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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, January 24, 2013}

The growing disparity between Colorado’s whites and nonwhites in virtually every important statistic of social well-being is a national disgrace. As the recent I-News series “Losing Ground” documents (full disclosure: I was a contributor), things have not turned out the way anyone had hoped.
The federal government has spent billions of dollars on transfer programs to the poor, and states have spent hundreds of billions on a monopoly public education system. The answer can’t possibly to spend even more money. That just doesn’t make sense. The patient is too sick for folk remedies or chicken soup. We need radical, major surgery.

To restart the engines of social progress, we have to do three new and bold things.

First, admit liberals were right: End the drug war. Drugs are at most a public health problem; they cannot be managed through the criminal justice system. The very nature of drugs and the drug war is a virtual guarantee that its casualties will be disproportionately black and brown.

As law professor Michelle Alexander writes in her bestselling “The New Jim Crow”, the drug war has led to wildly disparate incarceration rates for black and Hispanic men, despite that the fact that their rates of drug use are virtually identical to whites. More men in prison means fewer men in the community, which means more single mothers raising children, which means more poverty.

Repealing drug prohibition will give social conservatives heartburn. But leaving aside the dubious moral logic of telling adults what they can and can’t put into their body, the numbers don’t lie. The drug war’s most measurable effects have not been in reductions in drug use or crippling organized crime. Quite the opposite. Its most measurable accomplishments have been to imprison black and Latino men.

Second, admit conservatives were right: Families matter. Having children born in stable, two-parent homes is better than having children born and raised without a father. This simple, obvious truth has become too embarrassing to speak about in polite conversation. Nor is the obvious truth that paying women based on the number of children they have creates perverse incentives with predictable results. Those incentives must stop.

Third, admit libertarians were right: In the long run, economic growth is everything. Keynes’s quip “In the long run, we are all dead” assumes that government is capable of doing something about the short term. We now have enough history to know that he was wrong. We’re just stuck in the narrative that an institution that can’t even manage a budget can somehow fine-tune the economic behavior of millions of people.

The most important thing for poor minorities is economic growth: Jobs for anyone willing to work, and goods and services that get better and cheaper when they do.

To get economic growth, we have to think outside the Keynesian box: Cut taxes *and* spending. Cutting taxes gives people more to save as a source of capital, and more to spend on goods and services that business can provide. Cutting spending will reduce government’s insatiable appetite for borrowing, freeing investment capital for the private sector. But we must take the bold step of cutting both. Without that, we are dead in the water.

We must also kill the crippling laws and regulations that make it harder for businesses to hire people, particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Lest anyone think America is some bastion of laissez-faire capitalism, Canada now has a freer economy than America. That is a national travesty.

These efforts are all going to alienate some very powerful interest groups. But the alternative is doing more of the same while expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity. Fifty years ago, Americans were able to put aside their political differences to try and do something about the poor. We have another, wiser opportunity to do so now. History will shame us if we do not take it.