Dismantling Anti-Black Economics

June 12, 2020

Change the paradigm by empowering Black economists.

The Roosevelt Rundown is an email series featuring the Roosevelt Institute’s top stories of the week.

How Economic Assumptions Uphold Racist Systems

As anti-racist protests continue nationwide, Black economists are turning a mirror on the profession itself, spotlighting the assumptions and practices that have long reinforced anti-Blackness. “The ‘free market’ does not inherently deliver equitable outcomes,” Omidyar Network principal and Roosevelt board member Joelle Gamble writes for Dissent. “Racism is rational when it upholds institutional arrangements that preserve white wealth and economic power—a point that applies just as much to public health and police violence as it does to the labor market. And economists who want to challenge racism must recognize the role of history, power, and institutions in shaping behavior.” To change the paradigm, economic institutions must confront their own entrenched racism—including by increasing Black representation among economics students, professors, and journal editors and by addressing the racial discrimination and gatekeeping Black economists face in a field dominated by white men.

  • The story of a paper: For NPR’s The Indicator, Michigan State University economist and Roosevelt board member Lisa Cook details her decade-long efforts to publish a paper on the effects of violence on Black inventors and patents from 1870 to 1940; as she explains, white journal referees dismissed the topic as niche and irrelevant. “My view is that we are really trying to change what it means to be an economist, what an economist looks like, who can participate in the profession. Because we’re just missing out on a lot of talent and a lot of new ideas—a lot of new ideas that could be relevant,” Cook says. Listen here, and read the full paper.
  • Race, class, and the climate crisis: As Roosevelt Director of Climate Policy and Green New Deal architect Rhiana Gunn-Wright tells the MIT Technology Review, the climate crisis and racial justice are inextricable: “It’s not just an issue of emissions. It’s an issue of the systems that have allowed an industry that essentially poisons people to continue, and to do so even as it further and further imperils our survival, both as a nation and as a globe. It comes down to issues of race and class and place.” Read on.
  • The stock market is not the economy: “The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of stocks. Half of American families don’t have a penny invested in the stock market, and that includes 401Ks and other retirement savings,” Groundwork Collaborative Executive Director and Roosevelt Fellow Michael Linden writes for USA Today. “This is even lower among communities of color, with only 36 percent of Black families and 37 percent of Latin families owning stock.” Read more.

COVID-19 and the Racial Wealth Gap

“Small businesses, particularly Black and brown ones, have been slipping through the cracks of the federal response,” Roosevelt Fellow Darrick Hamilton tells the Washington Post. “The number-one hurdle is capital itself—a racial wealth gap where the typical Black household has 10 cents on the dollar for the typical white household. It’s an overwhelming hurdle rooted in an unjust history.” As Roosevelt Senior Fellow Sandy Darity elaborated on WBUR, “it’s important to understand that the racial wealth gap is a consequence of American policies. It is not a consequence of any form of dysfunctional behavior on the part of Black [people] or poor decision-making on the part of Black [people] . . . And so we have to look specifically at the trajectory of American social policy with respect to race to understand why the wealth gap exists.” For more from Darity, watch PBS NewsHour’s “Race Matters: America in Crisis.”

  • A more equitable response: As Roosevelt experts have argued, FedAccounts and postal banking are two options that would vastly improve the inclusiveness and effectiveness of COVID-19 policy responses; this week, Roosevelt Fellow Mehrsa Baradaran testified about them before the House Financial Services Committee. Watch here.

The Power of Youth

“We have seen youth be hugely effective mobilizers. Youth can also be—must be—policy advocates and policymakers,” Roosevelt Vice President of Development Juliette Kang Stableski and Roosevelt Network National Director Katie Kirchner write for Nonprofit Quarterly. “America’s youth can help lead the fight to dismantle the structural barriers that hold them–and us—back from realizing our power as individuals and members of our society. And philanthropy must invest in youth accordingly.” Read more.

What We’re Reading

The CARES Act Sent You a $1,200 Check but Gave Millionaires and Billionaires Far More – ProPublica

Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Is Expiring Soon. This Economist Has a Fix for It. – Vox

Climate Change Initiatives Could Be Another Casualty of the COVID-19 Pandemic (feat. Roosevelt’s Rhiana Gunn-Wright) – Marketplace

Which Economic Stimulus Works? [by Roosevelt’s Joseph Stiglitz] – Project Syndicate

Why the Stock Market Just Doesn’t Care – New York Times

Why Minneapolis Was the Breaking Point – The Atlantic

Black Bodies Are Still Treated as Expendable (feat. Roosevelt’s Sandy Darity) – Vox