What do you get when you mix 17 parts defective welfare system, 23 parts broken justice system, and 2 parts racism?
Answer: Mass incarceration of African Americans, millions of civil liberties violations, and the occasional riot.
The George Floyd murder is but one data point, albeit a particularly egregious one.
Let’s get real on how to fix the problem. You are not going to fix the problem playing Catch the Closet Racist. You could purge every detectably racist cop, judge, and prosecutor from the system. You could make Modern Indignation Studies part of the mandatory high school curriculum. You could demolish every Confederate memorial. And you would only make a temporary dent in the problem.
By far the biggest evils are measures that lock in the effects of past racism. Unless you have a working time machine, you need to pay attention and learn how to fix the ongoing problems.
Our Defective Welfare State
Let’s start with the defective welfare state. Dixiecrats were part of the New Deal Coalition that created the modern welfare state, and FDR did more than dog whistle. Whites got the mortgage assistance and farm bailouts. Blacks got the scraps, the need-based welfare.
Need-based welfare can be mighty handy when you need it, but it can also be a trap. You lose benefits when you work to get out of poverty. The effective marginal tax rate for making the transition from welfare to work is brutal; it’s up there with what the Brits were levying on the Beatles. Maybe worse.
Our welfare system also penalizes marriage. Marriage is a civilizing force – for men of any race. Unmarried young men tend to be rowdy and dangerous. There is an entire film genre based on the phenomenon: Westerns.
Honest work is also civilizing, especially when there is a clear path for advancement for the ambitious. If it is not available, ambitious young men will resort to no-so-legal means for advancement. Ghettos of people locked into need-based welfare will have high concentrations of such dangerous men. Thanks to the magic of past White Privilege, such ghettos are disproportionately black.
This is not a call to eliminate welfare, by the way. It is a call for humane reforms which restore incentives for self improvement. Milton Friedman proposed a solution ages ago: a negative income tax. The idea was given some consideration by Congress back in the 1970s, but was mostly rejected. We have a ghost of a negative income tax in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit, but it is both too small, and it’s so complicated that tax preparation services get much of the benefit.
I prefer a Citizen Dividend. It’s simpler.
Our welfare system has other defects. The United States offloads much of its welfare burden on employers, health insurance especially. This creates a major barrier to entry level work, especially for those with a bad resume.
Jail time really stinks up a resume.
And we pay for our welfare state primarily by taxing domestic labor! We tax domestic employment more than we tax imports and capital gains. We have a system of subsidized outsourcing and automation.
It’s as if malevolent space aliens took over our government in order to create crime for their amusement. And then they broke our justice system for even more quality sadism.
Our Very Broken Justice System
Back when I was young, I was taught that the United States is a free country, that its citizens are innocent until proven guilty, that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. I read horror stories about the KGB, how they would smash down people’s doors in the middle of the night. I watched TV shows mocking tinpot dictatorships with their overmilitarized police. I read about Stalin and his archipelago of gulags.
And what do we have today? The Bill of Rights has been turned on its head. Guilty until proven innocent is the new norm. Warrantless searches and no-knock late raids are standard police procedure. Few can afford a fair trial. And some of our prisons make Stalin’s gulags look good.
How did this happen?
The Drug War. That’s how.
Let me be precise here. The key term here is “War.” If you want to limit hard drugs to certain Morality Free Zones, like we do for casinos, fine. If you want to arrest heroin addicts sleeping on park benches and leaving needles on the ground, no problem. If you want to make people jump through some hoops to get high, or limit open market sales of certain drugs to dilute forms, you can do that too.
But you cannot eliminate recreational drug use without draconian measures. Shredding the Bill of Rights is just a warmup for what’s necessary.
The reason is this: responsible recreational drug use and discreet drug dealing are victimless crimes. That is, there are no victims to call the authorities. Without a victim to trigger an investigation, the police need to be preemptive: mass surveillance, surprise searches, and sting operations are required tools needed to make any headway.
These tools are unconstitutional. So our legislatures have created a system of bypasses around the Bill of Rights. The law books have been polluted with thousands of piddling crimes so that everyone is guilty of something. This gives police discretion to find probable cause to search without a warrant.
This, Dear Reader, is a racial bias amplifier cranked up to eleven.
An Evil Feedback Loop
With the amplification cranked up that high, the racial injustice can keep on going without any more input racism whatsoever. It’s all in the feedback. And there are lots of feedback loops.
The Drug War has not eliminated recreational drugs. It has just made them more expensive. That means you have drug dealers walking around with lots of cash. And they cannot rely on police protection (unless the cops are corrupt). So you get armed drug dealers, and you get gangs and organized crime syndicates to provide government-like services to drug dealers.
Gangs, like governments, go to war. And they go to war in poor neighborhoods, since dealers on college campuses and in nice neighborhoods tend to be dealing drugs as a side gig, and can afford to simply eat the loss of a drug deal gone bad.
With gangs going to war in poor neighborhoods, you have probable cause to bring in greater police presence. Even unbiased computer algorithms will effectively racial profile. It’s time for Stop and Frisk, neighborhood cameras, and Civil Asset Forfeiture. Goodbye Second, Fourth and Seventh Amendments.
And what about those the police catch? We have nowhere near the courtroom capacity to handle the caseload. So the system routinely piles on the charges in order to force a plea bargain. Goodbye Fifth Amendment.
And then we have our underfunded prison system. Conditions are brutal. New prisoners are under constant threat of rape and other abuse. Goodbye Eighth Amendment. This provides two more feedback mechanisms.
- Prisoners get turned into hardened criminals thanks to this brutal experience.
- All the victims of this broken system lose respect for the justice system – because it doesn’t deserve respect. Criminals can become local heroes.
It’s the System that’s Racist
If you think you can fix the nightmare by spouting Social Justice platitudes, you are living in a fairyland.
Even if the government used the Orbital Mind Control Laser to zap all racist thoughts, the problem would remain.
Censoring Bad Thinkers and toppling monuments are even less effective. If anything, they are backfiring, making racism great again.
If you are serious about racial justice, fix the welfare system; clean the law books; outlaw plea bargaining and Civil Asset Forfeiture; dial back the Drug War to those measures that the government can usefully do while obeying the Bill of Rights. Turn down that racism amplifier until the feedback stops.