Many politicians often cite their motives as focused on protecting historically marginalized groups from exploitation and oppression. I don’t think anyone objects to this goal. The question is not if we should attempt to maximize opportunities for minorities, but rather if government is a suitable mechanism for achieving those aims. It is no coincidence that minorities often struggle the most in domains of social and economic life where the government is most involved.
Public Education Under-Serves Minorities
The public education system has always been structured as a disservice to minorities. Public schools used to be completely segregated by law, and, although those laws have since been repealed, many school systems are largely segregated due to residential segregation. Since a student’s zip code determines which public school they go to, residential segregation translates into educational segregation to a large extent.
Similarly, there is still a large racial gap in achievement for students of all ages. The achievement gap is caused by a variety of factors. However, one important factor is the concentration of low-income students within public schools. To be clear, this is not a funding issue. Charter schools and private schools utilize much less funding than public schools yet consistently outperform them. The issue is that schools with high proportions of low-income students have less access to social capital and less of an ability to attract good teachers. Furthermore, public schools offer little incentive for teachers to innovate and perform above the bare minimum requirements arbitrarily set by government bureaucrats.
The public education system has always been structured as a disservice to minorities.
The reason I have been talking about schools with high concentrations of low-income students instead of minority students is because the former is an accurate proxy for the latter. In 58 of the 100 largest U.S. cities, 75 percent of non-white students attend schools that are mostly low-income. In 54 of the 97 largest U.S. cities, 80 percent of black students attend mostly low-income schools.
Instead of forcing minority students into segregated, low-income public schools, different forms of school choice can liberate them from forced educational mediocrity. Seven out of the eight rigorous studies that examine school choice effects on racial integration find positive effects. Unsurprisingly, the public schools with high proportions of racial minorities are disproportionately the most underperforming schools in those districts. It’s no wonder that 75 percent of Latino Americans and 72 percent of black Americans support school choice.
Allowing students to choose the establishment that provides their education is not only philosophically moral but will provide an escape route for minority students from oppressive conditions of the inner city. The only entities standing in the way are teacher unions and the government officials who rely on their support.
Minimum Wage Displaces Minority Workers
The minimum wage is also a coercive mechanism that further marginalizes racial minorities. Largely unknown to the public are the racist origins of the minimum wage and its known effects of pricing minorities out of the labor force. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 was supported by construction companies in the north that used unionized white workers precisely because southern construction companies using non-unionized black workers were underbidding them for contracts. Imposing a minimum wage prevented southern construction companies from keeping labor costs low. This protected the high incomes of white unionized workers from the competition of non-unionized minority workers.
Although outright discrimination against minorities no longer plays a role in the support for minimum wage laws, the disastrous economic outcomes for minorities persist. An economic study of the effects of the minimum wage on employment finds that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage was associated with an overall decrease in employment for 16-to-24-year-old males without a high school degree of 2.5 percent; the corresponding statistic for black males specifically was 6.5 percent.
The minimum wage is also a coercive mechanism that further marginalizes racial minorities.
In 2016, Seattle raised the minimum wage from $11 to $13 per hour. A University of Washington study commissioned by council members of the Seattle city government found that this increase in the minimum wage directly decreased the earnings of low-wage workers by $1500 per year. Since the minimum wage only affects the incomes of low-wage workers, and black and Hispanic individuals are twice as likely to be low-wage workers, the negative effects of the minimum wage on working-class incomes will disproportionately affect minorities.
The War on Drugs Targets Minorities
Initiated by the Nixon administration in 1971, the War on Drugs has served as a proxy for the targeting, criminalizing, and incarcerating of impoverished minorities throughout the country.
Despite using and selling drugs at approximately equal rates as whites, in 2000, 80-90 percent of the drug offenders imprisoned in seven states were black. Similarly, 15 states imprisoned black men at a rate 20 to 57 times that of white men. Minorities are forced to sell drugs to feed their families because the minimum wage locks them out of the labor force, and, after being targeted by the War on Drugs, their criminal label reinforces their inability to find work, creating a systemic cycle of poverty that disproportionately affects minority communities.
The effects of the drug war extend far beyond the direct targeting of minorities by law enforcement.
The effects of the drug war extend far beyond the direct targeting of minorities by law enforcement. The War on Drugs has created significant gang violence within the inner-cities that are mostly populated by minorities. Imagine kids trying to focus on their education while simultaneously worrying about avoiding gang violence both inside and outside of school. Even the most well-intentioned, self-disciplined student of an inner city public school would have a difficult time staying completely detached and unassociated with people involved in controlled substances.
Good Intentions Do Not Yield Good Outcomes
Invariably, the negative externalities of utilizing political mechanisms to achieve desirable goals have disproportionately affected, and sometimes directly targeted minority communities. The attempts to provide equitable education, increase working-class wages, and eradicate drug abuse and distribution have all been pursued at the cost of the economic and social oppression of minority communities.
If we want to have a serious discussion about the systematic oppression of minorities and their mass incarceration, we need to address the main source of this oppression: the government. Tyranny of the majority is the result of a majoritarian democracy mixing with an unconstrained government, so it should not be surprising that government overreach leaves minorities with the short end of the stick.