Modern capitalism is color-blind

Marketplace Staff Jul 3, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: It’s the 4th of July tomorrow. That’s a day to rest, maybe have a barbecue or go for a swim and celebrate the fact that so many of us are both free and prosperous. In recent months, many major newspapers have run stories about race and prosperity, or the lack of it. Economist and commentator Marcellus Andrews says race doesn’t matter when it comes to how the economic deck is stacked.

MARCELLUS ANDREWS: Newspaper readers often come away thinking that blackness is a problem. It’s easy to see why. The men the media feature travel on a conveyor belt. They go from impoverished families to bad schools to low pay, crime, and prisons.

There must be something wrong, they figure, with so-called black culture. Or maybe racism is still too powerful. But they’re dead wrong on both counts. These men are the bitter fruit of the American free market economy. The blackness of some men matters less than the fact that poor men of all colors and conditions are economically disposable.

Many men are so poorly educated that their labor commands little value in our hyper-competitive economy.So some make up the difference between their lousy wages and what they need through crime. So why then are so many poor men and therefore prisoners disproportionately black?

Well, because the end of the American segregation system a half century ago put black people onto the blue-collar road to the middle class just when the on-ramp shut down.

In the mid-1970s, the country de-industrialized. American companies off-shored steel, stopped building ships and, gradually, autos too.

Children from modest circumstance faced either low-wage work or no work at all. Just look at the fate of poorly educated immigrants today. Their influx is simply changing the color of surplus males from black to brown.

But the problem remains: Too many men, too few skills to be economically independent. Just look at the rising proportion of Latinos in our prisons.

The sad fact remains that America doesn’t seen to care about giving these people the tools and fighting chance to help themselves.

But that’s not racism. That’s just cold, hard modern capitalism. That’s the real story the papers should cover.

And it’s color-blind.

VIGELAND: Marcellus Andrews’ latest book is called “The Political Economy of Hope and Fear.”

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