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How Bill Cosby, Obama and Mega-Preachers Sold Economic Snake Oil to Black America

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Yves here. This post discusses some of the mechanisms by which what Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon call “the black misleadership class” operates. The interviewee Professor Lance Spence may have deemed it so obvious that he didn’t have to explain, but sports centers are close to guaranteed money losers for the cities that sponsor them.

Another issue: entrepreneurship is vastly overhyped in America. 90% of new businesses fail in three years. The ones most likely to succeed are launched by people who worked for large companies and see a product or customer niche that isn’t well served that they think is big enough and has enough profit potential to support an enterprise. Many people have their marriages break up or wind up in bankruptcy as a result of a failed startup. The idea that everyone can and should be in business for themselves is an urban legend to shift blame to ordinary people for the failure of the ruling classes to create enough jobs. And as this discussion points out, this sort of romanticized “pull yourself by your bootstraps” faux romanticism is even less likely to work in low-income communities.

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at

Lester K. Spence, Associate Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University, focuses on black, racial, and urban politics in the neoliberal era. In an interview with the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), he shares his perspective on a false brand of economic and political “common sense” that black elites helped sell to black communities.

Lynn Parramore: In your book, , you describe a shift in America that took place when a new crop of intellectuals successfully sold the idea that everybody and everything ought to be judged by market competition and market-oriented behavior, something you call the “neoliberal turn.” How did this change manifest in black communities?  

Lester K. Spence: The change really begins in the 50s and early 60s, but takes a sharp turn in the late 60s and early 70s, when the middle class moves to the suburbs. Detroit’s population in 1950 is 1.9 million, but by 1960 it has already dropped significantly. This is a partial byproduct of federal policy and a partial byproduct of private action, but the dynamic was racialized: whites had access to the suburbs and blacks did not. Cities like Detroit become increasingly African American, and as blacks come to take up a larger proportion of the population, they gain more and more political power, which they use to elect representatives.

Black mayors take control of the black cities, but as these cities become black, their ability to garner revenue to provide social services drops dramatically. So one of the reasons that the neoliberal turn takes the form it does in black communities is because the cities that blacks increasingly live in are themselves altered by neoliberal policies.

The decrease in the ability of cities to collect tax revenues causes mayors to turn more to the bond rating market and to things like downtown development. And there is an alteration of the welfare state — we could think about welfare itself or things like the transition to public housing, which really alters the policy terrain that blacks can operate in. You increasingly see people begin to articulate neoliberal policies as a way for black folks to advance.

LP: Could you give an example?

LS: In Detroit in the 90s, by the time the neoliberal turn really takes shape, you see somebody like Dennis Archer, Sr., the city’s second black mayor, attempt to use what’s called “total quality management” to revamp Detroit’s bureaucracy. That’s a management strategy that was taught at MBA schools in the late 80s and early 90s that puts the customer and customer decisions at the forefront of bureaucracy formation. You see it in Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s [a task force to reform the way the federal government works] — but Archer is one of the first to implement it in a city.  He brought in Ford executives in order to get the bureaucracies to think of citizens as consumers. This has an ideational impact.

You also see it in cities that are looking increasingly to downtown development and forced to transform downtowns into entertainment hubs. By the mid-to-late 90s, Detroit brought in three casinos, the idea being to give the city the types of jobs it once had when the automotive industry loomed large. Of course, it did not. They also created two new publicly subsidized sports stadiums. In the last few years, even as Detroit was dealing with bankruptcy, the state basically subsidized a new stadium for the Detroit Red Wings to the tune of about $300 million.

LP: So people living in cities are no longer citizens who require services to meet their needs but consumers in need of market-based solutions.

LS: Right.

LP:  The title of your book references “the hustle.” What is it and how is it reflected in black culture and entertainment?

LS:  I begin the book by juxtaposing Nat Adderley and Oscar Brown’s “” that’s about a certain type of labor in the 1960s against Ace Hood’s, “.”  He does more than just describe a condition in which he’s consistently having to work to make ends meet for himself and his family. The video features Ace Hood in a regular East Coast neighborhood, and all around him, people engage in different hustles to get by. The seasons change, and although the things that people sell change, like in the summer they’re hustling water and in the winter they’re hustling coats and gloves, the hustle itself doesn’t change. He doesn’t give a critique of that situation, but actually makes a normative argument for it, suggesting that it is a good thing. If you want to work in the world, this is what you’re supposed to do. If you don’t do it, your value as a human being is significantly reduced.

Entrepreneurialism is seen as the key to black problems and the key to being fully human. We definitely see this some of Jay Z’s work and that of other MCs, although not as much lately given the shift towards Black Lives Matter-type cultural production.

LP: What’s wrong with entrepreneurialism?

LS: Empirically speaking, it doesn’t tend to work. We don’t really have examples of poor communities that become really successful through entrepreneurialism. Even when it does work, it only works for a thin slice of the population. One of the fundamental consequences of the neoliberal turn is a really sharp uptick in inequality in the United States. It’s higher now than it was during the Great Depression. This is partially attributable to the idea that entrepreneurship is our solution.

LP: You’ve discussed a tendency among black elites to come down harshly on the black family, blaming it for problems like poverty and incarceration. It’s hard not to think of Bill Cosby right now and his admonishing black people to behave better with his image of the ideal, respectable black family. How does this fit into the narrative of the neoliberal turn?

LS: The neoliberal turn isn’t just a set of policies; it also embeds a certain type of common sense, like the idea that what we need in black communities is more business development and entrepreneurialism. The theory is that once you have these, the results trickle down. It’s a black form of Reagonomics.

On the flip side, once you believe that black business or hustling hard is the solution, you have to explain why some people don’t succeed and why some families end up at the bottom. So the natural explanation is that people are poor because of something related to their own personal circumstance. Maybe they don’t have the right cultural appreciation of education; maybe it’s because men and women don’t make the right reproductive choices; maybe it’s because they’re more interested in buying Michael Jordans than books. Right? There are a whole host of rhetorics that become naturalized, making it seem as if black poverty is solely the product of black decisions.

Bill Cosby is a good example of this. He gave a in 2004 at the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education in front of a black audience in which he argues that what’s happening now, particularly as a result of Brown v. Board, is solely the product of black populations and black choices, and what we need to do is to take our black family back.

We see the message that poverty is the product of black family decisions as opposed to larger structural dynamics in Cosby’s speech, or even going back 30 or 40 years in popular culture that we thought of as progressive. There’s John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood. At the time it came out in 1991, the movie was deemed progressive, a critique of Reagan era policies and their effect on South Central Los Angeles. But it really argues that places like South Central L.A. are in trouble because black men haven’t done enough to take care of the black family.

LP: You write that the neoliberal turn is not the 21stcentury version of Jim Crow. Why is that framework problematic? Does racism mean something different in a neoliberal context?

LS: The concept of the new Jim Crow was popularized by a really important work by Michelle Alexander examining the criminal justice system. It’s a powerful phrase and it speaks to a black common sense about what going on now. It allows us to make easy sets of connections between some contemporary dynamics and what happened in the 1950s and late 1960s. We recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. That event looms large in our memory, and you can easily imagine people being more likely to engage in all kinds of political activity if they think of something as the new Jim Crow.

But the challenge is that even if we look at criminal justice, it’s not just blacks caught up in the dynamic. Even in the old Jim Crow that was designed to deal with blacks specifically through segregation, you see a number of white people who weren’t able to vote due to restrictions, though blacks were disproportionately affected.

If you look at the increase in incarceration, it’s not just blacks and it’s not just all blacks; it’s working-class-to-lower-income blacks. The new Jim Crow framework can’t really explain why that is. Why is it that I no longer fear the police? I don’t. I’ve been stopped a number of times, and I now treat police as I imagine whites do because I know and the police who engage with me know that I’m not the black people they are trying to socially control. I’m not in that population.

Politically, even as I do think the new Jim Crow concept enables us to mobilize in certain ways, it doesn’t mobilize us to effectively to deal with the class dynamics. The new Jim Crow makes it seem like it’s totally a race thing. There’s a way that you can organize around race that leaves class and inequality totally untouched. And we need to get at this race/class interaction that is prominent in places like Detroit or where I work now, in Baltimore.

LP: Can you talk about Barack Obama and his relationship to neoliberal ideas?

LS: I think a good example is (launched by Obama in 2014), which he talked about as a partial response to the wave of murders, including that of Trayvon Martin. He argued that if we brought together a robust suite of private-public partnerships, we could then identify a set of best practices that can help boys of color. Progressive women argued that he was ignoring the needs of girls of color, and that was an important critique. But the most important critique is one that very few people brought up, which is that Obama argued that My Brother’s Keeper wasn’t a big government program. He didn’t propose any increase in government spending, which, to be fair, would have been difficult under a Republican administration, but at least if he’d argued for it, he could have potentially created a constituency that could fight for it.

The other critique is that his primary assumption about the reason boys are on the wrong end of a variety of social and economic measures is because they’re not culturally predisposed to do the work necessary to do well in school. They don’t know how to deal with conflict, so all they do is get into fights and engage in other types of violence. Because they don’t have fathers in the home, they don’t know how to be good fathers themselves. Again, it argues that the reason they are at the bottom end economically is solely the function of culture. It has no structural dynamics at all.

Yet if we said that nuclear families are better than other forms of families (though I don’t necessarily agree with that), every bit of social science tells us that nuclear families are more likely to happen where people aren’t poor. So Obama is reversing the causal arrow. You don’t have to go to Marxist economists to find this. People who are poor tend to have families that look a certain way versus people that aren’t poor. If you have a robust safety net, families tend to have different types of outcomes than if don’t have it. This is Social Science 101.

LP: How does the neoliberal turn manifest in black megachurches like those led by popular ministers like T.D. James and Creflo Dollar?

LS: Even when Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive and running the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, there were different tendencies within black churches. Some, while not necessarily supporting the Jim Crow regime, definitely kind of acquiesced to it and were not interested in having their churchgoers be involved in anti-racist politics. At the same time, you had people using the church to connect to a really radical critique of capitalism and white supremacy.

In the 70s and into the 80s, this radical-to-left tendency is becoming less and less important in black churches. What you see instead is the growth of churches that use the Bible as a kind of self-help guide and promote the prosperity gospel, which holds that if you follow the Bible, you will become not only spiritually but materially wealthy. The flip side is that if you don’t follow the Bible, you’ll become poor. So somebody like Creflo Dollar [founder of the World Changers Church International based in College Park, Georgia] argues that you’re poor because you don’t have the right mindset. That’s naturalizing poverty.

Related is the growth of black megachurches with as many as 10,000 or even 20,000 members. They have their own community development corporations. Some of them actually look like corporations in their design and require a significant outlay of capital in order to operate. So even if they are not proposing the whole prosperity gospel, they have to propose some aspect of it in order to exist.

LP: It seems burdensome that in addition to paying taxes, churchgoers end up funding social services through tithing.

LS: States and local governments are now outsourcing some of their social service provisions to churches. This is problematic for several reasons. One is because of the important distinction between church and state. It’s all too likely that a church would use the resources to proselytize instead of provide services. Also, churches provide a function of spiritual guidance – they aren’t bureaucracies. People who work in churches don’t know how to deal with poverty or public housing provisions.

We wouldn’t expect a charity to fund NASA: the scale of the challenge is something that no private entity could actually fulfill. Well, it’s the same with social service provision. When people pay their tithe, the resources might really go to social services instead of lining somebody’s pocket, but those services are nowhere near what’s needed to deal with inequality. In a way, it demobilizes people when you connect this to the rhetoric that suggests that people are poor because of their own choices, it makes it more difficult for people to organize not just for more social services, but to get at structural dynamics.

LP: What does it take to challenge the neoliberal turn? What have we learned about what’s effective and what’s not?

LS: Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about a wrong-headed approach that posits that the reason we have gains is because of leaders like him who spoke to power and as a result were able to galvanize hundreds of thousands of folks in the South and the North to overturn the Jim Crow regime.

If you really look at the history, what you find instead is really deep organizing. What that charismatic leadership cannot do is build deep, enduring institutions to build the political capacity of regular folks. These institutions tend to have at least some modicum of democratic accountability. With the charismatic leadership model, there’s the idea that everything the leader says is correct. There are very few ways to hold them accountable or even create debate about strategies or tactics. But in a robust model of organizing, people can actually create conditions to lead themselves and engage in making decisions, whether we’re talking about labor issues, racial inequality, or #MeToo and gender inequality.

One of the things that happened with the neoliberal turn is that the ability of labor unions to organize was significantly reduced. In the 2012 strike that was the first of the current wave, the Chicago teacher’s union had to organize tens of thousands of teachers in all these local spaces to get them to understand why schools were being closed, how their current contract made educational circumstances worse as opposed to better, and how the possibility of losing income in the short-term would actually increase their ability to build in the future. They had to do this in a space where there were already a whole host of arguments about education (that it didn’t operate according to the values of the market) and about teachers’ unions (that they are the problem) — this whole common sense apparatus. They were able to contest it and replace it. The teacher’s strikes we’re seeing now across the country get at the deep organizing we have to engage in that works across time and is durable.

When you look at Black Lives Matter, it focused our attention to police killings as a function of a state that doesn’t work. People are able to use social media to quickly galvanize people and move them in interesting direct action ways. There have been some political successes: Marilyn Mosby [State’s Attorney for Baltimore] actually brought charges against police in Baltimore and we don’t have her election without Black Lives Matter. There have also been various Justice Department victories. But we need to connect the argument about state violence to a larger argument about economic violence. That’s where you need ideation work, like the work done in think tanks.

A lot of what we have to do is mundane work so that we can be ready when the moment comes; things like collecting data, building an archive. Maybe you get something unexpected — a candidate like Bernie Sanders. But the opportunity only means something as a result of the mundane work of preparation. Often women perform this kind of work. Our economy is based on labor that women aren’t really acknowledged for, and if you look at the political labor, a lot of the organizing labor tends to be done by women and it gets devalued. People focus on more on charismatic male leaders.

Overall, I think we need to focus more on developing institutions. Organizing has to start locally, maybe even best on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, educating citizens, giving them the ability to understand their situation and giving them another set of narratives. We need to work with these communities developing coalitions across cities and then states in order to promote policies and individuals who support them. Policies have to be about reorienting the economy in such a way where lower income people get the bulk of the resources as opposed to the dynamic that we have now.

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59 comments

  1. flora

    Per Parimore’s intro question:

    a shift in America that took place when a new crop of intellectuals successfully sold the idea that everybody and everything ought to be judged by market competition and market-oriented behavior

    The following reference isn’t a snark, although it may sound like one: Operation Market Garden – see movie ‘A bridge too far’ or check wiki reference – thinking in action outside the military sphere. ( It was deemed 80-90% successful, so therefore successful, even though it failed badly. And no general was demoted. )

    Reply
  2. nathan

    no longer citizens, but customers. sometime in the near past, the conductors on the nyc subways were given new messages to announce over the intermittently working loudspeakers. along with “if you see something, say something,” and “police are allowed to examine large backpacks and containers,” in the be afraid – be very afraid category, there also appeared, “please let the customers off the train.” we used to be passengers but suddenly we became customers. well, i can see that because we pass increasingly slowly down the tracks. but customers? when customer service never answers? neo-liberal for sure.

    Reply
    1. Michael Fiorillo

      The corporate model of so-called education reform, which is currently engaged in an attempted hostile takeover of the public schools, also requires students and parents to be seen as “customers,” while teachers have morphed into “human capital.”

      And it’s a pure distillation of neoliberal attitudes: unlike citizens, who have rights that cannot be lawfully abridged, customers are subject to the whims of corporate policy, and have minimal recourse when those policies ignore their interests.

      Likewise, treating teachers as “human capital” makes them fungible, and easily replaceable, which is precisely what we see with charter schools, which churn through teachers at a disgraceful rate, and lobby for the elimination of licensing standards to enlarge the labor pool they can draw from.

      Reply
  3. Steve

    Wow, I read the title and immediately thought of Spence’s book and I was going to recommend it in the comments.

    Little did I know that the article was literally going to be about the book and author. I’m glad he’s getting some spotlight, it was a great read.

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  4. Left in Wisconsin

    Great post but, man, is this a hard problem. Even for an insightful analyst like Spence, what are the key recommendations?
    1. Developing local institutions: This is exactly the argument of the misleadership class, institutions led by them and funded by their alliances with black churches and corporate feel-good donations.
    2. Think tanks: AIEEEEE!!

    I don’t have any easy answers but it strikes me that a socialist analysis (without using the S word) calls for socialist institutions.

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  5. rd

    Current proposal in Michigan will apparently gerrymander Medicaid work requirements so that urban counties with mainly black recipients will have a work requirement but rural areas with mainly white Medicaid recipients will not have a work requirement:

    I don’t think it is going to be fixed until the poor and lower middle-class realize they are all in the same boat together regardless of race and ethnicity. Bills like this get in the way of that process, but the polarized politics today appear to be based on racism as much as anything else.

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    1. Buckeye

      It won’t be fixed until the white, rural conservatives stop thinking THEY are entitled to special treatment and blacks and city-folk are “lazy commie scum”. Rural whites here in Ohio have that attitude and I’ve heard it for over 40 years. And I’m a middle-aged white guy.

      The core problem with EVERYTHING in America is that there is no reciprocity. These alleged “citizens” will support any policy/party that gives to Them and crushes anyone they don’t like. A good idea is for all the blacks and city people to move out to rural counties and take advantage. And change the voting demographic at the same time. Political Colonization, I call it.

      Reply
  6. Summer

    Among my co-workers, many from the black bourgeois, they are all for single-payer healthcare.
    Imagine if the churches treated this issue like the new civil rights movement? The smaller churches might even increase their membership. The black church going population is aging, so healthcare concerns are a big part of their daily struggle.
    The last time I attended church was for a funeral (and the last times before that as well). Even though I’m not religious, I’ll take allies where I can find them.

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      Good point, Summer. And I’m reminded of a the following tale from the Arizona Slim file:

      During the Obama presidency, when austerity was eating my itty-bitty business for lunch, I heard about a free clinic. Yup, that’s right. Free.

      It was hosted by the Islamic Center of Tucson, and I went. The doctors were very courteous, as were the other volunteers. And there wasn’t the slightest bit of evangelizing, but we patients were welcome to take a copy of the Koran with us.

      The free clinic was an Islamic Center event for several years, but it’s on hiatus now. Perhaps it will come back, I don’t know.

      So, kudos to the Muslim community on this one. That free clinic helped me and a lot of other people.

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    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      “Imagine if the churches treated this issue like the new civil rights movement?”

      Per a Julian Bond lecture, MLK didn’t mean white people when he said “white moderate.” It was a coded threat to the black church. The more well to do blacks were threats to go to the white well to do churches, often closer to where they lived or desired to live in the absence of Jim Crow. Black ministers knew this. Whites might not have picked up on it, but black ministers who spoke for the community knew it was a threat from a guy who could out preach and held a unique celebrity status in their own communities.

      King and Abernathy were the exceptions. Jessie Jackson was a huge deal because he represented a younger black church aligned with MLK, but the black church is like so many other religious institutions. The black church population is aging because it isn’t concerned with the issues of the day. How many people go to church, or any religious outfit, to be seen or for direct help? Half empty pews don’t encourage people to open the purse strings. A few feel good stories about helping the congregation will really help the minister and his wife get to that federal limit of tax free income.

      The sits in and other protests didn’t target Bull Connor. They targeted people who participated in the segregated system. MLK and the Civil Rights movement didn’t save the racists. They saved “friends” because they challenged them.

      One of the deflections used by neoliberal supporters is “why don’t you point out how crooked the GOP is.” Everyone knows what the GOP is or is so deluded they are beyond reason (McCain/Palin had 59 million votes).

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      1. JBird

        Always hearing the Democratic Party say vote for us, the Party of Nyarlathotep, because at least we are not the Party of Cthulhu is getting old and very annoying to me.

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      2. BigUnc

        This makes no sense. MLK was actually threatening black people to stay where they lived in overcrowded conditions after they fought to break down the barriors for those that can afford to leave. Again,makes no sense. The sit-ins was a SNCC operation. Actually it began in the mid 50’s with college students from Baltimore and I think/wanna say Philly several years before Dr. King took over the SCLC. You’re making the mistake of contributing everything that happened during that time to SCLC. That would be incorrect.

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    3. jrs

      Yea the black population is still probably more radical than this article gives them credit for (more than almost any white population period). So what if they did want a black face in the white house. Yes, Obama was bad in his way and a failed presidency. But white people gave us Trump – enough said if we want to blame races for the sorry condition of the plutocratic duopoly.

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      1. Anon

        Actually, it was a flawed electoral system that gave us Trump (and GWB in 2000). A system that gives disproportionate credence to small states and (some) winner-take-all systems make close Presidential elections a crap-shoot: less than 77,000 voters tilted the roulette wheel. (I know, that’s a mixed metaphor.)

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        1. Pat

          And that system has been in place for how long? And yet, like in 2008, candidate Clinton didn’t know how the votes were counted and therefore had a campaign strategy that ignored states she needed win. That isn’t a flawed system, that is an flawed incompetent candidate.

          And for the record the problem in 2000 wasn’t the electoral college, but a combination of voter suppression, human incompetence and out right refusal to count the votes accurately.

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  7. Henry Moon Pie

    Great interview, but Dr. Spence didn’t mention my personal favorite hustle tune:

    “” (Les McCann w/ lyric by Rev B a/k/a Betty Eisner)

    Reply
  8. Lee

    Advertising signs that con you
    Into thinking you’re the one
    That can do what’s never been done
    That can win what’s never been won
    Meantime life outside goes on
    All around you

    It’s Alright Ma
    B. Dylan

    Reply
    1. ShamanicFallout

      Is that old Bob? Pitchman for IBM, Cadillac, Chrysler, and his very own ‘Heaven’s Door’ branded whisky?! Propaganda all is phony, indeed

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      1. Scott1

        “I’ve got the power.” another song.
        I want to sell a song.
        We are aiming at the best way to think of our problems
        as a society.
        Is American Pragmatism dead?
        “You can’t go wrong if your goals are correct.” Einstein
        If entrepreneurship doesn’t work Blacks have to consider
        the professional criminal life which is
        mobile & requires multiple identities.
        If one is a pro anyway.

        Gambling & prostitution and drug distribution.
        At least vice crimes are civil society professions.

        “Better to write than live it.” is a line from a biography I read of
        Faulkner who had a friend
        May even have been named Stone
        Who lived more of something as in “The Wild Palms”.
        The grief is that you are not good at anything
        and incompetence is deadly.
        At least the unmitigated hero can kill the
        alligator.

        Stabbing and hacking for the great General
        Is a respected road up. Of course it helps if
        the life & death option has not degenerated so clearly
        to be same as organized crime far as justifications
        for the use of violence.

        May as well just stick with a vice crime career.
        Make a killing and get out.

        I am for the Federal Jobs Guarantee in large part
        as it offers a civilian option of destiny fulfillment.
        Opposed to the Armed forces, often the rural choice.
        The sheriff in the town I am in large part from
        was convicted of running a Tractor Steeling Ring.
        He was known to 12 year old me as the sheriff that
        sold eggs, was a hustler in a position of some power.

        It would have been for Faulkner a “Hamlet” story.
        Do we even search to overcome human nature through
        government? Is it too hard for us to maintain a just
        & honorable civilization anywhere on earth forever?

        My comment is out of control. I am trying to push
        Radical Pragmatism aimed at an eternal civilization.
        I am post racial seeing only labor versus capital.
        Race just a gift to TV corporations & how the news
        Is perfect for maintaining the split.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Many of the American Indian Nations claim to have had a just and honorable civilization up through the time of European Contact. Certainly many of those nations had bio-diversity-preserving and agri-soil-improving protocols in place and in practice.

          Could they be learned from in an effort to produce a just and honorable civilization in our present vastly-non-Indian-majority society?

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  9. James Trigg

    Is this what the article says: Problem-blame whitey: Solution-tax and spend ? I am all for spending on streets and parks and not on sports stadiums but when you defend inter city public schools and public unions then you are wrong. To attack family values is wrong. Asians with strong families prosper. Feeling sorry for your self is not wrong and but it can be harmful when your in the struggle. When will the Clinton Plantation die.

    Reply
    1. flora

      “Blame whitey:…?”

      I didn’t get that idea at all. Neoliberals have spent the past 40 years perfecting wedge issues and wedge issue arguments, divide and conquer arguments, to the point that I sometimes (well, too often) fall into their carefully prepared thinking ruts.

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    2. Adam Eran

      Huh? Blame whitey? This looks far more like blame capitalism / class structure / inequality.

      Since you mention education: The education “reformers” propose three solutions for our current problems in education: Merit pay (because teachers are so motivated by money), (union-busting) Charter schools, and testing the kids until their eyeballs bleed (popular in the MBA “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist”) culture.

      None of these has the slightest scientific validation, but they are plausible reasons to attack public unions and the current educational system. Michelle Rhee did this in D.C., firing teachers based on “results” as measured above.

      Oddly enough, even the propaganda film Waiting for Superman touts Rhee’s “tough love” approach to educators while promoting the Finns as the ones to emulate. Not mentioned in the film: Finnish teachers are unionized, well-paid and tenured.

      So what does correlate with better educational outcomes? Childhood poverty. In Finland it’s 2%; in the U.S. 23%.

      I’d suggest a job guarantee would go a long way to solve some of this problem, but what we’ve got here is nothing like “feeling sorry for your self [sic]”… It’s the impoverishment of the bottom 90%, who have seen their real median income increase by a whopping $59 since 1972. Federal subsidies to higher education also declined 55% since 1972 (source: David Cay Johnston). Gee, I wonder why tuition has risen so steeply?

      If that $59 were an inch on a bar graph, the bar for the top 10% would be 141 feet high. The top 0.1%’s bar would be five miles high.

      This has nothing to do with feeling sorry … it’s all about scamming the population into inequality, just as the interview suggests

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      1. Anon

        …and Finland has a homogenous population speaking the same language. Their teachers are considered consummate professionals (like doctors, lawyers, architects) and esteemed by Finns as a whole.

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        1. Ron D

          Singapore is equally impressive with educational outcomes. And thats with three completely different cultural groups coexisting peacefully on an island. Their educators and their education system also held in the highest esteem amongst their population……and I wanna move there with my wife and our four year old daughter because of that.

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          1. ObjectiveFunction

            I wish you the best mate, but you’d better be under 50, have a major company sponsoring you and be willing to pay usd 20k per year for private schools for at least 3 years until you gain residency and access to those public schools.

            That said, it’s very refreshing to visit a place where the main worry in casual conversation is education – keeping the kids up with a very high achieving Confucian norm – not RussiaRussiaStormy or who took our Jerbs….

            Reply
        2. Harold

          Learning and teachers are esteemed in Finland, it is true, but as I understand it, Finland has three languages: Finnish, Swedish. and Sami. You are allowed to take college entrance exams in your mother tongue, but are supposed to know at least one other. The college entrance exam is the one and only exam Finnish students have to take.

          When Finland began instituting educational reform in the 1990s, what they concentrated on first and foremost was improving social and economic equality. The stellar world-wide international math and reading test scores that emerged were an accidental byproduct of this focus. They made all compulsory schooling ‘comprehensive’ — no tracking, no entrance requirement, no tests to separate “high performers” from other students. They also emphasized the arts, especially music. There are state funded music conservatories in every town. So I have read. I don’t know if this is still the case.

          Reply
    3. jrs

      “when you defend inter city public schools and public unions then you are wrong.”

      but when you attack them it is also wrong as the problem is multi-faceted. I.E. yes some teachers are bad but the larger social problems some of these schools are dealing with also make it nearly impossible to succeed.

      “To attack family values is wrong.”

      to defend them is narrow, it tends not to include say a single mother in it’s definition of family values but single mothers are heroic in many ways. Granted it’s not ideal to raise a kid alone, but life doesn’t always go according to fairy tale script alas, the glass slipper seemed to fit but …

      “Asians with strong families prosper.”

      many ethnic groups have strong families. It’s commendable though doesn’t always guarantee wealth (it’s more of a safety net against poverty, as it is often part of a lower class rather than a middle class mindset – which is ok like I say it’s commendable in many ways, I don’t have any particular preference for the middle class). But it often goes with it’s fair share of nepotism as a downside.

      “Feeling sorry for your self is not wrong and but it can be harmful when your in the struggle.”

      This is true for sure, but excessive self-blame is also harmful in any struggle for a better life. Duh, obviously so.

      Reply
    4. oh

      If you check out Asians in the Asian ghettos (yes, there are many even in the San Jose area) you’ll find that strong family values have nothing to do with prosperity.

      Reply
    5. saurabh

      As an “Asian” I resent being used to promote anti-black racism. My family had strong values; my parents were also part of an immigrant pool selected for our skills in the 70s. In India my great-grandfather was a lawyer and wealthy landowner (zamindar). This is typical of many (but not all) Asians in the US. Our experience is not comparable to American blacks, because our history does not include slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc.

      Let me also remind you Asia is full of poor people with the same family values as mine who have not managed to prosper there, because much more than values and race is at work here.

      Reply
  10. MLaRowe

    “But it really argues that places like South Central L.A. are in trouble because black men haven’t done enough to take care of the black family.”

    So many great points in this article but I’d like to add to the statement above: I remember when I first read the book Making Ends Meet by Dr. Kathryn Edin and Dr. Laura Lein.

    There was a place in the book where they pointed out that in their research they found under similar (harsh) economic circumstances black men actually contributed more financially to their families than white men did.

    Their research spanned 5 cities and many families. It’s a great book by the way.

    When I read that I wanted shout from the rooftops: The myth of the deadbeat black man is a complete lie and here is even more proof.

    For a refreshing change of pace could we see an accurate portrayal of the black male and the black family someplace in the world of Hollywood and mass media?

    Reply
    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I believe South Central LA was officially renamed South Los Angeles.

      And today, many more Spanish speaking reside there.

      Reply
  11. Enrique

    Entrepreneurship is part of the problem? Then what? Everyone is a government employee of some sort? I grew up in Western Europe and today the neoliberal hellhole quotient is significantly higher there than in the US IMO. And in the EU there has been a larger public sector as % of GDP.

    Sometimes, methinks the requisites of kowtowing to ideological purity precludes actual, rational evaluation of what works and doesn’t. Neoliberals = bad. Markets = bad. Competition = bad. So make everyone an employee of a vast, centralised bureaucracy and everything magically becomes wonderful and happy.

    As with anything, the right answer is almost certainly betwixt and between.

    Reply
    1. Adam Eran

      First of all, Western Europe is the home of people with better healthcare, better education and better public services. That’s not to say we should bless all bureaucracies, but comparing little things like life expectancy and infant mortality, the WHO says the U.S. ranks 37th, between Costa Rica and Slovenia.

      I’m sure the neoliberals have sufficiently good ideas that they can tell time twice a day, too, but U.S. government spending is not in the stratosphere. Take a look at in Wikipedia. The table comparing governments sorts by clicking the headings. The U.S. ranks 46th in the world. Correct for the military budget (reduce spending 11% of current levels), and it is even with Namibia. No need to wonder why we have third-rate, third world infrastructure.

      And yes, job guarantee would inject the government into the labor market, exactly as it has taken a role in agricultural commodities (corn, soy, cheese) and Wall Street’s product (Quantitative Easing).

      No compromises, please.

      Reply
    2. jrs

      I agree about, then what? Oh sit around and wait for come the revolution I suppose … and presumably end up homeless and starving in the meantime.

      I mean a better society would be nice, but individual human beings have to make decisions and if they CAN’T get work there are also so many options left: education and entrepreneurship. I think education and retraining is for most people a SAFER bet but we are forever being told retraining doesn’t work either. Bash entrepreneurship AS IF all entrepreneurs could even get jobs and were somehow choosing to leave them, as if it wasn’t some people’s last resorts.

      Reply
    3. Yves Smith Post author

      I am not an intellectual purist. I happen to be an entrepreneur who started not one but two businesses that have lasted well beyond the 90% dead in three years threshold.

      No one with an operating brain cell should go this route. It is way harder than being on a payroll or being in a managerial position. The most common characteristic of entrepreneurs is that they’ve been fired twice, as in they are not fit for organizational life.

      And you are being intellectually dishonest in depicting the only alternative to being an entrepreneur and secondly depicting working for government as being suspect. The US has a much lower level of government spending relative to GDP than Europe. Interestingly, European are also happier with their governments than Americans are. And as readers here point out, we have plenty of stuff government could and should be doing. like build infrastructure (which BTW generates $3 of GDP for every dollar spent), more services for the elderly, etc.

      Given the dubious foundation of your argument, I suspect you’ve never started a successful business and therefore your remark about “ideological purity” is pure projection, that you are the ideologue who is preaching from his armchair with no knowledge of risks, requirements, and payoffs.

      Reply
  12. James Trigg

    Old lefty -” Whitey bad ”
    New lefty-” Capitalism makes Whitey bad ”
    We have a lot of problems but communism is not the solution.
    Does guaranteed job work like Obamacare? You cannot pay for everyone to have a thirty thousand dollar job even with Modern Monetary Theory. Buy the way Ivan The Donald is using MMT to build gun boats and when the economy crashes there will not be any butter. The guarantee job will be limited and cause distress with haves and have nots,with only more debt to as a result.

    Reply
    1. Buckeye

      White male conservatives ARE the problem. Brown people and China didn’t “steal” our jobs: white male conservatives SENT our jobs over there to make the elite richer and everyone else poor and submissive. And that’s also the real Communism: the concentration of wealth in the hands of an ideological elite and spreading subjugation. Spreading prosperity to ALL people is DEMOCRACY.
      Reciprocity, prosperity and equality for all people.

      Reply
      1. pretzelattack

        do you think bill clinton was a white male conservative? i’m not sure how you absolve people like cosby or obama or hilary clinton while blaming only white males.

        Reply
        1. Phil McCreviss

          How would you explain Obama, Hillary being more conservative than the current and previous leaders of the UK conservative party and other European conservatives?

          Reply
    2. Patrick

      The answer to the woes of late-stage capitalism is not communism/socialism.

      But at some point, you have to ask: if our current system increase inequality; if speculation and financialization are the emerging growth sectors of GDP but society shares only in the down-side but not the up-side; if free-market theory is treated with the same respect as the law of gravity, yet there are no true “free” markets…has capitalism evolved to a non-sustainable point, and if so what should we do?

      Recently asked a proponent of free-markets who thought that UBI was a viable way forward if he would still call the system Capitalism?

      We are constrained by vocabulary that pulls aging (and potential unsustainable) ideology forward and limits the exploration of options.

      As a result we wind up with silliness like the meme of the gun rights supporter who will never give up his gun because he will use it to make sure if his child gets sick and he has no access to healthcare, he can get his child to a country that has socialized medicine.

      Reply
    3. flora

      Wow, this is a perfect example of what I was talking about. And I assume you mean it as an instructive example.

      Wedge issues, divide-and-conquer, buzz words, lets-you-and-him-fight. Excellent example of the neoliberal perfection of pushing argument into pre-determined ruts, and therefore answers (favorable to neoliberalism).

      Thanks for this.

      Reply
  13. paul

    @enrique
    Entrepreneurship is part of the problem? Then what? Everyone is a government employee of some sort? I grew up in Western Europe and today the neoliberal hellhole quotient is significantly higher there than in the US IMO. And in the EU there has been a larger public sector as % of GDP.

    We have a planet with people,fuk GDP

    Sometimes, methinks the requisites of kowtowing to ideological purity precludes actual, rational evaluation of what works and doesn’t. Neoliberals = bad. Markets = bad. Competition = bad. So make everyone an employee of a vast, centralised bureaucracy and everything magically becomes wonderful and happy.

    As with anything, the right answer is almost certainly betwixt and between.

    While NC is not a chatboard, I have to n,ominate this as the worst comment I have seen,’ methinks’ is a very strange word, and ‘ideolgical purity’ is an even stranger concept

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I had a go with him but I agree he’s at least in the top 25 worst comments. There is a lot of competition for that dubious distinction.

      Reply
  14. Kevin Carhart

    Prof. Spence also mentions a terrifying example in this interview with Bill Fletcher Jr. on his program The Global African, that stuck with me and that he doesn’t also repeat here.

    It’s about Jay Z’s lyric: “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.” Brrrrr.

    Reply
  15. Kathy Bassett

    The Federal Job Guarantee would address systemic issues across the board. Taxes don’t fund federal budgets, so we need to learn our economic system, MMT, and make Congress fund for the public purpose.

    Reply
  16. James Trigg

    So Mr. Strecher does not want the black man to prosper. If everyone has the opportunities to work harder we would have more prosperity. With that prosperity we can help the disadvantaged. Working hard is not toil but life giving. If you tried it you would like it. Even doing grunt work for the Country Club crowd can be stimulating.
    Sure, I do not like the Country Club crowd but the morons give me opportunity. They are not my masters.
    The ability to open a bar or welding shop enhances the imagination as opposed to working in drudgery in a government job.

    Reply
    1. jrs

      grunt work = can be stimulating, drudgery = horrible. Pretty funny as these are two words for the same thing.

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Then again, the ability to do government scientific research or perform government scientific experiments enhances the imagination as opposed to working in drudgery in a private sector job.

      Reply
  17. The Rev Kev

    “So people living in cities are no longer citizens who require services to meet their needs but consumers in need of market-based solutions.”

    Doesn’t matter if you are black, white, Latino, whatever – the neoliberal philosophy embedded in that sentence has had catastrophic damage on communities around the world. Blacks cop it extra though. Markets decide that it is profitable for society to lock up blacks out of all proportion leading to single parent families. Then black guys are being blamed by society for not being there for their kids. Obama came out and also blamed black fathers for the problems of the black community – as did Bill Cosby – which I thought a bit beyond the pale. I think that when you find yourself in a losing game that it is time to change the rules. Time for blacks to forget slavery and Jim Crow and all the other crap from the past and start leveraging their voting power for their future. That Candace Owens makes a similar point.

    Reply

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