Monthly Archives: September 2016

Black Lives, Black Deaths, and American Social Inequality

Terence Crutcher’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma is an example of American tragedy repeated ad nauseam. In this troubling event, we see the fears and prejudices of previous generations yet alive in our day, bearing ugly and strange fruit.

I’ve been writing about social and economic inequalities for more than three years. The slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 initially served as my inspiration to write. In the post-2008 wreck, pension savings vaporized, numerous jobs were lost, and some housing markets tanked leaving homeowners in the cold. People suffered.

But Wall Street recovered soon enough, and nobody from the big banks went to prison or took responsibility for the havoc brought upon the economy because of overextension and greed in the housing loan market. The very well-to-do didn’t suffer. As a matter of fact, in the eight years since the recession, 1 percenters – the term coined to describe the very well-to-do – have prospered fantastically compared to the rest of us.

What does this have to do with Terrence Crutcher – a forty year-old African-American father of four who attended community college and sang in a local church choir – whose car was either stalled or left in the middle of the road? Four police officers on the ground apprehended Crutcher as he walked from and to his car, and two other officers watched him from the sky in a helicopter. One of the officers on the ground shot Crutcher, and he was left to bleed while lying on the black asphalt of highway 36 in northeast Tulsa. Unattended for two full minutes, he later died. He was unarmed. The police officer who shot him is a white woman. Her husband, also an officer, happened to be in the helicopter hovering overhead. His partner in the helicopter initially described Crutcher as a “bad dude . . . who might be on something.” Even if he was on drugs (police claim there was a vial of angel dust in Crutcher’s car; Crutcher had spent four years in prison on drug charges) or somewhat uncooperative – his death was entirely unnecessary. This disturbing case isn’t one of Crutcher being apprehended for “driving while black,” but “car breaking down while black.” Even in our advanced and oh-so modern twenty-first century society, the great American tenant of presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to all. It especially doesn’t apply to American black men, who are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white American males.

Social inequalities naturally exist and contribute to the healthy functioning of a society. The incentives and rewards to advance one’s standing in a market-based economy properly boost social and economic mobility. But rampant and extreme social inequalities make for an unhealthy society. Extreme and chronic social inequalities are created and maintained by unequal opportunities and disproportionate rewards or punishments for people of differing ethnic, economic, or gender categories. The long list of black men and children recently killed by police officers – Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Tyre King are but a few – speaks of a type of social inequality abhorrent and out of control in the US.

Increasing economic inequality in the US – the rich getting richer, ongoing now for thirty-five years – has contributed significantly to social inequality. As Bill Bishop details in his book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (Mariner, 2009), Americans have been steadily sorting themselves into more homogenous communities, neighborhoods, and social groups since the early 1980s. Social isolation and seclusion do not make for a stronger and more resilient society.

If you are white like me, I have a few questions: Do you have a personal relationship with anyone who is black? If so, have you discussed this issue – black lives and black deaths – with your black friend or acquaintance?

diversity_and_unity

Social problems have social solutions. What we need is more face to face time between the diverse collection of Americans – and less reinforcement of previously held opinions bolstered by hyper-partisans showcased on outlets like Fox News and MSNBC. What would our society be like if people replaced time spent watching Sean Hannity (Fox News) and Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC) with time spent talking and listening to fellow Americans who are in a different category socioeconomically or ethnically?

These conversations, I trust, would bear healthy and beneficial fruit for us today and our descendants in their tomorrows. These interactions can help us get to the place where we place less blame on others and work toward greater shared responsibility with others for the well-being of our society.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Octubre de 2016!

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The Inequality Trifecta

Now that we’re on the other side of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the claim that American society suffers from rampant inequalities is no longer a shocker. If anything, Senator Sanders’ candidacy proclaimed inequality as public enemy number one. He’s helped us understand that inequality in the US (and elsewhere) consists of three sub-categories: income, wealth, and opportunity.richvspoor-large_600x400

Income inequality is the most accessible of the three, revealed by comparisons in hourly wages, daily wages, and yearly salaries of workers. Income inequality is on the rise in the US, and has been for more than thirty-five years.

To understand wealth inequality, consider that the Dow Jones Industrial Average recently crested 18,000. Climbing since July, the average has now hit an all-time high of more than 18,500. Are you among the 55 percent of American adults who own stocks? Before the 2008 “Great Recession” when the Dow Jones index fluctuated between 12,000 and 13,000, close to 65 percent of Americans owned stocks. Today, the pool of stock owners as a percentage of total population is the smallest it’s been in a generation, concentrating wealth. Increases in stock market indices generally mean those that already have plenty get more.

A number of us (myself included) have retirement pensions and other holdings in the stock market. I fit the majority stockholder profile: white college grad living in a household making more than $75,000 per year. According to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of whites, 28 percent of blacks, and 17 percent of Hispanics held stocks as of 2013. Financial market holdings, along with business and home ownerships are the main markers of accumulated wealth. The racial wealth gap has increased since 2008 in the US – whites have thirteen times greater wealth (overall assets minus liabilities) than blacks, and ten times greater than Hispanics.* Double or triple would be a significant difference – thirteen and ten times greater reveals a rigged system, historically and currently so.

Economist, financier, and author Mohamed El-Erian best explains opportunity inequality in his book The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse (Penguin Random House, 2016): “The worsening of income and wealth inequality has been so pronounced within countries that it now also undermines opportunities” (p. 84). In other words, as inequality continues to increase in the sub-categories of income and wealth, opportunities decrease. This explains why the great American tradition of economic and social mobility is morphing, especially during the past thirty-five years, into economic and social immobility. El-Erian, an American with extensive work experience worldwide, warns that the important role of inequality serving to incentivize and reward hard work and entrepreneurship now takes a back seat to excessive inequalities that harm society in many ways. We’re becoming stuck, and it’s not a good place in which to get stuck.

El-Erian further details inequality’s tightening grip. Wall Street has recovered from 2008’s Great Recession. Corporate profits, as a share of GDP, have reached record highs in the post-Great Recession era. Job creation has improved, but wages remain flat. El-Erian says while the rich continue to get richer, “conventional cyclical redistribution policies have been noticeably absent. With active budget policy making heavily constrained by political polarization, there has been a reduced emphasis on transfer payments and other support for the poor” (p. 87).

“Redistribution” – El-Erian knows that the use of the word is dangerous in today’s era of inequality. Since the first era of rampant inequality – the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century – redistribution, however, has been an important tool to help make an unequal society a better society. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Title 1 of the Education and Secondary Education Act, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) are some examples of redistribution and transfer payments that specifically benefit the elderly and children in America. Without these programs, American society would be decidedly worse off.

What kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of society do we want our grandchildren to live in? I’m all for continuing to advocate for a society that is egalitarian, civil, and full of opportunity with just rewards.

And for those of us concerned that public administration is by design corrupt and inefficient? Yes, those in government need to be held accountable so that the above mentioned programs and other transfer programs are designed smartly and implemented efficiently. Hopefully, just as smartly and efficiently as have been the decisions and policies we’ve seen in the last thirty-five years to siphon income and wealth upward helping to create the trifecta of inequality that now threatens to destabilize our society.

*For you curious types (like me), as of 2013, Asian-Americans have wealth stores that are 70 percent of the level of whites.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

 

 

 

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