For more than a century, black civic leaders have tangled over whether to pursue economic independence or focus their energies on integrating political, corporate and educational institutions. W.E.B. Du Bois, author of the groundbreaking 1903 treatise, "The Souls of Black Folk," argued for the latter, while his contemporary, Booker T. Washington, said "political activity alone" was not the answer. In addition, insisted Washington, "you must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence and character."
Since the 1960s, the black civil-rights leadership has sided with Du Bois. Between 1970 and 2001, the number of black elected officials in the U.S. grew from fewer than 1,500 to more than 9,000. And while impressive socioeconomic progress has been made, wide black-white gaps remain in educational achievement, homeownership rates, labor-force participation, income levels and other measures.
Nor should we conclude that civil-rights laws are responsible for the black progress that has occurred. For example, up until the 1950s, and in an era of open and rampant racial discrimination, the jobless rate for blacks was much lower than today and similar to that of whites in the same age group. In fact, blacks had higher labor-force participation rates than whites in every Census taken between 1890 and 1950. And in the decades preceding the 1960s -- that is, prior to the passage of landmark civil-rights bills and affirmative-action legislation -- there were sharp rises in black educational achievement, both absolutely and relative to whites.
The economist Thomas Sowell has spent decades researching racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. and abroad. And his findings -- in books like "Race and Culture: A World View," "Affirmative Action Around the World" and "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?" -- show that political activity generally has not been a factor in the rise of groups from poverty to prosperity.
Many Germans came to the U.S. as indentured servants during colonial times. And while working to pay off the cost of the voyage they studiously avoided participation in politics. Only after they'd risen economically did Germans begin seeking public office, culminating with the election of presidents Hoover and Eisenhower.
A similar pattern can be found among Chinese populations in southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the U.S. In Argentina, where English minorities have done well financially and played a major role in the development of the economy, they've played almost no role in Argentine politics. And so it goes with Italians in the U.S. and Jews in Britain: In both places economic gains have generally preceded political gains. "Empirically, political activity and political success have been neither necessary nor sufficient for economic advancement," writes Mr. Sowell. "Nor has eager political participation or outstanding success in politics translated into faster group achievement."
Black Americans might keep in mind that in those rare instances where the political success of a minority group has come first, it has often resulted in slower socioeconomic progress. The Irish immigrants who came to the U.S. in the mid-19th century hailed from a country where 80% of the population was rural. Yet they settled in industrial centers like New York, Philadelphia and Boston and took low-skill jobs. Their rise from poverty was especially slow -- as late as 1920, 80% of all Irish women working in America were domestic servants -- despite the fact that Irish-run political organizations dominated many big-city governments.
"The Irish were fiercely loyal to each other, electing, appointing and promoting their own kind," writes Mr. Sowell. "This had little effect on the average Irish American, who began to reach economic prosperity in the 20th century at about the same time when the Irish political machines began to decline."
I have read this divergence of ideas before and I remain convinced that it remains true today. The choice for black civic leaders years ago to pursue a political path rather than economic independence was a tragic error. The current result is an astounding economic dependency of Blacks on Government with resulting dissolution of the black family. Too many black mens have become absent fathers and too many black boys grow up without adequate male role models. And like most dependencies, it only grow with time. I admire the few Black leaders who try to speak out against this trend, Bill Cosby for instance, but too often they are derided and their message lost.
I do not necessarily believe this was the intent of the Democratic party but certainly the Democratic party political agenda of more government services will not make things better. Certainly Obama as part of the Democratic establisment will only further this process.
It is a tragic consequence of choosing the wrong agenda years ago. It reminds me of similar bad choices in the Palestinians rejecting a separate states along side Israel decades ago. It also reminds me of the difference between the growth of cities like New Orleans compared to Houston.
Bad political choices have lasting consequences and the hole gets deeper and harder to come out of. I hope it does not happen to the US should Obama gets elected.