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People receive food at the Voices of Hagar food pantry at St. Mark AME Church in Queens on May, 12, 2020.

People receive food at the Voices of Hagar food pantry at St. Mark AME Church in Queens on May, 12, 2020. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

Bruce T. Boccardy

Carville Quip

Democratic Party and neoliberal political strategist James Carville asserted in 1992 that "it's the economy stupid," when addressing the main strategy of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Carville's glib  maxim did not  attain the status of a popular adage. However, it did contain a nugget of truth. 

That truth is particularly uncomfortable for the mainstream media.  These are pundits who chronically offer vague or no solutions to the social malaises figuratively infecting the country and one literally infecting it.  

Symptoms  

The unprecedented turbulent events occurring in the country now demand solutions. Below the surface of the covid-19 virus, the dehumanizing deep institutional racism, and an economy descending into the darkness of corporate profit, is the structural defects of that economy.

 The Republican funereal wish of not wearing masks during the pandemic continues. Fortunately, their economic rescue plans are also unmasked favoring corporations  at the expense of working people.

 The record is unambiguous and well documented. We have a healthcare system built for corporate profits over human lives, a dilapidated national housing system and an education system being stolen for private profits at public education expense. 

Recent tragic events surrounding  entrenched Institutional and individual racism have galvanized  millions of Americans to protests.  However, rarely discussed are those structural defects in the economy that affect their lives. Those defects keep working people of all colors scrambling for the basics of subsistence living. 

 Dividing working people is a tried and true strategy of our upper economic group and their collaborators. Think president Lyndon Johnson.  He opined on the politics of racism to Bill Moyers a young staffer in 1960:

“if you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on and he’ll empty his pocket for you.”

Hidden Economic Anxiety

A study in  April 2018 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  reported that "economic hardship" was not the primary motivation of Mr. Trump’s voters. 

Rather,  "Losing Status"  was the primary reason for that support. 

What does that mean? There is no other status in our modern society today that can be lost, except a loss of economic status. 

Here we again cue up the previous statement of Lyndon Johnson.

The demographics of those supporting Mr. Trump do not necessarily articulate an economic motivation to support him.  Rather, it is a hostility toward non-white working people who may articulate their many grievances.

Justin Gest, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy spoke  April 2017 in the Washington Post. His book “The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality” analyzed the motivations of Mr. Trump’s supporters.

Mr. Gest writes:

“Poorer white people are subject to the same elite classism that subordinates poorer ethnocultural minorities, but due to their status as an in-group, poorer whites exist without widespread recognition of the structural circumstances that entrench their deprivation."

This strongly suggests that white working people do not articulate their support of Mr. Trump as direct economic hardship, despite their economic anxiety. Our culture discourages anyone, especially working people from acknowledging economic hardships or anxiety. It’s just not an American thing to do.

Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb brilliantly documented this soul draining in their November 1972  book, “The Hidden Injuries of Class.”

The authors document that Americans who fail to climb the economic ladder often feel that they have failed at life. 

Americans tend to measure their personal value against occupations which society places at a premium. That measurement is fraught with self-deprecation which can turn to self-loathing. 

Instead of directly blaming minorities for their lack of economic success, white working people of low or moderate incomes will indirectly channel their frustrations to attack racial groups. For them to question the structure of  our economic system is to acknowledge the common economic interests of all races.  

Moreover, American history has enough abhorrent incidents of white violence against black communities that strongly suggest economic anxiety is the underlying cause whether direct or indirect.

For example, on June 21, 1921, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma was convulsed by an organized massacre. White mobs attacked black residents of a district called Greenwood, which included what was then known as the city’s” Black Wall Street.” Greenwood was an oil based affluent community with thriving businesses and higher than average incomes for its mostly black residents. When the carnage was over, estimates report that almost 500 people mostly black were killed. 

Again cue up Lyndon Johnson’s quote.

Solutions

There are progressive voices that advocate for more than a mechanical economic restructuring of our economy to improve the lives of all working people beyond race.

Dr. Cornell West of Harvard University forcefully asserted in the Black Prophetic Tradition a narrative that expands the economic critique to include profound moral and spiritual forms.

Commenting in an interview in August 2015, West observed:

“There is no doubt that when you wrestle with the vicious legacy of white supremacy that you're going to sooner or later engage in a critique of capitalism and imperialism.”

 Celebrated political activist Rabbi Michael Lerner has been synthesizing his spiritual and social justice ideas for decades.

 In an interview with the Daily Good in March 2019, he stated:

"We’ve lived in a society that, for several hundred years, has been based on individualism, selfishness, and materialism. In such a society, people feel that they are required to look out first and foremost, if not exclusively, for themselves, not because they are inherently evil, but because the structure of the society requires it. If they don’t, other people will take advantage of them, because everyone else has been conditioned the same way. I call this the Globalization of Selfishness, and it has spread its tentacles throughout the world. It’s no longer just advanced capitalist societies, but in societies that were previously “under-developed” in terms of their ability to accumulate money and power, but actually, were often at a higher spiritual and ethical level than the advanced industrial societies. Now, however, the ethos of global capitalism."

Jobs Matter

Transforming a nation into a healthier place for its people requires variable solutions. Dr. West and Rabbi Lerner represent an important spiritual component of a strategy for structural change. However, that strategy must  be based on economic democracy. 

The first place to begin is the workplace. Jobs must be a priority. In  2018, the World Bank reported that  jobs were essential to the foundation of a country. All other social constructs revolve around the ability of a country to provide sustainable employment for its working population.

Moreover, the World Happiness Report releases annual reports that measure how countries can achieve happiness through social and economic development. The  report was presented in a survey in March 2020. The World Happiness Report demonstrated the importance  of social and economic development to achieve a measure of happiness and well-being.

The recent national eruptions by working people of all races against the institutional corruption of law enforcement is a starting point.

 Washington Post scribe Eugene Robinson commented  on a recent edition of “Meet the Press:”

  “We have been here before.”

If we do not address the basic issues of a structurally failing economy for all races, we will be here again. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Bruce T. Boccardy

Bruce T. Boccardy

Bruce T. Boccardy serves as an Economics & Labor Advisor for Small Planet Institute, was president of the Massachusetts Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888, represented labor on the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC), serving firefighters and police and consulted to the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE).

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