Tag Archives: Free Market

Why you should read “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington

Lately, my friends have been very excited that I’m a non-white conservative. They want me to answer the grievances of BLM people, and explain from my own experiences what Christianity and conservative policies have to say about making the lives of non-whites better. My friend Wes recommended “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington to help me focus my thoughts.

Here’s a summary of the book:

Dignity through Labor

Over the course of Up From Slavery, Washington develops the idea and ideal of dignity through labor. For Washington, the gravest aspect of the institution of slavery is the denigration of labor for both blacks and whites. Because the enslaved had no personal investment or return on their labor, they did not complete their work with an attitude toward improvement. Likewise, whites, largely deprived of meaningful labor, were robbed of the ability to achieve self-sufficiency. In both races, this produced personalities and characters that seek to escape labor. Washington emphasizes labor as the only way to make oneself useful in an interdependent, modern society. Throughout the whole of Up From Slavery, Washington searches for and obtains work. Further, once he obtains it, Washington completes all labor to best of his ability, no matter how lowly the task. At the Tuskegee Institute, Washington makes this idea and ideal a foundational ethos. All students who study at the Tuskegee Institute must learn a trade or industry alongside their more traditional academic pursuits. In addition, many of the buildings, most of the furniture, the wagons, and the materials used at the school are produced by students. This level of practical skill and diligence also acts as the foundation of Washington’s theory and program for racial uplift.

Selflessness, Desire to Be Useful to One’s Community

The people that Washington most admires and models himself after are those he labels selfless. Washington defines this as the willingness to work on the behalf of others. For Washington, this is not only about duty or labor, but also about the willingness to do one’s best for the benefit of the collective good. Washington believes that racial prejudice can be overcome if black people make themselves indispensable to their communities and their nation. The brick-making episode provides an example. Though the brick-making enterprise at Tuskegee felled three kilns before successfully producing bricks, the venture eventually proved successful and the school began to sell its bricks on the open market. Washington describes how whites who were unsympathetic or apathetic to the education of blacks and the overall project of the Tuskegee Institute were willing to purchase Tuskegee bricks due to their quality and convenience. Washington suggests that if black race can find their niche in society by fulfilling a need, then they can co-exist peacefully and productively with whites.

Impracticality of Political Agitation

Throughout Up From Slavery, Washington defends his ideas about racial advancement and uplift by subtly undermining the proposals of his critics. Though Washington does not explicitly state his objection to the strategies of specific thinkers like W.E.B. Dubois or even his predecessor, Frederick Douglass, he nevertheless highlights the wastefulness of political agitation for equal rights at every chance he gets. To do this, Washington shows that political agitation results in worse relations and outcomes than those that existed before. For example, when he goes home to Malden after his second year at the Hampton Institute, Washington finds that both the salt-furnace and the coal-mine are not in operation due to worker’s strikes. In Chapter IV, Washington describes how strikers usually spent all their savings during the strikes and returned to work in debt, but at the same wages. He raises the impracticality of political agitation again after his controversial Atlanta Exposition speech. After the success of his speech, he hypothetically asks if a black man would have been invited to give a speech had people agitated to put a black person on the program. He answers in the negative, saying that such opportunities can only arise through merit.

And here’s a summary of his most famous speech:

On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington was selected to give a speech that would open the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. The speech, which is often referred to as the “Atlanta Compromise,” was the first speech given by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South. In it, Washington suggested that African Americans should not agitate for political and social equality, but should instead work hard, earn respect and acquire vocational training in order to participate in the economic development of the South. By doing so, eventually, he stated, African Americans would gain the respect of white society and be granted the rights of full citizenship.

There’s a free full audio version of the book, and the full text is online. I recommend this book to people of all races, because as the sexual anarchy brought on by feminism becomes widespread, the majority of the children of tomorrow will face the same kinds of challenges.

I see Washington’s ideas as consistent with a Christian worldview, where we don’t expect to be treated fairly. We expect sinful people to treat us badly. What Christianity says is to be patient, and focus on your relationship with God and loving your neighbor. And one way to love your neighbor is to sell them something valuable that you made through your labor. Another way is to work and save, and give to charity.

Government solutions to problems like racism and poverty aren’t a top priority for Christians. Most of all, we need the freedom to be good, and to do good. That’s priority one. You may not make your life better by being moral and diligent, but it’s rare that doing so causes you to harm yourself. It’s very important that you not harm yourself.

So, this dovetails nicely with my own story. My married non-white parents were not smart enough or willing enough to monitor my education, but they were clear that they wanted me to do well in order to find good-paying work. So I completed my BS and MS in a STEM field, and went to work right away, and I’ve been at it continuously for 22 years now. I save most of what I earn for charity and early retirement.

I’ve never experienced any of the racism or police brutality that American blacks complain about. And that’s because I follow what Washington is teaching. I dress in a clean way that doesn’t communicate danger to others. I’m careful to spend my time reading apologetics, economics and military history. I don’t listen to popular music or watch popular TV or movies. I don’t hang out with people who blame other people for their lack of success.

I got my first job by volunteering to do it for free on Saturdays for 7 months. My first full-time job salary after college was $50,000. Then I got a raise of $6,000 and then a raise of $9,000. I used to work 70 hour weeks in my 20s. I graduated college with $9,000 dollars in the black, because I went to a small local college and lived at home, and never spent any money on alcohol. My net worth is now about $1.35 million. By the way, the secret to becoming wealthy is to not spend money on showing off. You can be very generous to your friends and still get rich. Just never buy anything that is designed to communicate “status” to anyone. And never spend money on alcohol or chasing sex outside of marriage.

At no time did I accept that the problems defined by the secular left were my real problems. And at no time did I accept their “solutions” as real solutions to anything. As black economist Thomas Sowell writes, the “solutions” of the left are not effective at helping people like me. The “solutions” of the left are designed to make leftists feel better, and look more virtuous to others. You are much better off reading the Bible, Christian apologetics, free market economics, American military history, etc., and then respecting what you learn from that in your decision-making. I think that reading the right stuff is even more important than having good parents or attending church.

How a small, poor country became the top economy in Latin America

One way to learn about whether specific economic policies work or not is to look at different countries that have tried them. Believe it or not, patterns do emerge about what works and what doesn’t work, as you look across different times and places. I’ve been reading a book called “Money, Greed and God” with my friend Carla, which talks about what has worked to reduce poverty.

The author basically outlined two approaches. In the first approach, the government 1) confiscates the wealth of the most productive workers, 2) nationalizes (takes control of) the businesses of the most successful entrepreneurs, 3) restricts trading between citizens and with other countries, with minimum wage, price controls and tariffs. In the second approach, the government does the opposite: 1) lowers taxes on the most productive workers, and 2) lets entrepreneurs compete to provide goods and services to consumers, and 3) lowers restrictions on internal trading and trading with other countries, e.g. – eliminating minimum wage, tariffs and price controls.

Let’s take a look at two Latin American countries that went in opposite directions. Venezuela and Chile. Then we can finally find out which policies actually achieve results for the people.

Here is how Chile started out in 1973.

PROBLEM: Price controls and tariffs:

Prices for the majority of basic goods were fixed by the government in 1973. Even though Chile was and still is a small economy, the level of protection­ism was high. By the end of 1973, the nominal average tariff for imports was 105 percent, with a maximum of 750 percent. Non-tariff barriers also impeded the import of more than 3,000 out of 5,125 registered goods. Just as economic theory predicts, large queues in front of stores were usual in Santiago and other cities in Chile as a result of the scarcity caused by price controls.

PROBLEM: Government taking over private businesses:

The decline in GDP during 1973 reflected a shrinking productive sector in which the main assets were gradually falling under government control or ownership through expropriations and other government interventions in the economy.

PROBLEM: Deficit spending and government printing money:

The fiscal situation was chaotic. The deficit reached 55 percent of expenditures and 20 percent of GDP and was the main cause of inflation because the Central Bank was issuing money to finance the government deficit.

SOLUTION: lower or eliminate restrictions on trade:

The most important economic reform in Chile was to open trade, primarily through a flat, low tar­iff on imports. Much of the credit for Chilean eco­nomic reforms in the following 30 years should be given to the decision to open our economy to the rest of the world. The strength of Chilean firms, productive sectors, and institutions grew up thanks to that fundamental change.

SOLUTION: let competing entrepreneurs in the private sector provide goods and services to consumers:

A second fundamental reform was to allow the private sector to recover, adding dynamism to the economy. In fact, important sectors such as elec­tricity generation and distribution and telecommu­nications were still managed by state companies. After we implemented a massive privatization plan that included more than 50,000 new direct share­holders and several million indirect (through pen­sion funds) shareholders, these companies were managed by private entrepreneurs that carried out important expansion plans.

SOLUTION: let people take responsibility for their own lives instead of depending on government:

The 1981 reform of the Chilean pension fund system deserves special mention. Under the leader­ship of Minister José Piñera, an individual capitali­zation account program was designed with specific contributions, administered by private institutions selected by the workers. The Chilean Administra­doras de Fondos de Pension (Pension Fund Administrators or AFP) has been replicated in more than 20 countries, and more than 100 million workers in different parts of the world use these accounts to save for retirement.

SOLUTION: allow parents to choose the school that fits their needs from competing education providers, and push school administration down from the federal government to the municipal level, where it would be more responsive to voter’s needs:

In 1981, Chile introduced a universal educational voucher system for students in both its elementary and secondary schools. At the same time, the central government transferred the administration of public schools to municipal governments…  The financial value of the voucher did not depend on family income.

RESULTS: And I was able to find a nice short, description of how all that worked out for them on the far-left Wikipedia, of all places:

The economy of Chile is a high-income economy as ranked by the World Bank, and is considered one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, leading Latin American nations in competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption.

In 2006, Chile became the country with the highest nominal GDP per capita in Latin America. In May 2010 Chile became the first South American country to join the OECD. Tax revenues, all together 20.2% of GDP in 2013, were the second lowest among the 34 OECD countries, and the lowest in 2010. In 2017, only 0.7% of the population lived on less than US$1.90 a day.

According to the Heritage Foundation, Chile is ranked as the 18th freest economy in the world. The World Bank ranked Chile as the 50th highest GDP per capita for 2018, just below Hungary and above Poland.

Now, you can contrast those results with Venezuela. I have been blogging about Venezuela for years on this blog, and documenting how they raised taxes, banned guns, nationalized private sector companies, raised tariffs, and increased regulations. They are now ranked JUST ABOVE NORTH KOREA for economic freedom – #179 out of 180 countries measured. Basically, they did the opposite of everything that Chile did – transferring power away from parents, workers, business owners, churches and municipal governments to the powerful centralized federal government.

Wikipedia explains how Hugo Chavez took over in 1999 and enacted a communist revolution.

More:

Since the Bolivarian Revolution half-dismantled its PDVSA oil giant corporation in 2002 by firing most of its 20,000-strong dissident professional human capital and imposed stringent currency controls in 2003 in an attempt to prevent capital flight, there has been a steady decline in oil production and exports. Further yet, price controls, expropriation of numerous farmlands and various industries, among other government authoritarian policies… have resulted in severe shortages in Venezuela and steep price rises of all common goods, including food, water, household products, spare parts, tools and medical supplies; forcing many manufacturers to either cut production or close down, with many ultimately abandoning the country as has been the case with several technological firms and most automobile makers.

They confiscated private property, took over private sector businesses, implemented tariffs and price controls, redistributed wealth via massive welfare programs, and pushed all decision-making out of families and municipal governments up to the federal government. By depriving the producers of their earnings, the country caused massive shortages of goods and services, to the point where people are fleeing the country, consuming zoo animals, and selling their bodies as prostitutes in order to get food and water.

Application

In the next election, we are not picking a tribe because of how they make us feel about ourselves. We are not choosing in order to see ourselves as “nice” and “not nice”. We need to look at specific policies being proposed, and see what works and what doesn’t work. The examples of Chile (rags-to-riches) and Venezuela (riches-to-rags) are helpful for voters who want to get RESULTS instead of FEELINGS.

I’ll leave you with a list of links from previous posts so you can see how communism worked out for Venezuela.

Related posts

Why social conservatives should support free market capitalism

The free enterprise system should not be adopted simply because it is the best system for creating wealth. The best reason to support free market capitalism is a moral reason. Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, and a Christian, describes the moral argument for free market capitalism.

Excerpt:

It might seem that the best case for free enterprise is the material one. Free enterprise lets people make more money, buy more and nicer stuff, and have a greater degree of comfort. The freer our economy is, the more competitive the US economy is vis-à-vis the rest of the world. And so on.

But these aren’t our best arguments. There is another reason, a transcendent reason, for which free enterprise matters most—and this is the case we all must be able to make today.

We all learned early on in school that the Declaration of Independence claimed for each of us the unalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note that the founders didn’t assert a right to be happy; such is the domain of tinpots and crackpots, of 1984’s “Ministry of Plenty” and Josef Stalin’s aggrandizing self-description as the Soviet Union’s “Constructor of Happiness.” So what, in practice, does this right to pursue happiness mean?

It means the right to define and earn our happiness through our ideas, hard work, and gumption, to earn our success by creating value honestly, in our own lives and in the lives of others. It doesn’t mean the pursuit of a big lottery win or an inheritance. Those bring money, but not happiness. And a mountain of evidence shows that after a fairly low threshold, more money doesn’t make us happier. The best case for free enterprise has nothing at all to do with money or material goods or wealth. Those are just icing on the cake. We must stop talking about free enterprise as just an engine of wealth creation. It’s much more than that.

In short, the secret to the pursuit of happiness is earning our own success; creating value with our lives and in the lives of others. This earned success is the fruit of hard work and just rewards in a system built on merit. Only in a free enterprise system is effort and innovation rewarded over connections and predation. (And this means that we have to draw a distinction between free enterprise, which is based on opportunity and competition between ideas, and corporate cronyism, which is just another form of statism masquerading as free enterprise.)

Here are 3 reasons why I think that social conservatives should support free market capitalism.

1) Right to work

It’s very important for Christians to have an economic system in place that allows them to work without having to promote anti-Christians ideas. But when government gets too big, what happens is that Christians are no longer free to take any job they want, and still keep a clear conscience. In some states, you have to join a union which uses your union dues to elect Democrats, who very often are liberal on social issues. Or, you have big government forcing Christians to perform abortions against their consciences. Or, you have big government forcing Christian organizations to provide health insurance plans that cover abortions and contraceptives. That’s why Christians need to vote against big government regulations on employment – we need the freedom to work at a job that does not violate our consciences.

2) Right to earn

It’s very important for Christians to keep what they earn so that they have the maximum amount of money to make decisions that make sense for them, according to their consciences. Take the example of day care and education. The big government statist is constantly trying to to create more and more government-run day care and public schools. Why? They want to take money away from families so that they cannot afford individualized private and parochial schools, and lump them all into government run schools that are more “equal”. The problem is that this is bad for Christians who want more oversight into what their children learn. For example, what sense does it make for a Christian man to pay for day care and public schools when he marries a teacher who becomes a stay at home homeschooling mother for his children? He has to pay for day care and public schools he will never use, and it eats into the money he has to afford a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. Christians should oppose a day care and education system run by a secular leftist government. They will never reflect the values of Christian parents.

3) Right to spend

It’s very important for Christians to have the freedom to purchase products and services that make sense in their worldview. Take the example of health care. Secular leftists would love to force private medical insurance companies to cover things like abortion and contraception as health care. In some states, these things are specified as mandatory for every health care plan. That means that Christians who purchase health care are being forced to pay for services like abortion which they will never use themselves. This is nothing more than the redistribution of wealth in order to lower the cost of abortions for people, in order to encourage them to be sexually active before they are able to accommodate children. Christians need to oppose this – we do not want to have to pay for things that go against our consciences.

So, in addition to the reasons that Brooks mentioned (the happiness of earning your own way and serving others), it’s important for Christians to understand how free market capitalism fits into their plans. We do not want to support big government, especially when big government so often is not compatible with Judeo-Christian values. In the free market, it is much harder for ALL the businesses to conspire together to block Christians from working, earning and spending according to their consciences. We must resist top-down control of the free market so that we have the liberty to do what we ought to do in order to be virtuous.