While I have sympathy with a wide variety of arguments and possible solutions, including reforming police and reparations, I would like to argue that the most fundamental issue is, once again, inequality. Economic inequality, and inequality of opportunity.
Because we can’t prevent young people resorting to dangerous occupations unless they also have opportunity for legal and safe opportunities with promise. We can’t eradicate gun violence in poor communities, without the promise of economic opportunities that do not require guns and killing others. We can’t expect poor whites to accept and respect poor blacks until both have economic opportunity. Opportunity that has, since the 60’s, become increasingly scarce, available only to the privileged few. Billionaire ranks have swelled, while working wages have remained stagnant, and the cost of higher education, health care, and housing have risen dramatically.
By and large, those who have been able to avail themselves of opportunity have been from safe homes with adequate housing and food, and have had opportunity for good education. Those without, both black and white, have been left and lost. Lost to resort to crime and/or welfare.
Welfare has helped to save some lives, and has provided for a time, some small degree of minimally adequate housing and food for some. But welfare is not the answer in the long run. In the long run, what we need is opportunity for all, with the prospect of living wages or better, for all who are able and want to work. For those who are not able, and only those, welfare is the long term answer. We must take care of them.
But this is not an argument for individuality, for everyone being able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Clearly, our level of inequality and poverty, highest in the developed world, increasing for decades, should be adequate proof that sheer self reliance will work for only a few, leaving tens of millions living on the brink.
Across recent decades, according to Raj Chetty, the chance of a child earning as much as his parents, has dropped from 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s–a huge drop in opportunity, so defined. Why hasn’t this been addressed–by either Republican or Democratic administrations?
The race issue is very complex, and requires conversation and solutions at many levels. Without diminishing this complexity or attempting to simplify the serious matter of George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter, I argue that the best of all possible avenues to remedy is to set about to address inequality–inequality of income and wealth, and to get there, inequality of opportunity.
Welfare is not the answer. American’s detest “hand outs,” thus politically a dead end anyway. And welfare is not what the poor want. They want to be able to provide for themselves.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t need or want reasonable help to have a fair chance. That help will require new solutions involving communities, educational institutions, business, and government.
Creating broad economic opportunity will be a slow process, at least a decade process. It won’t “solve” the racism problem, but I argue that it will be a far better foundation from which to further address the problem.
The first step is for the next administration to make its highest priority to create opportunity for all. Secondly, commit to reducing inequality. Third, establish metrics to provide quarterly measures of both.
New solutions must be found. It’s not just a matter of more schools, or free schools. We don’t even know how to create good schools. We have identified some good schools, but we don’t know how to replicate them in different environments, where different solutions are needed. Same for housing, same for health care. All complex.
There’s a lot more to racism and to economic opportunity. Great minds will be required to develop and experiment to find the best avenues. But nothing will be accomplished without a priority commitment. We developed the ability to go to the moon, after our President made it a top objective. We can do this, too.