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Minorities are not well-served by political, big-government solutions to social and economic advancement. Joel Kotkin weighs in on this point in “What’s the Best Way Up For Minorities?” He discusses the experiences of African Americans and Hispanics with two starkly different approaches to moving up:

Throughout American history, immigrants and minorities have had two primary pathways to success. One, by using the political system, seeks to redirect resources to a particular group and also to protect it from majoritarian discrimination, something particularly necessary in the case of the formerly enslaved African Americans.

The other approach, generally less well-covered, has defined social uplift through such things as education, hard work and familial values. This path was embraced by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Today, the most successful ethnic groups – Koreans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Greeks and Russians – demonstrate the validity of this method through high levels of both entrepreneurial and educational achievement.

Minorities have largely succeeded in achieving political stature, and minority politicians garnering the most support from minority constituencies have advocated statist solutions, as opposed to emphasizing individual initiative. A leader advocating for public provision of transfers or any form of “economic justice” is undoubtedly attractive to many disadvantaged voters. Unfortunately, those policies offer little more than support. They are incapable of lifting the disadvantaged out of poverty.

From 2007-13, African Americans have experienced a 9 percent drop in incomes, far worse than the 6 percent decline for the rest of the population. In 2013, African American unemployment remained twice that of whites, and, according to the Urban League, the black middle class has conceded many of the gains made over the past 30 years. Concentrated urban poverty – on the decline in the booming 1990s – now appears to be growing.

Kotkin notes that blacks are in worsening economic straits in cities that are considered “exemplars of black political power and redistributionist politics”, and even in more affluent but “progressive” coastal cities. And paradoxically, according to Kotkin, African Americans have achieved greater economic gains in the “old Confederacy”, and that is where they are moving. The same is true of Hispanics, though most of their population growth in the south is from immigration. African Americans are reversing an older pattern of migration to the north.

Kotkin cites statistics on minority homeownership and educational performance in the south relative to northern cities, and he compares results for Texas and California. The south wins convincingly. He emphasizes the role of education and housing policies in helping minorities overcome disadvantages, but he is rightly critical of housing subsidies and affirmative action. Bad housing policies, such as rent control and zoning ordinances, hurt minorities by limiting the stock of good housing, ultimately raising its cost. The public education system, usually shielded from competitive pressures in urban areas, has often failed minorities and the urban poor.

Unfortunately, calls to expand government support extend well beyond the optimal size and scope of the social safety net: free college education, subsidized home ownership, proportional representation in virtually any occupation, and “living wage” demands are very much a part of the economic justice narrative. Supporters of these policies among the poor, convinced that they are deserving, cannot be expected to understand the implications of Reynolds’ Law, named by The View From Alexandria blog after Instapundit‘s Glenn Reynolds:

Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.

Higher education is not a birthright. It is for those who demonstrate sufficient learning skills, and it is often free to the most promising students. The value of education provides a powerful incentive to those possessing the “trait” of prescience. Homeownership is a choice that should follow from resources earned by hard work or from one’s long-term prospects. Representation in certain occupational categories, and higher pay, reflect “traits” (skills, effort and reliability) that must be developed or demonstrated. As Reynolds says, subsidies destroy incentives by creating the illusion of  success, a thin simulacrum revealed by long-term dependency. Subsidies do not create self-sustaining success. They do not create the real thing. And the resources confiscated to pay for subsidies punish those those bearing the most positive traits.

Minority voters, especially African Americans, placed great hope in the Obama Administration to improve their economic success. Unfortunately, Obama favors the political route to minority material gains, not the economic route. The results have been dismal (and see this) in terms of poverty, dependency, labor force participation, wages, income, and wealth:

On every leading economic issue, in the leading economic issues Black Americans have lost ground in every one of those leading categories. So in the last ten years it hasn’t been good for black folk. This is the president’s most loyal constituency that didn’t gain any ground in that period.

The answer to promoting economic gains for minorities lies in encouraging market opportunities, freedom and the rule of law. This includes wage and price flexibility, labor rights, choice in schools, even-handed law enforcement and criminal justice, secure property rights, low taxes, and ending prohibitions that promote black markets and crime. The political route to success undermines the vibrancy of the economy, opportunities faced by minorities, and their ability to capitalize on them.