According to the Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley, blacks were doing a lot better back in the days when lynchings were common.
In a column on Tuesday, Riley -- a member of the newspaper’s editorial board and fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute -- argues that liberals were secretly delighted about the University of Oklahoma frat brothers' racist chants because it allows them to blame racism for the problems facing blacks. The incident offers Riley an excuse to parrot one of conservatives’ favorite memes: that the welfare state is a giant plantation liberals use to keep blacks down.
Citing statistics showing the rise of the black middle class in the post-World War II period, Riley concludes that things were a lot better for blacks before the Civil Rights era:
History shows that faster black progress was occurring at a time when whites were still lynching blacks, not merely singing about it. Liberals want blacks to ignore the lessons of this pre-Civil Rights era, which threaten the current relevance of groups like the NAACP and call into question the Democratic Party's belief that there is a federal solution to every black problem.
Any sentence that starts “history shows …” should be your cue that the author is about to make an exaggerated, underinformed generalization, which is certainly true in this case. For starters, it wasn’t just blacks that rose into the middle class in the post-war period; it was everyone. And the economic stagnation that’s befallen American workers since the 1970s -- from 1947 to 1974, Americans took home most of the wealth they produced, but in the decades since, wages have stagnated even as corporate profits have soared -- more closely parallels deregulation, the decline of labor unions and the offshoring of manufacturing jobs than the rise of the welfare state.
There’s less economic mobility, both up and down the ladder, now than there was 60 years ago. That’s true for both blacks and whites, and it’s not because either group has become less self-reliant. Americans are, in fact, more productive than they were in the 1950s -- our per capita GDP is way higher. We’re just taking less of the wealth we produce home with us (that data point should serve as proof positive that “trickle-down” economics is a total farce, yet somehow the myth persists).
Riley, who is black, also uses the piece to take a potshot at black leaders, who he also thinks are happy about racism because it keeps them in business. He compares them to the “black leaders of yore [who] didn’t pretend that racism must be vanquished from America before blacks could be held primarily responsible for their socioeconomic circumstances.”
Of course, no one ever said that, but using a liberal straw man is the least of the problems with a piece arguing blacks were better off before the whole civil rights thing.