The Real Enemy Is Bad Policy, Not Statues

A throng of hoodies and tattoos storm the stairway leading to city hall. The shrinking gap between them and the riot police contracts until the moment of confrontation. Fear ripples across the line of uniforms.

Emboldened, the mob surges another step. The uniformed officers take a knee and bow their heads. A disheveled mayor surrenders, offering immediately to marshall the full resources of the government to meet the protesters’ list of demands. 

The chants stop. List of demands? Members of the crowd exchange puzzled looks. Somewhere in the distance, a dog can be heard barking. Then a lone voice in the rear breaks the silence, “Did anyone bring a pen and something to write on? We need to workshop this.”

Figuratively, something like this scene has unfolded in every major city across America. Everyone feels shock and outrage over the video. Everyone agrees “enough is enough.” Change, we all agree, is long overdue. 

But change what? Leaders? Democrats control every major government post in Minneapolis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Portland, Settle, New York, and every other city in which protesters topple statues and scream for change. 

And what policies need to change? Other than the absurd call to defund police, the demanded policies largely are already in place. Affirmative action in hiring? Yes, from the 1960s on. Community grants? College preferences? Government contract preferences? Small business loans? Yes, yes and yes. More? Any more intervention in human affairs will require a political commissar to be consulted on every decision in private and public life. 

We have tried to tax, spend, and regulate our way to utopia. Sixty years of those policies have made things demonstrably worse everywhere, but things are particularly bad in the jurisdictions with one-party rule. So let’s try something new instead of pushing on with policies that have been proven not to work. Below is a partial list of reforms we should be exploring:

School choice: Bipartisan consensus holds that a poor education handicaps an individual for life. In places like Chicago, a school district’s taxpayers pay over $10,000 per year per pupil on top of the over $8,000 per year spent by state taxpayers. School choice allows parents to shop that same $18,000 to find the best education value. As a side benefit, it uses voluntary incentives to integrate segregated schools and improve opportunities for disadvantaged children while rewarding best practices in education. It should be a no-brainer.

Social Security: As currently structured, Social Security works through a regressive tax system in which working-poor African American men pay for a retirement system that most benefits wealthier white women. This is because African American males have a much lower life expectancy than white females. An African American male in Illinois, for example, has a life expectancy of 66.5 years which means he is expected to die six months before he can collect his full social security benefit. Without survivors, his lifetime of contributions simply pays the longer-lived beneficiaries who tend to be white and female. Instead of paying into that system, he should be allowed to accumulate his money in an individual account that can be accessed at a younger age and/or borrowed against should he want to open a small business or avoid high interest debt.

Minimum wage: Perhaps the single cruelest obstacle to breaking the cycle of poverty is denying to young people that first rung on the ladder of opportunity. A minimum wage blocks a wide spectrum of mutually beneficial employment situations that would otherwise help people starting out. If the absence of a minimum wage made people poor, then Norway (which has no minimum wage) should be a bastion of poverty. Everyone should be free to work for low wages for any reason but especially for the acquisition of valuable skills.

Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, got his start working for an early computer company. The arrangement violated minimum wage laws because, instead of taking money, he was paid in free leased time on a computer. The skills he acquired were far more valuable than money. Indeed, practically all of the best-known self-made billionaires got their start with low-paying jobs. Learning work skills at a young age is a better anti-poverty measure than a battalion of social workers. The minimum wage destroys those creative opportunities that lift people out of poverty.

Small business regulation and taxation: Not everyone can escape poverty with a scholarship to Harvard. It’s nice when it happens but the more democratic path lies through a small business. While many of the largest Fortune 500 companies paid nothing in federal income taxes, small businesses face a needlessly complex and crushing tax burden. In some states, the cumulative tax burden exceeds 50 percent of profits. Thus locally owned (often minority-owned) shops compete under a government-created disadvantage. The oppression of small business in America injures the very soul of the American dream. Is it any wonder the poor feel the system is rigged against their success? Taxes should not discriminate against the small business owner.

The retreat from American ideals has worsened the plight of the poor and powerless in our country. Accelerating that retreat will simply further worsen their condition. Americans need to stand up for our birthright of freedom, opportunity, and self-determination. We should not abandon our most desperate citizens to the totalitarian Left which exploits them. Every lover of freedom must speak out against the Left’s failures. Tearing down bad policies instead of statues will lead to meaningful progress.

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About Adam Mill

Adam Mill is a pen name. He is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and works in Kansas City, Missouri as an attorney specializing in labor and employment and public administration law. He graduated from the University of Kansas and has been admitted to practice in Kansas and Missouri. Mill has contributed to The Federalist, American Greatness, and The Daily Caller.

Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images

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