Dorian Warren: Criminals, Conservatives, and Oligarchs Are Deepening Inequality

Apr 27, 2012

This week, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren joined a panel on America's growing inequality crisis hosted by The Century Foundation and featuring TCF's Greg Anrig, Daniel Alpert, and Robert Hockett along with Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence. In the video below, Dorian lay

This week, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren joined a panel on America's growing inequality crisis hosted by The Century Foundation and featuring TCF's Greg Anrig, Daniel Alpert, and Robert Hockett along with Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence. In the video below, Dorian lays out three points that need to be included in any discussion of what's causing inequality and how we can address it: lawless employers, race-based political polarization, and the rise of an American oligarchy.

On the first point, Dorian notes the recent Wal Mart bribery scandal and says that when you think of "the lawlessness of Wal Mart when it comes to unionization, I think that's a great example to think about the other ways in which employers have pretty flagrantly violated the law in the last 20 years or so. So when you think about minimum wage, when you think about health and safety, we're in a new environment, and activists who work on this call this 'wage theft.'" He highlights some shocking statistics from a 2009 study that shows how badly low-income workers have been ripped off by their employers and points out that there is a "basic principle of the social contract that when you work at a job you have an agreement with the employer for how much you're going to make... There is a pretty systematic violation of that contract, and that explains at least part of the wage stagnation that we've seen in the low-wage service sector specifically." While updating and modernizing labor laws is important, "monitoring and enforcement of existing wage and hour laws are really important."

Where race is concerned, Dorian argues that while it doesn't explain the rise of inequality by itself, "there is a story where race does play a role, and it's a political story." He points out that "for 80 percent of our country's history, the majority of Americans weren't classified as citizens," and that Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civli Rights Act caused an exodus of white southerners from the Democratic Party to the GOP. He says that "there is a difference between Republican administrations and Democratic administrations, but how you get to a Republic administration has to be part of that story, and that's very much about race and the response of southern whites to greater inclusion into American democracy." This racial backlash in turn helps to shape the policies that further inequality.

Finally, Dorian says that it's difficult to find solutions to the problem of inequality, as even the best policy solutions may not be politically viable. Citing political scientist Jeffrey Winters, he asks, "How do we make sense of the fact that we live in both a democracy and an oligarchy at the same time?" Wealth has become highlighy concentrated in the U.S. while also granting the wealthy a disproportionate level of political influence and a number of methods to safeguard their wealth and prevent redistribution. He notes that "the expectation of democracies is that non-rich people would outnumber rich people and therefore demand through their vote the one thing that makes everybody equal, greater redistribution." He concludes with the toughest question of all: "From the 1960s to the present, when we've expanded our democracy, how is it the case that we've also seen more redistribution but actually less and greater inequality?"

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Dorian Warren: Criminals, Conservatives, and Oligarchs Are Deepening Inequality

Apr 27, 2012

This week, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren joined a panel on America's growing inequality crisis 

This week, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren joined a panel on America's growing inequality crisis hosted by The Century Foundation and featuring TCF's Greg Anrig, Daniel Alpert, and Robert Hockett along with Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence. In the video below, Dorian lays out three points that need to be included in any discussion of what's causing inequality and how we can address it: lawless employers, race-based political polarization, and the rise of an American oligarchy.

On the first point, Dorian notes the recent Wal Mart bribery scandal and says that when you think of "the lawlessness of Wal Mart when it comes to unionization, I think that's a great example to think about the other ways in which employers have pretty flagrantly violated the law in the last 20 years or so. So when you think about minimum wage, when you think about health and safety, we're in a new environment, and activists who work on this call this 'wage theft.'" He highlights some shocking statistics from a 2009 study that shows how badly low-income workers have been ripped off by their employers and points out that there is a "basic principle of the social contract that when you work at a job you have an agreement with the employer for how much you're going to make... There is a pretty systematic violation of that contract, and that explains at least part of the wage stagnation that we've seen in the low-wage service sector specifically." While updating and modernizing labor laws is important, "monitoring and enforcement of existing wage and hour laws are really important."

Where race is concerned, Dorian argues that while it doesn't explain the rise of inequality by itself, "there is a story where race does play a role, and it's a political story." He points out that "for 80 percent of our country's history, the majority of Americans weren't classified as citizens," and that Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civli Rights Act caused an exodus of white southerners from the Democratic Party to the GOP. He says that "there is a difference between Republican administrations and Democratic administrations, but how you get to a Republic administration has to be part of that story, and that's very much about race and the response of southern whites to greater inclusion into American democracy." This racial backlash in turn helps to shape the policies that further inequality.

Finally, Dorian says that it's difficult to find solutions to the problem of inequality, as even the best policy solutions may not be politically viable. Citing political scientist Jeffrey Winters, he asks, "How do we make sense of the fact that we live in both a democracy and an oligarchy at the same time?" Wealth has become highlighy concentrated in the U.S. while also granting the wealthy a disproportionate level of political influence and a number of methods to safeguard their wealth and prevent redistribution. He notes that "the expectation of democracies is that non-rich people would outnumber rich people and therefore demand through their vote the one thing that makes everybody equal, greater redistribution." He concludes with the toughest question of all: "From the 1960s to the present, when we've expanded our democracy, how is it the case that we've also seen more redistribution but actually less and greater inequality?"

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

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The "Buffett Should Volunteer to Pay More Taxes" Canard

Apr 25, 2012Mike Konczal

The Buffett Rule is all about fairness in tax law. So why do its opponents keep talking about charity?

The Buffett Rule is all about fairness in tax law. So why do its opponents keep talking about charity?

Adam Ozimek jumps in on the "should Warren Buffett just donate money to the government?" conversation here, with "Should people who want higher taxes donate to the government?" He builds off of Matt Zwolinski, who asks "if Buffett really believes that he ought to be paying more taxes, then what’s stopping him?" Will Wilkinson brings up that this requires us to discuss collective actions and "the rationality of complying with a rule that (1) you support, but (2) will only have its desired effect if general compliance with the rule is high, and (3) you suspect general compliance will not be high." All these discussions pivot off the idea that the government provides charity, and if Warren Buffett wants the government to provide more charity, why does he do his charity through private means?

Wilkinson has an important point, but they are all approaching the debate with the assumption that Warren Buffett wants the government to spend an additional dollar. I don't see Warren Buffett saying that, and it isn't even required for him to call for higher taxes on himself and similar earners to make his famous argument. The crucial comparsion in Buffett's discussion isn't Buffett's rates now versus the rates he'd pay in a social democratic country, but the rate that he pays versus the rate his secretary pays. Warren Buffett could want the government cut in half and for his tax rate to go up. He could want a government so small it could drown in a bathtub yet find it unfair that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

This means the central discussion isn't about the government collecting more and providing more, but the two central principles of fairness in taxation: vertical equity – those with more pay more – and horizontal equity, where people who are the same should be taxed the same. (Whether these are necessarily two principles of equity or one is a debate for another day.) It isn't necessary for Buffett's argument that the government should do more, or even that it should do what it does now, so suggesting he donate to charity doesn't carry weight. His argument is that the way taxes are collected now violates general principles of equity and fairness.

Zwolinski argues that since people don't donate to the government, "(3)Therefore, they don't believe that giving money to government is a good way to help others... It is therefore (from 3) odd for people to press for increased rates of taxation on the grounds that increased taxes will allow the government to help people." But even if Warren Buffett didn't care about helping others and believed that the only purpose of government is to turn his property claims on his vast wealth into property rights, and provide the costly night watchman apparatus required to do so, he could believe that vertical equity in the taxation required to raise those funds is still a requirement of tax fairness.

(Indeed, why does Zwolinski use "charity" as an example? Why not private police? The United States has had more private security guards than public police officers for some time. If someone thinks there should be more police, why not donate that money to the government rather than hire a private guard? Would following his logic provide proof that most people are anarcho-capitalists who want privatized systems of policing and adjudication? Zwolinski might need to change his webpage if that's the case. It is likely other factors are in play.)

Unless you believe that United States taxation should be based on a head tax -- where everyone pays the same exact dollar amount regardless of wealth or income -- you probably believe in vertical equity. (As Jeremy Bentham said, "a capitation tax is bad; because a man has a head, it does not follow that he has anything else.") That could be proportionate taxation, progressive taxation, a kind of progressive taxation where wages up to the poverty line are tax-free with proporationate taxation on income above that, and more. We don't even have to assume progressive taxation for Buffett to say he should be taxed more -- his objection is that he pays a lower proportionate rate.

Beyond vertical equity, if someone made the same amount of money through labor that Buffett and Romney make through capital, the laborer would pay a much higher tax rate, violating our sense of horizontal equity. These are the crucial issues that the Buffett Rule is trying to address, issues that come even before what is the proper scope of government.

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Article on Mass Incarceration at Jacobin

Apr 25, 2012Mike Konczal

The Spring 2012 issue of Jacobin is now online.  It has a lot of great content in it; make sure to check out Megan Erickson's addition to the "unschooling" debate that goes back and forth in parts of the internet.

The Spring 2012 issue of Jacobin is now online.  It has a lot of great content in it; make sure to check out Megan Erickson's addition to the "unschooling" debate that goes back and forth in parts of the internet.

I have a piece - Against Law, For Order - on ideology, governmentality and "policy" in an era of mass incarceration.  It's about how criminal laws informs our markets and government policy.  Bits and pieces of it have appeared in this blog, but here it is in one place.  The piece ends up reviewing a lot of recent books on policing, with special attention to Bernard Harcourt's work on neoliberalism and policing, as well as Jonathan Simon's work on "governing through crime" - how policy is reworked to use the language and techniques of policing.  I hope you check it out!

I wrote it a while ago so I didn't get to reference two of the big events in policing and incarceration that happened recently, but I think they fit into the framework I try to build.  The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman appears to be, in large part, about Zimmerman believing Martin didn't belong in the neighborhood he lived in.  Maintaining order, seperating insiders from outsiders, and who gets to make those calls and what consequences they have is a central part of the neoconservative vision of policing I outline.

Meanwhile the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington held that "Jail strip searches do not require reasonable suspicion, at least so long as the arrestee is being admitted into the general jail population."  Reading Justice Kennedy's logic, it looks like that since people put into a prison population could be dangers to themselves, guards and other prisoners, the guards have the ability to institute whatever techniques they believe are necessary.  Kennedy looks uninterested or unwilling to second guess the prison system.  Which means that people within the criminal justice system exist in a sphere of total government control and competency, a way of thinking I link back to the neoliberal vision of governance.

Sadly I couldn't find a way to link in one of the more interesting pieces I've read recently, one I'm still grappling with, Kate Redburn's Hate on Me at New Inquiry.  It's about the GLBTQ groups - including The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, FIERCE, Queers for Economic Justice, the Peter Cicchino Youth Project, and the Audre Lorde Project - who oppose New York State's "Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act," which "would make violence against gender-nonconforming people a hate crime."

This is governing through crime - the best way to react to the social problems of violence and hate aimed at the GLBTQ community is to increase the policing and incarceration of those who do the violence.  Mandatory minimums, which translates into higher guilty pleas, which translates to more bodies in jail.  These groups oppose this because the police themselves are part of the problems they face, not part of the solution.  As Redburn argues, "Hate crimes legislation not only doesn’t change institutional bias; it further empowers this broken system by increasing law enforcement’s ability to arrest and imprison."  I find the challenges posed here important to understand as we all try to find a way to have a governance project built outside the logic of mass incareceration.

 

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Mike Konczal: "The Police Are Not There To Solve Crimes"

Apr 23, 2012

In a new episode of our weekly Bloggingheads "Fireside Chats" series, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal talked to Aaron Brady from The New Inquiry about how James Q. Wilson's famous "Broken Windows" essay has changed the way the police force acts.

In a new episode of our weekly Bloggingheads "Fireside Chats" series, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal talked to Aaron Brady from The New Inquiry about how James Q. Wilson's famous "Broken Windows" essay has changed the way the police force acts. The two discuss the purpose of the police and ask why policing has become so aggressive, as seen in the Occupy movement when the police escalated situations before any of the protesters were a threat or legally doing anything wrong. While many attribute police behavior to racist attitudes and economic incentives, Mike reveals another story. He points out that "the police are not there to solve crimes, the police are there to maintain order, and that involves determining who is an insider, who is an outsider, and strictly policing those boundaries."

How did it get this way? Mike argues that while the classical liberal idea used to be "that things that should be crimed are things that cause direct harm," broken windows theory has emerged as a combined effort of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. He notes that the main point of the theory "is to create a kind of logic for going after squeegee men in New York, to go after the homeless, to go after people carrying minor amounts of drugs and... these kind of nuisances or obnoxious public behavior create the conditions for disorder."

While most middle class americans have a perception of cops developed from shows like Law and Order, where police come to the scene after a crime and carefully assess what went wrong, Mike says that the force now does the opposite. He says they are "freaked out about this imagery of lurid people" and that "when you see this imagery of lurid Occupy Oakland people showing up even if they’re not directly breaking the law, they’re creating the conditions for disorder." Police see protesters at UC Davis as starting a slippery slope toward violence, aggression, and more people showing up in the future -- so they pre-emptively act violently to prevent a worse situation. Mike also argues that James Q. Wilson "takes it for granted that the police will always be pushing the boundaries of the law and that the law will always be improvisational at the edge," as though the police only ever engage in crisis situations where the law can get swept under the rug.

Check out the full video below for Mike and Aaron's discussion of the campus protest origins of the Occupy movement, the newly released report on the pepper spraying of UC Davis students, and for their take on capitalism, The Wire, and Teddy Roosevelt:

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

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French Voters Counter Austerity with Democracy

Apr 23, 2012Jeff Madrick

Austerity policies are the last thing Europe's economy needs, and voters are making sure their leaders get the message.

Can democracy be raising its wonderful, if often lazy, head in Europe? Too often there is skepticism that democracy itself -- the will of the people -- can lead to wise economic decisions and that the American founding fathers were all fearful of the rule of the masses. I have long held the opposite view.

Austerity policies are the last thing Europe's economy needs, and voters are making sure their leaders get the message.

Can democracy be raising its wonderful, if often lazy, head in Europe? Too often there is skepticism that democracy itself -- the will of the people -- can lead to wise economic decisions and that the American founding fathers were all fearful of the rule of the masses. I have long held the opposite view.

We all know examples of populist uprisings that have failed. The French Revolution was hardly an adulterated success. Populism in the U.S. in the 19th century led to many an ugly idea and many a bad economic solution.

But democracy creates demands for more equal wages, for social goods that reinstate confidence in a nation, and for the spread of opportunity. Democracy often also demands rights for minorities. It was democracy in America that fostered progressive income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and government financing of education and roads. In my view, equal and strong wages are a source of growth, not a disadvantage that reduces profits as many orthodox economists see it. There is no growth without adequate demand. After 40 years of neglecting this basic idea, it is making a comeback.    

Now the people of France may be saying they have had it with austerity. They may well vote out Sarkozy in favor of the Social Democrat Francois Hollande. Hollande beat Sarkozy in the first run-off and, according to the pundits, is likely to win the two-person run-off in two weeks. And Hollande is running an anti-austerity and anti-big finance campaign, if a mild one. Can this break the ice and reverse the trend toward austerity? One former European leader I spoke to thinks it could.

But there is more than just a reaction against austerity in France. The Netherlands is dealing with a backlash against its austerity programs, and the Dutch have been stalwart supporters of German single-mindedness on this issue. The prime minister felt obliged to resign. Even in Germany, the Social Democrats who are increasingly voicing concerns with Angela Merkel’s policies will gain more confidence. There are left-wing soundings in Spain as well.

All this is refreshing and highly welcome. Austerity policies are dead wrong for Europe right now. It is sliding into serious recession, and it may eventually upset the fragile U.S. recovery. The rebelling left is correct about economic policy, even if it is most motivated by economic justice. Could democracy and justice be policies for prosperity? Start believing again.

The French election, however, provided another reason to end austerity. The extreme right of Le Pen received one out of five votes -- a major victory. In times of economic adversity, anger toward ethnic minorities like Muslims only rises. Deep recession is the fertile ground of totalitarisnm and bigotry. All the more reason to reject austerity and shake up Euriope.

How naïve, you say. The financial markets already gave their answer. They are selling everything except German bonds, it seems. That is a first blush reaction, of course. And many, including American business reporters, will say that this shows how silly the French are to think they can buck the austerity approach. Of course the U.S. did buck it, and if not growing with abandon, is recovering. The British adopted austerity, and despite a falling pound that has stimulated exports as well as a very loose moentary policy, its economy is floundering. What are the markets talking about?

If only the financial markets were as wise as the people can be. But that is my ace in the hole. I think even bond traders have begun to understand that austerity is now self-defeating. What they may be most nervous about is a serious political break in the eurozone that forestalls more advances of credit to the struggling nations and any chance to develop Eurobonds to supply social transfers to ease the burden on the periphery. But austerity is not the answer. The more governments cut, the further away move the goal posts for fiscal balance. Many more policy moves are required, but at least this is a start. Who knows? The markets may even rebound some this week.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

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Virginia Foxx's Comment and the Intergenerational Problem of the Public University

Apr 20, 2012Mike Konczal

Scott Keyes at Think Progress notes the following comment from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who chairs the House subcommittee on higher education:

Scott Keyes at Think Progress notes the following comment from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who chairs the House subcommittee on higher education:

FOXX: I went through school, I worked my way through, it took me seven years, I never borrowed a dime of money. He borrowed a little bit because we both were totally on our own when we went to college, totally. [...] I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You don’t have it dumped in your lap.

A major problem with our leaders is that they are approaching what is happening in the public university through a mental model of a world that no longer exists.

EdwardMurray at DailyKos notes "Virginia Foxx went to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1968. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1968, the average yearly cost for tuition, room, and board for a public university was $1,245 which, in today’s words, is one thousand two hundred and forty-five dollars for a year’s worth of college. For today’s average college student, that dollar amount is roughly equivalent to the cost of a textbook and a garbage bag."  Quick and the Ed has notes "Representative Foxx would have paid $279 for the academic year—about $2,140 today. That’s about equivalent to what students pay right now at community colleges, not public four-year institutions—especially not public flagships."  Rebuild the Dream has a petition going on the matter.

Beyond the fact that it was much cheaper, how does University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's tutition look on a chart?  Digging into UNC-Chapel Hill's Office of Institutional Research and Assessment website, which has online collections of several previously published yearly reports (data from here, here, here and here), we can construct the following graph.  Some years, especially earlier ones, are missing. Data is adjusted for inflation:

 

As you can see, tuition is roughly around $2,000 a year for most of the 20th century after the Great Depression.  Starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s it skyrockets.  It shows no sign of slowing down, either.  This is a political choice, based on what we want the university to do and how we want to provide it as a country.  There was a political consesus that made sure Virginia Foxx had college available as a publicly-provided good - her "opportunity society" is a world of high quality "public options" available to those who can use them - and now there is a new set of active choices to have students at UNC-Chapel Hill graduate with debt.  Foxx should know better than to ascribe it as a simple morality play.  If she doesn't know this, which is possible, that's a major problem.

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Even Six-Figure Salaries Don’t Attract Men to Care Work

Apr 18, 2012Suzanne Kahn

Until these jobs are given the respect they deserve, they will continue to turn men off and be paid less than they're worth.

Adam Davidson’s recent New York Times Magazine article “The Best Nanny Money Can Buy” introduced readers to the “bizarre microeconomy” of New York’s highly paid nannies. The first nanny Davidson introduces earns $180,000 a year, plus a Christmas bonus and an apartment on Central Park West.

Until these jobs are given the respect they deserve, they will continue to turn men off and be paid less than they're worth.

Adam Davidson’s recent New York Times Magazine article “The Best Nanny Money Can Buy” introduced readers to the “bizarre microeconomy” of New York’s highly paid nannies. The first nanny Davidson introduces earns $180,000 a year, plus a Christmas bonus and an apartment on Central Park West.

Davidson’s economy is indeed bizarre. As Bryce Covert pointed out in Forbes recently, the average New York nanny makes $37,076 a year. Childcare providers, home health care aids, and others are paid far too little for the incredibly important work they do. In the U.S., median pay for a childcare worker in 2010 was about $9 an hour.

Care work jobs have historically been paid poorly. Jobs associated with the work women traditionally did as wives and mothers have not been conceptualized as real work and have generally paid far less than traditionally male work. This was partially a result of the way laws were written. Until the 1970s, domestic workers were not included in the Fair Labor Standards Act that mandated a federal minimum wage, among other things.

When jobs pay well, however, they tend to attract men. Yet this does not seem to be the case among New York’s elite nannies. Interestingly, even in the microeconomy of highly paid nannies, they are all women. Davidson himself points this out, and a glance at the job listings on the website of the Pavilion Agency, the firm that connected Davidson with the high-end nanny he spoke to, confirms this. Why aren’t men attracted to these high-end jobs?

The answer seems to lie with the respect we give care workers. Most nannies not only earn very low pay for very long hours but also gain little social capital from their jobs. This lack of respect seems to extend even to highly paid nannies. It is unmistakable in the language used in the Pavillion Agency job listings. “This is the nanny who will be a ‘wife’ to a fortunate family,” reads one posting. Others describe the candidates as a “lovely lady” or “cuddly.” This sounds like the way the ad execs on Mad Men talk about their secretaries and not the way we talk about candidates for professional careers in the 21st century.

These are also notably gendered advertisements. Employers are clearly looking for women to fill these jobs because they imagine them to be a woman’s or a “wife’s” work. This sort of language very likely not only keeps men out of these jobs, but it also keeps pay very low for most care workers. As long the job of nanny is not respected, it will be paid less than jobs that are. 

Davidson may have described a strange niche economy, but his rare, highly paid nannies actually tell us quite a bit about the problems most care workers face. If even six-figure salaries fail to attract men to the market, there’s a problem with care work that goes far beyond poor pay. It’s a job that society tells men, and many women, that it isn’t respectable to do. Until these jobs earn social capital as well as cash, care work will probably remain a sex-segregated, and therefore underappreciated, sector of the economy. Outside the upper echelons of Manhattan society, that means care work is likely to remain poorly paid.

Suzanne Kahn is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow and a Ph.D. student in history at Columbia University.

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A 99% White Party is Bad for Republicans -- and for America

Apr 13, 2012Tim Price

The conservative movement remains beholden to its racist fringe, and that has left progress at a standstill across the political spectrum.

The conservative movement remains beholden to its racist fringe, and that has left progress at a standstill across the political spectrum.

“If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date… Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway… In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs.” These are just a few of the pearls of anti-wisdom offered by conservative pundit John Derbyshire in his instantly infamous essay, “The Talk: Nonblack Version.” Derbyshire’s employers at the National Review were quick to distance themselves from him and his racist manifesto, which was written as a response to the outcry over the hunting and killing of Trayvon Martin.

But as other commentators have pointed out, there’s more to this story. For one thing, “Derb” has been producing openly racist (and homophobic) material for years now without repercussion. So why did the premiere intellectual journal of American conservatives only disassociate itself from a bigot once the very last vestiges of plausible deniability had been stripped away? The answer lies in the fact that the conservative movement, while not racist in and of itself, is beholden to racists who support it. And in order to maintain their support, it appeases them either actively or through sins of omission in ways that alienate other potential supporters and create barriers to real progress on racial justice.

I want to be clear that conservatives are not inherently racists, just as progressives are not by default free of racism. While some conservative policies, such as restricting voting rights, cracking down on undocumented immigrants, and slashing the social safety net may have racially disparate outcomes in practice, there are intellectual and moral arguments for each of these that that have nothing to do with race. Sadly, Republicans often fail to make them because they’re busy sending more coded signals than a third base coach in order to appease the most reactionary elements of their base. And when taken in aggregate, it’s easy to see why minority groups perceive the conservative agenda as actively hostile toward their interests, even if that’s not the intent.

The uneasy alliance between high-minded conservative wonks and unreconstructed racists is a legacy of Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which used civil rights as a wedge with white voters to turn the formerly Democratic “Solid South” into staunch Republican territory. But while that approach has continued to reap short-term rewards, it’s a bad bet in the long run. As Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren has noted, “the Republican strategy is basically to be a white party and a white southern party. The time is ticking on that demographic in this country.” With the voting bloc of angry white conservatives from the old Confederacy giving way to the most diverse and progressive generation in history, Republicans risk political extinction if they can’t refurbish their image and adapt their policies accordingly. In this year’s Republican primaries, even states with the largest black populations have registered only 1 to 2 percent black voter participation. And despite the GOP’s hope that it could peel away minority voters who agree with them on social issues, Barack Obama enjoys approval ratings in the high 80s among black voters and retains strong support from Latinos when matched up against his Republican rivals. Yet the conservative base seems stubbornly resistant to change, and to quote Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had. Thus, even many moderate and mainstream conservatives are forced to politely clear their throats and look away from all but the most egregious examples of racism among their allies. Without them, they wouldn’t have the votes to win elections.

The right is clearly sensitive to this issue, or it wouldn’t be so bashful when the Derbyshires of the world let their fig leaves drop. But instead of addressing these internal tensions, it tries to turn the tables by accusing progressives of “playing the race card” (i.e. mentioning that racism exists). As Alex Pareene wryly noted, many conservatives seem to operate under the assumption that “accusations of racism are the new racism, and said accusations are invariably politically motivated.” This tendency has been on full display in the case of Trayvon Martin, from labeling President Obama a “race hustler” for extending his sympathies to Martin’s family to the Free-Beacon’s blunt headline, “Registered Dem Killed Trayvon.” Sure, George Zimmerman shot a 17-year-old boy to death, but the real question on everyone’s mind was who he voted for.

While these attempts to turn racism into a partisan issue might help to assuage some guilty consciences, the results are ultimately bad for both conservatives themselves and the country as a whole. The need to keep the racist fringe mollified means that once Republicans are in power, they inevitably set to work implementing discriminatory and divisive laws like the ones mentioned above – even, as my colleagues Bryce Covert and Mike Konczal have pointed out, when their electoral sales pitch is based on promises of fiscal discipline and economic recovery. This also has consequences for their attempts to broaden their base. It’s no shock that outreach toward Latinos has failed when 91 percent of them want progressive immigration reform like the DREAM Act yet it can barely garner single-digit support among congressional Republicans. And on a broader level, it’s impossible to seriously discuss or redress racial inequality and injustice if someone keeps changing the subject.

Some progressives might be tempted to say, “So what? Aren’t we trying to discredit conservatives anyway? Let’s just sit back and watch the train wreck.” But in truth, the inability of the conservative movement to escape the racist albatross around its neck is bad for progressives, too. If we’re to be measured by the quality of our opponents, what does it say about us if we win because the other guys got caught e-mailing each other Photoshops of Barack Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose? There’s no reason for progressives to push ourselves to strengthen our arguments or develop bold new solutions to seemingly intractable problems unless there’s an equally powerful, credible, and clear-minded counter-force. Besides, in a two-party system, the other side is going to take the reins of power at least some of the time. When that happens, we want them to be people we can debate in good faith.

This sad state of affairs wasn’t inevitable. For a brief moment, Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 seemed to signal a sea change in America’s eternally fraught racial politics. The last, greatest barrier had been surmounted and a new generation, unburdened by the prejudices of the past, had risen to power, ready to tackle the big issues and debate the questions that really mattered. But the idea of Obama being a “post-racial” president soon degenerated into a punch line as many Republicans, terrified of the new president’s broad appeal, gave in to their darkest impulses. The most high-profile and embarrassing of these efforts was the attempt to cast doubt on Obama’s birth records, which culminated with Donald Trump beclowning himself by basing his entire presidential campaign around an easily debunked conspiracy theory. (Oddly, Trump was not asked to produce any documentation to explain what part of the planet Earth produces vividly orange people with gossamer hair.) Instead of putting the last nail in racism’s coffin, Obama’s historic triumph brought the cranks out of the woodwork, spooked by a premonition of their demise.

But all hope is not lost just because some conservatives continue to write clueless op-eds about how white privilege doesn’t exist because someone who may or may not have been black may or may not have stolen a bike. Even if electoral concerns make the right hesitant to repudiate and cut ties with its more retrograde allies for now, it remains a demographic reality, as Jonathan Chait has written, that the current conservative coalition must either change or die – and conservatives are nothing if not resilient. And if conservatives do manage to join the 21st century and start winning over minority groups, it will mean that elected Democrats will actually have to start working for their votes again. As Bryce Covert has written, “once we find ways to get our representatives to truly represent the diversity of our people, more Sarah Palins and Herman Cains will be a good sign. Progressives won’t have to vote for them, but we’ll know that they come with the territory of greater equality.” Once that happens, and once conservatives start proactively challenging racism in their ranks instead of shouting “I’m rubber; you’re glue!” when called on it, maybe we can finally have an adult conversation about race and move forward as a united country.

Tim Price is the Deputy Editor of Next New Deal.

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Fighting Back Against Sexual Violence on Indian Reservations

Apr 6, 2012Katherine ReillyMarielle DeJong

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, recognizing that we can't take an out of sight, out of mind approach to the rights and safety of

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, recognizing that we can't take an out of sight, out of mind approach to the rights and safety of Native American women.

Since its colonial beginnings, the United States has been an active participant in a long history of injustice against Native Americans. Such incidents are often considered to be in the past -- issues of colonial conflict and displacement that no longer exist. Today, Native American rights have fallen off the government's radar and have become less of a concern among policymakers. Americans have limited knowledge of the cultural traditions, governmental policies, and law enforcement guidelines that exist on tribal reservations. Such ignorance not only ignores but perpetuates the continued examples of injustice that are very much present today.

Statistics offer proof of the exceptionally high rates of violent crime on many Native American reservations and that women in particular are frequent victims of such crime. Native American women suffer 2.5 times more violent crime than the national average. One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Four out of five of the perpetrators are non-Native.

These numbers show a disturbing trend that reveals a clear problem in safety and law enforcement on tribal lands. Criminal investigation and prosecution on tribal lands are lacking, a problem that can be attributed in part to cultural and structural barriers that prevent effective communication between tribal, state, and federal government. Because of limitations on investigation and sentence length, tribes often depend on federal authorities, causing gaps in jurisdiction and miscommunication because both governments represent constituencies with different interests and values. Complicated jurisdiction, institutional problems, and limited resources all contribute to an inefficient law enforcement system, which perpetuates the prevalence of sexual violence on Indian reservations. Alcoholism and poverty only exacerbate these problems, which can no longer be ignored. It is of utmost importance that the criminal justice system be improved to more effectively deter and prosecute perpetrators. It is equally important that preventative policies be adopted to reduce the amount of sexual violence.

Join the conversation about the Roosevelt Institute’s new initiative, Rediscovering Government, led by Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick.

The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) mandates the coordination of Indian Health Services, the Department of Justice, tribal organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations to set a standard protocol for dealing with sexual assault. It standardizes the treatment of rape and assault victims and the training of tribal police in effective questioning of victims and collection of evidence. The Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women Act (SAVE Native Women Act) was introduced to Congress on October 31, 2011 and is now cosponsored by 14 U.S. senators. The act aims to further decrease violent crimes against Native American women by strengthening the authority of tribes to hold perpetrators responsible. Currently, tribes do not have jurisdiction if the crime involves a non-Native perpetrator or victim or if the crime does not occur in Indian country. The act is currently being reviewed by the United States Committee on Indian Affairs. Both of these acts are crucial to improving conditions on reservations.

Congress should enact the SAVE Native Women Act, and the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) should advocate for the reallocation of funds toward programs that prevent and address violent crimes against Native American women. Additionally, officers should be educated in Native American history and culture by law enforcement experts, Native American historians, and community leaders.

The current Basic Police Officer Training Program at the Indian Police Academy is a course designed for U.S. BIA and tribal law enforcement officers. While the training includes Indian country law and "BIA specialized training," the trainees are not specifically taught about Native American cultural traditions or history. A law enforcement training program that encourages both efficient communication and cultural understanding will lead to a justice system that more effectively investigates crimes and prosecutes criminals.

Native American women especially will benefit from a policy that brings justice to those oppressed by race and gender. Additionally, both federal and tribal law enforcement agencies have a stake in the outcome, as it would affect their training procedures and lead to more collaborative communication. Legislators involved in state commissions on Indian affairs or in the Congressional Native American Caucus would likely be supportive of this proposal. This is also an issue of human rights, which impacts all Americans.

Native American people are an integral part of the American population. As such, the United States has a responsibility to protect the livelihood of American Indians while still respecting their independence and self-determination. The United States must adopt and implement policies that facilitate the creation and continuation of safe environments for Native American Women. Not doing so would jeopardize the American ideal of security and equality for all. The Tribal Law and Order Act and the SAVE Native Women Act are both steps in the right direction. State, tribal, and federal governments should all take steps to ensure that Native Women are protected under the law and should work to both reduce and prevent sexual violence on reservations. Finally, the American public should continue to be aware and educated about the lifeways of the people around them. During a time when women's health issues are being constantly debated by presidential candidates, Americans must be aware of the criminal injustices and health dangers that threaten Native American women every day.

Marielle DeJong is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying American Indian studies. Katherine Reilly is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying journalism and political science. Both are members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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