Regarding Warren’s column today

This is to lend my own perspective in support of what my colleague Warren Bolton has to say in his column today.

There are an awful lot of white folks out there who are by no means racist but who nevertheless get impatient with black folks seeming to talk about race "all the time." I’ll admit that while I don’t quite go that far, I have had a similar reaction: Sometimes it just seems odd to me that black writers or speakers will inject race into their comments on a subject that seemed — to me — to be totally unrelated.

But while I’m not the most empathetic person in the world, I have managed to figure out that the reason I have that reaction is that I’ve never had the regular experience that black folks have of race being thrown in their faces, and usually in an extremely unpleasant way. This usually happens out of the view of the kind of white folks who would never dream of doing, saying or thinking anything racist, and thus such well-meaning folk think it’s their black neighbors who have an unhealthy fixation.

Working with Warren has helped me see this. I’ll give you an example.

Sometime after Warren Bolton joined our editorial board, he wrote a column or two about the Confederate flag that was then atop our State House dome. At that point, I had already written on the subject — demanding that it come down — about 200 times since I had joined the board myself in 1994.

Warren’s style of writing about it was milder and more polite than mine. He objected to the flag’s presence in a kinder, gentler manner than was my wont. This was partly due to the difference in our personalities. But I suspect it was also because Warren knew, far better than I, what was coming.

You see, I thought I’d seen it all in the way of negative reactions from flag defenders. The editorial department secretary hated the days that one of my pieces on the subject ran, because it meant a day of fielding — and passing on to me — angry call after angry call, followed by a flood of letters.

But what I’d experienced was hugs and kisses compared to the slime that came bursting out of the woodwork from the very first moment that Warren dared to touch upon the subject. The vitriol, the pure hatred that was aimed at him was like nothing I had seen. And what was the difference between his columns and mine? Well, there were two: Mine were somewhat more provocative, and a picture of a black man ran with his.

I was already at that point tired of hearing the canard about how support for the flag never had a thing to do with race, but I really got fed up with it at that point. What provoked the hatred; what was Warren’s offense? Simple. He was guilty of having an opinion on the flag while being black.

This did not surprise Warren. He had, after all, been black all his life. But it was an eye-opener for me.

Warren quotes — with epithets blanked out — one of the worst recent phone messages he’s received. But reading about it doesn’t communicate it. You need to hear it to get the full impact (and sorry, but my attempts to convert the recording to a format that I could link to here have been unsuccessful). The caller starts out speaking VERY softly, so that Warren or anyone else listening would press the receiver more tightly to his ear, and turn up the volume on the phone. Then, without warning, he SCREAMS the really nasty parts at a volume intended to hurt the eardrum of the listener. That this stranger hated Warren could be in no doubt. Nor could the reason be obscure. He hated Warren simply because he was black, and he wanted to put that point across in as offensive and painful a manner as possible.

I’ve never had anything quite like that aimed at me. And if you’re white, you probably haven’t either. If you and I suspect black folks are just a little on the touchy side about race matters, that’s probably because they are. And they have reason to be.

18 thoughts on “Regarding Warren’s column today

  1. Mike C

    I always enjoy Warren’s columns whatever the topic, even when I disagree with the argument he makes, which is most of the time. But what he writes is important and needs to be said.
    For example, payday lenders perform an economic benefit, extending credit to those with troubled credit histories and who have no other legal source. Unlike Warren, I think that their business should remain legal. But folks like Warren – and maybe even I – should write about how this last-resort lending is a sign that we need to educate, cajole, and browbeat folks into exploring all alternatives before dealing with a type of business that breeds on desperation.
    It’s obvious that Warren’s passionate about much of what he writes about, but he conveys the passion without histrionics. What’s disappointing is that it’s not surprising that he gets the kind of calls and letters you and he mention. It’s okay to attack his ideas, but disgusting to attack him and where he comes from. Criticizing a black guy for focusing on things black is like criticizing a woman for writing on things that women understand and men — regardless of color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or availability of power tools — don’t.
    I also know that even in these times, if Warren and I wore identical clothing and departed on a 500 mile trip in identical cars, we’d have different experiences, good and bad, on the journey simply and solely because of skin color. Several years ago when my company was doing a big job here in Columbia, a bunch of us would go to local eateries for some down-home cooking. I couldn’t help but notice how those of Indian (the Punjab, wot!) and Chinese origin got different reactions from the staff and fellow diners. But I remain optimistic about a perfect world.
    Over the years of reading his columns, I’ve savored his anecdotes about growing up. He comes from a large family with a great mom, as do I. These glimpses into Warren’s background underscore the humanity that powers what he writes.

  2. Tom Turnipseed

    A few months ago, The State ran an op.ed. by Ken Burns, perhaps our leading producer of award winning historical documentaries for television. Burns had just completed a documentary for PBS about the life and career of Jack Johnson, the great black heavyweight boxing champion of the world in the early 20th century. Johnson was convicted in a federal prosecution for “taking a woman across state lines for immoral purposes” and also for “crime against nature” because he was black and she was white even though he later married her. Johnson served a year in prison for the convictions and Burns had established a established an organization including folks like Sen. John McCain to attempt to obtain a posthumous Presidential pardon for Johnson.
    After reading the piece I wrote an op.ed. submission for The State contending that posthumous pardons and apologies were insufficient recompense and that restitution and/or reparations were due Johnson’s heirs. I also pointed out that his case was the “tip of an iceberg” when we consider the injustices done to black folks in the United States during the 350 years of the African-American holocaust. As well as I can remember The State finally printed my piece as a letter and left out the word reparations. I’m hopeful that the omission had nothing to do with the fact that the previous owners of The State until about 15 years ago was the Hampton family. The Hampton’s great wealth was established by Wade Hampton, former Confederate General, S.C. Governor, and Red Shirt Terrorist leader. Hampton was one of the largest slave owners in the South.
    I would like to commend The State for publishing the following letter a few weeks ago entitled..”Black Americans deserve reparations for centuries of economic depravation” by Glenice Pearson of Columbia. It reminds us of some of the history of racial injustices:
    “I am always strangely drawn to the letters to the editor that remind black Americans that their own people sold their ancestors into enslavement, as if that should be sufficient to close the debate regarding reparations for slavery and segregation. As we all have witnessed, there are people in every part of the world whose greed clouds their humanity.
    However, people who single out this aspect of the historical record have clearly chosen to absorb only those pieces of information that suit their personal ideology.
    They’ve overlooked the records of resistance by many African people to being taken into slavery and the absolute brutality with which all slaves were captured and transported to the Americas.
    Moreover, they’ve sidestepped the ethical issues regarding this nation’s actions over the centuries since Africans were taken from the shores of their home continent to help build this nation’s massive wealth and military might.
    As the recent political battles over the estate tax demonstrate, the right to one’s inheritance is considered fundamental in this country. Yet, black Americans were essentially denied the benefits that other groups in this country have gained via the ability to inherit the fruits of their ancestors’ labor.
    Most of the public debate about the disproportionate levels of poverty among black people is totally disconnected from historical realities: labor without pay, stolen lands and businesses, payment of taxes for public goods that were forbidden to non-whites, rejections of bank loans on specious grounds and other forms of economic subjugation.
    This listing does not include the many fear tactics that were designed to keep black people from even attempting to gain a foothold in the economy, ranging from daily insults heaped upon adults and children to jailing and lynching without evidence of guilt or trial by jury.
    I know that part of my reaction to these letters is the all-too-present memory of attending the funerals of cousins and friends who died in wars on foreign shores when I could not use the public library. No other group of people that America has wronged has ever had to work so hard to demonstrate that they deserved some type of economic compensation for systematic discrimination.
    Even Japanese-Americans have received reparations, although the length of time in which their loss occurred was substantially shorter than that of black people. In fact, systematic exclusion of blacks from the economy persisted well after the release of Japanese citizens from internment camps.
    While I recognize that the society in which I was forced to grow up skewed my perspective as it relates to the human condition, I find it difficult to understand why other people have such a hard time seeing the same trait in themselves.”
    Racial injustice in America is so big and so bad that we white folks have much denial about it. It is very hard to understand the extent of racism in our culture if you have white sin and the privilege that goes with it. Empathy is what we must try to muster a bit more of, Brother Brad.
    Thanks for bringing up the subject.
    Tom Turnipseed

  3. Lee

    The problem with black columnists like Bolton and white liberals like Warthen is that they see Bolton as a “black columnist”. They think and discuss in terms of race when it is inappropriate to the issue, and it becomes a crutch for them to avoid confronting problems.

  4. Mike C

    Tom –
    You’re asking not for empathy, but for cash.
    The facts are stubborn and simple

    No way are millions of white, Asian, and Hispanic Americans going to pay reparations for something that happened before their ancestors ever set foot on American Soil. Even those whites whose ancestors were here before the Civil War know that most of those ancestors — whether they lived in the North or the South — owned no slaves.
    Seen in this light, the demand for reparations may seem like an exercise in futility. However, seen as a source of a lasting unmet grievance, it is a stroke of genius to keep blacks separated from other Americans and an aggrieved constituency to support black “leaders” in politics, organizations and movements.
    This demand also mobilizes a certain amount of support or sympathy among whites, especially those in the media and in academia, where such support or sympathy costs nothing, and allows those who give it to relieve their own sense of guilt, while risking other people’s money — and national cohesion. Some white politicians can also benefit at little or no cost to themselves by expressing sympathy with the reparations cause or even voting for meaningless apologies for what others did centuries ago.

    There’s more in the linked article that runs counter to Pearson’s assertions. For example, poverty rate among blacks fell by half between 1940 and 1960, years during which black males’ number of years of schooling doubled. Yet with the expansion of the welfare state under LBJ’s Great Society, much of the progress was arrested and a decline set in. We can thank AFDC for that.
    The drive for reparations has failed in the courts and in Congress. The only purpose it serves now is as a political tool.

  5. Brad Warthen

    But, Mike, a tool must have utility. What is the utility of continuing to call for reparations?
    Either people sincerely believe that reparations are a good idea and are therefore willing to advocate the idea in spite of its being a nonstarter politically (that would be Tom’s position, I believe), or they are engaging in a strategy of towering cynicism, putting out an untenable proposal so as to have an excuse to be perpetually aggrieved.
    The latter is the only way I can see such advocacy having political utility. Is that what you are suggesting?

  6. Mike C

    Those “leaders” pushing for reparations have two aims:

    – They are engaging in a strategy of towering cynicism, putting out an untenable proposal so as to maintain control of a voting bloc of the perpetually aggrieved.
    – Having come up empty-handed with Congress and the courts, they hope to extort funds from corporations sufficiently intimidated to pay up. They thereby maintain a captive audience while funding their political operations and lining their pockets.

    As I pointed out in my blog entry Banking on Success, these guys, like Willie Sutton, know where the money is and managed to get $10 million from Wachovia “for something Wachovia didn’t do, in an era when it didn’t exist, under laws it didn’t break” as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby so aptly put it.
    Dr. Sowell’s big hammer hits a lot of nails on the head when he writes:

    Pointing blacks in a direction from which little can be expected, and away from the enormous opportunities open today in the economy, is a formula for personal frustration, even if it benefits “leaders.” But then, that frustration is itself a benefit to “leaders,” who need a constituency with a sense of grievance.

    Given my engineering bent and obnoxious disposition, in my blog entry I speculate on how we’d finance reparations and who would qualify. I also touch on the issue of Japanese internment and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study because they touch on the notion of compensation to victims of wrongdoing.
    I am personally not concerned about reparations because, thanks to the gracious and quite generous Dr. Walter E. Williams, I have one of these.

  7. Joel B.

    For example, poverty rate among blacks fell by half between 1940 and 1960, years during which black males’ number of years of schooling doubled. Yet with the expansion of the welfare state under LBJ’s Great Society, much of the progress was arrested and a decline set in. We can thank AFDC for that.
    Do you have any numbers to back this claim? Assuming what you’re saying is true – that expansion of the welfare state has increased the very poverty that it sought to reduce – why has the poverty rate amongst whites not increased as well?

  8. Tom Turnipseed

    I understand the history of the political power of the white male power structure that has formed the basis of the great American Empire. The statement of former Republican education secretary and “drug czar” William Bennett that the crime rate could be reduced through the abortion of all African-American children represents that power structure.
    It lives today with with our knowledge of the actual conditions of slavery which have been detailed in several PBS documentaries. Try as we may we cannot wipe away the history of the enslaved black race in the U.S. Many slaves were routinely lashed and beaten for not making their work quota and if they ran and/or tried to get away were lashed and beaten, some were castrated, hung or drawn and quartered in front of all the remaining slaves on the plantation, including small children.
    I am not naive enough to believe that the cornerstone of our judicial system of righting wrongs through the judicisl process will ever bring about substantial restitution or reparations to Afrrican-Americans. Most of us are into a denial syndrome and bring up the “incalculable amount” problem and most of all we have bought into the same greed and dehumanization that extolled the virtues of human bondage as a Christian practice that actually benefitted the black slaves where in dear ol’ Dixie, the land of Wade Hampton.
    There are many precedents like the Japanese-Americans, as Ms. Pearson pointed out. Actually, the Florida Legislature awarded reparations to the survivors and heirs of the Roseboro massacre. Victims of the Jewish Holocaust have been awarded reparations by the German government.
    Remember the continuing injustices of Jim Crow and the barbarism of the lynchings throughout the remainder of the post Civil War 19th century and most of the 20th century? Remember that blacks never really got the right to vote, equal accomodations and economic opportunity until about 4o years ago?
    If the irresistable humanity and logic of restitution/reparations argument can get you guys to thinking out of the box a bit, then that is a good thing.
    I was very happy and somewhat surprised that Brad’s newspaper has done such a wonderful job in pushing for funding of the poor, majority black public schools in South Carolina which have been underfunded for all these many years.
    It is always a pleasure,
    Tom Turnipseed

  9. Mike C

    Tom –
    Perhaps I’ve not been clear. For the Japanese-American detentions, for the Holocaust, etc., the victims – those who’d been interned or jailed – were the ones who received compensation.
    There’s no doubt that slavery was horrific, but there’s no one alive today who was a slave in the US.

  10. Mike C

    Joel B –
    I took the numbers from the column of Dr. Sowell that I’d linked to. The same data appear in this column:

    In 1940, 87 percent of American blacks lived below the poverty line. By 1960, five years before the Civil Rights acts and 10 years before the first affirmative action policies, the figure was down to 47 percent. That was a greater and more rapid decline than took place over the next 35 years, when the black poverty rate came down to 26 percent.
    In 1940, only 5 percent of black men and 6.4 percent of black women were in middle-class occupations. By 1970, the figures were 22 percent for black men and 36 percent for black women — larger again than the increases that took place in the 20 years after affirmative action was put in place, when the figures reached 32 percent and 59 percent respectively.

    Where the author provides this reference:

    These figures come from a massive new scholarly work, America in Black and White, by two civil rights veterans, Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, who have reconstructed the history of racial progress and conflict in the postwar era and examined the impact of affirmative action solutions.

    You ask if “that expansion of the welfare state has increased the very poverty that it sought to reduce – why has the poverty rate amongst whites not increased as well.” There are two issues. First, there was a lower percentage (but greater numbers) of whites in poverty and there was an increase, but neither as noticeable nor as dramatic among blacks.
    The second reason has to do with a point I made above, that civil rights activism caused some well-intentioned liberals to recommend, boost, sell, advertise – choose your word – existing welfare programs to the black community as a way out of poverty. Charles A. Murray describes this well in his book Losing Ground : American social policy, 1950-1980. He points out that FDR’s big four social safety net programs – Social Security, Workers Comp. unemployment Insurance, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) – were designed to provide minimal support to fine upstanding citizens who had gotten a tough break or who were too old to be expected to take care of themselves. Nothing in the New Deal provided help just because a person was poor or hampered by social disadvantages. For example, AFDC was intended for widows with small children, unemployment insurance for workers thrown out of jobs for reasons beyond their control, etc. The American public liked this arrangement because it helped the responsible, truly needy; the size of the dole was defined as “adequate,” sufficient, if used frugally, to buy life’s necessities. This agreement and these programs had public confidence though the 1950s.
    But, not only were the programs, especially the pernicious AFDC, marketed widely throughout the black community, their payments were increased and restrictions eased. With AFDC, teenage gals could have babies, get an apartment, and have a reasonable living as long as no husband was around. Folks with poor work habits – inability to get to work on time, perform job-related tasks, etc. could collect unemployment despite their lack of a job history.

  11. David

    Tom, I would like to hear your thoughts on the human bondage that is thriving right now day in and day out. Where? Africa in particular. Slavery was outlawed in the USA generations ago yet you are obsessed with what happened then. What about the Black Muslim genocide being conducted right now against the Christian blacks in Darfur in the Sudan? Also, free blacks in the US had slaves. Do the heirs of those slave holding blacks get reparations (due to color) and then have to also pay reparations? Then, what about the Indians? Maybe the entire states of N. and S. Carolina can be handed back to the Cherokee, Pee Dee, Lumbar, Catawba, and other tribes. But then, we would be taking private land from the black population and then how would that sit? I think this reparations talk is theoretical nonsense. I never look at myself as a victim and the whole world would be better off if the victimhood was ended.

    As for insufficient funding of poor rural schools, that is another subject that requires intense scrutiny. Lee County has a huge brand new high school called Lee Central. Beautiful, shining, new facility. Is education improving there? Not much. Yet a poor backwoods young person like Abe Lincoln and countless others sat many years ago in a one room shack of the most spartan type of facilities and learned enough to write the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. And he got enough education to free the slaves (at least in the south). I have said it before, and Brad hates it I know, but just how much money does everyone ante up to ever satisfy the educators? I think the number may be infinity.

    I vote for a color blind society and that is the only way this internal resentment, bitterness, and hatred of white and black, and any other color will ever end.

  12. Mark Whittington


    You are
    right to be suspicious. Poverty as a relative measure has greatly increased
    since the early 1980s. Since black people as a whole started off in economic
    dire straights to begin with, and since the onset of pro Globalization policies
    of the late 1970s, black people have
    been devastated in terms of relative wealth (they are not alone!). Free market
    capitalism, by its nature, takes the wealth generated by workers and
    redistributes it to a small fraction of the population.

    In 1979, the top 1% of the US population earned, on average,
    33.1 times as much as the lowest 20%. In 2000, this multiplier had grown to

    If you travel to Northern Europe, you can see just how
    far we have fallen behind Nordic social democracies. Our free market system is
    obviously failing the vast majority of our citizens. Click here to read about
    the successful Nordic model, and here to learn about the different
    types of
    European social democracy.

    I think Mike’s entire analysis is wrong. Mike’s ideas are
    just a euphemistic rehashing of the same racist diatribes I used to hear when I
    was a kid:

    “With AFDC, teenage gals could
    have babies, get an apartment, and have a reasonable living as long as no
    husband was around. Folks with poor work habits – inability to get to work on
    time, perform job-related tasks, etc. could collect unemployment despite their
    lack of a job history.”

    Replace the words “gals” and
    “Folks” with “niggers” in Mike’s passage above, and you’ll get to Mike’s true
    meaning-the same racist message of old that the right has pushed since the 60s.
    Mike’s arguments reflect modern right-wing rhetoric by bundling racist ideology
    in the lexicon of class.

    Of course, Mike is Brad’s boy, and Brad promotes Mike and
    Mike’s ideas via an internet link in Brad’s opinion piece above. I wish Mike
    would get off his lazy butt and see how hard black people really work-usually
    for puny wages. I wish Mike, if only for a day, could enjoy the privilege of
    being a millwright in a steel mill! You ought to see the black people (70% of
    my coworkers over the years have been black) that I work with-their stamina is
    incredible! They work ten hours a day for six days a week doing all of
    society’s crap jobs. They’re continuously exploited by criminal management
    (people of Mike’s ilk). Yes, plenty of working class white people are used and
    abused by this scum also.

    Mike summarizes Charles Murray’s (that’s right, co-author of
    The Bell Curve-the neo fascist manifesto) assessment of New Deal programs as
    not being designed to provide help “just because a person was
    poor or hampered by social disadvantages.” Talk about revisionist history! I’m
    sorry Charles, Brad, Mike, et al, but the New Deal was created precisely to
    mitigate and assuage the before mentioned poverty and social disadvantage caused
    by free market capitalism’s abject failure. The New Deal permanently changed
    American politics and the definition of liberalism. The New Deal is the reason
    that people who share the ideology of Brad and Mike are no longer called
    “liberals”. Keep living in that pre New Deal, Woodrow Wilson’s America fantasy
    if you want-we’re not going back.

    So, what is wrong with The Bell
    Curve style argument of Murray and company? Well, for starters, wealth (and
    consequently poverty) isn’t based on differential ability (perceived or
    otherwise). It’s mostly based on how much one owns or inherits from the
    beginning. How do I know this-by the statistical distribution of wealth, of
    course. For any given large population, if wealth were in fact based on
    differential ability, then the distribution would presumably be shaped like an
    inverse normal distribution for wealth vs. a population ranked in order of
    wealth from richest to poorest. The US wealth distribution is shaped nothing
    like this-rather, it follows the incredibly skewed Pareto power law
    distribution at the high end, and the exponential Boltzmann-Gibbs distribution
    at the low end. The only way to account for the real distribution of wealth is
    through hierarchy, stochastic returns on investment, and monetary exchanges. Here
    is an explanation with links from my website:

    “It’s important to understand why wealth is distributed in such an unfair
    fashion-why taxing the wealthy rather than the middle class and the poor is
    crucial to maintaining a democratic state. Three main factors contribute to the
    exponential distribution of wealth: monetary exchange, stochastic return on
    investment, and hierarchy. Exchanges in the short-term (where money is
    essentially conserved) result in a Boltzmann-Gibbs distribution. Income
    have been shown to closely follow Boltzmann–Gibbs for about
    the bottom 95% of a population. The Boltzmann-Gibbs effect carries over for
    wealth for a smaller portion (the poorest part) of a given population. The
    second main cause of the unfair distribution of wealth is the stochastic
    (random) and multiplicative nature of capital investment. The stochastic/multiplicative effect is
    responsible for the development of the very skewed Pareto distribution in the
    upper wealth ranges. The Pareto distribution itself implies an efficient
    market. The third, and I believe, the crucial component of the exponential
    distribution of wealth, is the concept of hierarchy. Stochastic returns on
    investment and exchanges alone do not sufficiently explain the nature of
    capitalism, whereas hierarchy is the glue that holds them together. In order to
    maximize return on investment, it is necessary for economic entities to invest
    in wealth tiers just below their own: the investment money of a wealthier
    economic agent(s) becomes the labor income of agent(s) in the next lowest
    tiers, who in turn invest in tiers below them. When exchanges are taken into
    account, then it is possible to
    create realistic simulated distributions of wealth in a model economy.”

    Yet the intrinsic properties of capitalism and the legacy of
    racism are not enough explain the economic plight of black people today. Racism
    still exists, granted in the more gentile forms of the Good Ole Boy mentality
    and the Brother-in-Law effect. The race and class based supposed “merit” system
    has polished-off the prospects for most black people. That’s why I still
    support affirmative action (although I want to expand it to include class
    oppression). If we insist on using a system such as the one we have, then all
    races and classes need to be proportionally represented in terms of wealth-then
    you’ll see change!

  13. Lee

    According to government demographers, if you factor out the illegal immigrants, the poverty level has continued to fall, not rise, as reported by the liberal media.
    If you really don’t want poor people, stop importing ignorant, illiterate, unskilled poor people by the millions.

  14. Mike C

    Mark –
    Wow! It’s amazing how wrong — and slanderous — you can be. What’s annoying is your pretense that you can see others’ motivations, peer into their minds and hearts, discern things that are not readily evident from what they write or say. You always see the worst. From what I’ve seen, that’s a tack taken often by those on the left: they have to question motives because they’ve neither the facts nor the arguments to prevail.
    But, for a person of pallor, I’m a pretty good sport, so I’ll play along again for a bit.
    Where the right has the advantage today is in the peer-reviewed research conducted by folks like the Thernstrom’s, the Charles Murray’s, the various Wilsons’, etc. There are plenty of black intellects — Sowell, Williams, McWhorter — who’ve joined in, and I’ve quoted liberally from them in making the conservative case. The New Deal programs were always about a subsistence level of support for unfortunates. We just let it get out of hand in the 1960s to the point where it became a free ride for a lot of folks of all colors, something that the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 sought to fix.
    As I’ve pointed out before, the failure in Mark’s application of the Pareto distribution is that it does not take time into account; it’s a snapshot taken at one instant. For those not in the know, the Pareto distribution, sometimes called the Bradford distribution, is a probability distribution found in a large number of real-world situations and is commonly referred to as the “80-20 rule.” I find that 20% of my tools gets 80% of my work done; when I worked in a food warehouse 20% of the commodities fulfilled 80% of the orders, so we kept that stuff up front.
    But over time, work changes and tastes change such that the composition of that 20% changes. That’s what Mark doesn’t account for when he grieves that 20% of the population owns 80% of the wealth. He considers membership in the 20% to be static, when it’s dynamic. Was BET founder Robert L. Johnson always a billionaire? Bill Gates? As I’ve pointed out previously on Brad’s blog, the composition of the Forbes 400 richest changes yearly — that’s what’s stochastic. Mark’s insistence that the rich get that way because they are born into wealth ain’t true. Sure there’s inherited wealth — take the Kennedy’s, please — but most high-income earners got to the top through hard work, talent, and luck. (I define luck in this context as preparation meeting opportunity.)
    Is it bad that 20% owns 80%? In a free market, doesn’t that give folks something to aspire to, to be rich? Isn’t that what America’s all about? Living your dream?
    What if we do what Mark suggests and flatten that out a bit by taxing these stinking rich folks out of their sox, like the Nordic countries do. Would that help the US? No, but It would probably help Switzerland. Of the ten richest Swiss, five are foreigners who moved in for lower taxes. Among them is Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish businessman who founded furniture retailer IKEA and the richest guy in the world. If you penalize success, folks won’t work to succeed.
    The Nordic nations have high fuel prices and a tax on new vehicle of about 100%. That may make sense with a relatively small homogeneous populace living in a few densely packed urban areas, but that’s not America’s landscape and diversity of origin.
    So there are all sorts of ways to be coercive, to force people to do things. Heck, the stinking commies succeeded not in making everybody rich, but in spreading the misery, not spreading the wealth. As the old commie joke goes, speaking of the government, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”
    Wealth (i.e., accumulated assets) aside, people’s incomes change as they progress through life, some years are better than others, with the very young and very old not making big bucks. If you look at the chart here, you’ll see that there’s substantial mobility through the income ranges over a period of time. Some do stay stuck, and we need to find out why. Mark wrongly attributes a racist motive to my simple point that if one tells a person that he doesn’t have to work hard to succeed, he won’t. If you provide a supplementary income in return for no effort, many folks won’t put out any effort. That’s human nature, no matter what your color is.
    It’s a terrible mistake to tell folks that the government will take care of them, because the government will do a poor job of it. That has nothing to do with the civil servants or elected officials, but more to do with the nature of the enterprise. A bureaucracy has rules that civil servants must follow under penalty of dismissal or sanction; elected officials need to pay heed to those responsible for their election and re-election. Objectives are skewed even with good folks trying hard. But the American public won’t support those who won’t support themselves.
    The real message for success is, “it’s up to you, kid; you are the primary determinant of your future.” That goes for everybody. Get the training and education you need to succeed, get to work on time, do a good job, watch out for advancement opportunities, and you’ll be better of than those who are looking for someone else to lend them a hand.
    Mark would also have us believe that the Good Ole Boy mentality and the Brother-in-Law effect drives success in America. People do prefer going with a known quantity and I’ve have seen relatives and friends get hired. But you’re a fool if you believe that they’ll stay on the job if they can’t cut it. Today’s workplace is highly competitive, companies are beating each other over the head daily to survive.
    One of the reasons that I wrote about the Vietnamese shrimpers devastated by Hurricane Katrina at my blog was that very few folks knew about them and their plight. It’s not that no one cared, but that they never had much political clout; they knew they were on their own and worked hard to achieve remarkable success. Yet even today I hear black and white complain that those Vietnamese boat people who risked life and limb to come here got some sort of government subsidies that all immigrants get but that the native-born don’t. It’s another despicable urban legend that won’t die.
    I get especially ticked off when Tom Turnipseed or someone else brings up black reparations because my best friend is of Japanese descent. His parents (they married after the war) were detained during WW II, did lose everything, and had to start over. They restarted from scratch and over a few decades built a successful restaurant and catering business on their own. They never thought as badly about America as Mark apparently does; my friend went to UC Berkley of all places, on an ROTC scholarship. They closed their Japanese restaurant on every big holiday, but served for their employees and their families traditional American holiday fare on those dates: roast turkey, ham, and all the works. Did you ever see a short, slight Japanese guy in a Pilgrim outfit? It’s a hoot, but all-American. They did get their internment compensation check, but they were so old it didn’t matter.
    If we are to have a meaningful discussion of race and class, we have to be frank, stop the name-calling, and cease with the slander. You don’t know a durn thing about me except what I’ve chosen to disclose, so quit making things up. Those who know me and read your slurs know who the fool is.

  15. Tom Turnipseed

    Mike C. you seem to be getting a bit personal with Mike W.
    Mike C., you need to understand that I believe in restitution/reparations for Native American victims of European American imperialism and genocide. I also favored restitution/reparations for the Japanese American victims of internment and confiscation of their property in WWII.
    My family had some very good Japanese-American friends during WW II in Mobile, Alabama, and I never will forget my Father jumping all over a little super patriot DAR woman who made a racist slur against them at a camellia show in Mobile. Mr. Kiona had greenhouses and raised camellias and japonicas. His son was a member of an elite U.S. Army group that worked behind enemy lines in the Pacific in WWII.
    Here is an excellent piece on U.S. poverty carried by Reuters today.
    “US Poverty: Chronic Ill, Little Hope for Cure, by Bernd Debusmann
    Four decades after a U.S. president declared war on poverty, more than 37 million people in the world’s richest country are officially classified as poor and their number has been on the rise for years. Last year, according to government statistics, 1.1 million Americans fell below the poverty line. That equals the entire population of a major city like Dallas or Prague.
    Since 2000, the ranks of the poor have increased year by year by almost 5.5 million in total. Even optimists see little prospect that the number will shrink soon despite a renewed debate on poverty prompted by searing television images which laid bare a fact of American life rarely exposed to global view.
    The president who made the war declaration was Lyndon Johnson. “Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. This administration declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”
    That was in 1964. Then 19 percent of the U.S. population lived below the official poverty line. That rate declined over the next four years and in 1968, it stood at 12.8 percent.
    Since then, it has fluctuated little. Last year, it was at 12.7 percent, proof that poverty is a chronic problem.
    The state of poverty in the United States is measured once a year by the Census Bureau, whose statistics-packed 70-plus page report usually provides fodder for academic studies but rarely sparks wide public debate, touches emotional buttons, or features on television. Not so in 2005.
    The report coincided with Katrina, a devastating hurricane which killed more than 1,100 in Louisiana and Mississippi. Live television coverage with shocking images of the desperate and the dead in New Orleans showed in brutal close-up what the spreadsheets of the census bureau cannot convey.
    The images shocked the world, shamed many Americans and prompted comparisons with conditions in developing countries from Somalia and Angola to Bangladesh. The pictures from New Orleans showed poor black people begging for help. Most of the rescuers, when they finally arrived, were white.
    The percentage of black Americans living in poverty is 24.7, almost twice as high as the overall rate for all races.
    In predominantly black New Orleans, that disparity translated into those with cars and money, almost all white, fleeing the flood while more than 100,000 car-less blacks were trapped in the flooded city.
    Some commentators wondered whether the crisis showed that political segregation, America’s version of apartheid which formally ended with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, had merely been replaced by economic segregation. Poor black Americans in one part of a city, affluent whites in the other.
    A host of other American cities have such divides, including Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Miami and the U.S. capital itself. It is a 10-minute drive from the White House to the heart of Anacostia, the city’s poorest neighborhood, but they could be in different worlds.
    But the black-equals-poor scenes from New Orleans do not portray the full picture. There are three times as many poor whites as blacks in the United States and the poverty rate for whites has risen faster than that for blacks and Hispanics.
    Academic experts also say the government’s figures minimize the true scale of poverty because they are outdated. The formula for the poverty level was set in 1963 on the assumption that one third of the average family’s budget was spent on food.
    This is no longer true. Housing has become the largest single expense and tens of thousands of the “working poor,” the label for those who work at or near the minimum wage, are forced to sleep in cars, trailers, long-term motels or shelters.
    “Every August, we Americans tell ourselves a lie,” said David Brady, a Duke University professor who studies poverty.
    “The poverty rate was designed to undercount because the government wanted to show progress in the war on poverty.
    “Taking everything into account, the real rate is around 18 percent, or 48 million people. Poverty in the United States is more widespread, by far, than in any other industrialized country.”
    Poverty is a universal problem, as is inequality. The world’s 500 richest people, according to U.N. statistics, have as much income as the world’s poorest 416 million.
    The post-hurricane poverty scenes were so remarkable for most of the world because of the perception of the United States as the rich land of unlimited opportunity.
    No other country spends so much money — billions of dollars — to keep job-hungry foreigners out; no other country has an annual lottery in which millions of people play for 50,000 permanent resident “green cards,” no other country has as many legal and illegal immigrants, all drawn by dreams of prosperity.
    For many Americans they remain just that: dreams. While there are arguments over how poverty is measured — conservatives say the census overstates it because it does not take into account food stamps and other subsidies — there is consensus on one thing.
    The minimum wage, which rose by 15 cents to $6.35 an hour on October 1, is not enough to keep you above the poverty line. Yet minimum wage jobs, without health insurance or vacations, are the only jobs available to millions of people with only basic education.
    The well-paid unskilled jobs in heavy industry which once lifted working-class Americans into the middle class are largely gone and the decline continues. Since 2001, the United States has lost more than 2.7 million manufacturing jobs. Low-paid clerical work is being outsourced to developing countries.
    Another U.S. president, the late Ronald Reagan, had it right when he said, in 1988: “The federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won.””
    You guys really should see the excellent documentary film: “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”. “Kenny Boy” Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the two top executives at Enron personified the idea of putting competition for money above everything else in life. That is the ultimate end of unfettered capitalism, and is an ecologically unsustainable ideal. Because I believe we should not always put money over people and should have a strong a social safety net doesn’t make me a socialist or a leftist as you and Brad like to imply.
    I particularly resent it when Brad uses Atwater type descriptions of me that appeal to the right-wing sychophant mentality when he endorses my opponent when I offer for public office.
    Tom Turnipseed

  16. Mike C

    Ton –
    We’ve just rediscovered the underclass for the fourth time since WW II as Robert J. Samuelson put it in the WaPo last week. He concludes with (Link requires free registration):

    [M]uch poverty involves personal behavior that government can’t easily alter. In a report, Haskins, along with Sara McLanahan and Elisabeth Donahue, both of Princeton University, note the following: The share of children living with a single parent is 27 percent, up from 12 percent in 1970; the teen birth rate, though lower than a decade ago, still “exceeds that of other industrialized nations”; and “one of every three children — and seven of every 10 black children — are born outside marriage.” Poor children, needing the most family support, have the least. This alone ensures that, even if we make added progress, poverty will repeatedly be rediscovered.

    There are poor folks and there’s an underclass. It’s the latter who shock us; many deal with it by seeking out closed communities where they don’t have to deal with what they can have no effect on.
    Mark W.’s least favorite researcher puts it this way:

    Newspapers and television understandably prefer to feature low-income people who are trying hard–the middle-aged man working two jobs, the mother worrying about how to get her children into school in a strange city. These people are rightly the objects of an outpouring of help from around the country, but their troubles are relatively easy to resolve. Tell the man where a job is, and he will take it. Tell the mother where a school is, and she will get her children into it. Other images show us the face of the hard problem: those of the looters and thugs, and those of inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children. They are the underclass.
    We in the better parts of town haven’t had to deal with the underclass for many years, having successfully erected screens that keep them from troubling us. We no longer have to send our children to school with their children. Except in the most progressive cities, the homeless have been taken off the streets. And most importantly, we have dealt with crime. This has led to a curious paradox: falling crime and a growing underclass.
    The underclass has been growing. The crime rate has been dropping for 13 years. But the proportion of young men who grow up unsocialized and who, given the opportunity, commit crimes, has not.
    Criminality is the most extreme manifestation of the unsocialized young male. Another is the proportion of young males who choose not to work. Among black males ages 20-24, for example, the percentage who were not working or looking for work when the first numbers were gathered in 1954 was 9%. That figure grew during the 1960s and 1970s, stabilizing at around 20% during the 1980s. The proportion rose again, reaching 30% in 1999, a year when employers were frantically seeking workers for every level of job. The dropout rate among young white males is lower, but has been increasing faster than among blacks.
    These increases are not explained by changes in college enrollment or any other benign cause. Large numbers of healthy young men, at ages when labor force participation used to be close to universal, have dropped out. Remember that these numbers ignore young males already in prison. Include them in the calculation, and the evidence of the deteriorating socialization of young males, concentrated in low income groups, is overwhelming.
    Why has the proportion of unsocialized young males risen so relentlessly? In large part, I would argue, because the proportion of young males who have grown up without fathers has also risen relentlessly. The indicator here is the illegitimacy ratio–the percentage of live births that occur to single women. It was a minuscule 4% in the early 1950s, and it has risen substantially in every subsequent decade. The ratio reached the 25% milestone in 1988 and the 33% milestone in 1999. As of 2003, the figure was 35%–of all births, including whites. The black illegitimacy ratio in 2003 was 68%. By way of comparison: The illegitimacy ratio that caused Daniel Patrick Moynihan to proclaim the breakdown of the black family in the early 1960s was 24%.
    But illegitimacy is now common throughout the population, right? No, it is heavily concentrated in low-income groups. Perhaps illegitimacy isn’t as bad as we used to think it was? No, during the past decade the evidence about the problems caused by illegitimacy has grown stronger. What about all the good news about falling teenage births? About plunging welfare rolls? Both trends are welcome, but neither has anything to do with the proportion of children being born and raised without fathers, and that proportion is the indicator that predicts the size of the underclass in the next generation.
    The government hasn’t a clue. Versions of every program being proposed in the aftermath of Katrina have been tried before and evaluated. We already know that the programs are mismatched with the characteristics of the underclass. Job training? Unemployment in the underclass is not caused by lack of jobs or of job skills, but by the inability to get up every morning and go to work. A homesteading act? The lack of home ownership is not caused by the inability to save money from meager earnings, but because the concept of thrift is alien. You name it, we’ve tried it. It doesn’t work with the underclass.

    I take from this the following rules for avoiding poverty:

    1) Finish high school
    2) Get married before having children
    3) Have no more than two children
    4) Work full time

    What this has to do with Enron is beyond me, but I do know that Lay’s company had few controls, no effective oversight board, and no one with the sense to see the obvious madness in the organization. It would make a good case for a management class were it not so unbelievable. Lay would brag that a bunch of folks just got together and started a natural gas futures trading operation. Say what? Where did they get the resources? Who approved the expenditures? Who vetted the processes? It was bizarre. The New Yorker had a great article on the chaos that was Enron a few years ago, but I can’t seem to find it now.

  17. David

    Tom, That classification of poor you refer to is a self imposed US only measure. Are you aware that in the US, you can own a car, numerous electronic appliances, have cable TV piped into your home, etc. and still be poor. There are no starving poor in the US. Can you please stop the liberal bleeding heart poor babble that you seem to be so good at doing? Go to Mexico City, drive north to the city’s edge, and go up on the mountainsides. There you will see genuine poor. What the world saw in New Orleans were the welfare plantation results of the Great Society War on Poverty? People living in government built high rises waiting for welfare checks, food stamps, and any other freebies while many service jobs were going unfilled in that town. My hope is New Orleans will never be rebuilt like it was for that reason alone. While hardworking Mexican immigrants stream into the US and jump all over hard but steady jobs, the welfare recipients exist like societal parasites. Gangs and criminal activity abound in these areas. Are there any decent people living in these projects. Absolutely yes, but they are the ones taking some initiative to get out. Observe how many people have indicated that they will never go back to New Orleans. They finally got out of the trap that was orchestrated and funded by the likes of LBJ, Tip ONeill, Ted Kennedy, and a host of others. I strongly support a social safety net for those who fall upon bad times for whatever reason. But the social programs that are in place, as Mike C so aptly states, are actually a disincentive to work or even try to be productive members of society. Lastly, my comments are not in any way racial. There are welfare bums in all colors and creeds, that is for sure.

  18. Mike C

    Tom –
    David’s point is supported by
    this short piece “Broken Yardstick” by Nicholas Eberstadt originally published in the New York Times. The essence follows:

    Truth be told, the official poverty rate not only fails to calculate trends in impoverishment with any precision, it even gets the direction wrong.
    The profound flaws in our officially calculated poverty rate are revealed by its very intimation that the poverty situation in America was ”better” in 1974 than it is today. Those of us of a certain age remember the year 1974–in all its recession-plagued, ”stagflation”-burdened glory. But even the most basic facts bearing on poverty alleviation confute the proposition that material circumstances in America are harsher for the vulnerable today than three decades ago. Per capita income adjusted for inflation is over 60 percent higher today than in 1974. The unemployment rate is lower, and the percentage of adults with paying jobs is distinctly higher. Thirty years ago, the proportion of adults without a high school diploma was more than twice as high as today (39 percent versus 16 percent). And antipoverty spending is vastly higher today than in 1974, even after inflation adjustments.
    In the face of such evidence, what do you call an indicator that stubbornly insists that the percentage of Americans below a fixed poverty threshold has increased? How about ”a broken compass?”
    The soundings from the poverty rate are further belied by information on actual living standards for low-income Americans. In 1972-73, for example, just 42 percent of the bottom fifth of American households owned a car; in 2003, almost three-quarters of ”poverty households” had one. By 2001, only 6 percent of ”poverty households” lived in ”crowded” homes (more than one person per room)–down from 26 percent in 1970. By 2003, the fraction of poverty households with central air-conditioning (45 percent) was much higher than the 1980 level for the non-poor (29 percent).

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