Editor's Note

The infantilization of America

By MIKE NICHOLS | Fall 2021

Bob Woodson — the Black, onetime civil rights activist who stresses time and again that poor, Black people can be agents of their own uplift — has this bit that he does when speaking to largely white audiences.

I’ve seen him do it a couple of times now, including at an event that the Badger Institute hosted recently in Burlington. It never fails to elicit howls of laughter and what could be either mock or real relief.

Woodson, president of the Woodson Center, talks about how we can’t come together until we “take race off the table.” Smiling, he tells the audience that it is exceedingly “lucky today” because he is what he playfully describes as a “self-appointed racial exorcist.”

“All I gotta do is wave my hand, and all you guilty white folks are free,” he says, raising his hands in absolution: free of the guilt of slavery and discrimination and free of self-serving “race hustlers,” too.

The audience roar was so loud you could barely hear him speak.

White guilt — this mindset that poor people, Black or otherwise, need more and more and more help and oversight — isn’t the only force behind the massive expansion of the entitlement state. Believers in big government seem to think they’re the only adults in the room and know best how to run other people’s lives and spend other people’s money.

Our cover package — both Ken Wysocky’s article on cradle-to-grave welfare and Mark Lisheron’s piece on the move toward universal basic income — vividly illustrates the multifaceted government expansion taking place. As does Johnny Kampis’ piece on the Trojan horse that is the federal infrastructure package.

Michael Jahr and Daniel Sem highlight the push in Madison for government-engineered, taxpayer-funded venture capital — now featuring federal pandemic funding. Far too much of that spending is unrelated to health and safety — or work — and that will be debilitating long term.

In this issue, the Badger Institute begins its look at how local governments in Wisconsin spent — and failed to spend — hundreds of millions of dollars from the CARES Act.

And for a thought-provoking discussion of how massive government expansion can cause cycles of dependency, take a look at the excerpts of a Free Exchange podcast I recently did called “Black and Conservative.” One of the participants is Shannon Whitworth, director of the Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.

“What I try to do at Milwaukee Lutheran is we try and drill it into these kids’ heads to try and change that cycle to say, ‘You know what? Build it yourself.’ I say it almost every day in my class. I say, ‘Whoever controls your money controls you ... If you control your own money, you control your own destiny,” he says.

Whitworth has told me that part of what is going on in this country is the infantilization of Black people. I suspect after reading Diggings and listening to our podcast, you’ll see exactly what he’s talking about. But you might also wonder how much of the rest of America is being infantilized as well.