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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Celebrating Black History and Future

    Every year during the month of February, we take time to honor and appreciate the black and African-American experience in the United States. This year, the occasion is particularly poignant due to the election of Barack Obama to our country’s highest political office. While African-Americans have much to celebrate this year, they also have many grievances to remember and a way to go in reaching deserved social and economic equality in this country.

    Without a doubt, withholding basic civil rights from black Americans throughout history is one of the gravest miscarriages of justice perpetuated by the United States government and its citizens. Now, when looking to the future, it is important to pursue a fair course of action that will correct these wrongs.

    The wrongs were, in essence, a failure to protect the rights of the individual. Ayn Rand, founder of the Objectivist philosophy, said, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”

    Ensuring the protection of the rights of the individual is a government’s primary function and, it is through this act that personal freedom is assured. All individuals, regardless of national origin, have the right to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as expressed in America’s Declaration of Independence. Only by indiscriminately preserving the natural rights of man does it become possible to pursue economic and political freedom and social equality.

    In an 1848, open letter to his former “owner,” Fredrick Douglass expressed this sentiment: “I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me.”

    As Douglass so eloquently put it, individuals are not bound to each other as property is to an owner. The right to labor and obtain property for one’s self is a necessary condition for freedom. It is through labor in which private property is amassed and personal wealth and well-being is built. Particularly within the context of slavery, the contrast between economic serfdom and being free is the difference between being someone else’s property and being privileged to earn and keep private property for oneself.

    Further in his letter, Douglass expressed the glory of earning “my first free dollar. It was mine. I could spend it as I pleased…without asking any odds of any body.”

    Being free to exploit the product of ones own labor is a much more desirable position that being exploited yourself, despite the fact that either scenario contains its own risks. Here, Douglass reveals an important truth: that preserving economic freedom is necessary to experience prosperity, a condition which leads to further social and political equality.

    However, black Americans today remain economical unequal, despite the presumption of legal equality. Less than 5 percent of black Americans own their own businesses and they have a 30 percent salary gap, on average, compared to their white counterparts. This wage discrepancy is commonly viewed as being discrimination in the market. It is assumed that racist employers have been able to get away with paying African-Americans less for the same amount of work, despite legislation that forbids it.

    However, this idea is not economically logical. If the market and government permitted racist salary patterns to exist, then a smart, albeit deceitful, businessman would be able to hire black workers only, save money by paying his labor force less and bring in more profits for the shareholders. Since there are plenty of white people gainfully employed, the answer cannot wholly be due to be racism by individuals in a free market. Although racism does exist, it cannot fully account for wage discrimination.

    Labor economist Walter Block of Loyola University has a different hypothesis. According to his research, when an individual’s wages are adjusted for his average productivity, an estimated quantity, the gap disappears. The wage gap, therefore, cannot be completely due to wage discrimination in the workplace, but to factors that affect one’s productivity. While there are no significant physical or mental differences between races, other factors that account for productivity of labor, in turn affecting wages, are unequal as a function of race.

    Because productivity is affected by such things as education, health and financial burden, addressing economic inequality must come with an honest discussion about how to improve the educational opportunities for Black Americans, decrease their financial burden, so they can focus on self-improvement. In this discussion, we must consider abandoning social welfare programs, because they have failed to fix inequalities, and are being expanded even as the wage gap continues to grow.

    Historically, individuals have influenced government to enforce policies of institutionalized racism. This is, by all accounts, what is still responsible for continued patterns of poor economic growth in African-American communities. I remain skeptical, therefore, that using this same institution to directly address these grievances will meet with successful results.

    As Fredrick Douglass discovered upon escaping the bonds of servitude, all it took was a little bit of freedom and mobility to improve his economic lot in life. I suggest we encourage economic prosperity by sticking to the core principles of the Constitution — individual freedom — which has served all Americans well in creating economic growth.

    Instead of creating more welfare-dependence among our nation’s poor, let’s reduce the tax burden on the poor and end regulation which stifles business and entrepreneurship in poor communities. We should promote educational freedom by relying less on grossly inadequate public schools and allow people to exercise school choice. Let’s end the “war on drugs,” which disproportionately targets Black communities.

    We can learn from the lessons of the past this February, and seek to promote individual freedom and economic wealth by returning to the principles of the Constitution, which will help to empower the poor, rich, black and white alike.

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