David R. Henderson  

Response to Shelby Steele

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I sent the following letter to the Wall Street Journal, but I'm guessing, given that they haven't published it yet, that they won't. So I am:

I was shocked by two statements by my friend and Hoover colleague, Shelby Steele ("Black America Could Have Done Better," January 21, 2009). On economics, Dr. Steele refers to supply-side economics as "trickle-down." But we supply-siders have never used that term to describe a policy of reducing marginal tax rates; only our critics use that term to describe the policies we favor. In fact, the supply-side policies would be better be described as "gush-down" economics.
Even more shocking, Dr. Steele claims that President Obama has "moral authority as the first black president." But President Obama's "moral authority" due to his race is precisely zero just as my moral authority due to my race is zero. Moral authority derives from being moral. Or, as the late Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put it, moral authority comes not from the color of our skin but from the content of our character.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Gary Rogers writes:

Excellent letter. You have expressed my sentiments better than I could ever have expressed them myself.

pj writes:

Why accept the "down" in trickle down? No money ever went "up" to go "down". Since untaxed money goes laterally, from private citizen to private citizen, a better phrase would be "gush-around."

The true trickle down is an $825 billion government stimulus, where all the money is gathered by political elites, spent, and we hope the money will "trickle down" to the rest of us.

On the moral authority side, although you are right that moral authority should come from good character, I suspect that for liberals it is quite accurate to say that moral authority derives from skin melanin.

mgroves writes:
Les writes:

I certainly agree wholeheartedly that moral authority comes not from the color of our skin but from the content of our character.

But I'm puzzled why Obama is so often described as being black. Obama had a black father and a white mother. To my mind he is neither black nor white.

He is biracial. While the color of our skin is of little or no importance, it should not be falsely stated as "black" when it is by no means black.

Jacob Oost writes:

Well, since he makes the "moral authority" point in passing, I would want him to clarify what exactly he meant before I criticized him for it. He may have been trying to say that other people project moral authority onto him, rather than saying he himself believed Obama had moral authority.

Kenya writes:

I think Obama is typically described as black or African-American because that's what he asserts that he is. He almost never identifies himself as biracial or multiracial--as many of their advocates wished. Second, just as there is no inherent moral authority in one's skin color, there is no racial reconciliation gene in one's DNA (regarding Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech).

Heather writes:

Obama probably is called and calls himself black for one of two reasons. One, his family raised him (for whatever reason) to identify with his "blackness" (whether that is right or wrong). Two, he looks black most black people are multi-racial somewhere in their lineage. If you didn't know it, there is nothing in his features that says biracial other than maybe his complexion. My husband and I have two sons who look more biracial than Obama does, however because my husband and I are not first generation multi-racial, we and our children are considered black. It is very common for biracial (black/white) children to identify or be identified with the group with which they appear to most easily fit. That tends to be black because we come in so many different shades. Think Tiger Woods or Mariah Carey, as much as they identify themselves as bi or multi-racial, most people call them or identify them as black. Again, I am not saying this is right or wrong. I am just making observations.

Liam writes:

Well said, David.

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