Like many people, I was repulsed by watching Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin asphyxiate George Floyd in broad daylight. This murder has led to many protests. It has also led many people to go beyond the issue of police brutality and think about what policies would help us act on the principle that black lives do indeed matter. Some obvious low-hanging fruit is to end the drug war, which, even on other grounds, should be ended. Beyond that, what can an economist say about how to help black Americans?

Quite a lot, it turns out. One of the main ways is to recognize that black livelihoods matter.

The vast majority of black Americans, like very many non-black Americans, are not born into great wealth. The biggest challenge they face is how to make a living for somewhere between 40 and 50 years. And they don’t just want to make a living. Most black people, like most whites, want to make a good living.

That typically means having a decent car, a house or apartment, and some discretionary income to spend on clothes, trips and restaurant meals. To get those things, you typically need more than a minimum-wage job. To get such a job, you need two things: some skills; and few or no barriers that limit your ability to apply those skills. Although people have choices about getting skills, governments often have large negative effects on the acquisition of skills and can impose barriers that limit people’s ability to apply those skills. A sure way to make many black people better off is to get rid of the government restrictions that make acquisition of skills more difficult as well as the government barriers that prevent people from exercising those skills.

These are the first 4 paragraphs of my latest article for Hoover, “Black Livelihoods Matter,” Defining Ideas, June 17.

Read the whole thing, especially if you want me to pay attention to your comment.