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(1980) Thomas Sowell, “Politics and Opportunity: Background”

In December 1980, shortly after former California Governor Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a California-based public policy institute (think tank) sponsored the Black Alternatives Conference at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.  This conference was the largest gathering of black conservatives in U.S. history. The conference challenged both the traditional black civil rights and political establishment as well as radical\black nationalist spokespersons as the new voice of black America.  Economist Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University was the keynote speaker.  His address appears below.

This is a historic opportunity. The economic and social advancement of blacks in this country is still a great unfinished task. The methods and approaches currently used for dealing with this task have become familiar over the past few years and they demand reexamination for at least two reasons.

First, the effectiveness of these approaches has been ever more seriously questioned in recent years. There is growing factual evidence of counterproductive results from noble intentions. Some of that factual evidence will be presented here in the sessions that follow. In addition, numerous political trends in recent years indicate declining voter and taxpayer support for these approaches, to which some of the older and more conventional black spokesmen remain committed. The events of 4 November were only the most dramatic examples of this. They were not the only examples. In California, we remember Proposition 13; across the country, the defeat of school bond issues and spending proposals. With future elections, the shifting fortunes of partisan politics may change the party labels of those in power. But Camelot seems unlikely to return. And we certainly cannot bet the future of 20 million people on its return. So we have a historic responsibility implied. We cannot simply run around claiming that the sky is falling -- popular as that

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