Here’s What Economists Don’t Understand About Race

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Yves here. I recall when I was starting this blog ten years ago how one country would give all expecting mothers a new baby package not long before the delivery date. I can’t remember the details, but it included things like a crib, nappies, and if I recall correctly a baby blanket and maybe even some food. The arrival of the package was apparently cherished by parents and seen as part of the welcoming of the soon-to-arrive child. This seemed like a wonderful social equalizer as well as a helpful investment in newborns.

This post describes how historical racial deficits require even more in the way of corrective childhood investments. And even though this article correctly focuses on big basics, like adequate nutrition, there are other large and real barriers to social mobility, whether due to race or class. For instance, a woman I knew in Australia was the daughter of an orphan who was the only white in orphanage where all the other children were “stolen generation” Aboriginals. He spent his life in a very poor area of northern Australia where this woman was born. She managed to escape her heritage of poverty by someone in a well-off nearby family taking an interest in her and helping her get additional education, which critically included elocution lessons. Her acquired plummy accent was an enormous boost when she applied for jobs after university. She became a successful marketing professional in Sydney.

Now admittedly she was nowhere near as badly burdened as “abos” are, who are still horribly discriminated against in Australia. But I am sure she would say that her parents did everything for her they could have, but her rise in social status was almost entirely dependent on the intervention of a rich benefactor.

Mind you, I am not saying there are easy answers. But I am saying that even for whites from disadvantaged backgrounds in a pretty egalitarian society like the Australia of 50 years ago, the “you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps” myth is a convenient excuse for a bad status quo, and even more so in countries with serious economic and racial disparities.

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

As an undergraduate at Brown University in the 1970s, William Darity, Jr. expected to learn the reasons behind the inequality he’d seen all around him growing up in the Middle East and North Carolina. He realized pretty quickly that economists were not going to be much help.

Darity, the son of North Carolinians, spent his first eight years in Lebanon and Egypt while his father worked for the World Health Organization, then lived until the age of twelve in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. During the Jim Crow era, he visited his grandmother in a town where a railroad track divided the city into black and white sections, marking two separate economic worlds.

At Brown, Darity was disappointed by how his teachers explained why some people reap the benefits in a society and some don’t. Most taught that some individuals and groups grew more prosperous than others because of differences in education — what economists refer to as “human capital.” Labor economists tended to say that educational differences meant that some people were more productive than others, which explained why some flourished and others languished in the long run. They believed that competitive markets would ensure that everybody ended up earning according to what they produced. Those with higher earnings were able to save more, and so they accumulated more wealth over the course of their lifetime.

Darity wondered, then, why disparities persist, even when markets are competitive. Black Americans, for example, are paid less than their white counterparts at every level of education.

Motivated by what he describes as youthful hubris, Darity got a Ph.D. in economics and set out to change the way economists deal with these issues. Today he is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the Director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. With a group of colleagues that include Darrick Hamilton and James Stewart, he has developed a framework for understanding the inequality problem, which he calls “stratification economics.” The new approach —interdisciplinary and integrating economics with psychology and sociology —

expands the boundaries of how economists analyze intergroup differences.

“The traditional approach says that educational attainment is a consequence of parental investment,” says Darity, “but it doesn’t explain how parents can feasibly make those investments.” The explanation he puts forth is a blow to the long-cherished view of America as a land of equal opportunity, where it’s not supposed to matter who your parents and grandparents are or how much money they have.

But that, says Darity, is the key. In his view, the capacity of parents and grandparents to invest in their children is contingent on their wealth position.

“Parental wealth and the provision of inheritances as well as gifts over the parents’ lifetime can support the young person and give them a foundation for their own basis for wealth later,” he explains. “The greater the wealth position of your parents, the greater the degree of economic security that you experience during your childhood, so that you’re more likely to have better levels of health and a better sense of confidence about your ability to be successful in a society.”

The real driver of inequality, then, is not an individual’s level of education and productivity, but the resources that parents and grandparents are able to transmit.

“This has strong implications if we’re looking at racial and ethnic differences in the accumulation of wealth,” Darity observes. “This can be tied to — especially if we’re thinking about black/white differences — the long-term consequences of enslavement; the Jim Crow period; and social policies that created wealth for whites but didn’t do so for blacks, like the GI Bill and the subsidization of the purchases of homes with public funds which is disproportionately made available to whites.” [Black veterans had limited choices of colleges and often could not take advantage of the GI housing provisions].

Many social scientists have sought cultural explanations for racial disparities, rather than the structure of stratification Darity proposes. For example, sociologist and former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Labor Secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, argued in his influential 1965 report, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action,” that the high rate of families headed by single mothers was in large part to blame for economic inequality. Darity notes that this line of thinking has very deep roots.

“If you go back to W. E. B. Du Bois’ study, The Philadelphia Negro, it kind of runs along two paths. One path is focused on the impact of discrimination on people’s earnings and their occupational status, but another path concerns issues surrounding family structure and the like that fall directly into the path of the dysfunctionality kinds of arguments.”

The cultural explanation is appealing to policymakers because it excuses them from the challenge of remedying inherited stratification through large-scale reforms.

“There’s actually something convenient about those arguments in the sense that if you took them seriously, it would mean that blacks were fully capable of engaging in the self-correction to improve their situation, so there would not necessarily be any need to rely upon social policy that would require the political support of whites,” says Darity.

But he believes that this ‘self-correction’ logic applies only in exceptional cases.

“Obviously there are always going to be individuals who are outliers, who accomplish great things with minimal resources. But if we’re thinking about patterns at the average, then I think one of the most dramatic statistics that we’ve discovered in the work that we’ve been doing is that blacks with a college education, that is, blacks who have a college degree, have two-thirds of the net worth of whites who never finished high school. That’s a stark sense in which somebody has taken personal responsibility, has been motivated, has achieved, but there’s not the same payoff.”

Some hoped that the Obama presidency might herald a new era of economic equality, but those dreams have yet to be fulfilled. Darity notes that Obama’s speeches emphasize ending a culture of victimization and the taking of personal responsibility. “That kind of message is not very different from the position that would be taken by the researchers at the Manhattan Institute [a conservative think tank],” he says. “Essentially what he’s done is to embrace a set of arguments that attribute racial disparities primarily to dysfunctionality in the black community.”

Darity is unimpressed.

“If you buy the black dysfunction story, then the key is for young black men to pull up their pants or the equivalent,” he says. “But that’s a very different policy from saying, well, we should assure all Americans a human right to work. Or even if we don’t talk about an employment guarantee, then at least the basic income guarantee.”

“If we’re concerned about black-white disparities specifically and we want to have a race-specific policy, then I think we have to start talking about a program of reparations [for slavery].” (Darity and his wife, Kirsten Mullen, are currently completing a book that details how a reparations program might be executed, due to hit the shelves by mid-2017).

“If we are not willing to pursue race-specific policies,” Darity argues, “then we need universal programs that are race-conscious in the sense that they will disproportionately benefit the most disadvantaged groups even though they are programs that everyone is eligible for.” One such program would be a Federal job guarantee.

Darity has also worked with economist Darrick Hamilton to devise a wealth redistribution program through “Baby Bonds,” which would help put Americans on more equal footing without confiscating any existing wealth.

“That’s essentially the provision of a trust fund to each newborn infant, but while it’s universal it’s not uniform. The amount would be contingent upon the wealth position of the child’s family. We think in terms of a $50 endowment for a child of somebody like Bill Gates, but a $50-$60,000 endowment for children whose families are in the lowest quintile of the wealth distribution.”

And because racial disparity in income, wealth and employment is so deeply embedded in the structure of U.S. society, he says remedying it will require truly transformative policies.

Asked if there have been improvements in the way academic economics tackle issues of inequality since his student days in the 1970s, Darity does not have particularly good news:

“Actually, I think it’s shifted even further to the right so that alternative approaches are even more marginalized now,” he says. “The ideological content of economics is masked somewhat by the high degree of technical requirements. So in some respects I think economics is even less open than it was when I was first exposed to the field.”

Darity has seen positive signs in the work of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the efforts of economist Joseph Stiglitz, and the Roosevelt Institute, which recently put out a report drawing heavily upon stratification economics as a frame for analysis. He hopes to get a paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives on stratification economics that would expose a larger audience of economists to the ideas.

His work suggests that until economists deal with the reality of the structural dimension of inequality, racial disparities will not only be a stain on American society, but will continue to limit America’s broader economic prosperity. 

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think this touches on a core reason why the US has lagged the rest of the developed world in social provision – the perception that it benefits ‘them’ (i.e. minorities) rather than ‘us’.

    I think a huge mistake progressives have made in the past is in supporting programs on the basis that they are ‘just’ without looking at how politically sustainable they are in the long term. When you look at countries with strong social protection networks, a common theme is that they were carefully developed as part of a quid pro quo with the ‘comfortable’ classes and business. And part of this is always a strong focus on universal benefits – such as free healthcare for all, child benefits for all, universal retirement payments, etc. Welfare payments given just ‘to the poor’ may be economically efficient, but they are always vulnerable to political attack. This is one reason why the neolibs work so hard to attack universal benefits under the guise of being ‘more efficient’. Here in Ireland, for example, universal child benefit (a fixed sum given to the mothers of all children on a monthly basis) has been hugely successful and popular – even well-off married women benefitted as it historically gave them an independent income if they didn’t work and they had, shall we say, mean husbands. There is a constant attempt in certain quarters to justify means-testing under the guise that it will ‘save money’ (in reality of course it will massively increase administration costs).

    Progressives need to be intellectually rigorous in not just promoting and protecting economically just policies, but they need to focus on whether these policies are long term politically stable. This is why universality (free healthcare, free education, free childcare) is vital. It is under the umbrella of universal protection that other programmes which focus specifically on those at the bottom of the ladder can be provided.

    1. Harry

      I’m not American. Forgive me for saying this but your point was immediately obvious to me about a year after I had moved here. You can’t have a better social safety net cos the blacks will get it too.

      1. tinheart

        I recall reading somewhere that most Americans were for welfare and aid-the-poor type programs or at least indifferent to them. But that was before the mid-1960s. Once blacks had full access to those benefits, suddenly, welfare was bad, bad, BAD for you.

        1. scraping_by

          That was deliberate propaganda by the right wing during the 60’s and 70’s. The White Peoples Councils had little or no traction outside Dixie. Once Nixon’s Southern Strategy won the White House in 1968, it went national.

          Before then, crime wasn’t a dog whistle issue, Affirmative Action hadn’t pissed off millions of white males (and their wives and daughters), and Unions divided the country into workers and owners. Regan was the champion of wink-wink of identifying social support with non-European ancestry. It took a lot of work to create the White Race.

          1. bob k

            Please watch “The 13th” – that is, the thirteenth amendment that supposedly ended slavery but didn’t. On Netflix. It speaks to the constant criminalization of black people from the time of slavery thru Jim Crow thru the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration. It exposes powerfully how the notion of criminality has come to be an enslaving tool for people of color. Oh and BTW, the thirteenth amendment didn’t end slavery as there is a provision that says essentially that felons can be enslaved and made to work. I can’t recommend it enough.

            1. clinical wasteman

              And the “corrections industry” makes more use of that provision every day.
              Agreed, scraping_by, “it took a lot of work to create the White Race”, but perhaps a few centuries more than you mention here. One starting point is the English Caribbean and Continental planters’ response to the combined revolts of African slaves and the Irish/anglo-underclass “indentured” in the late 17th/early 18th centuries: after the usual massacre of the revolting, the surviving “servants” were promoted to middle management (i.e. slavedriving, literal sense) and thus became “white” from that moment on. Meanwhile the number of African slaves shipped in as backs to be broken increased many times over within a few decades. (See: Linebaugh/Rediker, ‘The Many-Headed Hydra’.) Then there’s the bloody compact between white patricians and white labor under Andrew Jackson and… well, everything since. Loren Goldner calls the resulting institutions ‘Herrenvolk Democracy’, and both he and Noel Ignatiev have crucial things to say about it — as does their shared hero, the great CLR James. And by happy coincidence, the great Peter Lee makes a similar argument on Counterpunch today, with fewer trigger warnings for any Marx-allergic readers, just his usual stylish prose:

            2. Heather

              Thank you for messaging about the movie, “The 13th.” WPFW in Washington, DC recently interviewed the producer of the movie. There are elements of racism in this country highlighted in this movie that my own husband (an AA) didn’t even know about, and I thought was common knowledge (such as disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine).

            1. clinical wasteman

              I hope it won’t come across as hair-splitting to say I agree 100% with this too, Cry Shop.
              I object as strongly as you do to the way scraping_by seems to locate ‘day one’ within the last five minutes of history; the only difference may be that I was thinking in terms of world history rather than the U.S. alone. Hence the discussion of ‘starting points’ (actually long and violent processes). But my use of Caribbean and American examples hardly helped to make the global reference clear; apologies for that.
              And if ‘create’ sounded like a suggestion that white privilege is a fiction rather than a catastrophic, ongoing reality, then it’s the wrong word and I also apologise for repeating it. I reused it in order to emphasise two things.
              1. That ‘race’ itself — as understood for the last 500 years or so — is not a constant throughout all human history. ‘Race’ (and ‘white race’ in particular) is not a just an ‘idea’ either: it’s a noxious product of 500+ years of ‘white’ conquest, enslavement and outright extermination of other societies.
              2. That neither those genocidal practices nor the delusion of ‘racial’ superiority that Europeans picked up in the process ever went uncontested, either militarily, socially or ideologically. Pale northwestern Europeans were regarded with good reason as the most backward people in the world wherever they went for nearly 2000 years, and for a few hundred more when they drifted further into Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Americas. Once they had laid waste to those places and the people in them, the Europeans developed ‘racial’ self-esteem on the stupid grounds that efficiency at slaughtering and slaverunning = a sophisticated society. But they were still Barbarians and still generally seen as such by the survivors of the onslaught. According to Pankaj Mishra (‘From the Ruins of Empire’), the first Arab-world and Asian notions of emulating the invaders only start to take hold in the 19th and 20th centuries (Meiji restoration, late Ottoman ‘reforms’, etc).
              So by all means let’s ditch the word ‘create’. White Europeans (and their successors based in occupied territory) have terrorized the world nonstop since the ‘early modern period, acquiring a toxic sense of their own superiority in the process. A delusion that gradually congealed into ‘common sense’, ‘science’, ‘great art’, etc. There’s nothing new and nothing creative about this, but nor was it always that way. The multi-faith Arab and Turkic societies subjected to the Crusades eventually drove out almost all the cannibals (not a figure of speech! See J. Huizinga, N. Cohn.) Various Mediterraean Islamic polities up to the 17th-18th century and successive Chinese empires up to the 19th, among others in Asia, rightly saw their own societies as far more sophisticated than those of the invaders. Nor is the lack of written records on the invaded side in much of Africa, the Americas and the Pacific any reason to suppose that these most devastated of all peoples ever thought otherwise.
              Perhaps a better way of putting it would be: a world undevastated by European terror campaigns (and the white self-regard that came with them) took a long time to destroy.

              1. A Real Black Person

                “White Europeans (and their successors based in occupied territory) have terrorized the world nonstop since the ‘early modern period, acquiring a toxic sense of their own superiority in the process.” You could say that about ANY dominant group of humans in history. I would replace terrorize with dominate/enslave.

                Someone said once that there is no point of having power if one cannot abuse it. There is an innate reason why many people want to be rich and it’s not so they don’t have to work for anymore. It is because they want to have power over others.

              2. Cry Shop

                The links in my comment were more about pointing out that race (which science shows is a nonsense construct) is just a tool of the oligarchy. If the Irish could be black and no longer are, if native Americans can be lower than African-Americans on the totem pole (and this goes for Canada too), then it’s all about layering the cake, and we know who gets the icing.

    2. Banana Breakfast

      There are two other good reasons to support universality: giving the well off subsidies is cheap if they’re a flat rate, because not very many people are rich but rich people ARE cheap and will be supportive of benefits they receive and, more importantly, it establishes the rhetorical and ideological position that these benefits are rights.

      That’s the real problem with, for example, Clinton’s support for free education, except only for the poor. Philosophically, it establishes that education as not a right granted by the social contract to all citizens, but a privilege extended to the poor on the charity of the government as distributors of the wealth of the ruling class. That charity is much easier to later withdraw, or limit further, for “budgetary” or ideological reasons.

      1. clinical wasteman

        Yes to that last part about “privilege” and charity especially. The requirement to “prove” that you’re poor enough for “entitlements” (along with the criminal penalties for being proved “wrong”) turns the lives of claimants — especially those near the threshold — into one long episode of “helping the police with their enquiries”. In the remains of the UK welfare system (administered by private military/prison contractors like G4S/Serco, among others) it happens again and again. The most destructive “populists” are the Focus Group conveners who set the poor at each others’ throats by “proving” that what “people” want is not a bearable life for everyone but “Fairness”, i.e. punishment all round. Or rather the tabloid pillory for a couple of out-of-favour robber barons plus the constant threat of destitution, homelessness, confiscated children etc. for millions of the “feckless” in the “grey economy”, grassed up (i.e. snitched on) by the Hardworking Aspirational Class. Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown owe their electoral success to this extra-cynical Puritan Covenant.

      2. Cry Shop

        Free University Education didn’t do a lot for class mobility in the UK, because testing became the barrier to entry, and naturally the testing favored those who’s class background started them down the right path from day one. What it did do was pull up the average income, but the class bands remained.

        It’s almost going to take banning private, privilege* education, and that’s a huge political battle, particularly as race plays an extremely important part in developments of k-12 education in the USA at all levels of class. It’s also the only way to insure that the different races and classes have to mix together on the commons, thus wearing away at privilege and ignorance.

        (*I’m being redundant because privilege originally meant private law or restricted law, such as the property of the Prince of Wales to first go at any maiden, in theory criminalizing the taking and loss of maidenhead without his warrant).

        1. clinical wasteman

          Complete agreement again, with less appearance otherwise this time I hope.
          Here I’d only re-emphasise that the objections to any ‘entitlement’ structured so that the receiving class has to ‘qualify’ (through good behaviour, proper poverty paperwork or by asking nicely: see Brazil’s Bolsa Familia and Blairite ‘Nudge’-type policy at large) apply in education for sure, but also in general.
          But yes indeed, by all means let’s abolish that sort of residual private law in schools and everywhere else. (Thanks for the etymology. Also, please forgive the ignorant question, but: “k-12”?)
          Abolition may take more than a formal ban though: for one thing because any test scores will still be class-skewed along living/learning conditions lines even after private schools are razed. But also because ‘desirable’ jobs (no thanks, I don’t want one either) are still openly awarded, in the UK at least, on grounds of what consultants call ‘cultural competence’, which is less-than-unbreakable code for the usual atrophied set of upper-middle (and upwards)-class personal habits and acquaintances. (For a start: “you don’t have to be white to work here, but…”) And the same sort of informal testing is applied across the rest of the labour/workfare market inasmuch as ‘social skills’ like ‘confidence’ and ‘networking’ are supposed to be compulsory.

          1. Cry Shop

            k-12 = kindergarten to 12th grade, the “free” part of public education that elite private schools, parochial/religious schools often pre-dated, and isolated their minions from; and since the 1970’s that which integration academies, often inferior, bible-belt church and race based schools were set up to keep their children away from.

  2. SpringTexasn

    PlutoniumKun is 100% on-target. Moreover, non-universal benefits have tremendous overhead cost in terms of paperwork, qualifications, etc., while a universal benefit can be minimally bureaucratic.

    I think race-specific programs are a dead end as they will create great resentment, but universal programs and ESPECIALLY a job guarantee would be tremendously helpful in improving the U.S. racial situation.

    On the baby bonds, it’s foolish to have a “$50 endowment for a child of Bill Gates”. Instead it would be better to just provide $50,000 to ALL babies including Bill Gates’ child, and tax Bill Gates more.

    As the saying goes, “programs for the poor are poor programs.” Bill Gates’ child should be allowed to use the same public libraries, go to the same (free) public universities, etc. etc. I doubt Bill Gates’ child will need to take up the guaranteed job, but if he needs or wants to (perhaps because of a quarrel with his parent) he should be able to.

    And it prevents the constant attacks on recipients of benefits as being unworthy, criminal, drug-taking, undeserving folk who should be drug-tested, monitored, controlled, suspected.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Universality removes many of the privileges the rich enjoy — $50K for all babies including Bill Gates child — and as privileges are dismantled in this way the remaining privileges of the rich will stand all the more glaring for their unfairness — to all. Privileges like the selection of judges or the creation of special loopholes in the tax law, or other privileges only a political donation of the right amount might purchase. And it should be plain that some of the privileges described are not privileges at all but basic rights of human kind borne within any notion of the just.

    2. HotFlash

      I think race-specific programs are a dead end as they will create great resentment, but universal programs and ESPECIALLY a job guarantee would be tremendously helpful in improving the U.S. racial situation.

      I’ve been thinking about this bit a lot. When the BLM (I think) asked Bernie about reparations, he said he didn’t think it was a good idea, that free college etc would halp everyone. I don’t recall any elaboration on his part, but I wondered at the time, how would they be allocated? Full black, one-half black, one quarter, quadroon, octoroon, mulatto, ‘yaller’? That’s wholly back to Jim Crow, or worse. I refer, of course to the artificial division of Huttus and Tutsis which, you may recall, did not work out so well. Barack Obama, would he qualify? None of his ancestors were slaves.

      I am looking forward to the book by Darity and Muller, but they would have to do a lot of persuading to get me to get comfy with reparations.

      Oh, and re Yves’ remark about the baby box, that would be Finland, there’s a BBC article here, and one from the Atlantic, “Finland’s ‘Baby Box’: Gift from Santa Claus or Socialist Hell?” America, jeesh!

  3. Stratos

    The country that gives every expecting mother a new baby package is Finland. They started the practice in the 1930’s when their infant mortality rate was at ten percent. Now they have one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

  4. JustAnObserver

    Just a note: I think the “baby box” with all the stuff in it that Yves describes comes is a Finland thing. At least that’s where I’ve heard about it. IIRC it goes a long way back, 1930s I think.

      1. clinical wasteman

        Something superficially like it was also tried on by the Berlusconi government in Italy in 2005 ([]. Apologies for the T*l*graph, there’s not much else still online in English.) Each baby credited with 1,000 euros also got a “personal letter”, starting “Dear […], this will be the first letter you ever receive” and signed with “a big kiss from Silvio”. I think the word for that is a curse.
        But a curse worth mentioning because what happened next confirms Yves’s point about cradle-to-grave racism and the insult added to injury whenever someone says “bootstraps”. Soon after the money started going out, Silvio’s coalition of rentiers, “post”-fascists and Northern League ultras (eg. the simpleton’s simpleton Roberto Calderoli, minister of simplification) realized they had made a terrible mistake: some of the money had gone to children who weren’t even Italian! At which point they not only stopped payment to racially ineligible bambini, they tried to claim the money back — plus a 3,000-euro “administrative fine”! — from the miscegnated kids who had already received it. The courts eventually blocked this attempt to loot and divide the poor — not because of its racist opportunism but because the original letter was deemed to be “electoral propaganda”. For part of that part, see: [] (couldn’t find any anglophone reports at all). A grudging “amnesty” followed the court ruling, but by then the parents affected were probably more worried about the new law making all irregular immigration status (in a country where all legal status is likely to be “irregular” one way or another) a criminal offence.

  5. beth

    When I read something like this, I know I am in the right place.

    I noticed this problem as a small child and have been disturbed by it all these years. I have done small things over the years in my small world but it never seemed to be even the proverbial drop in the ocean.

  6. Katharine

    The idea that parental wealth makes a difference seems so obvious that its being controversial is disturbing. It sounds as if too much of the economics profession is more concerned with preserving privilege than with intellectual honesty, much less just policy.

    I really like the Baby Bonds idea–way more valuable than the old war bonds.

    1. Benedict@Large

      “… as if too much of the economics profession is more concerned with preserving privilege …”

      Twenty-five years ago, long before I ever studies macro, I read an article that said a Nobel winner’s contribution had helped with a problem that economics then had; eit did not recognize unemployment. How odd, I thought.

      About 15 or so years later, I started to study it, and sure enough, there it was. Economics assuming unemployment to be non-existent. You may be out of work for any number of reasons (e.g., leisure preference), but one of them isn’t that you are unemployed. Economists of course will deny this (Look! We issue an unemployment rate!), but they are lying. You have to go down a level or two, but there it is.

      And you’re right, by the way. The reason it’s that way is because of the answers that produces. Answers that preserve privilege.

  7. James McFadden

    I’ve found the following 3 books very useful in helping me begin to understand the historical, structural, cultural and psychological roots of racism. (I say “begin” because even after dozens of books and classes on racism – I still continue to learn.) The first provides a historical overview and a clear description of our current structural racism – a must read for whites. The second is an in depth analysis of our psychological and cultural racism and its manifestation in US laws. The third book does not deal with racism, but instead helps explain how our brains function – how our conscious choices (“free won’t”) are manipulated and controlled by our unconscious brain functions — which are in turn primarily shaped by our environment (nurture). It primarily deals with addiction (its main focus), but its lessons can also be used to help us understand ourselves and those unconscious patterns of behavior that propagate racism and other judgemental behaviors that prevent us from living in a more compassionate and realistic manner.

    “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander
    “Racing for Justice” by John Powell
    “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mate

  8. Alex morfesis

    W E B was a nice enuf fellow but he was famous for being famous…the common folk never much read his books while he was alive and he helped drive marcus garvey to an early grave…paul robeson forced web into penance after the fact…

    Institutionally regulators, especially the fdic, have stomped on any minor misstep to minimize, marginalize and shut down black banks for perceived “risky” loans, while handing out licenses to koreans from fort lee whose asset valuations would make lord blanketfail of goldman blush…

    these “ethnic” banks end up being venture capital funds with taxpayer backstops and waivers on cra requirements as they could not possibly be discriminatory since they are lending to themselves…

    He who has access to the gold makes the rules…

    I actually dont believe in equal opportunity…

    simply hanging some shiny little trinket with colorful words does not produce the net result that is equitable…

    There was no magic white water fountain and removing a horrific symbol did not get much past the problem…

    From my experiences what is needed is not the magic “equal” opportunity but “reasonable” opportunity…me trying to slam dunk over shaq oneal is not reasonable…I might have an “equal” opportunity to do so on a basketball court, but it is not reasonable to imagine it will be rendered a successful attempt or adventure…

    Black communities are still devastated by govt actions…in chicago and new york, govts worked to destabilise and remove black housing to such an extent, especially if the owner was black, many a poorer black child(40%) had to change schools every 2 years…creating the perfect environment for gangs to become the “stabilizing/destabilizing” focal point for children…

    All this while certain neighborhoods with immigrant populations were allowed to illegally “improve” their properties by turning basements and attics into affordable housing…and never an inspector to be found…

    Yes, it is true that in much of the world hate is the common denominator…where any difference is seen as an opportunity to justify ugliness and inequitable treatment….in America it is about the color of ones skin for the direct type and ones background or religious connections on a more subtle level…Chechnya and bosnia…white on white hate…syria…alawi master race superiority vs lowly sunni peasant mindset…w e b vs marcus garvey…

    and the river flowed…

    1. SqueakyRat

      Dubois was genuinely great man and scholar. He was driven into despair by the terrible history through which he lived. “Famous for being famous”: that is a despicable comment about a man who will outscale you forever.

  9. Jim

    Social mobility is the kind of equality professional and managerial elites support. Our present society seems quite mobile and highly stratified.

    Historically social mobility became an interpretation of opportunity only after more hopeful interpretations of opportunity(yeoman idea– your own plot of land– rather than Horatio Alger) began to fade out of the American experience (sometime after 1890 when social stratification could no longer be ignored).

    High rates of social mobility are not inconsistent with systems of stratification that concentrate power and privilege in a ruling elite. Certainly the circulation of elites strengthens the idea of hierarchy furnishing it with fresh talent and legitimating their ascendancy as a function of merit rather than birth.

    Social policy that would support a wider distribution of land would give a significant support to a parents’ ability to bequeth property to their children–as seen, for example, in the Homstead Act.
    Think tradition of Jefferson, Lincoln and Orestes Brownson.

    1. solublefish

      The US is characterized by very low social mobility, it seems.

      FYI, the ‘yeoman’ idea of ‘opportunity’ has a name: it was called ‘competence’, and the notion was that the free adult male had access to productive property – which was usually a farm, but could also be the tools and skills of a trade and a place to work. ‘Liberty’ in the Early Republic was inseparable from competence. Jefferson and Brownson were both very clear on this point. Lincoln was not: he was of another age, and spoke the language of “opportunity” that was associated with ‘free labor’ ideology. ‘Free labor’ was born of the older notion of competence, and shares with it the expectation that the free adult male should achieve some measure of economic independence or security for himself and his family by, say, the time he reached 30. But the language of ‘opportunity’ also reflected the changing times in important ways: first, it was more open and indefinite with respect to the foundation of that security – which might potentially be found in waged work as well as one’s own farm or shop.

      Second, and most important, the notion of opportunity was open to the notion that certain kinds of people who failed to achieve economic security failed of their own fault – not because they lacked ‘opportunity’, but because, out of vice or ignorance, they failed to take advantage of it. This was a fatal opening, which in the years following the Civil War would help make possible the harrowing of competence by the expoitive wage labor system, justified by the full blown language of social Darwinism.

  10. BecauseTradition

    “If we are not willing to pursue race-specific policies,” Darity argues, “then we need universal programs that are race-conscious in the sense that they will disproportionately benefit the most disadvantaged groups even though they are programs that everyone is eligible for.” One such program would be a Federal job guarantee.

    Oh yeah, the rich are allowed to steal from the poor via government subsidies for private credit creation and the poor get wage slavery as compensation. Sounds fair to me! /sarc

  11. Nekto

    Look at the root of the problem: capitalism is a profit seeking competition based social organization. This is not meant as a judgement, but it can be demonstrated that capitalism and any other form of social organization based on profit seeking, in principle, is unsustainable within a closed system, such as planet Earth, without periodic destruction of its material wealth and human population. And this destruction becomes increasingly severe and threatening to the existence of the entire system as this social organization, such as capitalism, evolves.

    As far as the fundamental premise ‘that everyone can prosper in the individual race for wealth given equal starting opportunities are provided’ is not questioned all these studies calling for creation of “truly equal opportunities” will only exacerbate the problem, which is being practically done (explicitly or implicitly, knowingly or unknowingly) by many famous liberal economists, including Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Bill Black, Michael Hudson, etc., who are trying to find the ways to fix and improve capitalism without touching the fundamentals.

    This is not to say that social economic reforms that practically improve the lives of millions poor people are wrong or useless. Fighting cancer can be helpful, but only until and unless it kills the host. So, all these studies, policies, proposals, etc. can be helpful and productive only if clear awareness of the nature of the disease (capitalism) they are trying to treat exists.

  12. TG

    A few points.

    1. In the past, racism against blacks was surely a major factor. Now I would argue not so much. Consider: right now working class blacks are losing ground. And working class whites are losing ground. Surely this suggests that the big problem is something other than race – like wall street sucking the lifeblood out of the real economy, ‘free’ trade agreements that are little more than a race to the bottom, trillions spent on utterly pointless wars on the other side of the world, a cheap-labor-uber-alles immigration policy etc. I propose that this fixation on race is all divide-and-conquer to distract us from the current main issues.

    2. Reparation for blacks? Sure. There is a case for that. BUT REPARATIONS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID. It’s just, that most of these reparations have gone to Mexicans and Hondurans and Haitians etc.etc. who have no claim to a history of discrimination in this country. If all of those jobs, and all of that affirmative action, and all of those educational resources, etc., had been focused specifically on the descendants of US-born blacks who had genuinely been kept down by discrimination in this country, blacks would probably be doing pretty good right now. But blacks were stupid, and let others with no right jump to the head of the line and steal their birthright. And now it’s gone. And there won’t be a second chance, because the money is gone.

      1. Caroline Charlese Scott

        You say, “This is one of the most ignorant and racist comments I’ve seen on this sight.” How so? Please explain. Otherwise you are merely posting to shut down any perspective that is not yours. Please define “racist” as it applies to TG’s comment. If you disagree, please explain, don’t just dismiss.

        1. James McFadden

          I’m not sure why Caroline Charlese Scott needs this spelled out since it is pretty obvious to anyone who is paying attention to issues that involve race. But for those whose white privilege has created blinders, here is a short dissection of TG’s comment in response to her “please explain” request.

          “In the past, racism against blacks was surely a major factor. Now I would argue not so much.” –this is written from position of white privilege and/or ignorance – TG needs to read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander which provide an in depth analysis of current structural racism.

          “Consider: right now working class blacks are losing ground. And working class whites are losing ground.” – false equivalence, TG shows ignorance of studies showing blacks have lost more ground in the most recent economic collapse.

          “I propose that this fixation on race is all divide-and-conquer to distract us from the current main issues.” – white privilege blindness to black issues – this is a white privilege attitude that minorities must put white economic issues first – TG should read “Racing for Justice” by John Powell

          “BUT REPARATIONS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID.” – ignorant statement even if you accepted the premise that monies had been paid – paying the wrong person doesn’t cancel a debt.

          “most of these reparations have gone to Mexicans and Hondurans and Haitians” – ignorant and racist attempt to blame other minorities for the plight of blacks.

          “who have no claim to a history of discrimination in this country.” – ignorant and racist statement from a position of white privilege that denies the reality of rampant discrimination that all minorities continue to face.

          “If all of those jobs, and all of that affirmative action, and all of those educational resources, etc., had been focused specifically on the descendants of US-born blacks who had genuinely been kept down by discrimination in this country, blacks would probably be doing pretty good right now.” – ignorant and racist understanding of how little was actually spent on affirmative action compared to what was lost to generations of minorities through structural racism.

          “But blacks were stupid” – racist

          “let others with no right jump to the head of the line and steal their birthright.” – ignorant and an attempt to divide and conquer different minorities who have all been exploited by our system.

          “And now it’s gone. And there won’t be a second chance, because the money is gone.” – ignorance of money and how debts are paid

          Since Caroline Charlese Scott is apparently oblivious to the obvious racist and ignorant statements by TG, I suggest she spend a bit of time educating herself by first reading Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, then furthering her education by reading some books starting with “The New Jim Crow”. Some other books I’ve found helpful are: “Racing to Justice”, “Invisible Man”, “Between the World and Me”, “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the U.S”, “Democracy Matters”, “My Bondage and My Freedom”, “America is in the Heart.” Overcoming the indoctrination that creates the blinders of white privilege is not easy – but it is a journey worth taking if one wants to know the truth.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      1) What hurts the poor hurts Blacks and Whites and many many others — though most disproportionately. More Whites are poor because there are more whites and a larger proportion of the Blacks and others — recent immigrants, Mexicans, American Indians and so on — are poor and far fewer if any are part of our country’s elite — a status which requires an intangible more than just money and less than race or background. [And please — urban renewal was nothing more than a way for the rich to appropriate the land of the poor to steal its proximity to and ability to augment the value of their other real estate investments.]

      2) Reparations for the blacks? I’m not sure how we could pay reparations to the Blacks as individuals at this late date. But we can and should focus reparations or I prefer to call them repairs to bring Black and really all poor neighborhoods up to a basic standard of comfort, beauty and human decency. I am ashamed as an American when I look on the housing and neighborhoods where too many people must live in this country. Why not start with repairing Black neighborhoods first and then expand the efforts to build a country where everyone can dream — not of a better economic future but dream true dreams of how we might live if we but strove toward the greatness that bore our nation. [And please urban renewal did nothing but drive out the poor from real estate the rich wanted for their proximate developments.]

    2. BecauseTradition

      because the money is gone.

      1) Where did it go?
      2) Why can’t we make some more?
      3) Ever hear of MMT?

  13. hermit

    Obama’s biography is an interesting case in point. He is a black male of a single mom, BUT, he had access to family wealth. So despite the “no dad/single mom=crime and poverty narrative” he goes to Harvard. Clinton was a single mom product as well. Or as my biology prof would say “correlation is not causation”.

    1. Rojo

      Also, Bill Clinton’s stepfather’s family had money and owned a Buick dealership in Hot Springs. Young Bill drove a convertible in high school and played golf at the local country club.

    2. Cry Shop

      While his mom posted to Jakarta he went to the most elite school in Indonesia, his mother had live in maids, was on a 9:00 to 3:00 job at the world bank, so that she had time to pick him up from school and tutor him at home. That’s before he went to the most elite school in Hawaii after his mother passed away, and had a stay at home grandpa to mentor him because Grandma was running a bank.

  14. Pespi

    Federally built sustainable energy plants and infrastructure with training programs to create new skilled workers could go a long way. Along with completely federal quality low income housing in the heart of all the new megalopolis fortresses of capital.

    Let the mcmansions crumble and return the suburbs to agricultural land, run them on sustainable permaculture models . Maybe we’ll survive this temperature change without 75% of the population dying

  15. The Heretic

    Universalist accessible polices have another advantage; they can be spun as a right of all citizens of the nation, to make all of America strong. Then those who oppose can be cast as small minded, selfish, and even traitors who want to make the nation weak. Divide the 1% and their collaborators against everyone else.

  16. Cry Shop

    Yves, one thing about Finland (and Singapore, China, and a few other places) is the marginalization of private k-12 schools. Here is the situation in Finland

    Schools up to the university level are almost exclusively funded and administered by the municipalities of Finland (local government). There are few private schools. The founding of a new private comprehensive school requires a decision by the Council of State. When founded, private schools are given a state grant comparable to that given to a municipal school of the same size. However, even in private schools, the use of tuition fees is strictly prohibited, and selective admission is prohibited, as well: private schools must admit all its pupils on the same basis as the corresponding municipal school. In addition, private schools are required to give their students all the education and social benefits that are offered to the students of municipal schools. Because of this, existing private schools are mostly faith-based or Steiner schools, which are comprehensive by definition.

    I’ll add all teachers, even private schools ones, must belong to the teachers union, and removal / appointment of teachers isn’t done at the local level alone. This keeps the moronic creationism and anti-science based faith schools out of the system.

    The most important part of education isn’t in the University, it’s when a child is taught to be a critical thinker and to be part of a democracy.

    1. Cry Shop

      Many Americans think their nation was founded under the principle of “All men are created equal”, but like the Declaration of Independence slave owning author, they don’t really believe it, and would be horrified if it ever came to be.

      That’s just one more reason why I see Bernie Sanders’ idea of free community college as addressing economic policy and not social justice. It won’t do much if even a community college degree just leads to being a barista or sanitation “engineer” on a non-livable wage. Maybe he missed the boat, or maybe he knows its all he’d ever be likely to get from the very people he’s trying to help.

      All good and fine, but in the end, without social justice the economic adjustments are just blips, and capital will keep following Thomas Piketty’s law.

  17. Russell

    I appreciate that comments are again allowed since my use of bold type used in a desire to be noticed amongst so many.
    Won’t be long before it will have to be a original essay if to go into minds with any firmness.
    I do not live more than 25 miles from Duke, and have on list to photograph Henry Petroski, the engineering writer of Duke, and possibly PHD. William Darity Jr. now.
    When Henry Petroski allowed Financial Engineering into the Discipline, I started to divide Financial Engineers into the Meyer Lansky Type, of our Wall St. Ethos, and Petroski Types, who are then “true”.
    I am unique in offering the Insurodollar, some bit similar to the Baby Bonding, Baby Bonds.
    The poet is supposed to compress into all salience the essence of the issue. I gave it a name.
    So we see that what is true needs a truer, shorter, better handle, as a name is a powerful thing to have. About all one really gets past anonymous.
    When I say for my modeled nation Transcendia tm, I would buy Whole Life Insurance for all from birth and at buy in, I am going to the same areas where Phd. Darity Jr. Derek Hamilton, & James Stewart find themselves.
    I believe that the name I gave my Financial System, is a good name. Further I believe it does for all what reparations for a supposed “race”, aims to do.
    What I am for is security that for those of the nation creates loyalty to it, providing a common civilized system for the equals of the nation.
    We have a destiny. Help at finding the system that allows and encourages that for all is what a good king was remembered as Great for.
    Rare have there been Great Kings. Is there one called “Great” who slaughtered the poets of Wales.
    But screw all that jazz. Those of us working class whites & Blacks with the best of community college educations are still the underclasses to the Harvard Elites selling a Flat World same as so long at Oxford & Cambridge.
    The equality of democracy is not ever to interfere with the manners of the aristocrats who care more for appearances than ever a reality that would put them nameless as the rest of us who work.

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