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Just about the most devastating idea many black Americans have bought into is that socialism is a friend and free markets are the foe. Let's look at it, but first, let's define the terms. Socialism is government ownership and/or control over the means of production. Capitalism is private ownership and/or control over the means of production. Most societies are neither pure socialist nor capitalist but constitute a mixture of various proportions.

If you are a discriminated-against minority, what scenario would you like to confront as a condition for going into business? The first option is where incumbents and bureaucrats determine the conditions you must meet before being allowed to enter. Or would you prefer the second, where there's unrestricted entry and your diligence and ability to satisfy customers determine whether you stay in business?If you are a discriminated-against minority with just one ounce of brains, you'd probably opt for the second. The fact that the free market befriends outsiders and discriminated-against people is why there's been so much hostility toward it. Just a cursory reading of black history shows how people used the political mechanism to acquire advantages unattainable through the voluntary exchange of free markets. Practices such as licensing laws, minimum wage laws and often outright prohibitions were used to limit black earning opportunities.

Often, the stated motivation behind many regulatory laws was to exclude blacks. Today, that is no longer the case, but many of the same laws are on the books. Broadening opportunities, not only for blacks but for all Americans, requires efforts to repeal laws written in the interest of incumbents that have the effect of keeping people out who can be generally described as outsiders, discriminated-against and lacking political clout.

The Washington-based Institute for Justice is doing just that. After testimony by the institute's director, Chip Mellor, Cincinnati removed its cap on the number of cabs allowed to operate in the city. Cincinnati's Mayor Roxanne Qualls and the City Council said existing cab companies could no longer block new entrants by stating the new companies would hurt their business. Last year, the Institute for Justice forced the Colorado Public Utility Commission to relax taxi entry conditions in Denver, and it also assisted in bringing suit to lift Houston's ban on jitney services.

There are literally hundreds of regulations that block upward mobility and are supported by black politicians and civil rights organizations. It's hard for me to decide whether these people are simply uninformed or pursuing their own personal agendas. They support the Davis-Bacon Act setting minimum wages in federally financed construction projects. This 1930s law was enacted to get blacks out of the construction industry. Today, its supportive rhetoric is not racist, but its effect reduces opportunities for black construction workers and contractors. But there's hope for change. The Institute for Justice has brought suit challenging the act's constitutionality.

Setting minimum wages is one of the most effective tools in the arsenal of racists everywhere. South Africa's racist Mine Workers Union discovered that years ago, saying, "When the minimum wage is introduced, we believe that most of the difficulties in regard to the colored question will automatically drop out." Of course, the motivation for the minimum wage in the United States is different, but effects are identical -- unemployment for the least skilled and least preferred worker.

Any way we cut it, the free market is a friend to discriminated-against people, and socialism is the foe. One of the smartest things blacks can do in today's changed political scene is to demand that Republicans link welfare reform to the elimination of government-sponsored collusion.