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An Open Letter to American Blacks

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The prospects for freedom in America may very well lie with you. For you have been most damaged by the welfare-state, planned-economy way of life. I wish to share some of my perspectives with you in the hopes that you will help lead our nation to break free of this enslaving and terribly destructive way of life.

Let us first recall your ancestors’ life-style in the United States 150 years ago. They, of course, were “taken care of’ by their masters. The plantation owners provided them with food, lodging, employment, medical care, and sometimes even “family planning.” Yet, despite this “guaranteed existence,” what did your ancestors desire above all? They desired to be free — that is, they desired a way of life in which they were responsible for their own sustenance and well-being.

What many of you fail to recognize is that the welfare state and planned economy have returned blacks to the plantation. Throughout much of this century, the government has provided you with “welfare,” “protection,” and other “benefits” but in the process, has deprived you not only of the freedom and responsibility to govern your own lives, but of your dignity as human beings as well. Let us look at a few examples.

1. Income Taxation. The income tax is promoted as a scheme by which money is taken from the rich and given to the poor. Of course, most of the rich are white, and most of the poor are black. And so our government attempts to enlist your support of the income tax by appealing to the basic sins of envy and covetousness.

The irony and the tragedy is that the income tax does more harm and destruction to you than it does to those in the higher-income echelons. How? By preventing those of you at the bottom of the economic ladder from ever accumulating a sufficient nest egg with which to compete against those who have already succeeded in accumulating wealth.

In other words, the only lawful (and moral) way to “deprive” a person of his wealth is to out-compete him by offering more attractive goods and services to the consuming public. But in order to open up a new business to out-compete existing businesses, one must have a store of savings — capital — to get started.

What does the income tax do? As you earn more money in the marketplace by satisfying consumer demand, the government takes more of it away from you. This, of course, ensures that you can never gain a sufficiently large capital base with which to compete against those who are already well established in the marketplace.

Now, it is true that those who have already gained their market share must pay income taxes as well. But at least they do not have the threat of having to compete against a number of new businesses which many of you would open if the government did not tax you more highly as you became more successful.

2. Minimum-wage laws. The politicians and bureaucrats have convinced many of you that minimum-wage laws are designed for your benefit — that in their absence, greedy, oppressive employers would pay only meager wages, and especially to blacks. Therefore, the argument goes, minimum-wage laws help you to earn a decent standard of living. The argument is false and fallacious.

Minimum-wage laws do not force an employer to hire people. They simply say that if an employer does hire someone, he must pay him a certain minimal wage. Under what circumstances will an employer hire someone to whom he must pay the minimum?

Only in those cases in which he values the labor of the worker more highly than the minimum he is forced to pay. If he values the labor of the worker less than the minimum, he simply does not hire that worker.

Whether we like it or not, many black Americans are not valued by employers at the legally proscribed minimum. And so what happens? These blacks simply are not hired! Minimum-wage laws price them out of the labor market.

These laws also deprive blacks of their most effective weapon against racism in the labor market: offering to work at a lower wage than another worker. For example, suppose a racist employer wishes to hire only whites in his business. Blacks who offer to work at lower wages than whites place the employer in an awkward position — for if he gives vent to his racial prejudices, he reduces his profit margin. Moreover, he opens himself up to competition from other businessmen who do not permit racial prejudice to affect their business judgment.

Furthermore, minimum-wage laws prevent blacks from opening competing businesses in which they could hire friends who would be willing to work for less than the legally required minimum. Thus, the well established businesses are once again assisted through the subtle suppression of competition.

3. Licensing laws. Licensing and permit laws are another area in which the laws are ostensibly passed for your “protection.” Our governmental officials tell you that in the absence of these laws, you would not have the competence to select the best doctors, lawyers, plumbers, beauticians, and so forth. Like the blacks on the plantation, the assumption is that “you” need to be taken care of by “us.”

In actuality, these laws are not passed for your benefit at all. (How many of you have ever written a letter to your political representatives seeking this type of “protection”?) The laws are actually enacted to protect those who have the licenses and permits (usually well-to-do whites) from the competition of those who find it difficult, if not impossible, to meet all of the state-mandated requirements for securing the licenses and permits (usually less well-to-do blacks).

An example: the legal profession. Licensing laws, as every attorney knows, are the most effective way for lawyers to maintain one of the privileged positions in society — that is, a position in which the privileged do not have to face open competition from others. Look what it takes to secure a governmental license to practice law in most states: graduation from a government-approved high school, government-approved college, and government-approved law school, followed by the passing of a government-approved examination — along with the exorbitant costs associated with each of these governmentally imposed hurdles.

Not only has this system ended up producing a host of good, little bureaucratic attorneys who measure their merit by how many reams of paperwork they produce, it has also enabled attorneys to escape rigorous competition from those who do not fit well within this state-mandated straitjacket for becoming a lawyer.

And the truth is — as many of you will acknowledge — many blacks find it extremely difficult to conform to these state-imposed requirements. Does this mean that they could not become great and successful lawyers? Although that is what the state and the legal profession would have you believe, it is entirely false.

Before lawyers were protected from competition by licensing laws, anyone could simply apprentice to become an attorney. The consuming public — through its decisions to patronize a lawyer or not — decided who would stay in business and who would not. It was this way of life which produced the likes of such “self-taught” attorneys as Abraham Lincoln. Many of you — and, more important, many of your children and grandchildren — have the potential to become great and successful attorneys (and physicians, plumbers, and beauticians). But you will never see the fruition of that potential in the welfare state and planned economy. In the name of “helping” you, the state has denied you that opportunity.

Of course, the state and the legal profession would have you believe that licensing of lawyers is necessary to protect the public from incompetent and unscrupulous attorneys. Yet, despite licensing, the profession is rife with incompetent and unscrupulous attorneys. Even worse, many people have been raised into believing that because a lawyer has a license, it can be assumed that he is competent, ethical, and honorable.

4. Welfare. And, of course, there is welfare itself — with all of its damaging and debilitating consequences. No one needs to point out to you what welfare has done to you, your friends, and your relatives. And all in the name of “helping” you.

And perhaps that is the most insulting aspect of the welfare-state, planned-economy way of life: that it assumes that you — simply because you are black — need governmental assistance. The truth is that the only reason that many black Americans need assistance is that their own government — through such machinations and devices as income taxation, minimum-wage laws, licensing laws, and welfare — has locked them out of opportunities for self-improvement and self-reliance.

Your future — and possibly the future of America — lies with you. You cannot rely on others to break your chains. You yourselves must break them. And in order to do so, you must believe in yourselves — you must believe that a grand future is in store for each of you — if only your government would get out of your way. What greater gift could you pass to your descendants than the achievement of freedom through the dismantling of America’s 20th-century, welfare-state, planned-economy experiment with slavery?

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.