Appreciating Black Free-Enterprisers

November 3, 2021 Updated: November 3, 2021


White advocates of laissez-faire capitalism are a dime a dozen. Diminishing marginal utility is what makes black supporters of economic liberty, private property rights, and the profit and loss system far more important.

This is true of anything: The more there is of something, the less precious is one more unit of it, whatever it is. This holds true for doctors, cabbages, kings, shoes, scientists, cars, etc. Since there are so few prominent black proponents of free enterprise, each of them is more important to this cause than if he or she was white. The present essay is devoted to an appreciation of a few of them. Happily, there are more than can be included in any one love letter such as this, but you have to start somewhere. Here are a few important African-American contributors to the case of economic liberty.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X is not usually seen as a free-enterpriser, rather as a member, a leader, of a Black Muslim organization. He’s also famous for promoting the “black is beautiful” movement, telling his many followers to “throw away those hair-straighteners,” and stop trying to look white—you’re beautiful exactly as you are. But unlike his fellow black leader at the time, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. X was a capitalist through and through. Not a theoretical one, either. Rather, practicality was his middle name in this regard. Unlike MLK, he didn’t favor welfare or labor unionism. If he had any commercial motto, it would have been that black people should stand on their own two feet, and embrace bourgeois values, families, and entrepreneurship.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell began his academic career as a Marxist. But he soon saw through that dead-end economic philosophy and embraced laissez-faire. He has made so many important contributions to economics and political philosophy it’s difficult to single out just a few. He’s perhaps most well known for demonstrating that different ethnic groups have diverging tastes, so that it’s futile to expect that each would be proportionately represented in all callings, or to attribute differences to racism, or bigotry. African Americans comprise some 13 percent of the population, but are not anywhere near taking up 13 percent of each profession or industry. In some they’re overrepresented, in others underrepresented. Nor is this in any way untoward according to this world-class scholar.

My favorite quote from Sowell is this: “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

He applies this insight with great drama and verve to show that this is precisely what occurs in the public, but not the private, sector. Hey, Nobel Prize committee in economics, what’s taking you so long to recognize this man?

Walter E. Williams

The late Walter E. Williams did superlative work in demonstrating, along with his mentor Thomas Sowell, that the minimum wage law not only creates unemployment, but does so disproportionately to blacks, particularly teenaged males. This unemployment level is quadruple, yes, quadruple, that which applies to middle-aged white male workers. Williams, again in tandem with Sowell, verified that the wage gap between men and women, whites and blacks, had little or nothing to do with racism or sexism, whether systemic or not. They both cast doubts upon the claim that welfare would be of use to help the downtrodden. His book “The State Against Blacks” proved, in fine detail, the degradations to the black community of these and numerous other such interventionistic programs.

Jason Riley

Who is responsible for most of these failed public policies? In the view of journalist Jason Riley, blame properly rests at the door for most of it with white liberals, or “progressives” as they now like to be called. Hence, his book “Please stop helping us” is a clarion call for them to cease and desist. This is a very generous interpretation from a very generous man. The alternative hypothesis is that liberals really don’t concern themselves with the negative impacts of their ill-considered nostrums on the black community. Instead, they’re too busy virtue signaling. Riley writes a whole series of sparkling op eds for the Wall Street Journal in which he takes on topics ranging from racial discrimination to the evils of the Great Society to the problems of identity politics. As a shocker to our friends on the left, he maintained that the best way to address differential white and black school suspension rates (the latter is disproportionately greater than the former) is not to go easy on bad behavior. That’s the present public policy, but it hurts all students, especially African Americans.

Who else could be mentioned in this Honor Roll: James Ahiakpor, Larry Elder, Glenn Loury, Lipton Matthews, Tennyson McCalla, John McWhorter, Charles Mosley, Deroy Murdock, Star Parker, Virgil Storr, Victor J. Ward, Robert Wicks, Robert Woodson, and Anne Wortham are some of the others. We will have to leave these people for another day.

Malcolm X, a religious leader, Sowell and Williams, economists, Riley, a journalist. What has been their fate? Some have been called race traitors, Oreo cookies (black on the outside, white on the inside). Elder has even been castigated as a white supremacist. None of their white counterparts (with the possible exception of Charles Murray) have had to endure anything of this sort of treatment. So, in addition to their substantive contributions to the liberty philosophy, we owe these black supporters of economic liberty a great debt of gratitude for their courage and perseverance.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Walter Block
Walter E. Block is the chair in economics at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Mises Institute and the Hoover Institute.