Race, Class, and the Neoliberal Scourge

Understanding the role of race in the neoliberal age is necessary to subvert neoliberalism. The charge is to replace neoliberalism with more humane and just politics whether they be identity or class based. Credit: Creative Commons/United States Library of Congress/Northwest Litho. Co., Milwaukee.

Neoliberalism, the broad set of ideas positing the market and market-centered values as the ultimate “civilizing” agent at home and abroad, has now structured our society for forty years. Ever since it began its gradual ascendance in 1973, we have experienced a marked increase in income inequality, witnessed the slow death of the labor union movement, and keenly felt a growing sense of anxiety. The task of the American Left has never been simpler and clearer—it’s to reconstitute the very idea of the public, in the hope that this reconstitution will generate a large-scale movement against neoliberalism.

As they seek to put flesh on the bones of this anti-neoliberal project, some point to the worsening of economic inequalities following Obama’s election (and re-election) in arguing we should turn away from identity politics and back to class politics, this time with a spiritually informed base.

I disagree. Race plays a prominent role in two aspects of the neoliberal turn—the rollback of progressive taxes and the rollback of welfare. We do need a more spiritually informed politics, but given how important the local terrain is in our political struggle, we need to understand the way “identity” and “class” politics come together.

Neoliberal Attacks on Taxes and Welfare

The modern anti-tax movement began in California in 1978 with the passage of Prop 13. The proposition capped property taxes and made it impossible to pass tax increases in the state legislature without the support of a supermajority of state legislators. Prop 13 significantly reduced the revenue local governments need to provide public services and to educate public school students from kindergarten to graduate school. Two scholars, David Sears and Jack Citrin, studied the Prop 13 vote. In Tax Revolt: Something for Nothing in California, they report that the best predictors of support were neither class-based, nor party-based, nor even ideologically based. The best predictor was racial attitudes. The more “racially resentful” an individual was, the more likely he or she was to vote for Prop 13.

{{{subscriber}}} [trackrt]

How to Read the Rest of This Article

The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun‘s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article. Click here to read a PDF version of the article.

(To return to the Fall 2013 Table of Contents, click here.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *