31 December 2007|
Positive, race-neutral policy ideas to create equality of opportunity
Can't say we better off than we was before
In synopsis this is my minority report
-- S. Carter
Evidence of racial inequality abounds in the 21st century, but nowhere is this modern de facto segregation is most apparent than in the inner city ghetto. Many of these areas are the very communities that were segregated as Colored during the post-Reconstruction period, and have never been given the institutional and infrastructural development that have built many whiter suburban areas into relatively safe, wealthy, and prosperous family communities. Despite the past efforts of well-meaning politicians, naming an urban street after Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther King, Jr. doesn't transform a socially-repressed and economically-depressed area into a bastion of bucolic prosperity. It is an artifact of rational observation of life in these areas, not Afro-centric militancy, to say that the work of the civil rights movement is socially, politically and economically incomplete.In urban areas, poor schools, poor public services, and other municipal obstacles combine to deprive residents of the education, safety, convenience and comfort that have always been provided in wealthier communities. The poverty that exists there clearly has a negative impact on African Americans, but it also spurs real public damage for all Americans. Many of the stereotypes and attitudes formed about these areas comprise the very essence of the 21st century prejudices that slow the progress and social enlightenment of American society.
Liberals and conservatives seem mostly content to endlessly debate whether, in the face of the poverty, substandard education, and crime present in the ghetto, quotas and other collectivist race-based policy assistance should be implemented as a solution.
Fewer seem interested in devising policies to make such remedial race laws unncessary. This, for once, is an attempt to do so.
1. School vouchers
There are few obstacles to black achievement greater than low-quality urban public schools. While education is unquestionably an indispensable factor in future achievement by instilling values, skills, lessons, goals, and ambition in young children, the ghetto education does none of it. Anyone who has seen The Wire has a slight idea of the terrible education-less environments in which a disturbing number of urban children find themselves, complete with daily stabbings, guns, sex, gangs and fights. (In elementary school.) With no reason to stay in a worthless school, they drop out; but by the time they reach their mid-thirties, over 60% of these dropouts have gone to prison.
The problem is severe, but a powerful solution is alluringly simple: Parents should be afforded a federal voucher to pay for K-12 tuition for their child at the private school of their choice. Admittedly, federal meddling in education is a blunt instrument for building quality schools in fragile, unique local communities. It is for this reason that the federal government give only the financial means to parents, who will then be given the idea to vote with their tuition payments on the question of what schooling techniques, methods and philosophies are best for their children. Local private-sector innovations such as the Harlem Children's Zone are the most promising solutions; vouchers will create the necessary parent-consumer demand for such quality educational options to flourish.
High-quality schooling is perhaps the best escape from any number of the afflictions which conspire to slow the urban child's progress. Integrated private schools, free of Constitutional restrictions on affirmative action programs, can teach children the value of diversity and tolerance. Effective teaching and administration, unheard of in ghetto public education, will teach children the value of learning. It is often said that in the 'hood, the only people a child sees making money are drug dealers, athletes, and rappers. The way to change this is to give children the opportunity to see another path. Most of all, the voucher system will faciliate a child's future by giving every parent the financial means to choose an institution capable of best incubating it.
School vouchers can be a child's escape, even from a terrible home environment. Local community organizations and governments would be given the means to send children who lacked parents capable of providing. And with a voucher system, educational choices will quickly multiply as the market adjusts to the federally-funded influx of consumer demand in education. By extending vouchers to governments and charities, these new choices would be available to every child, even in cases where parents didn't exist, or couldn't care less about where their kids went to school.
If every child in a substandard school could be lifted out of it, how could you oppose it?
2. Enfranchise all paroled and released felons
A just prison sentence should only punish for the length of incarceration. Yet America permanently denies the voting rights of felons, even after they've supposedly paid their debt to society. In the country currently incarcerating seven out of every thousand of its citizens, as many as four million Americans have lost the right to vote, according to a study by Human Rights Watch. And as African-Americans are disproportionately convicted of felonies, this disenfranchisement has an extremely racially imbalanced impact. It is a de facto life sentence of exclusion from the political process, even when the de jure punishment has been fully served.
Given America's excessive punishment of nonviolent crimes, the disenfranchisement of ex-felons makes even less sense. Rape, murder, and robbery account for about 8 percent of American felonies, while drug crimes account for a third. Modern America has deemed voter disenfranchisement on the basis on skin color or gender as antithetical to Constitutional principles, but somehow the possession of a few ounces of grass is just cause for a lifetime ban from participation in the democratic process.
A prison sentence that directly discourages reentry into the civilized world is one that only encourages crime and recidivism. A release from prison should counsel the value in participation in law abiding society, not instilling disillusionment with civic society. For these reasons, all felons should be enfranchised upon parole or release.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said it well. "A decent and free society, founded in respect for the individual, ought not to run a system with a sign at the entrance for inmates saying, "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here." Indeed.
3. Social Security Personal Accounts
As any trust fund baby will tell you, the American Dream gets a lot easier when your parents leave you a windfall inheritance. Numerous economic studies have confirmed the point that inheritance is a substantial factor behind much familial wealth building across generations.
But Social Security, the federal retirement program, gives you nothing to leave behind. Despite paying into the system for your entire working life, Social Security doesn't guarantee you any sum of any money that you'll collect at the end. All you can do is keep breathing; Social Security will pay you only as long as you are alive to cash your monthly check.
Social Security's paternalistic collectivism especially harms poor blacks. Over a third of elderly blacks receive Social Security as their sole source of income. They also have shorter life expectancies, so they survive to cash fewer Social Security checks. Thus, Social Security, in its poor economic design that harms all, ends up creating a severe discriminatory impact.
Instead, a worker's Social Security's tax contributions were collected in a private, regulated account for his retirement. With this system, as this organization has proposed, the grounds for generational wealth building could be better given to all Americans. First, workers will be allowed to invest to achieve a greater return on investment than the measly 2% generated by Social Security. Second, retirees can leave their lifetime earnings to their children. Who doesn't want more money?
4. Legalized, regulated drug trade
Drug trade is a dangerous and lucrative industry in urban areas, constituting a substantial portion of urban gang and other criminal activity. The lucrative black market created by the War on Drugs thus creates a natural economic incentive for criminal behavior. In addition to degrading safety and quality of life in urban areas, the black market drug trade will forever interfere with any well-intentioned government efforts to offer other alluring law-abiding career options for urban youths.
A decriminalized and regulated drug trade will starve drug dealers of their supporting capital, damaging their ability to survive and prosper. Drug dealers, with a coercive labor system, poor supply chain management, and little concern for customer welfare, have notoriously lackluster business models. Legalized competition will make them powerless to compete with legitimate businesses. Ask any liberal about how capitalism works; Weed-Mart will be soon be destroying the livelihoods of every mom-and-pop drug dealer with their cut-rate pricing.
America's unyielding prosecution of the War on Drugs defies any universal senses of logic, justice, and political reality, as well as any American notions of liberty, privacy, and independence. The sheer numbers of incarcerated citizens held on drug charges - nearly 60% of prisoners in the federal system - is disturbing at the least. (You can find the philosophical decriminalization argument elsewhere.)
Additionally, regulated distribution of harder drugs allows addicts and other drug-induced medical blight to be addressed much more easily by public services. The rampant problem of homelessness, often directly caused by drug addiction, can be addressed when the problem is out in the open. Local clinics would help to eliminate drug addition as a public menace. It can sequester many unsightly junkies, as well to limit much crime committed by poor, desperate addicts.
Drug decriminalization, it should be mentioned, is not intended to promote socially destructive use, any more than the legalization of alcohol is a state-sanctioned invitation to alcoholism. It is only an effective option to preserve freedom, regulate public safety, and help restore social and economic normalcy to urban areas.
5. Stop gerrymandering, son
Gerrymandering, or the redrawing of congressional districts with political motives, has consistently slowed economic and political progress in urban areas. During the first half of the 20th century, districts were overtly redrawn on the basis of race, in order to conspicuously exclude blacks from substantial representation in voting districts. Thankfully, subsequent lawsuits under the 14th Amendment have eliminated such blatant discrimination.
However, Congressional districts are still consistently being redrawn with impunity, generally to preserve a party's grip on power within a certain geographical area. The Economist reported that the share of House incumbents re-elected with over 60% of the vote has risen recently from 58% to 77%, wryly observing that gerrymandering had the effect of increasing electoral predictability to "North Korean levels."
Unfortunately, partisan gerrymandering in the modern era has the same racially exclusionary effect as it had in the Jim Crow era. As black voters tend to be politically monolithic, the end result is that many heavily black urban areas are represented by very, very liberal black Democrats. These representatives, such as the disgraced ex-congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, tend to be militant victicrats, with little interest or ability in relating to the wider populace.
This de facto segregation of politicians by the color of their constituents inhibits effective discourse among our nation's representatives. Many white representatives do not have majority-black areas within their districts to attract their concern or attention, and they have little interest in heeding the concerns of urban voters. The urban voters, then, are stuck with the aforementioned Congressional pariahs who label every "Nay" vote on their perpetual reparations bill as gross racism.
Gerrymandering is a malicious governmental practice in general. It has little obvious compelling positive purpose, and serves mostly to only to limit a voter's ability to unseat a represenative of whom he disproves. Such a policy is noxious to democratic governance. It should be eliminated, even without regard for its racial impact. Districts should instead be redrawn as necessary by the Census bureau in an objective fashion to maintain quantitative demographic equality, and certainly should not be redrawn by self-aggrandizing politicians.
6. Free trade and globalization
Unlike Midwestern farm towns and other crumbling stalwarts of a bygone area of Americana, urban areas are generally not threatened by most of the job losses caused by globalization and trade. Instead, they are all poised to benefit most from it.
The greatest benefit of free trade, unquestionably, is the provision of cheaper basic goods for all consumers. The great irony of anti-globalization populists is that globalization benefits the poorest in American society the most. Cheaper basic goods, such as food and clothing, serve as a real increase to lower-class incomes. They offer greater relative spending power, even if wages are stagnant.
In this way, globalization can help urban areas grow richer, even if all other factors are conspiring to slow their progress. Developing-world producers, certainly, don't discriminate in their cheap pricing. Their provision of lower-cost goods allows all consumers of basic goods to benefit, no matter the color of their skin.
It's the duty of the post-segregation generation to illuminate the value in all cultures around the world, as well as the value in opportunity and economic growth for all citizens. Let globalization lead the way.
7. Specialized university education for athletes
Despite potentially providing millions of dollars, professional athletics is not without its downsides. Even moderately-successful athletes have careers that barely last five years; others suffer tragic career-ending injuries. Many more are destroyed by the pressures of fame, money and drugs. Ex-professional athletes are lucky to have a bachelor's degree, and most of the ones who do have a worthless major. Currently, universities only prepare these athletes to only enter the white collar workforce, which is hardly the best dedication of their unique talents.
Instead, universities should instead directly educate their student athletes in their chosen field of study, creating an academic department for each major sport. Student-athletes with substantial professional potential should be admitted to the major program in their sport, which should include a required substantive general study minor. Athletes would be taught personal finance to handle the experience, unique to athletics, of receiving millions of dollars over a short period yet be unemployed shortly after 30. They would be taught the sporting and leadership lessons necessary to pursue careers in coaching, youth sports activity, broadcasting, scouting, recruiting, or numerous other paths after their athletic careers end.
Not only would athletes be better prepared for excellence in their chosen field, improving their athletic performance, but they would be most effectively prepared for life, and life after, as a professional athlete, even as role models for future generations of athletes. For the record, I hope the University of Miami specifically leads the way in this regard.
If successful, such programs could be even extended to other fields underrepresented in the American university. For example, university music schools could teach hip-hop, with a distinguished faculty of former MCs and producers, as well as departments to help student-rappers distribute their work in order to gain record deals.
It's worth a thought.
8. The Negative Income Tax
Along with a lack of education, poverty is certainly the greatest obstacle to urban growth and progress. The choices, opportunities, quality of surroundings and public services taken for granted by rich and middle-class Americans often simply do not exist for the poor. When Congress spends billions of dollars on the bail-outs of donation-friendly corporate manufacturers, art subsidies to satisfy the refined tastes of wealthy, socially-connected citizens, and the construction of politicians' eponymous infrastructural monuments to their own egos, it is quite simply a gross injustice that the elimination of abject poverty is not a primary policy motivation in the United States of America.
Certainly, America has a welfare system supposedly intended to combat the problem. Politicians and pundits alike seem to fall over themselves promising things that they can give to the poor. They promise grandly that food stamps, public housing, health insurance, and federally-funded child care will empower poor people as independent citizens. Hardly. When faced with the question, "Senator, what do poor people need?" the answer is "Money, stupid."
All current welfare programs should be replaced with a direct subsidy, paid through the tax system, to provide a basic income for all poor Americans. The idea is Milton Friedman's, and deserves the respect of economists as well as socialist agitators. The existing policy pastiche of paternalistic welfare programs only increases reliance on government handouts, which works only further to stagnate the progress of poor people.
This proposed negative income tax should be calculated to address local cost-of-living factors. It should be increased when the data indicates Americans need more support, and decreased when the data shows that the subsidy is having the effect of excessively reducing the incentive to obtain work. Just like similar schemes currently in place in Latin America, the negative income tax should be coupled with various requirements, such as an effort to obtain work when capable and a minimum level of parental responsibility.
If politicians are going to make noises about helping the poor, they might as well actually help them help themselves. As independent citizens worthy of privacy and respect, poor people should be allowed to allocate their financial resources as they see fit. A country as diverse as America should not assume that the government can create one superior Master Budget that is the best for every poor American family. Nor should it enhance dependence and a caste mindset by endlessly multiplying the quantity of handouts on which a poor person must seek to receive primary goods.
It's the least we can do.
The above work is the opinion of the author, and not necessarily that of the Prometheus Institute. This article is apart of the "Fire of PI" series.