AM~  

I am sure you know that most of the stock in companies is owned by the top few percent. I have a few thousand dollars in my 401 k plan (which I did a little research on and it wasn't even designed as a retirement plan) and I certainly aren't providing input to any companies.

In fact a recent study came out, apparently the most comprehensive study on wealth ever, and it found that the richest 1 percent of adults owned 40 percent of the world's assets and the richest 10 percent owned 85 percent of the total. On the other side, the assets of half of the world's population only make up 1 percent of all wealth. Those numbers are shocking. Well, they should be shocking.

The US has better living standards than a lot of countries obviously, but the "free trade" agreements that are backed so fervently by the US (dem or repub) have done nothing but increase global inequality. So the hunger in all of these countries is not simply due to bad leadership or as Jeffery Sachs likes to say- the third world being "left behind," it is the third world being robbed of their resources. One has to look no further than the Niger Delta to see that robbery in progress, today.

I know everyone has seen the numbers on inequality in the US. In the US the top one percent owns close to fifty percent of all the wealth, more than the bottom 95 percent combined. That is a problem that is systematic. All of these people aren't lazy underachievers. Letting business go unregulated doesn't help the working person. I can tell you from growing up in a place where it wasn't "profitable" for companies to invest in, co-ops saved people's lives. It is too bad they don't remember that.

In this choice between two evils, in a democracy, I would rather deal with the government. At least they, in theory, can be self-corrected.

Blogger troutsky commented at 10:41 AM~  

CB , you have every Bill orielly argument well memorized but fail to realize it is all hoolw rhetoric with no factual basis.People in America may not be starving to death (what great progress!)but tens of millions use soup kitchens, food banks,shelters etc but even this is totally beside the point.America is rich because it exploits others.What is zero-sum are resources. 36,ooo humans will die today of starvation not because food doesnt exist.Quite the contrary, tons sit in storage and are wasted by Markets.Those people will die because they have no money. As a Christian you should not be seeking absurd excuses and spouting simplistic dogma but working to rectify the roots of injustice, an economic system built on promoting individual greed.

Blogger CB commented at 12:11 PM~  


Happy New Year to you and graem!

First of all I don't like O'Reilly, he is an icky centrist fence sitter.

I will agree with you that our farm policy is harmful. The subsidies we provide hurt not only Americans because the cost in tax dollars far outstrips the benefit of the low cost of food, but it hurts world markets, which could then competitively provide produce at near or below the subsidized prices. There is the practical aspect of how non domestic producers could deliver here, but I'm sure they could figure it out to meet our safety standards, etc.

It is not we who exploit, but the governments of the world that keep power in the hands of a few powerful bureaucrats. Blaming American capitalism for the plight of the world is sport, but bears no resemblance to the truth. Were the countries in question to adopt market economies, girded by the rule of law, they would see their fortunes turn dramatically. Capital would flow into their countires, economic activity would increase, wages and benefits would improve, healthcare, etc.

Then the U.N. would target them with Kyoto provisions to slow their progress. The answers are there, the people are not free in most countries to implement them.

Blogger GraemeAnfinson commented at 4:53 AM~  

Happy New Year to you as well CB! I enjoy the civil conversation

Anonymous Ray commented at 8:38 PM~  

I have a problem with pulling out the quote about America giving the Negro a bad check because it assumes that America has given everyone else a good check. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we intend to learn anything from the civil rights struggle and the great leaders Dr. King and Malcolm X, it ought to be that just before they were killed both expressed doubts about the benefits of a race based movement. Both expressed a greater understanding of the common interests that binds us across racial lines. Dr. King was compelled to speak out against the Vietnam War both to advance the cause of civil rights but also to champion human rights. Malcolm X began to question the argument that all white people are devils and following his trip to Middle East and other nations actively engaged in study and debate regarding human rights and issues that were clearly international in scope. So why do we reflect on the civil rights movement as proof that centralized economies are bad? Who actually gives a damn whether the economy is free market or centralized if at the end of the day so many people do not enjoy health care, housing, education, food and the most basic of human needs.

Blogger CB commented at 8:12 AM~  

Ah Ray,

Together with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, as amended (except the amendment for the income tax) is the greatest articulation and codification of liberty in human history. More freedom and more prosperity has been provided and inspired by those words than any other set of documents aside from the Bible in human history.

Health care - if one were to listen to liberals on this issue, you would think that the supposed 40+ million uninsured in America are the walking dead or nearly destitue from the medical bills and drug costs from those evil pharmeceutical companies. They would have you believe that the Canadian system is superior when even the ultra liberal Canadian equivalent of our Supreme Court says the system is unfair and has created vast disparity, caused scarcity of care and increased expense.

Housing - 40% of America's "poor" own their homes and the average size of the home owned by our "poor" is larger than the average size of ALL homes in France and England.

Education - I concede that teacher's unions, concerned only with their comfort and continued employment even when incompetent or ineffective, have eroded a once decent public school system. They have steadfastly opposed vouchers to underserved children who would benefit from better schools. Yet despite the ineptitude, even our "poor" are required to attend school through 12th grade, whereas the world's poor are consigned to a life of illiteracy.

Food - The world's poor suffer from malnutrition, the biggest health problem for America's "poor" is obesity. I don't like the U.S. Farm subsidy policy because it increases the net cost of food for the benefit of a few farmers and even big corporate farms, but people here aren't starving, like in other places around the world.

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