Thomas Sowell

One of the things that turned up, during a long-overdue cleanup of my office, was an old yellowed copy of the New York Times dated July 24, 1992. One of the front-page headlines said: "White-Black Disparity in Income Narrowed in 80's, Census Shows."

The 1980s? Wasn't that the years of the Reagan administration, the "decade of greed," the era of "neglect" of the poor and minorities, if not "covert racism"?

More recently, during the administration of America's first black president, a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center has the headline, "Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics."

While the median net worth of whites was ten times the median net worth of blacks in 1988, the last year of the Reagan administration, the ratio was nineteen to one in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration. With Hispanics, the ratio was eight to one in 1988 and fifteen to one in 2009.

Race is just one of the areas in which the rhetoric and the reality often go in opposite directions. Political rhetoric is intended to do one thing -- win votes. Whether the policies that accompany that rhetoric make people better off or worse off is far less of a concern to politicians, if any concern at all.

Democrats receive the overwhelming bulk of the black vote by rhetoric and by presenting what they have done as the big reason that blacks have advanced. So long as most blacks and whites alike mistake rhetoric for reality, this political game can go on.

A Manhattan Institute study last year by Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor showed that, while the residential segregation of blacks has generally been declining from the middle of the 20th century to the present, it was rising during the first half of the 20th century. The net result is that blacks in 2010 were almost as residentially unsegregated as they were back in 1890.

There are complex reasons behind such things, but the bottom line is plain. The many laws, programs and policies designed to integrate residential housing cannot be automatically assumed to translate into residentially integrated housing. Government is not the sole factor, nor necessarily the biggest factor, no matter what impression political rhetoric gives.

No city is more liberal in its rhetoric and policies than San Francisco. Yet there are less than half as many blacks living in San Francisco today as there were in 1970.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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