Black Political Power Means Zilch

Walter E. Williams – April 11, 2018

It’s often thought to be beyond question that black political power is necessary for economic power and enhanced socio-economic welfare. That’s an idea that lends itself to testing and analysis.

Between 1970 and 2012, the number of black elected officials rose from fewer than 1,500 to more than 10,000. Plus, a black man was elected to the presidency twice. Jason Riley, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, tells how this surge in political power has had little beneficial impact on the black community.

In a PragerU video, “Blacks in Power Don’t Empower Blacks” (http://tinyurl.com/y84psoyt), Riley says the conventional wisdom was based on the notion that only black politicians could understand and address the challenges facing blacks. Therefore, electing more black city councillors, mayors, representatives and senators was deemed critical. Even some liberal social scientists now disagree. Gary Orfield says, “There may be little relationship between the success of … black leaders and the opportunities of typical black families.” Riley says that while many black politicians achieved considerable personal success, many of their constituents did not.

After the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, riots, which followed the killing of Michael Brown after he charged a policeman, much was made of the small number of blacks on the city’s police force. Riley asks: If the racial composition of the police force is so important, how does one explain the Baltimore riots the following year after Freddie Gray died in police custody? Baltimore’s police force is 40 percent black. Its police commissioner is black. Its mayor is black, as is the majority of the City Council. What can be said of black political power in Baltimore can also be said of Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and New Orleans. In these cities, blacks have been mayors, police chiefs, city councillors and superintendents of schools for decades.

By contrast, when blacks had little political power, they made significant economic progress. During the 1940s and ’50s, black labor force participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes. Between 1940 and 1950, black poverty rates fell by as much as 40 percent. Between 1940 and 1970, the number of blacks in middle-class professions quadrupled. Keep in mind that was before affirmative action programs. Riley says that racial gaps were narrowing without any special treatment for blacks. After the 1960s, the government began pouring trillions of dollars into various social programs. These programs discouraged marriage and also undermined the work ethic through open-ended welfare programs, helping keep poor people poor.

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