E-Letter To The American Prospect and Robert Kuttner Re: "Top-Down Class Warfare"
Your October 23, 2000 commentary Top-Down Class Warfare reveals a flaw in the thinking of many liberals and progressives on issues of class that I believe ultimately hurts the Black community the most.
While I agree with your assessment that Gore is seeking to address the concerns of middle-class voters more than he is the poor as well as some of the points you make about deregulation, I categorically reject your conclusion on the solution on how to join the interests of middle-class and poor families. In your conclusion you write: "I began by observing that it is hard for American politicians to address the plight of the poor in a largely middle-class country. The one proven way to join the interests of middle-class and poor families is through universal government programs and through regulation that protects the entire citizenry. But discredit government, and you sever that alliance. So class warfare from the top not only harms the economic security of ordinary people; it wrecks progressive coalition politics."
I disagree with the crux of your argument. The State can never be the basis for a political coalition. And certainly not one that would unite the interests of the middle-class and the poor. Universal government programs and regulation may sound nice on paper but never solve the problems that they aim for. And certainly not economic problems. While you are correct that the rhetoric of "shrink government, lower taxes, get rid of regulation, liberate capital - and the economy will soar" does not work as advertised, your approach will prove to be equally ineffective.
The litmus test that I use to measure whether or not programs aimed at the "poor" will really work or not, is applying these programs to the Black community. Regulation and universal government programs are no solution to the problems of poverty or a means by which you unite the poor and middle-class. Why? Because they do not address the two biggest causes for poverty in this country - particularly among Blacks - the breakup of the family structure and the emergence of single-parent homes with no financial support from the male; and the inflation that this country has experienced over the last 30 years since this country left the gold standard.
When the Black family became more and more populated with single-income households and the dollar's purchasing power eroded, it ensured that the Black community and others would be locked in a cycle of poverty. When you add in the fact that from the 1970s up through the early part of the 1980s that marginal tax rates were not decreased you can see that a single family household that earned inflated wages was actually paying a higher percentage of its earnings in taxes than when that household had two bread winners and the dollar was defined in terms of gold. This is an error in U.S. monetary and fiscal policies that still has not been corrected and not a problem of regulation or the lack of universal government programs.
You could regulate, slow globalism and institute universal healthcare and pre-school and run those programs for the next 30 years and you still would not have addressed the root of Black America's poverty and you certainly would not have united the poor and Black middle class which really are not separate groups if you factor in family relations, as liberals and progressives rarely do.
How many middle-class individuals and families in Black America are without poor relatives that they are helping to support in some fashion? What about middle-class families in Black America that are helping to support "poor" relatives who were left behind by a Black female or male who are incarcerated?
Your middle-class and poor dichotomy just doesn't work very neatly for Blacks.
And until you address the deconstruction of the Black family which stems from slavery and beyond, where blacks were prohibited from marrying, any government program will only make poverty a little more bearable. It certainly won't lift groups from the poor class into the middle class and into the ranks of the wealthy. The reestablishment of the family is basic to any effort to end poverty in the Black community.
The dilemma that my challenge to liberals and progressives poses is that these two groups tend to be very uncomfortable with religion and faith-based institutions which have and can help to reconstruct the Black family and end poverty.
But such an aversion to religion runs against the grain of the Black community that progressives and liberals claim to represent.
Liberals and progressives make government the end-all or means through which problems are solved while Blacks historically have leaned on churches and more recently mosques and masjids to address their problems.
This is where the validity of your solution partially breaks down.
You want the poor to work out their problems through government when these problems could better be resolved if power and resources were devolved from the federal and local government and into the hands of faith-based institutions and grassroots community organizations in poor communities.
The statist-approach will not solve Black America's poverty and family problems. That can be better addressed through the promotion of marriage and family life and the combination of improved monetary and fiscal policies that address inflation and deflationary cycles and oppressive tax burdens. What the State can do better than any segment of society is address issues of collective and historical injustice. That is why I support a role of government in addressing issues like reparations, Native American genocide and environmental racism and even massive worker retraining and reeducation programs that stem from the historical denial of education and even the mis-education of an entire people. Such reeducation programs would allow Blacks and other Americans to fill jobs currently being filled by "skilled immigrants" simply because the H-1B visa makes the process cheaper for corporations to do so.
There is a role for government in improving human lives but forming political coalitions and addressing poverty is just not one of them.
Wednesday, October 25, 2000