Economic Issues




Economic Freedom,
Economic Gains

It is often said of black persons who favor market-oriented solutions to social problems that they have forgotten the unique history of black Americans, particularly our long struggle against systematic racial discrimination. There is no doubt that the social and economic effect of racial discrimination has been substantial, both in its visible effects on those discriminated against and in the opportunity losses to society in the form of lost production. Throughout America's history, and especially during the 1960s, black Americans have struggled to rid themselves of racism's shackles. But our fight has not been, as some seem to think, for an immediate and equal share in America's wealth, but rather for equal access to America's promise. We simply seek the opportunity to contribute to society and, in turn, to reap benefits commensurate with those contributions. This struggle must—and will—continue. What we demand is economic freedom, not economic equality. Guaranteed economic equality, in fact, goes directly against human nature.

In a free society, individuals try to produce above the average because of the prospect of reaping benefits which are also above the average. In other words, in this respect individuals deliberately strive for inequality. So to force equality, whether through steep tax rates or through income redistribution, is simply to destroy the prime incentive of those who would produce. Economic contraction will surely result, as history has demonstrated over and over. Economic contraction always pits individuals and interest groups against each other as they vie for shares of a shrinking pool of benefits, and this places serious strains on the social fabric of our nation. Even racial discrimination rears its ugly head again, thereby negating years of hard-fought social progress. We cannot afford to have the clock turned back by economic contraction.

So the only—the paramount—problem facing us today is not what we need to be given in order to solve our problems, but how we can achieve economic growth. The people who have assembled here to talk about these issues are well qualified to do so. And we have a very diverse group of people here today. We have some Republicans, some Democrats; some affluent, some not so affluent; some academics, some businessmen. This diversity is helpful, because what we want to do today is to try to find a realistic, workable approach to solving the economic problems of the 1980s, and specifically, to talk about the participation of black Americans in that process.

Politics and Opportunity: The Background Table of Contents Legal Barriers to Black Economic Gains: Employment and Transportation