Just Economics: looking through the lens of the “1619 Project”
In 2019, The New York Times published The 1619 Project, a collection of essays, short stories and poems intended to revisit the history of the United States through the lens of slavery and racism. The creators of The 1619 Project hoped it would be used in public schools. This happened in over 4,000 schools, mostly in urban areas such as Washington DC, Newark, New Jersey and Chicago. However, use of the draft has been sparse in other parts of the country, in part due to opposition from local school boards and state legislatures in places such as Arkansas, Iowa, and Mississippi. . Was this opposition entirely due to the rural-urban divide or was there something else at work?
It should be noted that the original version of The 1619 Project has been criticized on several fronts. Historians have criticized him for certain factual inaccuracies and over-analysis. The World Socialist Web Site rejected the project, stating: “The historic slogan of the socialist movement is ‘Workers of the world, unite! not ‘Races of the World, Divide!’ (December 2019, wsws.org)
However, the economic divide between white households and African American households remains extreme. A 2019 survey of consumer finances sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board found that the median and average wealth of black families is less than 15% of that of white families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively. The famous historian Eric Williams (first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago) writes in his book Capitalism and slavery (1944), “Slavery was not born of racism: rather racism is the consequence of slavery.”
The 1619 Project details how racism has been used to make it harder for African Americans to accumulate wealth. Its final chapter, titled “Justice”, presents a history of calls for redress as well as a renewed call for them. Nikole Hannah-Jones, originator of The 1619 Project, author of this chapter and in subsequent speaking engagements, has argued in favor of Universal Basic Income (UBI). It is these positions that The just economy column wishes to address.
Our current capitalist economic system, which Eric Williams and sociologist Matthew Desmond (The 1619 Project) based on slavery, has become extremely unequal. Thus, substantial wealth transfers in the form of reparations and UBI emerge as a necessity for economic justice. Unfortunately, the socialist movement and other progressive forces have been unable to prevent our economy from reaching one of the most unequal conditions since the golden age of the late 19th century. We have now reached a major fork in the road. This fork presents two alternatives: (1) leave the current system in place; (2) structural changes that guarantee a more egalitarian economic system.
The descendants of slaves have valid arguments for obtaining reparations. Their ancestors’ labor was stolen and they suffered many racial injustices in many areas, including the economy. The argument for UBI reveals how broken and unjust our economic system is. The system has used racism to prevent one sector of society from enjoying the economic fruits of its labor. But as this sector slowly gained more rights, the system found ways to suppress the economic life of all citizens, regardless of ethnicity.
Instead of slavery, financial instruments such as payday loans, low wages, and student debt, to name a few, are now being deployed to keep wealth in the hands of “successful” capitalists. “. These modern weapons of exploitation are justified by an unrealistic belief in meritocracy, a belief that has rationalized an ever widening gap in income and wealth. School districts that have chosen to use The 1619 Project can reflect on the challenges of the status quo. School districts that reject The 1619 Project cling to beliefs in biased meritocracy and discourage any consideration of reparations or UBI. Sadly, almost no school district squarely confronts our economic system and encourages consideration of changes that would address the roots of social and economic inequality.
Repairs, if paid, could cost billions of dollars. Yet would this even solve the fundamental problems of our economic system? Many full-time workers earn so little that government intervention is needed to subsidize rent, food, transportation and medical care. It is truly shocking that few attempts are made to hide this heinous form of neo-slavery. Combine poverty wages with the exclusion of ethnic minorities from wealth-generating instruments such as fair mortgages, and it becomes clear that racism has become a substitute for slavery. White America deliberately oppresses people of color in order to control neighborhoods, jobs, politics, education, and capital, while dividing a multiracial working class against itself.
The authors of The 1619 Project gave us a chance to understand the institution of slavery and its descendants: segregation, Jim Crow, lynching and more recently neoliberalism. Racism did not succumb to civil war, civil rights, fair wages or progressive taxation. The ideology of racism as embodied in neoliberal capitalism justifies poor health care, poverty wages, persistent unemployment, homelessness, regressive tax policies and a nation divided along racial lines.
Did slavery end in the United States with the passing of the 13th Amendment? In theory, slavery ended. But the slavery-induced desire to subjugate others by any means possible has not ended. Today, it simply takes a monetary form. Among other things, the racial divide allows the neoliberal economic system to pit liberal communities against conservatives. East The 1619 Project the straw that broke the camel of structural racism? Probably not. But it deepens our understanding of why human groups sometimes desire to subjugate others, and it could help us quell that desire and design a more egalitarian world.