One of the most persistent and least useful arguments of this presidential campaign season is taking place among Democrats who (mostly) talk past one another about how economic inequality and racial inequality are or are not linked. Does someone have a good proposal? Let’s hear it.
We should be clear that this very intense and prolonged argument is happening solely on the left side of the political spectrum. Among Republicans, racial equality is paid lip service right before statements about supporting the police, and economic inequality is generally treated as the just and natural outcome of the free market. So it should go without saying that either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will likely do far more to address these issues than any candidate the Republicans might nominate.
With that out of the way: this argument covers topics that are extremely important. The way the argument is conducted—in the media, online, and wherever people with strong lefty political convictions argue—often renders it extremely unimportant. Economic inequality is very important, and should be addressed by our government to the best of its ability. Racial inequality is very important, and should be addressed by our government to the best of its ability. Virtually everyone who cares enough to participate in this argument agrees with both of those things.
The argument then becomes: Which of these two things is more important? This is an okay thing to think about, but it implies that one of these two versions of inequality is so much more important than the other that we should be focusing our attentions upon it first and solely, when the reality is that both of these forms of inequality are very much intertwined. The other version of the argument is: Do you think that you can automatically solve racism just by solving economic inequality? The answer to that is obviously “no,” and anyone talking about this issue rationally knows that it is “no,” and it’s not really worth pursuing it further, because the answer is “no.”
What has been argued in a serious way, and what I believe is true, is that if we ask ourselves, “What are the most meaningful real world policies that a presidential candidate could support that would help to address racial inequality in America?” the answer is, “Policies that will close the racial wealth gap in America.” Black people in America are far poorer than white people, in large part because of a historic legacy of racism. Closing that racial wealth gap would have enormous meaningful impacts on the quality of life of black people in America. Would it make racism vanish? No. But is there another specific political policy proposal that would do more to address racial inequality than ending the racial wealth gap would? I don’t think that there is. There are policy proposals that could address various aspects of racial inequality issues—housing discrimination, for example, or police brutality—but it is hard to imagine that any of those policies would have a larger real world effect than closing the racial wealth gap.
Also, so that we do not ourselves fall into this morass of argument divorced from reality: both Democratic candidates generally support a variety of policies that would address both racial and economic inequality.
Bernie Sanders is a stronger advocate of closing the economic inequality gap in America, and his proposals aimed at raising the incomes of the poor are stronger than Hillary Clinton’s proposals. For this reason I believe that Bernie Sanders’ proposals would ultimately do more to help racial inequality in America, by doing more to close the racial wealth gap, than Hillary Clinton’s policies would. (The policies of either one would do more than any of the Republican candidates’ policies.) Yesterday, Hillary Clinton gave a widely covered speech in Harlem where she sought to portray herself as the candidate that black America should vote for—as a candidate who would do more for racial inequality than Bernie Sanders would. Touching on a litany of ways that black people in America suffer, she said, “These are not only problems of economic inequality. These are problems of racial inequality.”
Her implication was that Bernie Sanders thinks that economic inequality is the same thing as racial inequality. I don’t think that is true, but even if it was true, I still believe that Bernie Sanders’ socialist-oriented policies would do significantly more to help black Americans than Hillary Clinton’s more moderate proposals. Which is all a long way of saying this:
If Bernie Sanders’ proposals to address inequality aren’t the right ones, what are the better ones? What are the better policy proposals? What specific policy proposals would have more of a real-world impact than closing the racial wealth gap? An explicit program of racial reparations is the only one I can think of, and no candidate thus far has been willing to get behind this idea.
So what are those superior proposals? Honest question.