Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The abandonment of traditional values has negatively affected the nation as a whole, but blacks have borne the greater burden
Walter E. Williams
One of the unavoidable consequences of youth is the tendency to think behavior we see today has always been. I’d like to dispute that vision, at least as it pertains to black people.
I graduated from Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin High School in 1954. Franklin’s predominantly black students were from the poorest North Philadelphia neighborhoods.
During those days, there were no policemen patrolling the hallways. Today, close to 400 police patrol Philadelphia schools. There were occasional after-school fights—rumbles, as we called them—but within the school, there was order. In contrast with today, students didn’t use foul language to teachers, much less assault them.
Places such as the Richard Allen housing project, where I lived, became some of the most dangerous and dysfunctional places in Philadelphia. Mayhem—in the form of murders, shootings, and assaults—became routine.
By the 1980s, residents found that they had to have window bars and multiple locks. The 1940s and ’50s Richard Allen project, as well as other projects, bore no relation to what they became. Many people never locked their doors; windows weren’t barred. We did not go to bed with the sound of gunshots. Most of the residents were two-parent families with one or both parents working.
How might one explain the greater civility of Philadelphia and other big-city, predominantly black neighborhoods and schools during earlier periods compared with today? Would anyone argue that during the ’40s and ’50s, there was less racial discrimination and poverty? Was academic performance higher because there were greater opportunities? Was civility in school greater in earlier periods because black students had more black role models in the form of black principals, teachers, and guidance counselors? That’s nonsense, at least in northern schools. In my case, I had no more than three black teachers throughout primary and secondary school.
Starting in the 1960s, the values that made for civility came under attack. Corporal punishment was banned. This was the time when the education establishment and liberals launched their agenda that undermined lessons children learned from their parents and the church.
We have replaced what worked with what sounds good.
Sex education classes undermined family/church strictures against premarital sex. Lessons of abstinence were ridiculed, considered passé, and replaced with lessons about condoms, birth control pills, and abortion. Further undermining of parental authority came with legal and extralegal measures to assist teenage abortions, often with neither parental knowledge nor parental consent.
Customs, traditions, moral values, and rules of etiquette are behavioral norms, transmitted mostly by example, word of mouth, and religious teachings. As such, they represent a body of wisdom distilled through the ages by experience and trial and error.
The nation’s liberals—along with the education establishment, pseudo-intellectuals, and the courts—have waged war on traditions, customs and moral values. Many people have been counseled to believe that there are no moral absolutes. Instead, what’s moral or immoral is a matter of personal convenience, personal opinion, what feels good, or what is or is not criminal.
We no longer condemn or shame self-destructive and rude behavior, such as out-of-wedlock pregnancies, dependency, cheating, and lying. We have replaced what worked with what sounds good.
The abandonment of traditional values has negatively affected the nation as a whole, but blacks have borne the greater burden. This is seen by the decline in the percentage of black two-parent families. Today, a little over 30 percent of black children live in an intact family, where as early as the late 1800s, over 70 percent did. Black illegitimacy in 1938 was 11 percent, and that for whites was 3 percent. Today, it’s respectively 73 percent and 30 percent.
It is the height of dishonesty, as far as blacks are concerned, to blame our problems on slavery, how white people behave, and racial discrimination. If those lies are not exposed, we will continue to look for external solutions when true solutions are internal. Those of us who are old enough to know better need to expose these lies.
What Can Racial Discrimination Explain?
Walter E. Williams
A guiding principle for physicians is primum non nocere, the Latin expression for “first, do no harm.” In order not to do harm, whether it’s with medicine or with public policy, the first order of business is accurate diagnostics.
Racial discrimination is seen as the cause of many problems of black Americans. No one argues that racial discrimination does not exist or does not have effects. The relevant question, as far as policy and resource allocation are concerned, is: How much of what we see is caused by current racial discrimination?
From the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, black youth unemployment was slightly less than or equal to white youth unemployment. Today, black youth unemployment is at least double that of white youth unemployment. Would anyone try to explain the difference with the argument that there was less racial discrimination during the ’40s and ’50s than today?
Some argue that it is the “legacy of slavery” and societal racism that now explain the social pathology in many black neighborhoods. Today’s black illegitimacy rate is about 73 percent. When I was a youngster, during the 1940s, illegitimacy was around 15 percent.
In the same period, about 80 percent of black children were born inside marriage. In fact, historian Herbert Gutman, in an article titled “Persistent Myths about the Afro-American Family” in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Autumn 1975), reported the percentage of black two-parent families, depending on the city, ranged from 75 to 90 percent.
Today, only a little over 30 percent of black children are raised in two-parent households. The importance of these and other statistics showing greater stability and less pathology among blacks in earlier periods is that they put a lie to today’s excuses. Namely, at a time when blacks were closer to slavery, faced far more discrimination, faced more poverty, and had fewer opportunities, there was not the kind of social pathology and weak family structure we see today.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, nationally, the average black 12th-grader’s test scores are either basic or below basic in reading, writing, math, and science.
“Below basic” is the score received when a student is unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at his grade level. “Basic” indicates only partial mastery. Put another way, the average black 12th-grader has the academic achievement level of the average white seventh- or eighth-grader. In some cities, there’s even a larger achievement gap.
Is this a result of racial discrimination? Hardly. The cities where black academic achievement is the lowest are the very cities where Democrats have been in charge for decades and where blacks have been mayors, city councilors, superintendents, school principals, and teachers. Plus, these cities have large educational budgets.
I am not arguing a causal relationship between black political control and poor performance. I am arguing that one would be hard put to blame the academic rot on racial discrimination. If the Ku Klux Klan wanted to destroy black academic achievement, it could not find a better means for doing so than encouraging the educational status quo in most cities.
Intellectuals and political hustlers who blame the plight of so many blacks on poverty, racial discrimination, and the “legacy of slavery” are complicit in the socio-economic and moral decay. But one can earn money, prestige, and power in the victimhood game.
As Booker T. Washington long ago observed, “there is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs—partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”
By Walter E. Williams
What economists call an ability to make "compensating differences" is a valuable tool in everyone's arsenal. If people are prohibited from doing so, they are always worse off. You say, "Williams, I never heard of compensating differences. What are they?"
Jimmy Soul's 1963 hit song, "If You Wanna Be Happy," explained the concept of compensating differences. His lyrics went: "If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. So from my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you." His point was that an ugly woman would treat you better. But more importantly, a less attractive woman's willingness to compensate for her differences enables her to effectively compete with a pretty woman.
It goes the other way around, too. I've presented people with the following scenario: Suppose you saw a fat, ugly cigar-smoking old man married to a beautiful young woman. What kind of prediction would you make about the man's income? Everybody I've asked guesses that he would have a high income. The fat, ugly cigar-smoking old man would essentially be telling the beautiful young woman, "I can't compete for your hand the same way a guy like Williams can, so I'm going to offset my handicap by offering you a higher price."
Some might view it as unfair that a fat, ugly cigar-smoking old man could not win a pretty woman's hand on the same terms as a handsome man. Suppose they enacted a law saying beautiful women cannot treat fat, ugly cigar-smoking old men any differently than they treat handsome men. Then what would happen to the probability of a fat, ugly cigar-smoking old man's marrying a beautiful woman? Most people would guess that it would go to zilch. What the law would do would be to remove the less preferred man's most effective tool for competing with the more preferred man.
There are many real-world examples of compensating differences. Full-fledged doctors receive hourly pay that ranges between $80 and $157. A brand-new intern earns about $34 an hour. What do you think would happen to a hospital's willingness to hire an intern if there were a minimum hourly wage for interns of, say, $60, $70 or $100? There would be less willingness. Worse, there would be reduced learning opportunities for brand-new doctors. Worse still is that a hospital administrator would say, "If I must pay that higher minimum hourly wage no matter whom I hire, I might as well hire the most qualified." Thus, the higher minimum hourly wage would discriminate against the employment and skills acquisition of the least skilled intern.
During the 1930s, '40s and '50s, one could not prevent whole neighborhoods in the north from going from white to black occupancy virtually overnight. This was before government anti-discrimination laws related to housing. You might wonder how poor, discriminated-against people managed to seize the land-use control of neighborhoods. They did it through the market mechanism. For example, there might have been a racially discriminatory landlord who rented his three-story brown stone building to a white family for $100 a month. Maybe six black families approached the owner with the proposition that if he cut the building up into six apartments, each family would pay him $50 a month. That would mean that he could earn $300 a month renting to blacks rather than $100 renting to a white family. The evidence suggests that landlords opted for the higher earnings. Black people simply outbid white families.
Compensating differences abound. Even though chuck steak is less preferred, it outsells filet mignon. Less-preferred Toyotas compete effectively with Mercedes-Benzes. Costume jewelry competes with fine jewelry. In each, the lower price compensates for the difference. You might say, "Williams, people are not cars, steaks or jewelry!" That's true, but they respond to the same economic laws as cars, steaks and jewelry — just as people would obey the law of gravity the same way bricks would if they fell off the Empire State Building.
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Posted by JR at 12:26 AM