Ed. Note: This is part one of a two part Sowell column. Part two is available here.
Many years ago, the Saturday Evening Post was one of the best-known magazines in America. But somehow I learned that the Saturday Evening Post was actually published on Wednesday morning. That was a little disconcerting at first. But it was one of the most valuable lessons, that words do not necessarily reflect reality.
Recent statistics on the average wealth or net worth of blacks are a painful reminder that rhetoric favoring blacks does not mean that politicians using such rhetoric are actually helping blacks. The media seized upon the statistics published by the Pew Research Center to show that whites averaged far more net worth than blacks, and that this disparity was now greater than it was in years past. But what is even more revealing is that the net worth of blacks in 2009 was less than half of what it was in 2005.
What happened to cause such a sharp loss in such a few years? After all, the Republicans controlled both the Congress and the White House in 2005, and the Democrats had control by 2009. There was now a black President of the United States, with much of the media celebrating the beginning of a new era in race relations.
What happened was that the political words had no relationship to the economic reality. But few people judge any administration's effect on blacks by what actually happens to blacks under that administration.
A finer breakdown of the data on the net worth of blacks shows that the most drastic loss of net worth was in the value of the homes owned by blacks. This occurred after years of both Democratic and Republican administrations pushing policies designed to enable more blacks to buy homes.
Much of the media rallied behind the idea that there should be more home ownership by blacks. Editorials rang out across the land, denouncing statistical disparities between rates of home ownership by blacks and whites as showing racial discrimination in the private sector that needed to be corrected by the government.
Even when it was shown that blacks, on average, did not meet the same financial standards as whites, both politicians and the media denounced those standards as too stringent.