Understanding Inequality Requires Much More Than Calling Everything Racist
Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.
To offer a semblance of solidarity with the working class, wealthy leftists have substituted identity politics for class conflict, and attempted to recast economic problems as problems of racism or bigotry. So, instead of assailing the manipulation of the economy by the state and crony capitalists, a black worker will instead attack systemic racism or better yet characterize capitalism as intrinsically racist. Rarely do identitarians comment on structural barriers impeding the progress of working-class people and minorities, such as occupational licensing and zoning. Expecting them to do so, however, indicates gullibility, because identity politics is primarily about asserting the goals of upper-middle-class liberals.
For example, instituting gender quotas to create jobs for socially connected women is a more laudable goal for identitarians than providing poor white boys with the tools to succeed in a modern economy. At its essence, identity politics aims to colonize Western civilization with the luxury beliefs of the elite. Even though evidence for systemic racism could be nonexistent, this does not prevent identitarians from reminding struggling individuals that their suffering stems from a miasma of institutional racism and white privilege. Tackling issues like how the regulatory policy of California drives businesses out of the state, thus impoverishing minorities, is not high on the agenda of identitarians for obvious reasons. These disastrous regulations may be enriching crony capitalists who fund their causes.
Furthermore, when upper-middle-class identitarians clamor for representation in academia or the corporate world, they are merely demonstrating the activism of an elite political machinery. For instance, according to the morality of identity politics, it is better for a board to reserve a seat for a wealthy woman than appoint a competent white man with working-class credentials. Clearly, the beneficiaries of identity-based affirmative action will overwhelmingly be the scions of the elite. Without doubt, identity politics is just upper-middle-class activism.
Citing analysis conducted by the People’s Policy Project, Eric London illustrates that identitarians dismiss a trove of data detailing intragroup wealth disparities:
Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project analyzed data from the 2017 Federal Reserve report and showed the extreme degree of inequality within racial minority groups. Among both African American and Latino populations, roughly 65 percent own zero percent of the total wealth owned by their respective racial groups. The richest 10 percent of African Americans own 75.3 percent of all wealth owned by African Americans; the richest 10 percent of Latinos own 77.9 percent of all Latino wealth; and 74.6 percent of the wealth owned by whites is owned by the top 10 percent of whites.
American society is increasingly polarized—not between races, but between classes. In this context, the class basis of the upper-middle class’s obsession with racial and identity politics becomes clearer….Identity politics has become a key mechanism through which the next 9 percent situated below the top 1 percent advances its grievances within the political establishment, fighting for “space” in the universities, trade unions, political parties, state apparatus, and corporate media.
Moreover, digging deeper through the data it is also revealed that education confers significant advantages on the middle class in terms of earnings, thus exacerbating the income gap. Accordingly, the 2017 Survey of Consumer Finances points out that families holding a bachelor’s degree exhibit mean and median wealth values over five times the values for less educated families. Additionally, the trend is equally pervasive across racial groups. For example, the net worth of the median college-educated black family is approximately six times that of a median black family with less education, whereas the ratio is about 4.5 for Hispanic families.
Likewise, conveniently omitted from the conversation on inequality is the enormity of the wealth gap between the black upper class and poor blacks. As Bertrand Cooper of the People’s Policy Project observes:
The Black poor are not only on unequal footing with wealthy Whites but with wealthy Blacks as well….The median wealth of the Black poor equates to just 1.5 percent of the race-wide median. At the other end of the spectrum, the Black upper-class possesses a median wealth 19x greater than the race-wide median. If we compare the top and bottom, we find that the Black upper-class has 1382x as much wealth as the Black poor.
From this analysis we can conclude that counter to popular opinion, identitarians are not Marxists, and fail even to take a view broad enough to at least consider dynamics of state power. In fact, in an article titled “Identity Politics: A Marxist View,” Professor Raju Das articulates:
The theory of identity politics is the discussion of oppression minus the discussion of the materiality, state power, exploitation and mass revolutionary movements. Marxist social oppression-ism (e.g. Marxist feminism, etc.) is the discussion of oppression plus the discussion of the materiality, state power, exploitation and mass revolutionary movements. The former cannot include the latter. The latter can include the former.