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Friday, July 4, 2014

Reviewing The Cultural Case For Capitalism Parts 2 of 12

Last week, we laid a model of thought by which we could partially analyse Jonathan Witt's 12 part series on A Cultural Case For Capitalism (click here for the review of part 1). In that model we constructed a 2-dimensional grid with a horizontal axis that measures the ownership of the means to wealth and a vertical axis that measured the location of the political-economic power that serves as part of the status quo. 

This week, we examine part 2 of Jonathan Witt's, A Cultural Case for Capitalism Part 2. In this blogpost Witt will use the struggles of American Blacks to make his case for his form of Capitalism, limited government and economic liberty. In doing so, Witt shows that he may not have consulted a wide enough variety of sources. 

Witt wants to highlight what he sees as a key difference between the plight of American Blacks during both slavery and Jim Crow and what Blacks must suffer through today. He believes that regardless of the horrible traumas suffered during some of America's most morally darkest hours as evidenced by how we treated people of color, the plight of Blacks today is more affected by permanent government assistance programs. Why? It is because the number of 'intact' Black families has plummeted and the role of the Black male as a provider has been been dismantled. And Witt continues by saying that the dismantling of families is not unique to American Blacks, it is happening in Europe too where families depend on permanent assistance programs. In addition, Witt believes that Black families limited the lingering effects of what they suffered.

Thus the solution is to keep safety nets but do not make them permanent. In addition, we need to make pay subject to the free market rather than determined by a "redistributive justice" system and to ensure economic liberty--code for freeing businesses from the responsibilities of paying for government programs. 

So Witt has identified well-meaning but flawed and thus disastrous permanent government assistance programs as being public enemy #1 for American Blacks today. And though Witt does cite the opinions, not the data, of a number of scholars, he does so in a way so as to stack the evidence in the favor of his hypothesis. 

We should note that Witt downplays the linger effects of one of America's most morally darkest hours of slavery and Jim Crow I--notice the Roman Numeral next to Jim Crow. As horrible as those times were, again, Witt declares that to think they still are the primary cause for the problems suffered by effect on Black families today is to underestimate the "resiliency and strength of Black families" in post Civil War America. Rather, Witt seems to use the number of functioning Black families as a sole measurement of the plight of Blacks. And since the number of such families has plummeted since Johnson's Great Society program, Johnson's programs that have hurt American Blacks and have placed them in a role of being helpless.

But what is missing in Witt's eagerness to finger government is an examination of the context for Witt's culprits along with a possible underestimation of both the effects of past racism and the presence of current racism. We should note that though significant gains were obtained during the Civil Rights movement, racism is still a big problem today. We should also note that some government assistance programs preceded LBJ and they did not seem to have had the effect on Black families as Johnson's Great Society programs had on Blacks from the late 20th century til now.

We also need to realize that as Blacks were being held down, different White ethnic groups were establishing themselves so that, both politically and economically, these White ethnic groups joined establishment Whites so that they established a privileged position for themselves compared with Blacks. Thus, when Blacks compete with Whites for jobs, the winner is all too often partially determined by the respective group's starting line for each person. Those who do not come from a privileged group have a longer race to run than those who are from a privileged group--if I remember correctly, this a point made by Michael Eric Dyson. Plus, hundreds of years of slavery and oppression, especially when immediate family members still wear the scars, along with a budding New Jim Crow era, cannot but have a significant negative effect on the psyche of more than one frustrated Black job hunter.

Certainly, Witt's errors so far include underestimating the lingering effects of past atrocities as well as using as his sole barometer of well-being the number of 'intact' Black families. And though it isn't that some of Witt's statements are without merit, it is that Witt's evidence and criteria is intentionally too narrowly defined.

We should note that Martin Luther King Jr. predicted gloom for Johnson's social policies because he felt that, due to the increased spending on the Vietnam War, not enough would be spent on programs of social uplift. But we should also note that Witt is not clear about why government aid programs became permanent. For example, were the job opportunities plentiful but the will to work was weak because of dependence? Or did jobs in the urban areas leave as Blacks moved into designated areas of the cities? We should note that Martin Luther King Jr. saw an insidious form of racism in the North as exhibited by where Blacks were allowed to live. And if job opportunities were not available in sufficient numbers, then the culture of dependency that many Conservatives like Witt have observed maybe due to actions of the private sector rather than public sector programs. And we should note that the moving of jobs away from concentrated Black population centers is a result of the economic liberty enjoyed by businesses.    

And if the exodus of jobs contributed to dependency by some Blacks back then, how much more does that apply now with a global work force that both reduces certain jobs here and drives down the wages to poverty levels of some of the jobs that remain? Many low skilled workers who work full-time hours live on government assistance which means that government programs are partially subsidizing some corporate payrolls while the same corporations are doing all they can to avoid paying taxes. The result is a shift of the tax burden to those who can least afford to pay it as well as the putting at risk the financial health of municipalities, states, and even the country.

Certainly, what was just mentioned affects everyone. But if it affects everyone, it also affects Blacks.

So it seems that Witt was selective in his citations and facts. Yes, there are problems with dependency. And yes, not all government programs are doing more good than harm. And certainly we could provide more economic liberty by intelligently rewriting some regulations. But at the same time, scapegoating the government is not justified. That doesn't mean that government is without fault. What it does mean is that some of those for whom Witt is really writing his series for are a significant part of the problem as they  do all they can to maximize profits. 

Finally, with regard to the model that was introduced last week. We will note that when Witt attacks government programs, what he is doing is attacking programs that could be the result of a functioning democratic government as well as an elite centered one--that is as he is trying to limit the power exercised by elites, he is doing the same to the power of a democracy. And if power is not distributed as in a democracy, though it may not reside in an elite-centered public sector, it will reside in an elite-centered private sector. Here we find Witt advocating the combination of a significant amount of individual rights when it comes to ownership of wealth as well as elite-centered power stemming from the private sector. This would put Witt in Quadrant 3, a quadrant where we can expect a more and more tyranny and wealth disparity. And it seems that, when we look around us, Quadrant 3 has not disappointed its fans. 



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