American Race Relations in 2016

To many, the state of race relations in America is declining. Whether we admit it or not, recent polls have shown a majority of Americans believe race relations with the African-American community are at their lowest point in a generation. Worse still, some feel America’s close to duplicating the racially tinged social upheaval that marked the 1960’s. After the recent Milwaukee Uprising and protests in Charlotte, it’s hard to deny this trend is developing.

Ironically, this social disintegration comes in an era when members of the African-American community have reached the highest levels in the government, arts, sports, medicine, business, and the sciences. Against this backdrop of high-level achievement, it’s alarming to see the increase in racial tensions recently sweeping America. After the optimism spawned by the Civil Rights movement, we’re now faced with the grim reality that for many blacks, America’s promise of opportunity is fading.

Several factors come into play when discussing recent racial problems. Obviously, many in the black community have come to view law enforcement differently than other Americans. It’s hard to deny that the relationship between African-Americans and the police has changed the past few years. Although it’s tempting to blame either just the police, or the black community for recent tensions, analysis reveals a more complex situation. Unfortunately, without honest debate, the complexities of the situation become obscured and politicized to a breaking point.

Regarding the situation with law enforcement, many of us note that most police are ethical individuals doing a tough job in difficult times. Therefore, just blaming the police for recent tensions misses the mark. However, this doesn’t change the fact that many African-Americans not only feel they’re treated differently, they can actually point to statistics and instances which seem to bolster their claims. Compounding things is the fact that many in the media blame either just the black community, or the police for racial problems. Although this approach can lead to a ratings bonanza for the media, it adds fuel to a heated debate.

Hopefully, there can be honest discussion on all sides of this current crisis. This discussion needs to not only deal with current police practices and ways to seek improvements, but also focus on the ongoing lack of economic opportunity in the black community. As many know, poverty and lack of jobs adds to social tensions.

Unfortunately, African-Americans have been caught in the middle of an ongoing hard-nosed political-economic controversy the past 50 years. Ever since “The War on Poverty” was launched, there’s been intense focus on black Americans as recipients of government aid. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that although the “War on Poverty” had positive attributes, it compounded racial tensions.

Another factor contributing to an increase in tensions is the fact that both the unemployment rate and underemployment rate for the African-American community are much higher than average. In many metro areas, this lack of opportunity is devastating.

Although the “The War on Poverty” focused somewhat on employment, it could’ve recognized more the true impact work has on an individual’s sense of self and their place in their community. As many note, a problem with economic theory is that it addresses unemployment in a dry, statistical manner. Lost in the way many politicians approach this issue is the fact that work is tied in with someone’s dreams for a respectful life. Without steady employment, dreams are often squashed.

An ongoing dilemma of modern economics is the employment-dream equation. To combat this, it’d be wise to raise the value of work to more importance in modern America. And yes, although globalism’s here to stay, we can do better at keeping jobs here. Also, we need to realize that our commonly stated unemployment figure doesn’t count those who quit looking for work, and those underemployed. Sadly, overlooking these factors means that large swaths of able-bodied Americans can’t fulfill their dreams. As we know, lack of economic opportunity creates a breeding ground for both crime, and the racial profiling that can evolve as a way to combat it.

As for addressing the serious issue of unemployment-underemployment in America, we need to think creatively. Suggestions to improve employment range from rethinking trade pacts to keep jobs here, to expanding government jobs to create a modern and more urban version of the Youth Conservation Corps. In line with this, an expansion of the Conservation Corps can create permanent infrastructure jobs for adults. As for market incentives, consideration needs to be given to expanding tax credits and exemptions for small business healthcare insurance, and a simplification of small business legal and zoning regulations. Too often, gang members in metro areas complain they feel trapped in the gang lifestyle since jobs are sparse, and the ability to open a small business seems impossible.

On a global basis, countries such as Japan have had low unemployment because they value it. If America truly wants to, it can embrace a culture of work and achievement for all. To truly address racial problems, America must first have the political will to stop kicking the can down the road and become committed to a truly transparent full employment. If we can do this, America’s metro areas can become revitalized and the culture of poverty enveloping many African-Americans will be lessened. When increasing economic opportunity is combined with improving police practices, America’s current racial divide can begin to heal.









6 thoughts on “American Race Relations in 2016

  1. Good stuff, Perry, and this is an issue I know you know well because you’ve lived it.

    It is undeniable that a thriving economy for all levels of society is crucial. But policy recommendations are difficult and, many times, result in tragedies. The Democrats declared “War on Poverty” in the 1960s and the problems are even worse today, especially within the black communities that have been socially devastated by ill conceived State policies. (Just as the “War on Drugs”, which was launched in the 1970s by the Republicans, is now generally considered lost, but at least those policies are starting to be reversed by the common sense of popular opinion.)

    It seems that any State interference only exacerbates the problem and the issues, when it enters the scene, only gets worse.

    On economic issues, let the market resolve them, with the State’s role only as guarantor of a fair and level market place for all.

    Remember, the singular tendency of capitalism is to provide for individuals the satisfaction of their wants according to the extent of their contribution to the satisfaction of the wants of others.

    1. Thx for the in-depth comment PJ!

      Yes…I agree that in some ways, state intervention may exacerbate problems. This is because bureaucratic solutions to complex issues can adopt a one-size-fits all approach that over time proves too simple. As a result, soon after certain programs are launched with euphoria, the euphoria fades as the law of unintended consequences sets in.

      As for the market resolving issues, a truly fair market regulated by the state to provide fairness, has positive features. In addition, it seems the market’s often blamed for things that are more the result of regulation that’s fuzzy due to over-complexity. As we know, overly complex regulation can provide cover for some to take advantage, or game the system, to their benefit.

      Regarding employment, we have to ask ourselves if it’s wise to have so many people idle. Currently, America, as well as many other western countries, has a high level of underemployment. When able-bodied people are idle, frustration sets in. Although market incentives are needed to grow small business, it’d also behoove us to employ those underemployed in infrastructure maintenance. When these jobs were more prevalent in the past, it assisted not only the employer, but also the individual in many ways.

      Basically, employment’s an important part of life. Time + again, it’s shown that even temporary employment not only has economic benefits, but powerful psychological benefits too. Reducing our high underemployment may improve social ills. In turn, a higher level of employment may help our debt problem by eventually helping to reduce the amount spent on both welfare + crime prevention.

  2. Perry, you’ve posed this question in the context of race, and one in particular, however consider it as a universal issue we are all racing towards, meaning robotics and AI will create such high degrees of automation that employment at almost all levels will soon be replaced by smart machines.

    Will that scenario (and don’t fool yourself to think it is only science fiction, it will happen) unleash the inherent creativity in all of us and we thrive in a brave new world or will it multiply the despondency and social chaos you mention concerning one race, but now for all?

    Hard to envision a market response and cure for that extreme…..

    In fact, one can only conceive State intervention in this case (but it’s early morning and I haven’t had my coffee yet!) – a Universal Basic Income guaranteed for all. But truly universal, not a means tested, complex bureaucraticly managed subsidy, just a simple payment to all citizens like what we have today as a tax refund., but the same amount and for everyone. I’ve read that studies show this type of program would even cost less than today’s current Byzantine welfare schemes.

    That is a far stray from pure market forces, no doubt, but as I said……I need a cup of coffee.

    1. Hey PJ…interesting points on the new world of the future that awaits all of us! Since I’ve had my mandatory cup of invigorating morning tea, I can envision a response. 🙂

      Yes, undoubtedly in the future we have the potential to radically increase idleness by the use of robotics + AI. And although the argument about automation replacing the need for human employment has been around 100 years, you’re correct to note that what we’re facing now with AI + robotics is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. It really is understandable that some look to the future with a combination of anticipation + dread.

      As you point out, there’s a strong possibility that alienation + chaos can increase in an even more automated world. Since complex technology has the potential to actually limit face to face human interaction by putting machines in charge, there can be a time in the future when true interaction with others will be rare. As to how this impacts humanity, only time will tell. However, given what we know about human nature, it is possible that one sector of humanity can feel the negative impact more than others.

      As for the future of employment in this brave new world, there will obviously be some need for it. And yes, you’re correct that a simply administered Universal Basic Income does have a potential for us to actually envision employment scenarios that are more self-actualized for the individual. Like you say, if the income allows the individual freedom of choice as to what they do with their money, there may be a chance that the dystopian aspects of the future can possibly be negated by allowing the individual to enjoy the spark of freedom. And yes…maybe this Universal Basic Income can actually reinvigorate aspects of the market economy?

      Very interesting PJ! Time for another cup of tea…

  3. Is it the case that opportunity is fading for many blacks as a result of racial barriers or as a result of socio-economic barriers, that the promise of opportunity is fading for people in the lower socioeconomic strata overall with greater effect as one regresses down the socioeconomic ladder? Itmay be felt to be a racial case by many blacks, but it apparently it is also the case for many whites. Both the blacks and the whites may project this condition onto the “other,” and they apparently do, hence the Trump phenomenon. For the blacks there is historical validity to that premise. For both blacks and whites, to the extent that they see opportunity as a zero sum game among the races (all of them), the “obvious” conclusion is that one group’s diminished opportunity is resultant directly from the other group’s increased opportunity.
    Is it the case that Blacks view their relationship to law enforcement differently than previously or that they are now more able and willing to express that view? I suggest the latter to be true. Up until the middle of the last half of the twentieth century, protest by non-whites would have been met with indifference at best or with harsh reprisals.
    Is the Black/White employment differential markedly different now than in the past 100 years? I doubt it.
    The contention that “globalism is here to stay” is a projection that may not be well supported by the evidence. Numerous articles have suggested a resurging “neomedievalism” which may or may not play well with globalist notions, or that globalism will develop in unanticipated ways having less to do with nation-state hegemonies. The current trend towards globalism is really a recent phenomenon. Further, the part about “value of work” is also under assault by burgeoning automation. Various articles have projected that the majority of jobs lost in recent decades by America are not the result of international trade pacts so much as the roboticization of work. Wither goes the value of the human worker who is rendered obsolete by automation?
    “If America truly wants to, it can embrace a culture of work and achievement for all.” Well, yeah, but does America want to? Who represents the America that may want to? Unemployment and inequality are part and parcel to full throated capitalism.

    1. Good to hear from you again Charlton! Fascinating + provocative comments…

      Since you like to point out the seemingly inherent contradictions you saw in parts of my short essay, I’ll address the contradiction I see inherent in your last comment about inequality + unemployment being part + parcel to full-throated capitalism.

      As many have noted over the past century, what we have economically-speaking today isn’t full-throated capitalism. In reality, America, as well as most western economies, are mixed-economies insofar as there’s a blend of socialist-government sector services mixed in with a marketplace that shows varying degrees of monopoly + even oligopoly influence.

      Also, if one follows famous economists such as Schumpeter, one can conclude that we’re in the corporatism phase of capitalism he predicted back in the 40’s.,_Socialism_and_Democracy

      As you probably know, the true economic debate lies in the amount of mixing inherent in one’s economy. One can say that in the recent past such as 30 years ago, there was a slightly higher level of socialist ideas in many western economies. As the Sanders phenomenon shows, a rebirth of Social-Democrat ideas seems to be springing up in America.

      Therefore, although it’s easy to say one shouldn’t question levels of both unemployment + levels of inequality due to the fact they’re inherent to full-throated capitalism, one can conclude that’s an inaccurate comment due to the fact we don’t have full-throated capitalism.

      Basically, notwithstanding the fact that economic theory seems complex, there really aren’t that many choices economically for countries to pursue. We have capitalism, socialism, + all of the various combinations of the two dominant systems that present themselves. Most countries of the world operate by combining to varying degrees both capitalism + socialism.

      As for those looking for a utopian capitalism or utopian socialism that’s pure, history shows that difficult to accomplish. However…that doesn’t mean the desire for economic purity will ever go away.

      Basically, for all the complaints about capitalism the fact remains it endures because it allows a chance for someone to jump social classes based on the inherent nature of how they do in the competitive marketplace. Yes, sometimes marketplace behavior is impolite + it goes without saying capitalism needs clear + strong regulation to thrive. However, the fact remains there’s a flexibility to capitalism that allows it to survive in modified form.

      Socialism, for all of it’s inherent humanizing qualities, runs into problems when attempts are to make it pure. As we saw with communism, the main attempt historically at pure socialism, the “rule by committee” approach they had not only stifled the ability for people to jump social classes, it also bred a certain type of greed related to party power.

      As for an ideal economic system, many look to Social-Democratic market-based socialism. Basically, when one strips away the political posturing out there, the majority of western countries have had this system the past 80 years. In addition, many non-western countries of the world are adopting this.

      Politically-speaking, the main argument has been in how far towards the capitalist vs socialist part of the continuum a country strives toward. This feature has ebbed + flowed. However, most of the political rhetoric out there doesn’t diminish the fact most major economies like ours are a mixed economy. Obviously, America, by having a form of social insurance such as Social Security, has features that aren’t pure capitalist.

      As for your comment about globalism being a recent fad, it’s basically been the de facto philosophy in the west for quite a while. And yes, there are strong + understandable rumblings about a move to tone down globalism. This is what Brexit was about. However, even if globalism is toned down, it’ll survive in some form.

      As for unemployment, you’re correct to say robots will take over jobs. However, not every job can be done by a robot. For example, I work in high-tech healthcare. In healthcare, the premium placed on human to human interaction is still necessary. As you know, not everything in the future will be able to be automated. Yes, automation is here to stay, but the human touch will remain.

      As for providing employment to people, some people scoff at that. However, I ask if it may not be worth considering widening the pool of available jobs so that more people can experience the value of work. After all Charlton, I gather from your comments that you’re educated + have an important job. If this is true, then you can understand the meaning you get from being gainfully employed.

      Wouldn’t it be better to provide jobs that’d teach a skill or help to sustain the environment? Wouldn’t it be good to spark someone’s interest this way?

      If the future will be only for those that are programming the robots + automation as you hint at, could that future eventually turn dystopian due to alienation + lack of having something productive to do? Also…there’s even a chance that providing employment + opening up employment incentives could actually help our debt problem by reducing the cost of welfare + crime prevention.

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