"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws."
– Mayer Amschel Rothschild
I often wonder if most Black people in America really understand the across-the-board impact economics has on our daily lives. Or, have we just been beaten down so badly that we have fallen into a state of apathy when it comes to our collective pursuit of economic empowerment? The above quote by Rothschild always reminds me of the kind of nation and world in which we reside. It also makes me even more aware of Black folks' economic position in this country, and our lack of emphasis on what's really important vis-à-vis real power.
What are the messages being given to Black people by many of our leaders? Well, they run the gamut from "civil rights" to "voting rights" to "gay rights" to "immigration reform" to someone calling one of us or all of us a name we don't like. Many unsuspecting Blacks are riled about issues that do not and will not affect us one iota when it comes to being able to obtain power for ourselves; and we spend an inordinate amount of time caught up in nonsensical discussions that only keep us from devoting ourselves to self-empowerment.
Maybe we are simply unwilling to "pay the cost to be the boss," as B.B. King likes to say. Or, maybe the "cost of doing business" is just too high for us. Maybe we just want to continue to buy everything and anything other folks make and distribute rather than do those things for ourselves. Maybe we are just content to be the primary consumers in this nation.
The engine of the U.S. economy is fueled by consumption, which is 70 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and that does not include purchases of new housing. Our current GDP is more than $15 trillion. Do the math and see how much is being spent on goods and services.
Doesn't it make sense for Black people to be producing and selling much more than we do presently? With an aggregate annual income of more than $1 trillion, we could carve out a few niches in the business world and make a veritable killing.
When we look at per capita GDP by country, interestingly, we see that Liberia ranks among the lowest in the world. Why? Well, I have writings from Booker T. Washington to the officials in Liberia and Haiti warning them to be independent and to take full advantage of their land and natural resources by maintaining ownership and control over them. He admonished them not to allow foreigners to buy their land and use it for their own economic advantage. Unfortunately, they did not follow Washington's advice, and Liberia ended up signing 100 year leases on its rubber tree plantations to Goodyear, and Haiti, now the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, failed to control its beautiful island and turn it into a primary tourist attraction.
We are so hung-up on meaningless and powerless political discussions, and instead of mimicking even the smallest measure of what Rothschild said, we obviously keep thinking the politicians are going to take care of us. But they keep telling us things that will not move us forward economically. When it comes to economic advocacy, where is our voice in Washington?
Let's be honest. Over the past 50 years, Black people have cast millions of votes. We have helped elect thousands of Black public officials – and White ones, too. In 2012, Black people voted at a higher rate than other minority groups and by most measures surpassed the White turnout for the first time. What has that gotten us, as it pertains to what Rothschild said? Suppose for the past 50 years we had cast our "little green ballots," as Booker T. directed us, to build our own economic infrastructure and support system. Had we done that, we too could say it does not matter who "writes the laws." We would be true political powerbrokers.
Take reparations, in whatever form you support. What politicians in D.C. are seriously advocating for what Louis Farrakhan called, "Reparatory Justice?" John Conyers' bill has been languishing for decades now. The president says he does not support reparations for Black people, so where does that leave us? How about the political talking heads on TV? Are they devoting a serious amount of time talking about economic empowerment for Black people, or are they just trying to get us to vote a certain way?
Wake up, Black folks! The cost of doing business requires commitment and sacrifice. The Rothschild's were ruthless and unethical, but they knew that economics runs politics. We can build an ethical and moral economic foundation, but we have to jettison our current way of thinking and take on an economic mindset.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation's most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.