Posted on April 28, 2011

The Racialization of Deficit Cutting

Robert Weissberg, American Thinker, April 25, 2011

Race is increasingly infusing the current debate over federal spending and the soaring national debt. {snip}

The modern civil rights movement was initially about personal liberty–from attending schools of one’s choosing, to sitting wherever one chose on a bus and being able to vote regardless of skin color, among myriad other liberties. Yes, expanded federal power was vital but intercessions such as affirmative action were, supposedly, only temporary legal steps to guarantee African Americans options heretofore available only to whites.

With time, however, relatively cheap government edicts were replaced by expensive entitlements. Expanding the Great Society’s anti-poverty programs became a way of life. Opening up the housing market evolved from anti-discrimination laws to the right to government-supplied decent housing, and if that option was unobtainable, government would subsidize private housing or mandate (and guarantee) below-market home mortgages. Laws banning racial discrimination in employment were similarly supplanted by government jobs to soak up black unemployment (blacks now comprise one out of every five non-postal federal employees). Head Start replaced the local babysitter and mandated integration became oversize bureaucracies to assure equal outcomes. In cities with sizable black populations, e.g., Detroit or Newark, municipal jobs became life-savers. Washington has also repeatedly extended unemployment benefits, a benefit that disproportionately helps blacks given their higher levels of joblessness. In a nutshell, for many African Americans “civil rights” has come to mean government generosity, a generosity increasingly financed by borrowing.

The obvious problem is sustainability, as debt replaced tax revenue. {snip} Unfortunately, this fiscal predicament is now being perceived as an attack on African American civil rights. {snip}

This is hardly a fringe view. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) website similarly affirms that the quest to escape crushing debt is an anti-black subterfuge. As one CBC member put it,” It is important that everyone understands that in their proposed 2012 budget, Republicans are diverting money from programs needed by the poor, seniors and people with disabilities to corporations and the wealthy in our country.” It is further argued that attempts to reverse ObamaCare means denying health care to many who are now, finally, on the verge of obtaining decent health care. In fact, in 2011 the CBC offered its own budget in the House that reversed some of President Obama’s cuts but it was soundly rejected by a 3 to 1 margin. It predictably called for spending increases for education, job training and other programs to help the poor, to be paid for by upping taxes on the wealthy. The NAACP has recently deplored America’s “under-funding” of education though educational spending has dramatically increased with little to show for these extra billions (and many cities with largely black school populations are among the nation’s best funded schools). {snip}.

Endless borrowing to finance a steady stream of government benefits may seem quite reasonable for many African Americans, particularly those with limited education. It is hardly surprising that after a few years of enjoying a benefit it grows into an unalienable right. Nearly half of all Americans do not pay federal taxes so subsidized housing, food stamps, Head Start and all the rest are “free” {snip}. {snip} African Americans also seem particularly prone to debt, running up larger credit card debts than whites (often double) of comparable incomes (see, for example, here). {snip} Poorly educated citizens in general may also be befuddled with terms like “billion” and “trillion,” let alone the international consequences of excessive indebtedness, so all the dire warnings are just too abstract.

{snip} For many Americans helping African Americans entails a moral obligation that exists independently of fiscal prudence. Further add the difficulty generating private sector employment for many African Americans (trying to boost private sector employment via empowerment zones has proven futile). Most clearly, linking fiscal cutbacks to an “attack” on African American civil rights automatically mobilizes a sizable congressional block of anti-cutback votes (including white legislators dependent on black voters). Resistance will hold even if budgetary hawks like Paul Ryan (R.-WI) can demonstrate that these “civil rights” programs are often wasteful, ineffectual and equally applicable to whites. {snip}

Less obvious, but perhaps of greater importance (though still unspeakable) is the possible link between government cutbacks and domestic violence. Recall that many of today’s programs helping blacks were a response to 1960s urban violence, and they have succeeded. Cutting ethanol subsidies to Iowa farmers is a mere inconvenience compared to firing thousands of black teacher assistants who have few non-government job options. Significant cutbacks here will bring “cold turkey” on a grand scale and expressions like “long hot summer” may soon return.

In the final analysis, the only practical solution may be sustaining government programs that disproportionately assist blacks, regardless of value or costs. {snip}