Walter E. Williams
by Walter E. Williams: A
Here's a recent
statement frequently suggested by leftist academics, think tank
researchers and policymakers: "People were not just struggling because
of their personal deficiencies. There were structural factors at
play. People weren't poor because they made bad decisions. They
were poor because our society creates poverty." Who made that statement
and where it was made is not important at all, but its corrosive
effects on the minds of black people, particularly black youths,
intellectually challenging or unusual about poverty. For most of
mankind's existence, his most optimistic scenario was to be able
to eke out enough to subsist for another day. Poverty has been mankind's
standard fare and remains so for most of mankind. What is unusual
and challenging to explain is affluence – namely, how a tiny percentage
of people, mostly in the West, for only a tiny part of mankind's
existence, managed to escape the fate that befell their fellow men.
To say that
"our society creates poverty" is breathtakingly ignorant. In 1776,
the U.S. was among the world's poorest nations. In less than two
centuries, we became the world's richest nation by a long shot.
Americans who today are deemed poor by Census Bureau definitions
have more material goods than middle-class people as recently as
60 years ago. Dr. Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield give us insights
Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor"
(9/13/2011). Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning.
Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two
or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have one or
more computers. Forty-two percent own their homes. The average poor
American has more living space than the typical non-poor person
in Sweden, France or the U.K. Ninety-six percent of poor parents
stated that their children were never hungry during the year because
they couldn't afford food. How do these facts square with the statement
that "our society creates poverty"? To the contrary, our society
has done the best with poverty.
Maybe the professor
who made the statements about poverty – who, by the way, is black
– was thinking that it's black people who have been made poor by
society. One cannot avoid the fact that average black income today
is many multiples of what it was at emancipation, in 1900, in 1940
and in 1960, even though average black income is only 65 percent
of white income. There is no comparison between black standard of
living today and that in earlier periods. Again, the statement that
"our society creates poverty" is just plain nonsense.
the assertion that "people weren't poor because they made bad decisions"?
rate among blacks is 36 percent. Most black poverty is found in
female-headed households, but the poverty rate among black married
couples has been in single digits since 1994 and stands today at
7 percent. Today's black illegitimacy rate is 72 percent, but in
the 1940s, it hovered around 14 percent. Less than 50 percent of
black students graduate from high school, and most of those who
do graduate have a level of academic proficiency far below that
of their white counterparts. Black men make up almost 40 percent
of the prison population.
are my several two-part questions: Is having babies without the
benefit of marriage a bad decision, and is doing so likely to affect
income? Are dropping out of school and participating in criminal
activity bad decisions, and are they likely to have an effect on
income? Finally, do people have free will and the capacity to make
decisions, or is their behavior a result of instincts over which
they have no control? As a black person, I'm glad that the message
taught to so many of today's black youths wasn't taught back in
the 1930s, '40s and '50s, when the civil rights struggle was getting
into gear. The admonishment that I frequently heard from black adults
was, "Be a credit to your race."
E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics
at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other
Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators
Syndicate web page.
© 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Best of Walter E. Williams