Public schools that design curriculum to focus on belonging and social emotional skills are training students for low-wage jobs—and non-ironically calling this training equity and inclusion. Valorizing equity in this way—at the level of feelings—doesn’t only mean pushing aside teaching novels and covering anti-racist art if it makes students feel bad. It also means cultivating a principled indifference to the real wages of the working poor, including those who work for public schools.
While trustees of institutions with large endowments may think they’re guarding intergenerational equity or intragenerational equity (in the form of expanded access in the present), they are really merely mounting vigorous campaigns of wealth accumulation that increase inequality. So why do these universities still have endowments?
By contrast, the wonderful thing about a socialist perspective is that it doesn’t ask you to show your ID papers, to demonstrate your worthiness, to haul out the testimony of ancestors—or even for that matter to account for proximate causes (like whether you smoke or eat pork or drink alcohol and soft drinks). Socialism doesn’t care how you got those comorbidity factors (diabetes, a heart condition, hypertension, etc.) that play an outsized role in the current health crisis. You’re going to get the healthcare you need because everyone is going to get it.
Today, some on the Left are suspicious—or even contemptuous—of the idea of a jobs guarantee, preferring a basic income or similar schemes. But the political pitfalls of basic income are not easy to surmount, meanwhile the advantages of a straightforward jobs program are much greater than critics assume. Ironically, what the business press gets exactly right about a job guarantee is what most skeptics get wrong.
The “white backlash” thesis remains the dominant historical explanation for the decline of New Deal liberalism and the attendant racial inequality that persisted since. Urban historians contribute the most sophisticated nuance to the backlash argument, situating the urban/suburban divide at the heart of both political realignment and racial disparities. Judith Stein’s scholarship, while engaging with the earlier proponents of the “backlash” thesis, nonetheless offers the blueprint for an alternative history of postwar suburbs, one that links city and suburb to a shared, rather than divided, story of liberalism’s decline and widening inequality.
The U.S. labor movement’s support for Trump’s tariffs is misguided. But after decades of deindustrialization driven by a bi-partisan consensus on trade and industrial policy, the sense of desperation is understandable. Building a movement for national economic planning would be preferable, but that is easier said than done.
Stein’s key insight was that, just like labor radicals and union administrators of the collective bargaining regime, those responsible for economic policy and for addressing the accumulated racial disparities of 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow also thought that the postwar economic arrangements would go on forever. This led to what Stein called “steel fundamentalism.”
Making sense of racial politics in any period requires close attention to the political and material interests of the people who make use of racial terminology. In contrast to dominant historical and social science studies of postwar American cities, the work of Judith Stein went beyond mere acknowledgement of this basic insight. Her insistence that the social construction of racial identities is inherently political and context-dependent contributed depth and richness to her historical narratives and offered a telling critique of the politics of her peers in the field.
What has led so many of us relatively independently of one another to start thinking about the PMC as a class formation in the first place? My sense is that it has to do with a combination of factors we’ve all been confronting and trying to reckon with concerning 1) tendencies and tensions within what seems to be taking shape as a popular left in the US and UK, 2) the fragility of left-led governments that have been elected in places like Greece and various South American states, 3) how to make sense of and respond to the tide of authoritarian neoliberalism around the world, which I suspect most of us understand as no aberration but an organic outgrowth of several decades of neoliberal hegemony, which in both its “left”-technocratic and right poles rejects and has sought to seal off options for popular politics of any sort and 4) the utter bankruptcy under those conditions of social-democratic parties nearly everywhere.
The popular claim that Trump’s election signified resurgent white supremacy is not only wrong—it’s dangerous. It grants more power to the fascist right than it deserves. Different voters and constituencies supported Trump for different reasons, not all of them rational.