Posted on August 11, 2011

Can We Still Afford the Slavery Tax?

John Derbyshire, Takimag, August 11, 2011


Absent any such deus ex machina, however, we are heading into tightwad territory, at least so far as public finances are concerned. Where will the pennies get pinched?


And then, what about welfare?


As soon as you start to look at the numbers, though, you come up against the race issue. Here are the 2007-08 TANF tables — that’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program — broken up by state and race. So for example, in the state of Maryland, which is 30 percent black, 80 percent of TANF-receiving families are black.

It’s the same with food stamps, which nowadays come under SNAP — that’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The New York Times published a neat interactive graphic on SNAP usage a couple of years ago. The accompanying article tells us:

Nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. . .Half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.


Those gaps may be getting bigger. The Pew Research Center caused a stir the other day by releasing a report on the white/Hispanic/black wealth gaps. {snip}


The gaps seem to be awfully intractable. You need to be over fifty to remember Jim Crow; you need to be somewhat older than that to remember a grandparent who was born in slavery. Yet still the needles on a lot of these dials have barely moved.

After the ructions of the 1960s the USA erected a vast system of support and preferences for black citizens. The height of human felicity in the later 20th century was to be a smart and energetic black American. Colleges, employers, and lenders would beat a path to your door in order to meet their race quotas. {snip}

For the less stellar there was plenty of government make-work on offer. This has especially been the case at the federal level. In 2007, the latest year for which I can find figures, black Americans were massively overrepresented in the federal workforce — by more than 800 percent in CSOS (Court Services and Offender Services).

Two entire generations of Americans have now grown up among these favors, preferences, and welfare-support discrepancies for black people. They are rationalized among non-blacks, though not without some resentment, as a “Slavery Tax” — as fair recompense for past injustices.

Following the black riots of the 1960s, non-blacks have seen these concessions as an implicit contract or treaty — as non-black America saying to black America: “We’ll give you this stuff if you promise not to break our windows.”

Yet fifty years on, we are still looking at these colossal, apparently intractable, gaps. And the Slavery Tax is expensive — $31 billion in state and federal expenditures in 2008 just for TANF. If black Americans, at 13 percent of the population, consumed TANF funds at the same rate as white Americans, the TANF bill would be less than $14 billion, a savings of $17 billion. A lot of money: not much to show for it.

If you think these numbers are not worth bothering about — mere billions in a sea of trillions — this is just one modest slice of the Slavery Tax I’m talking about. The massive government make-work programs, with all their salaries and benefits, must be far more, though beyond my ability to compute. {snip}

Can the Slavery Tax be maintained in an age of austerity? {snip}

Yet if the Slavery Tax is curtailed or abolished, what will be the consequences? Will it be taken as an abrogation of that implicit treaty, to be responded to with much breaking of glass?


{snip} If we can’t, how much wider will those gaps get?

And how much glass will be broken? Those riots in London this week:

[British government] cutbacks in the number of police officers have also been blamed for the riots. . . In the 12 months to the end of March 2011, the number of officers fell by 4,625 to 139,110.