Thomas Sowell, the noted black conservative economist, periodically urges Republicans to get out and fight for black votes. This week he did it again.
As an economist, he points out how liberal economics hurts black people, for instance:
- Restrictive zoning. You rarely see a black person on the San Francisco peninsular. That's because of environmental politics and land-use restrictions over the past generation.
But the building restrictions-- and outright bans-- resulting from the political crusades of environmentalist zealots sent housing prices skyrocketing in San Francisco, San Jose and most of the communities in between.
- Minimum wage laws lead to high unemployment among black youths. That comes from liberal politicians, and it hurts blacks.
- Job protections for union teachers hurts education. That's a big deal for blacks whose best route for advancement begins with education.
If Republicans won't talk about these issues with blacks, says Sowell, they are throwing away an opportunity to earn their votes.
But I think that economist Sowell is missing the point. People don't switch to the conservative side on these issues until they have succeeded as middle-class people and realize that the middle-class proposition--that you get an education, develop your skills, and then offer yourself to the labor market--really works.
The fact is that modern economics is not common-sense economics, any more than modern mechanics is common-sense.
Common sense tells you that you can't make anything move unless you push it. If you stop pushing, it will stop. Modern mechanics says that things move at a constant speed unless pushed. Really? Common sense says you gotta be kidding.
Same thing with economics. Common sense tells you that the rich landlord can jack up rent any time he wants to screw the poor people. Common sense tells you that the employer can lower wages as low as he wants when he wants to screw the poor people. Common sense tells you that you've got to hang on to those teacher jobs come what may because, after all, that's where the paychecks come from.
Low income people, of any race, believe that the economy is a dog-eat-dog world in which the poor go to the wall unless protected by a powerful patron. That's why they vote for liberals. Liberals say, again and again, that they fight for the poor people and for blacks and minorities. Liberals support benefits for blacks and poor people. It doesn't matter that liberal economic policies prevent blacks from getting into the middle class. What matters to the average low-income voter is that liberals siphon some of the money of the rich into their pockets. Obviously, there is no way that conservatives can compete when it comes to benefits for poor people.
The right thing for conservatives to do is to champion modern economics over feudal liberal economics, just as scientists champion modern mechanics over common-sense mechanics. Every time a black indicates an interest in conservative ideas we should jump and push out the welcome wagon.
Years ago, liberals kept the average white working stiff in the New Deal coalition by frightening the heck out of him. Today, liberals keep the average black in the Democratic column by playing the race card. But there came a day when the average white working stiff had a house and a car and a kid in college, and he found himself voting for Ronald Reagan and repudiating the useless Jimmy Carter. The day will come when the average black voter does the same thing. That day is sooner than you think.