Every time racial disparity is invoked as the lens through which to see American inequality, the overwhelming role played by the increased inequality in the American class system is made invisible. And this is, of course, true on the right as well as the left—think of all the conservative commentators defending the police by invoking the spectre of black-on-black murder. And then think of the widespread agreement among criminologists that the Gini coefficient “predicts murder rates better than any other variable.” Conservatives who try to blame black crime on race and liberals who try to blame it on racism are both missing the point. If you want to distinguish between the left and the right, the relevant question is not what they think about race; it’s what they think when race is taken out of the equation.
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.
I wonder and worry if the fashionability of the field comes from its evasion of this question. Does it spring from a hope…that capital and capitalists can regulate themselves, that in effect, capitalism can have a history sans class politics. As Stein’s work shows, this seems at best naively decontextualized—detached from the actual history of capitalism. And at worst? Then the new history of capitalism looks a lot like the ideological expression of its subject.
Proliferation of this Kabuki theater politics among leftists stems in part from the dialectic of desperation and wishful thinking that underlies the cargo-cult tendency; it is commonly driven by an understandable sense of urgency that the dangers facing us are so grave as to require some immediate action in response. That dialectic encourages immediatist fantasies as well as tendencies to define the direct goal of political action as exposing, or bearing witness against, injustice.
The trivial truth is that what they mean by challenging the operation of capitalist markets (i.e. massive downward redistribution) would indeed reduce racialized poverty, for the obvious reason that (as Adolph and I and millions of others keep on tiresomely repeating) precisely because black people are disproportionately poor all efforts of redistribution will disproportionately benefit them. The totally false idea is that a challenge to racial disparities gets you out from under what Reed calls “neoliberalism’s logic.” In fact, unlocking inherited inequality (racialized or not) and achieving real equality of opportunity (hence more upward mobility) is left neoliberalism’s wet dream.
This doesn’t mean that gay marriage isn’t a good thing, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant in fighting all kinds of discrimination. It just means that fighting discrimination has nothing to do with fighting economic inequality, and that the commitment to identity politics has been more an expression of our enthusiasm for the free market than a form of resistance to it. You can, for example, be a feminist committed to equal pay for men and women and also be committed to equality between management and labor but, as the example of everyone who’s ever campaigned against the glass ceiling shows, you don’t have to be and aren’t likely to be.
Foucault was highly attracted to economic liberalism: he saw in it the possibility of a form of governmentality that was much less normative and authoritarian than the socialist and communist left, which he saw as totally obsolete. He especially saw in neoliberalism a “much less bureaucratic” and “much less disciplinarian” form of politics than that offered by the postwar welfare state. He seemed to imagine a neoliberalism that wouldn’t project its anthropological models on the individual, that would offer individuals greater autonomy vis-à-vis the state.
Both these pieces betray a really naïve or underdeveloped understanding of electoral action, its costs and benefits, the unavoidable messiness of engaging in it. And, by the way, the same messiness applies to all efforts to build and maintain broad alliances, all of which require finding ways to navigate locating points of agreement and looking the other way at least temporarily at potentially serious differences and contradictions.