“The movement for racial justice has shifted its focus from inequality to “disparity,” while neatly evading any critique of the structures that produce inequality.” — Adolph Reed Jr.
During the civil rights era, we thought racial and economic justice were linked. We especially wanted four things:
- The end of poverty with Basic Income.
- A minimum wage that is a living wage, as it was originally intended to be.
- Free higher education so everyone has the opportunity to rise.
- Universal health care because medical care is a need, not a luxury.
We lost. Thanks to the adoption of neoliberal economics under Carter and Reagan, the wealth gap between the bottom 80% and the top 20% has grown and class mobility has decreased . Today, the countries with the greatest class mobility are Scandinavian; the US ranks #27.
Though class is the US’s greatest taboo, the great majority of Americans know our system is unfair. In 2012, Dan Ariely wrote that “Americans — regardless of political affiliation, income, and gender” thought 11% of our wealth should go to the poorest fifth of the nation and 32% of the wealth should go to the richest. As you can see below, they underestimated how unfair the system actually is. In reality, the bottom three-fifths have almost no wealth while the top fifth has over 80%. (And because that poll was done a decade ago, the distribution of wealth in the US is even less fair today.)
Race and gender theorists don’t talk about the height of the economic pyramid, perhaps because most of them are near the top. They focus on the fact that US poverty is disproportionately black, indigenous, and Hispanic, and avoid the fact that the top of the pyramid is disproportionately Asian and Jewish. To create the racially proportionate economic pyramid they desire, most Asian and Jewish Americans would have to be made poorer.
The disparity at the top is especially noticeable at tech companies. In 2014, Facebook looked like this: