The secret story of blacks' success

ILLINOIS REPUBLICAN Senate candidate Alan L. Keyes recently proposed exempting blacks - for a generation or two - from paying federal income taxes.

Slavery, argues Mr. Keyes, "was an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment."


Who argues with that?

But despite slavery, Jim Crow and racism, the progress of American blacks is simply astounding. Black America, if divided into a separate country, ranks No. 16 in gross domestic product, ahead of Australia, Turkey, Thailand, Argentina, the Netherlands, Taiwan and South Africa.


Black economic progress increased tremendously, says economist Thomas Sowell, well before "level-the-playing-field" government policies and programs.

In fact, on this 40th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, Mr. Sowell says the income gap between blacks and whites closed faster "prewar" than "postwar."

"The economic rise of blacks began decades earlier," Mr. Sowell says, "before any of the legislation and policies that are credited with producing that rise. The continuation of the rise of blacks out of poverty did not - repeat, did not - accelerate during the 1960s.

"The poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs. It dropped another 17 percentage points during the decade of the 1960s and one percentage point during the 1970s, but this continuation of the previous trend was neither unprecedented nor something to be arbitrarily attributed to the programs like the War on Poverty."

In America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, authors Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom agree that the black middle class expanded well before "affirmative action."

"The growth of the black middle class long predates the adoption of race conscious social policies," the Thernstroms say. "In some ways, indeed, the black middle class was expanding more rapidly before 1970 than after. ... Many of the advances black Americans have made since the Great Depression occurred before anything that can be termed 'affirmative action' existed."

Under Ronald Reagan - who cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent - black income, business development and business growth exploded. According to the National Review, "From the end of 1982 to 1989, black unemployment dropped 9 percentage points (from 20.4 percent to 11.4 percent), Hispanic unemployment dropped 7.3 percentage points (from 15.3 percent to 8 percent), while white unemployment dropped by only 4 percentage points. ... A black entrepreneurial class flourished."

According to the Census Bureau, the number of black-owned businesses increased from 308,000 in 1982 to 424,000 in 1987, a 38 percent rise. At the same time, the total number of firms in the United States rose by only 14 percent. Receipts by black-owned firms more than doubled, from $9.6 billion to $19.8 billion. Meanwhile, from 1980 to 1990, the median income of black households grew 31 percent above inflation, compared with 19 percent growth for white households.


Under President Bill Clinton, despite a tax increase, the black middle class continued its expansion. Between 1992 and 1997, there was a 25.7 percent increase in black-owned firms and a 32.5 percent increase in their gross sales.

The NAACP periodically accuses Hollywood of engaging in a "blackout." But in 2002, the Screen Actors Guild reported that 15.5 percent of all theatrical and TV roles went to blacks - more than the percentage of the population of blacks in America. The Directors Guild of America recently reported that 6 percent of directors on 2003-2004 season TV series were black, a 200 percent increase since 2000-2001.

In 1963, Ebony magazine, a black monthly, ran a series called "If I Were Young Today." Each month, a black high-achiever offered his or her advice to young blacks. Paul Williams, the "architect to the stars" who designed the Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building, said: "Whatever one does as a profession or livelihood, he should endeavor to read the current magazines pertaining to his work. One must keep pace with progress and what the other fellow is thinking and doing. In order to do this he must read - read - read!!! He should strive to become a specialist and not just another architect, engineer or salesman."

None of those offering advice even hinted at a need for race-based preferences.

The road to success is simple, if not easily applied - hard work, sacrifice and, above all, the refusal to think like a victicrat. You know, the same formula used by Alan Keyes.

Larry Elder is an attorney, a syndicated columnist, a radio talk-show host and the author of Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests that Divide America.


Columnist Cal Thomas will return Sept. 15.