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This essay is dedicated to Davonte Bryant, a nine year old black boy who was recently murdered in the streets of New Orleans, while he was playing in front of his home. May God grant that he is now in a Better Place.

How can we maximize the chances that in future this sort of thing will be radically reduced? That the next child, white or black it matters not one whit, will not be gunned down in the street?

We can do so by eliminating systemic racism.

First, what is plain old racism? This is the view that it is justified to violate the rights of African-Americans, plot their downfall, exult in their misery, instigate against them, etc. Lynchings certainly come under this rubric, as does the kneeing in the neck of a helpless black prisoner, who is handcuffed behind his back. But those are the easy cases, which all men of good will can recognize.

What, then, is systemic racism? It is not at all so obvious and blatant. As the name implies, it is a system that disproportionately vitiates against black people; institutions are to blame, not merely evil individuals. If the Davonte Bryants of our fair cities are to be safeguarded, we must do our utmost to eradicate this more insidious form of racism as well as the plain vanilla, obvious variety.

In systemic racism, there is nothing flagrant at all. Rather, it consists of policies which might even harm all people, but, nevertheless, single out blacks for disproportionate detriment.

Let us consider a few cases, so as to better focus on this phenomenon.

* The welfare system

The welfare system has broken up the black family. No, matters are even worse than that: welfare payments have made it all but impossible for this institution to form in the first place in the African-American community. Welfare payments all too often outstrip the earning power of the fathers of illegitimate children, leading them, as if by an “invisible hand,” to renounce their husbandly duties. Slavery broke up the family of this demographic cohort of course. But in its aftermath, the black family, naturally, reunited. It was just about as stable as all other families from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. It was not until 1965, with the advent of President Johnson’s Great Society that the pervasive and negative sociological status of unwed motherhood was all but erased. Some 75% of black kids are now brought up without a father present. Nor is this just a black “thing.” Welfare has attacked the Caucasian family in the United States as well, and in Sweden, where there is little racial heterogeneity. It is just that African-Americans were more vulnerable to the blandishments of this evil system since they were poorer.

The poverty rate of intact black families is in the single digits. African-American impoverishment is almost entirely an offshoot of broken families. The father has a crucially important role to play in the formation of the next generation. Without him in the home, the youngsters, particularly males, are more likely to end up unemployed, in prison, or dead before their time. No, if we wish to protect the Davonte Bryants of the future, we must totally end this malicious instance of systemic racism. If people want to live in a house, eat, enjoy air conditioning, tv, have a car, etc., let them work instead of being on the dole. Private charity can take up the slack for the deserving poor, as it always has done. There is also the fact that compelling the rich to cede money to the poor is theft.

I do not think that anyone sat around the table and said, “How can we really injure the black family? I’ve got it; let’s inaugurate a very generous welfare system. That will break up their families, and impoverish them. Ha!” That would be plain, old, ordinary, vicious racism. But we are talking systemic racism here, a horse of a very different color.

* The Minimum Wage

But if people now on welfare are to attain jobs, the minimum wage must be erased from the books. All too many people think that this law actually raises wages, and that the higher it is pegged, the greater will be remuneration. Stuff and nonsense. Rather, the minimum wage constitutes a barrier over which productivity levels have to exceed in order to become employed in the first place. If your productivity is $12 per hour, and the employer must pay you $15, he will not hire you in the first place, and if he mistakenly does, will lose money on you and eventually be forced into bankruptcy, other things equal. If this pernicious legislation really could raise wages, why be so niggardly about its level? Why not raise it to $150 or $1500 or even $15,000 hourly? Obviously, it is productivity, not a legislative pen, that enables the middle and upper classes to earn vast multiples of the minimum wage law.

What determines productivity in the first place? Education, technology, capital equipment. And what encourages that? Savings? In turn, what promotes savings? Security of private property rights, or capitalism. It is no accident that before the advent of the minimum wage law, the unemployment rates of blacks and whites, young and old, were similar. Afterward, the unemployment rates of young white males rose to quadruple that of middle aged white men. Yes, quadruple, due to this wicked legislation.

* Drugs

Legalize them. All of them. Without exception. Not just marijuana. All of them. We can learn a lesson from the prohibition of alcohol. Then, it was young men Italian extraction who were shooting each other mercilessly over turf. Does anyone, nowadays, shoot anyone over beer, wine or liquor? Of course not. The very idea is preposterous. There was a time in our history, too, when drugs, all of them, were legal. No gunplay was involved in this industry then. But with the advent of drug prohibition, this criminal role has been disproportionately taken up by young black men. All too often there are drive by shootings in which innocents such as Davonte Bryant are killed. If we are to decrease the probability of this occurring, we must place drugs on the same legal basis as liquor; that is, legalization.

Will eliminating welfare and the minimum wage, and legalizing drugs, fully and entirely eliminate the difficulties faced by the African-American community? Of course not. This demographic faces many other, and serious difficulties. But these proposals will surely be beneficial. The perfect is the enemy of the good.  These three public policy proposals will not solve all problems but they will ameliorate at least some of them.

Note, I do not count police brutality as systemic racism. Yes, African-Americans are killed by the men in blue disproportionately to their roughly 13% of the population. But this is not true when compared to the times they interact with the police due to their criminal behavior.

Nor is the fact that on average black people earn less than whites or Asians an example of systemic racism. The vast earnings of people such as LeBron James, Spike Lee, Oprah Winfrey, and the very adequate salaries of many thousands of black lawyers, doctors, scholars, bespeaks a lack of either variety of racism. If racism really were keeping black people down, this phenomenon could not occur.

Some people claim intelligence tests such as IQ, SAT, ACT are systematically racist since they make invidious comparisons between different demographic groups. That’s just plain silly. These questionnaires measure certain abilities. They are good predictors of the likelihood of flourishing at university, for example. The vertical leap, number of chins in one minutes and time in the 40 yard dash also quantity capabilities; they are highly correlated with success in many athletic pursuits. Some racial groups do better on these than others, as well. If one set of examinations constitutes systemic racism, then so does the other. Neither is the case.

If the Davonte Bryants of the world are to be safeguarded, we must embrace private property rights, free enterprise, capitalism. That is their last best hope. This system has done more for the African-American community than any other, Imperfect as is the US economic system, the GDP of all black citizens together would rank 12th in the world, if they constituted a separate country.

How bad is racism of either variety in America? Not very, despite its many vociferous critics. Proof? “Voting with the feet.” Are black Americans emigrating from the US to sub Saharan Africa, where by definition there can be no such thing as anti-black racism? Not at all. Are black people from Africa attempting to immigrate into the US. Yes. So much for the supposedly gargantuan incidence of racism in this country.

Walter Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans, and is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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