Walter E. Williams bio photo

Walter E. Williams

Professor of Economics.
(703) 993-1148
D158 Mason Hall
Department of Economics
George Mason University

Related Sites:
The homepage of George Mason University.
Homepage of the Department of Economics at GMU.

President Barack Obama won an unprecedented 96 percent of the black vote. That’s not much of a news story since blacks typically give their votes to the Democratic candidate. Blacks are probably the most politically loyal people in the nation and it is almost taken as gospel, at least among civil rights organizations and black and white liberals, that the only way black people can make socioeconomic progress is through the politics of race and special government programs. However, such a vision can be subjected to empirical evidence.

In 1940, when blacks were politically impotent, their poverty rate was 87 percent. By 1960, before blacks achieved much political power, it fell to 47 percent. During that interval, in various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled. Before 1960, there were no anti-poverty programs or affirmative action programs that can explain an economic advance that exceeded any other 20-year interval, though there were Truman and Eisenhower administration attacks on some of the gross forms of racial discrimination. A significant chunk of black progress occurred simply through migration from rural areas in the South to big Northern cities. Between 1960 and 1980, black poverty fell roughly 17 percent and continued falling to today’s 24 percent. The decline in black poverty between 1960 and 1980 might have simply been a continuation of a trend starting much earlier and cannot be attributed solely to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, President Johnson’s War on Poverty, or Richard Nixon’s affirmative action.

Most of the major problems that many black people face are not amendable to political solutions and government anti-poverty programs. Let’s look at some. In 1940, 86 percent of black children were born inside marriage, and the illegitimacy rate among blacks was about 15 percent. Today, only 35 percent of black children are born inside marriage, and the illegitimacy rate hovers around 70 percent.

Today’s breakdown of the black family is unprecedented. It began in the 1960s with the War on Poverty and the harebrained ideas of the welfare state. In the mid-1960s, Daniel Moynihan sounded the alarm about the breakdown in the black family in his book “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” At that time black illegitimacy was 26 percent. Moynihan said, “(A)t the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of the Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” He added, “The steady expansion of welfare programs can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States.” Moynihan’s observations were greeted with charges of racism and blaming the victim. By the way, the welfare state is an equal opportunity family destroyer. Today’s illegitimacy rate among whites, at nearly 30 percent, is higher than it was among blacks in the 1960s when Moynihan sounded the alarm. In Sweden, the mother of the welfare state, illegitimacy is 54 percent.

Blacks hold high offices and dominate the political arena in Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Orleans and other cities. Yet these are the very cities with the nation’s most rotten schools, highest crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, weak family structure and other forms of social pathology. I am not saying that blacks having political power is the cause of these problems. What I am saying is that the solution to most of the major problems that confront many black people won’t be found in the political arena and by electing more blacks to high office. In fact, politicians tend to be hostile to some of the solutions to problems many blacks face such as school choice as a means to strengthen education, the elimination of oppressive licensing restrictions for various occupations, and supportive of job-destroying labor legislation such as minimum wage laws.

The bottom line is there is very little evidence anywhere on the planet that political power is a necessary condition for economic power.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at