The 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King's march on Washington is causing a lot of people in my generation to reminisce.
In doing so, it is hard not to be struck by two puzzling facts: (a) the fall of racial barriers to success almost everywhere and (b) the lack of economic progress in the black community as a whole, relative to whites. On the one hand, it would seem that a black in America can achieve almost anything, even being elected president of the United States. On the other hand, if we compare the economic condition of blacks and whites as a whole, you would be tempted to conclude that almost no progress has been made.
For example, blogger Brad Plummer reminds us that:
· The gap in household income between blacks and whites hasn't really narrowed at all in the last 50 years.
· The black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for 50 years.
· For the past 50 years, black unemployment has almost always been at recession levels.
This incongruity has given rise to two liberal myths — repeated frequently on television talk shows over the past week: (a) that the fall in racial barriers is the result of liberal legislation, designed to outlaw discrimination in the private sector and (b) that the lack of economic progress is evidence that liberals haven't done enough — that still more intervention is needed to correct the effects of current and past discrimination.
The reality I believe is just the reverse. The decline of racial barriers in the job market and throughout the economic system — at least outside the south — had very little to do with liberal legislation. But the lack of economic progress by the black community as a whole is in many ways the result of the liberal approach to politics. On balance, liberalism has been an obstacle to black progress, not a help.
The natural assumption is to believe that a lot of labor market regulation is preventing discrimination — against blacks and other minorities, against women, against…Well, against just about everybody who isn't a young, white male with an Ivy League degree. However, June O'Neill, an economist who used to direct the Congressional Budget Office, and her husband Dave O'Neill have produced a comprehensive study of this issue and they find that the natural assumption is wrong.