With all the furor over racial bigotry stirred up by the Donald Stirling/Los Angeles Clippers controversy, my question is: How come all the people who condemn Stirling’s racial bigotry continue to support government programs that inflict great harm on African Americans?
I’m referring in particular to three such programs: the drug war, minimum-wage laws, and occupational-licensure laws.
While there are undoubtedly racial bigots who support these three programs knowing the adverse impact they have on blacks, obviously there are also lots of people who aren’t racial bigots who support such programs.
But my point is this: If a government program adversely impacts blacks in a disproportionate way, why does anyone who doesn’t consider himself a bigot support such a program, especially if it doesn’t have any discernable positive effects?
The drug war is a perfect example. Everyone knows that the drug war has no discernable positive effects. Certainly it hasn’t been “won” despite decades of fierce warfare. Moreover, it generates a host of negative side effects — drug gangs, drug warfare, law enforcement corruption, robberies, muggings, overcrowded prisons, ruined lives, murders, and much more.
Among the biggest negative side effects has been the drug war’s disproportionate negative impact on African Americans. There has, of course, been a lot written on this subject. It’s the theme of a fairly recent book entitled The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
The idea is that while drug laws apply to everyone regardless of color, the incarceration rates fall disproportionately on blacks. The resulting mass incarceration of blacks has proven to be an even more powerful and more destructive means of social control of blacks than Jim Crow laws, which were specifically designed to hurt blacks.
Consider minimum-wage laws. They lock out of the labor market anyone whose labor is valued in the marketplace at less than the legally established minimum.
That can conceivably encompass a white person whose labor is valued at less than the artificial minimum.
But the fact is that black teenagers, especially those in the inner cities, suffer a chronic unemployment rate of 30-40 percent. That’s because of minimum-wage laws. If there were no such laws, those black teenagers would be free to compete on the basis of price. They could offer to work for employers at, say, $3 an hour, thereby enabling them to get their feet on the first rungs of the economic ladder, learning a trade, work skills, and work ethic and how to run a business. It would also enable black entrepreneurs to start businesses in which they could hire people in the neighborhood at lower wages, thereby enabling them to compete against well-established firms.
Minimum-wage laws prevent all this from occurring. And while the victims include whites, the adverse impact falls disproportionately on blacks.
What about occupational-licensure laws? Such laws are nothing more than a throwback to the Middle Ages, when guilds protected members from the free and open competition from those who weren’t members of the guild.
Today, it takes a license to engage in a number of occupations. The licenses usually require months of a highly technical education at some school, which usually costs in the thousands of dollars. Moreover, a difficult written test is oftentimes required as a condition of passing the course.
Obviously, the requirements for a license apply equally to all people, regardless of color. But since blacks generally are poorer than whites, it would seem logical that the financial difficulties of securing an occupational license fall disproportionately on blacks.
In an interesting article along these lines entitled “Challenging Barriers to Economic Opportunity” published by the Institute for Justice, authors Clint Bolick and David Legge wrote:
Occupational licensing laws today cover about 10 percent of all jobs. Many of the laws go far beyond health and safety objectives, and instead impose rigid and unreasonable requirements that are unnecessary to skillfully provide services to the public. As economist Walter Williams observes, these laws “discriminate against certain people,” particularly “outsiders, latecomers and [the] resourceless,” among whom “blacks are disproportionately represented.”…
A case in point is cosmetology licensing in Missouri. As elsewhere, would-be hairstylists must satisfy extensive educational requirements and pass both a practical (“hands-on”) and written examination. The written component tests such esoteric matters as the chemical composition of certain bones. A recent study by Stuart Dorsey found that “the less educated, blacks, apprentices, and other specific groups are more likely than others to fail written licensing examinations, even though they do not appear to be less able than other workers,” noting by example that black candidates pass the “hands-on” test at the same rate as whites but fail the written portion at vastly disproportionate rates. Dorsey concludes that these findings “suggest that occupational licensing can restrict the labor market opportunities of groups of workers whose alternatives are already limited.”
In fact, in another interesting article entitled “The Racism Behind Occupational Licensure Circa 1865,” author Kelly Barber points out that licensure laws were enacted after the Civil War to prevent black artisans, who had acquired many skills as slaves, from competing against whites in a free and open marketplace.
Of course, proponents of licensing would probably say that the big advantage of licensing — protecting the public from incompetent, unethical practitioners — outweighs the disproportionate negative impact on blacks.
But if licensing really does ensure competence and a high standard of ethics, why do so many people carefully select physicians, usually by relying on recommendations from family, friends, and physicians, rather than simply turning to the Yellow Pages to find a doctor? And as a former attorney, I can unequivocally state that the law profession is filled with incompetent, unethical attorneys who the state falsely tells people are competent and ethical through the granting of a license to them. (Also see “Medical Licensure” by Nobel Prize winning libertarian economist Milton Friedman.)
For people who are concerned about racial bigotry, it seems that a good place to start is with government programs whose negative consequences fall disproportionately on blacks, specifically the drug war, minimum-wage laws, and occupational-licensure laws.