America's Underclass

It's always amusing to watch different factions of the political class lambaste each other, if only because there is truth in so many of the rude things they say. It was quite a spectacle, for instance, when Barbara Boxer (D-CA) left her own LA and flew to the other LA to lecture the Republican President on his allegedly miserable failure to do more to help the poor left stranded by the recent hurricane. Her flow of venom was just as unimpeded by the fact that the controversial relocation to the sports arena had been executed by a Democratic Mayor and a Democratic Governor, as the hurricane had been by the government levees in its path. If Shakespeare was right when writing about Hell, that woman must have been really, really, really scorned, way back long ago when she was young and pretty.

Her unsolicited critique made good press, and helped stir that industry into a frenzy of anti-Bush sentiment that even I felt was rather overdone. They all seem to want government to do more; I want it to do nothing. A bumbling, inefficient government is a terrible thing--but an efficient one would be a very great deal worse.

One thing, though, the visiting cyclone may have achieved: She drew attention to the plight of the untermensch. Are the poor, usually black and not too bright, really as helpless as the news reports from New Orleans and Houston appeared to show? Ms. Boxer thinks government does too little for them. Is she right? Let's take a rational look.

Conditions in the Superdome may have been even grimmer than we here have so far been told. A group of foreign students were caught in the government roundup and told a lurid tale of how the evacuees behaved like animals so that, rather than a place of refuge, the arena became a terrifying trap. Is that what America 's underclass has become, and if so why?

Let's start by discounting some of the problem. These scores of thousands of New Orleanians had just been ripped from their homes with next to none of their property and left dry but hot, tired, hungry, thirsty, sleepless, bed-less and only too soon, toilet-less. By one account, the crowd included inmates from New Orleans' jails, who had not unreasonably been let loose rather than left to drown, and who no doubt included many who were violent as well as the majority who had merely broken some silly government law about drugs. Put any of us in that situation and we might fairly soon forget our civilized composure and good manners.

Do that by all means; but we're still left with the ugly fact that in the richest country on Earth, 20% or 100,000 residents of a major city were unable to evacuate when disaster approached, because they lacked their own transport and the initiative to hitch a lift or walk to the nearest bridge. That is pretty sick, and cries out for an explanation.

The Reasons

A lack of self-sufficiency is clearly the key. Many living in cities choose not to own a car, because feet, buses, trains and taxis are more cost-efficient ways to travel; but if a giant tsunami were poised to break over Manhattan tomorrow, I doubt if many pedestrians living on the Upper East or West Side would wait around to see it. In New Orleans too, 80% of the population noticed the weather forecast, heard the government admit that its levees might not hold, and made their escape in good time. We hear little about them; presumably, most found refuge with friends or family upstate and others are living in motels over a wide area. While I have no data, it would seem amazing to me that someone without a car could not or did not hitch a ride with a neighbor who had one, assuming space was available; yet in the underclass, apparently that did not take place. Apparently, its members didn't think to ask; the need to take care of themselves had been drowned out too long ago, by the government-induced culture of dependency and welfare.

That process has a long history. Here is how it happened, and how it's continuing today.

1. They were enslaved. Notice, this horrible practice would have been impossible without the force of government, whose laws and courts forbade black slaves to regain ownership of their stolen lives and which returned them to their masters if they escaped. So for a century and a half, Southern Black culture was impregnated by dependency: obey the master, and he will provide the basics of life.

2. They were hobbled. When freedom came at last, few knew how to use it and once again, government did everything it could to keep the "niggers" from finding out, branding them as second class citizens so as to protect the jobs of low-talent whites. In slavery, hard work was a dead loss; it brought no extra reward. The smart slave was the one who performed just that minimum of work needed to avoid punishment. This was the exact opposite of the route to success in an open job market, and so each rising black generation was taught the exact inverse of a successful work ethic. The outcome was no contest; a century and a half after "emancipation," poverty in America is predominantly black.

3. They are excluded from "nice" white suburban neighborhoods when the White Flight took place in the '50s and '60s as proliferation of cars permitted. The exclusion continues today and is achieved ever so subtly using zoning laws that pretend to protect the environment. Thus were the ghettos created.

4. They are bribed to not compete in the labor market, to overcome the hobbling noted in #2 above; the bribery takes the form of welfare checks. No need to get a job--government will ensure you have enough to live on, with free medical care as needed, maybe.

5. They are forbidden to work for less than a government-decreed wage rate, and potential employers are forbidden to hire them just in case the bribe isn't high enough.

6. Their family life is destroyed by bribing them further; single mothers get government checks only for as long as they don't live with a father for their children. All the values that a two-parent family might bring those children, in terms of later upward mobility, are obscured.

7. They are mis-educated by being forced to attend government schools--which in the ghettos are frequently nightmares of indiscipline which make learning impossible; upward mobility is thereby again slowed to a trickle.

8. They are terrorized and held in dependence on government "protection," such as it is, by the "War on Drugs." This ingenious device achieves three objectives at the same time: (a) it imprisons those young black males who show promising skills of entrepreneurship, who might otherwise succeed in business and prosper; (b) it intoxicates all their customers by the "forbidden fruit" syndrome, so rendering helpless for work the next most promising layer of young people, and (c) it turns most of them into real criminals (to rob so as to get the next fix) thereby reinforcing the white perception that blacks are incurably uncivilized.

9. They are further terrorized and kept dependent on government by being forbidden to own their own handguns. Handgun prohibition began in the late 1800s as a racist measure in the South; at first only the cheapest were outlawed, and of course, the cheapest were the only kind poor blacks could afford. That odious origin is reflected today in government bias against "Saturday night specials."

All nine of these systematic government tools for repressing black Americans have been and are supported by voters, both "liberals" and "conservatives" for reasons that look different but are surprisingly close. The result, which shocked everyone when the test came in New Orleans , is therefore a direct consequence of massive government action--of the entire political process that made all nine of those actions possible. The only question is whether it was all deliberate and cynical, or just a tragic mistake--a case of noble motives and unintended consequences.

Take your pick; those are the only two alternatives. The entire political class is either dead stupid, for the consequences are perfectly clear and the logic above is easy to follow, or else it is cynical and viciously racist. Either way, the result is an underclass whose slave mentality lies close beneath the surface, a century and a half after it was supposed to end.

For myself, I don't think the political class is particularly stupid.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"