Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Talk Is Cheap. Especially in Politics.

I'm increasingly convinced that we have too many debates about, say, bigoted speech and too few debates about the institutional and economic underpinnings which make bigotry so harmful.  It's not that the former aren't useful, but that the latter are so rare is truly worrying.

I wrote on this topic in 2017 while criticizing David Brooks.  It made sense to pick on him, because Brooks is the foremost representative of the argument that cultural differences Are Everything, that economic differences do not matter at all in our understanding of Republicans vs. Democrats or of blacks vs.whites and so on.

But the problem of over-focusing on linguistic and cultural questions is now wider than just Mr. Brooks, and it has spread to the political online left.

To see why that concerns me, just try to think how we could eradicate institutional racism in this country without reallocating resources*. 

Then ask yourself why we don't talk much about the resources which are needed, where they would come from,  and how they could be allocated to their best uses:  To schools in segregated black areas, to poorer schools in general, to health care clinics which cater for the low-income populations, to antenatal clinics in areas where black maternal mortality rates are extremely high.  And so on.

The material infrastructure for the differences many of us lament does matter.  With few exceptions (Elizabeth Warren comes to mind here), politicians don't address those questions adequately, either.  We really need to change that, especially when the Trump administration is exacerbating the already terrible income inequality in this country.

* The same question can be asked of other types of -isms.  For instance, without paid parental leave and access to good quality daycare women, especially poor women, are handicapped in the labor market, as long as childcare is gendered. Expressing feminist sentiments doesn't alter the need for resource reallocation to such uses.