Just Economics: Looking through the lens of ‘The 1619 Project’

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In 2019, The New York Times published The 1619 Project, a collection of essays, short stories, and poems intended to review United States history through the lens of slavery and racism. the creators of The 1619 Project I expected it to be used in public schools. This has happened in more than 4,000 schools, mostly in urban areas like Washington DC, Newark, New Jersey, and Chicago. However, use of the project has been rare in other parts of the country, in part due to opposition from local school boards and state legislatures in places like Arkansas, Iowa and Mississippi. Was this opposition entirely due to the rural-urban divide or was something else at work?

Note that the original version of The 1619 Project He was criticized on several fronts. Historical scholars criticized him for certain factual inaccuracies and overreaching analysis. The World Socialist Web Site repudiated the project stating: “The historical slogan of the socialist movement is ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ not ‘Races of the world, divide!’” (December 2019, wsws.org)

However, the economic divide between white and African-American households remains extreme. A 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board found that the median and median wealth of black families is less than 15% of that of white families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively. The famous historian Eric Williams (first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago) writes in his book capitalism and slavery (1944), “Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”

The 1619 Project details how racism has been used to make wealth accumulation more difficult for African Americans. Its final chapter, entitled “Justice”, presents a history of reparations requests along with a renewed call for them. Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project, is the author of this chapter and in later talks he has defended the Universal Basic Income (UBI). It is these positions that economy only column would like to address.

Our current capitalist economic system, which Eric Williams and sociologist Matthew Desmond (The 1619 Project) was founded on slavery, it has become enormously unequal. Thus, substantial transfers of wealth in the form of reparations and UBI appear to be a necessity for economic justice. Unfortunately, the socialist movement and other progressive forces have not been able to prevent our economy from reaching one of the most unequal conditions since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. We have now come to an important fork in the road. This fork presents two alternatives: (1) leave the current system in place; (2) structural changes that ensure a more egalitarian economic system.

The descendants of slaves have valid arguments for reparations. Their ancestors’ labor was stolen, and they have been subjected to numerous racial injustices in many arenas, including economics. The argument for UBI reveals how broken and unfair our economic system really is. The system used racism to prevent a sector of society from enjoying the economic fruits of their labor. But as that sector slowly gained more rights, the system found ways to suppress the economic life of all citizens, regardless of ethnicity.

Instead of slavery, financial instruments such as payday loans, low wages, and student debt, to name a few, are now put in place to keep wealth in the hands of “successful” capitalists. These modern weapons of exploitation are justified through an unrealistic belief in meritocracy, a belief that has rationalized a widening income and wealth gap. School districts that chose to use The 1619 Project they can reflect on challenges to the status quo. Rejecting School Districts The 1619 Project cling to beliefs in biased meritocracy and discourage any consideration of reparations or UBI. Unfortunately, almost no school district directly confronts our economic system and encourages consideration of changes that address the roots of social and economic inequality.

The repairs, if paid for, could cost billions of dollars. However, would even this address the fundamental problems of our economic system? Many full-time workers earn so little that government intervention is needed to subsidize rent, food, transportation, and health care. It is really shocking that few attempts are made to hide this hideous form of neo-slavery. Combine poverty wages with the exclusion of ethnic minorities from wealth-generating instruments like fair housing mortgages, and it’s clear that racism has become a proxy for slavery. White America deliberately oppresses people of color to control neighborhoods, jobs, politics, education, and capital, while dividing a multiracial working class against itself.

the authors of The 1619 Project they have offered us the opportunity to understand the institution of slavery and its descendants: segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and more recently, neoliberalism. Racism has not succumbed to civil war, civil rights, fair wages, or progressive taxes. The ideology of racism embodied in neoliberal capitalism justifies poor health care, starvation wages, persistent unemployment, homelessness, regressive tax policies, and a nation divided along racial lines.

Did slavery end in the United States with the passage of the 13th Amendment? In theory, slavery ended. But the slavery-induced desire to subjugate other people by whatever means possible did not end. Today it simply takes a monetary form. Among other things, the racial divide allows the neoliberal economic system to pit liberal communities against conservative ones. Is The 1619 Project The straw that breaks the camel’s back of structural racism? Probably not. But it deepens our understanding of why human groups sometimes want to subjugate others, and it could help us quell that desire and design a more equal world.

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