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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic waiting for a new edition, August 1, 2003
This review is from: The State Against Blacks (Hardcover)
The only reason I don't give this five stars is that it is decades old now. Why doesn't Walter Williams get his students to do some up-to-date research and come up with an expanded edition?
But the book is awesome--easily (apart from datedness) worth six stars out of five. And because it explains really well why the average person of color came from a poorer family in the eighties, one could even argue that it remains quite contemporary. More importantly, the principles articulated here are quite easily applied to a variety of other situations.
The basic thesis (I'm going by memory here) is that even though "jim crow" laws have been removed from the state governments, that the federal, state, and local governments have in fact passed laws and (especially!) regulations that disproportionately hurt blacks and promote their poverty rather than their prosperity. One reviewer has already mentioned the taxicab example. At one time, if one had a car, one could offer one's services as a taxi cab driver. But now the City government has made it illegal for a person to offer that service. Walter Williams discusses the proffered rationales for this use of state violence (Williams's tone is not nearly as severe as mine, but what can I say?: All laws are statements threatening people with violence who don't comply.). But they are easily shown as bogus. The existing cab drivers are lining their pockets with money from all other potential cab drivers. This is a colorblind system of robbery, but it is not economically blind. It hurts those who have a car and can drive but who don't have other more lucrative opportunities. Due to past injustices that were not color-blind, this injustice ends up not being color-blind either. Because minorities are disproportionately poor, laws exploiting the poor are laws that especially target certain races.
Basically, the relative poverty of those who are poor today cannot be addressed in the same way as it once was. Various laws have knocked many rungs out of "the ladder of success" that were once in place for the European immigrant waves of yesteryear.
Another example that especially sticks in my memory is Walter Williams' historical analysis showing that poor black outbid richer whites at the same houses in the cities. The reason for this was that multiple families were willing to subdivide and share dwellings. Williams shows how much money a racist landlord would lose if he tried to be racist in his practices by refusing to rent to blacks. But those opportunities were no longer present when African Americans had an incentive to leave the inner city. The suburbs had passed laws denying landowners the freedom to control their property. It became illegal for more than one family to share a house. (Incidentally, this is a cause of homelessness in general; see [...]
Also cutting off blacks from economic opportunities were the industry regulations for occupations such as beauty salons. It is horrible that there are discrepancies in the education that minorities receive, but it doesn't help to arbitrarily demand unnecessary education accomplishments of people who want to cut other people's hair for a living. Again, this was a case of a law that simply artificially raised beauty salon prices by putting up barriers that kept others out of the market. Why should better-educated whites make a living at the expense of blacks? Why should a black be threatened with fines and jail time for cutting peoples hair and receiving money in exchange for that service?
Readers will be surprised to discover what South African labor unions resorted to when they were unable to continue using blatantly racist laws to keep blacks from competing with them: minimum wage laws. In a racist culture, if you force everyone to be paid an artificially high level, racist employers can afford to be racist. But if blacks can outbid whites at their labor, a racist employer will soon be driven out of business if he tries to hire his preference. Of course, blacks should get paid the same as whites, and that is what we should all want. But which brings that vision closer to reality, blacks learning job skills and integrating in the work force, or blacks forced into permanent unemployment by laws that basically allow some workers to gain at the expense of other workers? Don't whites have enough privileges already? The market is a force for integration if politicians will leave it alone.
Besides all this, minimum wage laws, unless they are set too low to matter, would discriminate against minorities regardless of present-day racism. Again, such laws hurt the poor for the sake of the better off. Those whose labor, due to lack of education and training, is not worth the level set by the law, are forced into unemployment. It is illegal to hire them. And because minorities are disproportionately poor, such economic exploitation is also race exploitation.
Reading this book was a life-changing experience in college, one that I tried rather ineffectively to share with my socially conscious peers. I can't recommend it enough. --Mark
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Initial post: May 20, 2008 1:10:08 AM PDT
Darrin K says:
Excellent review. Thank you.
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