I was planning to write a follow-up to the story about technology and the African-American experience that I wrote earlier this year when a funny thing happened.
The city I live in was engulfed in a series of race riots that were telegraphed around the world.
The aftermath has been especially ugly, and of course living here you are fully aware of the ugly racial politics that simmers under the surface and permeates every level of this city. Add to that the causal racism, subconscious emotional biases, rationalizing and petty tribalism that accompanies all of it.
It’s all happened before, of course.
Long hot summer refers to the summer of 1967, which began a year in which 159 race riots erupted across the United States. In June there were riots in Atlanta, Boston, and Cincinnati, as well as the Buffalo riot (in Buffalo, New York), and a riot in Tampa, Florida. In July there were riots in Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, Conn., Rochester, N.Y., and a riot in Plainfield, New Jersey. The most serious riots of the summer took place in July, with the riot in Newark, New Jersey and the Twelfth Street riot, in Detroit, Michigan.
It was at this time that the racial politics of modern-day America were laid down, and everything pretty much follows from that. The rise of Black Lives Matter, driven in large part by social media and the easy videotaping of arrests by cell phones, has driven a seeming repeat of those years all over again, this time with mass immigration and terrorism added to the witches’ brew.
1. The History
When you have a country where you have a large, oppressed minority population that needs to kept in perpetual servitude, you get a violent society where casual viciousness and cruelty permeates every aspect of life. This has been a distinctive feature of America since day one.
As I explained earlier, there were two Great Migrations in the twentieth century, and these have defined American History ever since. The first was essentially a continuation of the Underground Railroad where black migration was driven by the availability of low skill/industrial jobs in the North and the desire to escape the viciously racist apartheid regime instigated in Dixie in the wake of slavery’s demise (Jim Crow). This was from about the first World War to the Great Depression (1918-1929). Often times black labor was used as means of suppressing white wages, leading to racial conflict. This continued a tradition from the very founding of the U.S. to bring in immigrant/migrant labor to hold down wages, and then play off those immigrant groups against one another to keep them from uniting against the moneyed interests profiting from the situation.
The first example of this was the Bacon Rebellion in 1675. This was an alliance of bonded workers and slaves against colonial aristocrats. Alarmed by this development, the aristocrats decided that they needed to play off poor blacks and whites against one another, so gave special privileges based on race to the poor and middle-class white workers. This has been called the “Racial Bribe.”
…The alliance between indentured servants (mostly Caucasians who had under a 50 percent survival rate while enslaved) and Africans (most enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class, who responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.
Bacon’s Rebellion (Wikipedia)
The second, and much larger wave, occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War. After the demise of slavery, freed blacks still needed a way to support themselves. Rather than being granted their on land to farm as reparations (“forty acres and a mule”), they were enmeshed in neo-feudal sharecropping arrangements with the white owners of the land.
Some land redistribution occurred under military jurisdiction during the war and for a brief period thereafter. But, Federal and state policy during the Reconstruction era emphasized wage labor, not land ownership, for African Americans. Almost all land allocated during the war was restored to its pre-war owners. Several African American communities did maintain control of their land, and some families obtained new land by homesteading.
Forty acres and a mule (Wikipedia)
By coincidence I ran across this excellent summary of sharecropping by economist Bill Mitchell, who makes the apt analogy in his post between that system and the system being proposed by “sharing economy” giants such as Uber (and I would add, most delivery services that rely on ‘independent contractors’):
Roger Ransome and Richard Sutch analysed the sharecropping system in their excellent 1972 historical article and concluded that (p.642):
Sharecropping allowed the exploitation of the small farmer by the monopolistic financial structure dominated by the local merchant. Unable to obtain alternative sources of credit for supplies he needed, the small farmer was forced to pledge his future crop as a lien against credit advanced for the growing season.
Under the [so-called Crop Lien System…which “was a credit system that became widely used by cotton farmers in the United States in the South from the 1860s to the 1930”], sharecroppers “obtained supplies and food on credit from local merchants … [who] … held a lien on the cotton crop and the merchants and landowners were the first ones paid from its sale.” If nothing was left over after the payments were made then tough luck. The land was owned by the former slave owner and the risk of the enterprise falls back onto the sharecropper. The crop lien system also tied the sharecropper to a particular farmer. Ransom and Sutch found that (p.642):
The crop lien bound the farmer to the merchant and restricted his options to buy elsewhere or dispose of his crop in the most advantageous manner. Through use of his monopoly power, the merchant was able to insist that the farmer concentrate on the production of cotton at the sacrifice of food for home consumption, thereby forcing the farmer to buy his provisions from the merchant. The credit prices charged for these supplies were exorbitant, reflecting not only the local merchant’s inefficiency, but his exploitative powers as the sole source of rural credit.
Ransom and Sutch quote Charles Otken who in 1894 summarised the experiences with sharecropping in this way:
This condition of affairs in the South introduced a credit system whose tremendous evils and exorbitant exactions have brought poverty and bankruptcy to thousands of families. As a policy, it is vindictive in its subtle sophistry; as a system, it has crushed out all independence and reduced its victims to a coarse species of servile slavery.
Why Uber is not a progressive development (billy blog)
So that is the background of the people fleeing to the industrial cities to seek wage labor.
After the Great Depression came the second Great Migration. Blacks who had served in the military saw witnessed first-hand the fact that they could be treated as actual human beings when they served in Europe which did not develop the institutionalized repression of blacks. As they began to demand more rights, the plantation owners decided they did not need the sharecroppers anymore and mechanized cotton production, which became possible due to technical advances and cheap fuel, depriving them of their livelihood.
The displaced sharecroppers migrated to the Atlantic Seaboard, the Ohio Valley, and the Great Lakes regions to seek work in the factories. The West Coast, formerly agricultural, had industrialized as part of the War effort, and was the hub of the newly-minted aerospace industry, which was busy churning out airplanes both for the military and the building out of the new global jet travel industry. The main hubs here were Inland Empire and the southern areas of Los Angeles, and the East Bay cities like Oakland, where aerospace manufacturing was located.
Then automation cleaned them out too. I’ve referred before to the letter sent to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 warning of the dire consequences of automation (note: I frequently lump outsourcing factories and automation together because they are both means to the same end). That letter in the mainstream media narrative has been laughed off as chicken-little style alarmism. Everything went fine, goes the narrative; we just created more jobs than ever before for everyone who wanted them, and life just went on with no trouble.
Tell that to the residents of inner-city ghettos.
Just four months after that letter, the first Civil Rights bill was passed into law. It was signed in the teeth of an automation revolution which was to decimate the low-skilled factory jobs that African-Americans relied upon. The jobs moved to the suburbs or overseas. The new, smaller, automated factories were built on cheap, suburban land and accessible only be the newly-constructed freeways. Land use patterns balkanized the suburbs.
Several things happened simultaneously to create the ghettos.
1.) African-American neighborhoods were torn down to build freeways. These destroyed neighborhoods which were very similar to other ethnic enclaves of times prior. They were segregated, but nonetheless functional communities, with meeting places, face-to-face interactions, viable institutions, and a cross-section of different classes. Bronzeville is a primary example of this in Milwaukee–destroyed (as were other gems such as Milwaukee’s little Italy) in the service of freeways which drained jobs, money and population from the city.
Syracuse, New York…had big dreams of becoming an East Coast hub, since it was close to New York City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Boston. (In the early days of the car, close was relative.) Use federal funds to build a series of highways, planners thought, and residents could easily get to the suburbs and to other cities in the region. After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a Syracuse that you could easily leave by car? And, if they put the highway in just the right place, it would allow the city to use federal funds to eradicate what they called a slum area in the center city.
That neighborhood, called the 15th Ward, was located between Syracuse University and the city’s downtown. It was predominantly African American. One man who lived there at the time, Junie Dunham, told me that although the 15th Ward was poor, it was the type of community that you often picture in 1950s America: fathers going off to jobs in the morning; kids playing in the streets; families gathering in the park on the weekends or going on Sunday strolls. He remembers collecting scraps from the streets and bringing them to the junkyard for pennies, which he would use to buy comics.
To outsiders, though, the 15th Ward was the scene of abject poverty close to two of Syracuse’s biggest draws—the university and downtown. They worried about race riots because so many people were crowded into the neighborhood and prevented from going anywhere else. They decided that the best plan would be to tear down the 15th Ward and replace it with an elevated freeway.
The completion of the highway, I-81, which ran through the urban center, had the same effect it has had in almost all cities that put interstates through their hearts. It decimated a close-knit African American community. And when the displaced residents from the 15th Ward moved to other city neighborhoods, the white residents fled. It was easy to move. There was a beautiful new highway that helped their escape.
The Role of Highways in American Poverty (The Atlantic)
2.) To replace these neighborhoods, cities built “housing projects” which had the effect of concentrating poverty into specific geographical areas. If you concentrate something it becomes more intense, unlike diluting it.
3.) The factories locked their gates and became shuttered, abandoned, boarded-up hulks rusting in the rain and crumbling under the freeze-thaw cycle into dust.
4.) Economic activity moved away to the suburbs leaving a black hole of blight.
The black ghetto in prewar America was a place of deep poverty and…the product of relentless discrimination in housing and employment, which continued after the war. But it was also a place where African American culture thrived, a “city within a city,” in their words. By the 1960s, when Kenneth Clark focused on youth delinquency in Harlem, northern ghettos had grown, and the departure of middle- and upper-income black Americans—and jobs—had begun. A “tangle of pathology” rooted in a sense of powerlessness, Clark argued, now eclipsed cultural vigor and autonomy. That sense of impotence, he emphasized, was well founded: Forces outside the ghetto had begun to erode the black community. Vibrant neighborhoods were razed to make way for highways and public-housing projects, turning the ghetto into a subject colony.
The Destructive Legacy of Housing Segregation (The Atlantic)
5.) A series of blatantly discriminatory housing practices were erected to prevent black people from moving away from the ghetto. These are too numerous to go into, but include things like redlining, blockbusting and contract buying:
Contract buying sprang up in Chicago after the federal government effectively refused to insure mortgages for the vast majority of black homeowners, even as it was insuring the mortgages of white homeowners, and encouraged banks to redline black and integrated neighborhoods. The import of mid-20th century housing policy — along with private actions (riots, block-busting, contract lending, covenants) — has been devastating for African Americans.
Buying on contract meant that you made a down-payment to a speculator. The speculator kept the deed and only turned it over to you after you’d paid the full value of the house — a value determined by the speculator. In the meantime, you were responsible for monthly payments, keeping the house up, and taking care of any problems springing from inspection. If you missed one payment, the speculator could move to evict you and keep all the payments you’d made. Building up equity was impossible, unless — through some Herculean effort — you managed to pay off the entire contract. Very few people did this. The system was set up to keep them from doing it, and allow speculators to get rich through a cycle of evicting and flipping.
The Ghetto Is Public Policy (The Atlantic)
Blatant housing discrimination was slowly chipped away by concerted government action over the years. The sporadic nature of this change had a perverse effect, however. As discriminatory practices fell, the blacks who left the ghetto were typically the most educated, highest achieving ones, leaving the remaining ones with no good influences or role models. This reinforced the social pathologies of those left behind. It became a classic feedback loop. The isolation caused social pathologies to metastasize. As that happened, the social problems caused the area to become more isolated. People who could afford to move out did so, leaving behind the most destitute, whose poverty was then reinforced by living and growing up around people with the same social dysfunction.
The need for low-skilled labor slowly evaporated from the American economy after 1964. There were still jobs left in construction and food service, but construction was mainly located in the suburbs where downscale whites (and later Latin American immigrants) were preferred hires over blacks. White people deny this history. For them, it just didn’t happen.
Then came the riots.
Isolated, impoverished and unemployed, preyed upon by police forces and the financial industry, and with few other options, blacks lashed out en masse. The nation erupted in race riots throughout the 1960’s, and some of these were so bad that it seemed the nation might not survive. It is difficult for those of us not born in that era to understand the fear that such people must have felt. No doubt the reactionary politics and racial resentment so typical of the Baby Boom generation was forged during those years of turmoil. The suburbs became their refuge and bulwark, a parallel economy where they could be safe from the rioters, as well as the forces of globalization and automation. Or so they thought.
In the period leading up to the riots, police racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs led local African-American residents to feel powerless and disenfranchised. In particular, many felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often suffered police brutality. Unemployment and poverty were also very high with the traditional manufacturing base having been fully eroded and withdrawn from the Northeast US by 1967. Further fueling tensions was the final decision by the state of New Jersey to clear a vast tract of land in the central ward of its tenement buildings displacing thousands, to build the new University of Medicine and Dentistry facility.
[M]any African Americans, especially younger community leaders, felt they had remained largely disenfranchised in Newark despite the fact that Newark became one of the first majority black major cities in America alongside Washington, D.C. In sum, the city was entering a turbulent period of incipient change in political power. A former seven-term congressman representing New Jersey’s 11th congressional district, Mayor Hugh Addonizio (who was also the last non-black mayor of Newark) took few steps to incorporate blacks in various civil leadership positions and to help blacks get better employment opportunities. Black leaders were increasingly upset that the Newark Police Department was dominated by white officers who would routinely stop and question black youths with or without provocation. Despite being one of the first cities in the U.S. to hire black police officers, the department’s demographics remained at odds with the city’s population… Only 145 of the 1322 police officers were black (11%), mirroring national demographics, while the city remained over 50% black.
This unrest came to a head when two white Newark policemen, John DeSimone and Vito Pontrelli, arrested a black cabdriver, John Weerd Smith. After signaling, Smith passed the double parked police car, was then pursued and pulled over by the officers. He was arrested, beaten by the officers and taken to the 4th Police Precinct where he was charged with assaulting the officers, and making insulting remarks. Residents of Hayes Homes, a large public housing project, saw an incapacitated Smith being dragged into the precinct, and a rumor was started that he had been killed while in police custody (Smith had in fact been released in the custody of his lawyer). When police rushed out of their station wearing hard hats and carrying clubs, people began to throw bricks, bottles, and rocks. At least five police officers were struck by stones, according to one policeman. Some residents went to City Hall and shouted angry protests. After midnight false alarms caused fire engines to race around a six block area along Belmont Avenue in the ghetto area. Looters smashed windows, and threw merchandise onto sidewalks. According to police, liquor stores were the main target of looters.
1967 Newark riots (Wikipedia)
It’s no coincidence that Richard Nixon ran on a “law and order” platform in 1968 and made it the cornerstone of his campaign. He was appealing to whites using the same rhetoric you hear today with dog-whistle phrases like “silent majority” and promising to put down the riots and keep blacks in their place. With his election, two things happened. The Republicans transformed into a white ethnic party. And the policy towards the black underclass would now become based around a policy of heavily militarized internal police forces and mass incarceration.
The drug war was initiated at this time as a pretext for this action, as John Erlichman admitted out in an interview:
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news…”Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did…”
The whites who fled to the suburbs carried with them a profound racial grudge and a newly-found visceral hatred of the Federal Government spurred by Civil Rights that led to the creation of the modern Republican party as we know it out of the previous incarnation of more moderate business-friendly Rotarian-types. That fresh hatred was successfully exploited by the business community in the funding of innumerable think-tanks, foundations, publishing houses, Web sites, university grants and scholarships, and news outlets, all devoted to the idea that government was bad and should be dismantled in favor of the “free” market. The next Republican president elected after Nixon proclaimed such bumper-sticker bromides as:
1.) “Government is the problem, not the solution,” and
2.) “The scariest words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”
Reagan also touted Cadillac-driving welfare queens, as well as a host of other dog-whistle words and phrases such as ‘state’s rights’. Occasionally, racial appeals would be more direct, such as the infamous Willie Horton ads deployed by George Bush Sr.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Suburban white Americans ate this stuff up. The race riots had radicalized them. What once was confined to the racially-tinged politics of the South went nationwide as whites flocked to the Republican banner. At the same time, politics became more about cheering for your “team” than any sort of consideration of individual candidates’ abilities or honesty, or sensible, rational debates about public policy. Politics became identity politics due to race, beginning the nation’s sad slide to third-world status.
With this ramping up in the name of law-and-order, conditions in African-American ghettos became ever more oppressive, in ways that have only recently come to light:
The Ferguson Kleptocracy (Marginal Revolution)
Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison (Marginal Revolution)
…The 13th Amendment to the Constitution bans slavery except for those convicted of crimes. And it gives the local and federal governments the authority to impose “slave” laws for convicts, of all races. This allows state governments and the feds to practice “convict” laws against everyone convicted. Such “laws” legalize the practice of refusing shelter or housing to convicts, preventing them from voting or running for an electoral office, and keeping them off jury duty. They also limit convicts’ right to public education, bar them from buying weapons for self defense, deny them public benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), outlaw guardianship and executor/executrix rights, reject employment, and more.
Bear in mind that there are 2.3 million people currently incarcerated. An educated guess places twice that many as having been released, or on parole or probation, because convict laws remain in effect. And don’t forget the collateral miseries that befall families, who can lose their houses if a son or daughter violates a “convict” law…Black men represent 14 percent of the USA’s general population and 40 percent of its prison population.
The new Jim Crow inherits the “racial bribe” from slave days (Freedom Socialist Party)
It is well-known that Milwaukee is one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation, by many measures THE most segregated. It’s not as well-known why.
It turns out that blacks arrived much closer to the automation-suburbanization-deindustrialization revolution here than in most other cities. The primary reasons were because 1.) There were plenty of jobs in the metropolis of Chicago just 70 miles to the south, and 2.) There were enough European immigrants and poor whites to fill the unskilled labor pool, This delayed arrival meant that no black middle class had even a chance of forming and blacks went straight to the ghetto without passing ‘Go’ or collecting $200:
Among U.S. cities, Milwaukee has long been an outlier. In the late nineteenth century, it was the most foreign city in the country: By 1890, a mere 13 percent of its inhabitants were the children of American-born parents. For most of the period between 1910 and 1960, the city was governed by Socialist Party mayors. And, as the twentieth century wore on, Milwaukee stood apart for another reason: It remained remarkably and stubbornly white. The Great Migration that had brought some six million African Americans from the South between 1910 and 1930 and in a second wave around World War II transformed just about every major city in the North—except Milwaukee. Few migrants made it past the great sponge of Chicago, in part because there wasn’t a plentiful supply of jobs to entice them:
Milwaukee’s labor market was then amply filled by European immigrants and workers from the declining timber and mining industries up north. By 1960, blacks made up nearly a quarter of Chicago’s population and nearly 30 percent of Detroit’s and Cleveland’s. In Milwaukee, they accounted for less than 10 percent of residents, the smallest proportion of African Americans in any of the 15 largest cities in the country.
It wasn’t until the ’60s that African Americans started to drift into Milwaukee in large numbers. For the next 20 years, the city offered safer streets and better schools than Chicago, and its industrial base was faring better than in many other urban areas. By 1990, Milwaukee’s black population had shot up to 30 percent. Today, it stands near 40 percent, while Hispanics make up another 17 percent.
This delayed arrival would prove highly consequential. Not long after a substantial African American community took shape, Milwaukee’s industrial base began to collapse and its manufacturing jobs disappeared. This left almost no time for the city to develop a black middle class or a leadership elite. Within short order, Milwaukee had some of the most glaring racial disparities in the country. Today, it has the second-highest black poverty rate in the United States, and the unemployment rate is nearly four times higher for blacks than for whites. The city had never been exactly welcoming to African Americans—its tight-knit enclaves of Germans, Jews, and Poles had fiercely resisted housing and school integration. But the decline of the black ghetto so soon after many of its residents had arrived made it easier for white Milwaukeeans to write off the entire African American community, or to blame it for the city’s troubles. White flight, like the Great Migration, came late to Milwaukee, but it came fast and fueled with resentment. Between 1960 and 2010, the population of the three formerly rural counties around Milwaukee County (Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington, or the “WOW” counties, for short) nearly tripled, to 608,000.
Scott Walker’s Toxic Racial Politics (The New Republic)
This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the city. Here it describes how containment is a very intentional policy enforced by Republican politicians supported by suburban whites:
Wisconsin is run by Gov. Scott Walker, the union-busting conservative Republican. His support base is the Milwaukee suburbs he used to represent as a state legislator. For more than 20 years, he has fought proposals that would make it easier for city residents to get out there.
Walker and other suburban politicians have fended off proposals for an urban-suburban light rail line. They have eliminated or shortened regional bus routes, by one estimate cutting off access to “at least 40,000 jobs” over six years. Last year, it took a lawsuit from a black advocacy group for Walker to agree to set aside $14 million, in a $1.7-billion highway renovation project, to fund three new bus routes to suburban job centres. Temporarily.
Black people, even middle-income black people, can’t just move close to the jobs. For one, they often can’t get mortgages they should qualify for. Milwaukee, Levine said, still has one of the country’s widest racial gaps in loan-denial rates. Well-off blacks are turned down about as often as very-low-income whites.
Black renters face even greater obstacles. Proposals for affordable suburban housing have drawn vitriol from white homeowners. Even when it’s pretty housing.
New Berlin is a tidy city of 40,000. Between an empty swath of “AVAILABLE BUILDING LAND” and a neighbourhood of cookie-cutter houses with two-car garages, there is a new brown-brick lowrise complex that looks like a condo at a ski resort.
It cost the city’s white mayor his political career.
The mayor, Jack Chiovatero, came out in support of a proposal for the rental development in 2010. He soon found his car windows shot out, a sign reading “n—– lover” on his lawn, and a deluge of angry voice mails. “Our city is filled with prejudice and bigoted people,” he lamented in a leaked email. He apologized, then flip-flopped to oppose the project; New Berlin voters still tried to recall him from office, then defeated him in the next election. The complex — which ended up being filled mostly by white people — was approved only after President Barack Obama’s Justice Department sued the city for discrimination.
Most articles about Milwaukee’s racially tinged politics emphasize not only the ultra-white suburbs, but also the outsized role talk radio plays in radicalizing them:
Over time, the two [radio talk] shows became known by a single name: “SykesBelling.” In the halls of the statehouse, Milwaukee City Hall, and area county governments, elected officials, particularly insufficiently conservative Republicans, lived in dread of denunciations by the hosts and the tsunami of angry calls from listeners that would follow. Sykes is credited with, among other accomplishments, having blocked public funding for needle-exchange programs and having helped drive into bankruptcy an urban mall after harping on security issues there. In April 2013, he played a clip of “It’s Free (Swipe Yo EBT),” a viral video produced by a right-wing activist in which an African American woman raps about liquor stores where one can allegedly use a food-stamp card. Returning to the same theme later in the year, Sykes declared, “The number of Americans who receive means-tested government benefits— welfare—now outnumbers those who are year-round full-time workers.” No other midsize city has this kind of sustained and energized conservative forum for discussion of local politics….
Milwaukee Burning (Philly.com)
Even the high-speed rail line was opposed because it might give black people chance to get out of the inner-city. This was never stated by Walker himself, only telegraphed through media surrogates.
Over the past few decades, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee has developed into the most bitterly divided political ground in the country—“the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation,” as a recent series by Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it. Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. These trends predate Walker, but they have enabled his ascent, and his tenure in government has only served to intensify them.
Scott Walker’s Toxic Racial Politics (The New Republic)
The Republican party in Wisconsin is animated by hatred and resentment of minorities. This is all under the surface. It’s one of those truths that “everyone knows” but no one will admit. Occasionally, however, the truth comes out:
In April 2010, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch received an emailed joke from a friend about someone whose dogs supposedly qualified for welfare because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddys are.”
Rindfleisch wrote back: “That is hilarious. And so true!”
The emails are around four years old but were disclosed for the first time Wednesday as part of an appeal by Rindfleisch of her conviction for campaigning while being paid to do work for Milwaukee County taxpayers.
Many of the issues at play in those emails, such as a secret email system, were already known in whole or in part. But the racial statements are new to the public.
In another email, sent in July 2010, Thomas Nardelli, Walker’s chief of staff for Walker at Milwaukee County, forwarded Rindfleisch and others a joke about someone who has what he calls a “nightmare” about turning into a black, Jewish, disabled gay man who is unemployed.
“Oh God, please don’t tell me I’m a Democrat,” the email concludes.
In the unguarded emails, other vulnerable groups also came in for criticism from Rindfleisch. She predicted that news coverage of harm to patients at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex wouldn’t move voters because “no one cares about crazy people.”
I live here and I can tell you from personal experience this is spot on! Interestingly, Republicans who are furious about Hilary’s secret email server have spent years defending Scott Walker’s.
In Milwaukee, it became a well-known, if never spoken out-loud secret that areas outside of the inner-city were “sundown towns” Police forces had a “wink-wink” carte blanche to do “whatever it took” to preserve “law and order” i.e. enforce segregation and put down insurrections in the ghetto. Milwaukee’s lily-white police force adopted a code of omertá under it’s notorious police chief Harold Breier, who was appointed in the riot year of 1967. America’s police state was well under way.
3. The Underlying Cause
Why was the above necessary? Simply because you had too many workers for the jobs available. African-Americans have become a “surplus population.”
The need for unskilled labor has by-and-large already been eliminated from the workforce. Let me say that again with no equivocation so that it sinks in:
The need for unskilled labor has largely already been eliminated from the workforce.
Want proof? According to Richard Serlin’s blog (citing statistics from from MIT economist Michael Greenstone and Brookings senior fellow Adam Looney):
1) “Between 1960 and 2009, the share of men [age 25 – 64] without any formal labor-market earnings for an entire calendar year rose from 6 percent to 18 percent.”
2) “The percentage of men working full time [age 25 – 64] has decreased from 83 percent to 66 percent over the same period.”
3) “Nonemployment for an entire calendar year among men without high school diplomas [age 25 – 64] increased by 23 percentage points (from 11 to 34 percent) and among those with only a high school degree by 18 percentage points (from 4 to 22 percent)”.
4) “One way to untangle the two phenomena is to examine the median earnings among all working-age men – this time including those who earn nothing at all. What appeared as stagnant earnings for workers is really an outright decline in wages for the median men of working age. The median wage of the American male has declined by almost $13,000 after accounting for inflation in the four decades since 1969…Indeed, earnings haven’t been this low since Ike was president and Marshal Dillon was keeping the peace in Dodge City.”
5) “Consider just men between the ages of 30 and 50, a group for whom retirement is rare. The median earnings of all men in this group declined by 27 percent between 1969 and 2009, which is nearly identical to the 28 percent decline for those who are 25 to 64 years old.”
6) “Surely, the most astonishing statistic to be gleaned from the trend data is the deterioration in the market outcomes for men with less than a high school education. The median earnings of all men in this category have declined by 66 percent [not a misprint] [from 1969 to 2009]. At the same time, this group has experienced a 23 percentage point decline in the probability of having any labor-market earnings. Roughly 10 percentage points of the 23 percentage points is attributable to the fact that more men are reporting disabilities, even though work in physically demanding jobs has been declining for many decades. Men with just a high school diploma did only marginally better. Their wages declined by 47 percent and their participation in the labor force fell by 18 percentage points.” (page 13)
The only reason jobs were increasing at all during this period was the entry of women into the workforce, which increased the supply of workers, and thus lowered their value. Initially, these positions were treated as “second income” jobs, which also aided in lowering pay, as well as being disproportionately in lower-paying service jobs to begin with. Yet the effects were felt across the population.
Now, it’s true that all of these statistics are just for men. The total number of jobs has increased, due to women entering the labor force en masse, and the population increasing. Still: The total labor force participation rate, which considers all of this, has declined in the last 15 years from about 67%, where it was throughout the 1990’s, to about 64% (from the Current Population Survey).
Male and Female Prime-Age Employment Rates Since 2000 (Brad DeLong)
I submit that the reason these shocking statistics have been absent from the national discourse is because they have been primarily visited upon the black community, who could then be simply written off and ignored, since most white Americans considered them to be “lazy” anyway.
To cope with this destruction of good-paying jobs, we turned to a systematic policy of militarized police and mass incarceration. The United States incarcerates more of its own people than any state in the history of the world. Even if all nonviolent drug offenders were freed, we would still have the largest prison population of any major industrialized nation.
Everything just worked out OK???
The Black community were the sacrificial lambs offered up on the altar of globalization and automation. They also became the scapegoats for everything wrong with the country. The third-world workers took the jobs African American depended on, rendering them redundant to the economic order. Note that all during this time, economists and the media were insisting that none of this was having a negative effect on the workforce, even as the ghettos spiraled into post-apocalyptic hellholes. Yet this has been ignored since the 1960’s!
In the eyes of whites, it wasn’t joblessness and segregation but the poor character of blacks which was to blame, a sentiment which remains to this day. As I pointed out in my previous post, blaming problems with employment and the failure of the Market on “poor character” has been the standard tactic going all the way back to the Irish Famine in the 1840’s, and it is very deliberate. These days, descendants of those famine survivors are busily and eagerly demonizing a new set of scapegoats further down the food chain.
The nation naively thought that the creation of a massive militarized internal police force to suppress a large portion of the population somehow wouldn’t effect it. Yet it transformed the nation. It transformed America into a militant police state, particularly, but not exclusively for black citizens.
But the underlying problems never went away. They just festered under the surface, waiting for a match to set them alight again. It turns out that criminalizing poverty doesn’t make it go away. And it’s expensive.
It’s pretty clear from the vitriol directed against Black Lives Matter that the Republicans are still seen as the party to keep blacks in their place. It’s widely known that Donald Trump based his acceptance speech on Nixon’s Law and Order speech. I found it amusing in the wake of that speech how many media outlets bombarded us with mountains of statistics telling us about how the crime rates are actually at historic lows.
As if it was really about “crime” in the first place. As if reasoning and statistics ever mattered to a frightened electorate. Are the media that naive, or do just they think we are?
Do they really not know what’s going on here?
If you read the comments online, you can see that white people pretty much consider African Americans as little more than animals in need of corralling. There are constant references to Obama desiring “race war” and somehow inciting the riots. Supposedly George Soros is single-handedly funding BLM to destabilize the United States. Either that or the violence was deliberately staged by Democrats to elect Hillary Clinton (despite such race riots clearly favoring Trump). Video of blacks baying for whites’ blood and calling for violence in the suburbs went viral on the internet and were circulated enthusiastically and obsessively in right-wing internet media. These were claimed to be “censored” by a news media that is controlled by “Leftists” and “Liberals.” And, of course, there is plenty of fetishistic gun-stroking. Clearly, there is no logic or rationality at work here.
And that explains much of this election. It’s pretty much a replay of 1968 all over again.
The reason I write so often about this is because it illustrates so much about
where we are headed. What has politics in the era of 1967-2016 taught us about the effects of globalization and automation on the population?
1.) Surplus populations will continue to be isolated and marginalized–and
it won’t just be based on race.
I find it exceedingly amusing that the same people who stockpile weapons to protect themselves from the “tyranny” of a government that is supposedly out of control condemn African Americans for rioting, and loudly cheer on the government forces riding in in tanks and firing tear gas to put them down. I guess their definition of tyranny is simply taxes that are too high on white people. In any case, these riots show what is in store for any group that gets out of hand and decides to embark on a course of action besides self slaughter.
2.) People redundant to the economic order will be eliminated. This will be wither direct or indirect.
In the case of African-Americans, its was very direct. The ghetto is basically an open-air prison, as we saw above. A very specific policy of predation and incarceration was pursued leading to the wholesale cultural collapse of the black community and the social pathologies which characterize it today. It may be beyond saving.
In the case of the white community it is more indirect. It’s often been said that white people don’t riot. That’s true: because of their culture they internalize their failures and self-destruct instead, which from the perspective of the ruling class is much less messy and more convenient. Poor whites have chosen to eliminate themselves from society via suicide or addiction, placing the fault on themselves in their hyper-individualist culture where the individual alone is responsible for their own failing and socially isolated from those around them. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the increase of the white mortality rate parallels that of the outbreak of the deadly disease AIDS in the 1980’s.
The analysis by Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case may offer the most rigorous evidence to date of both the causes and implications of a development that has been puzzling demographers in recent years: the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites. In middle age, they are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans…
“Wow,” said Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on mortality trends and the health of populations, who was not involved in the research. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”
It’s likely that individual fault will continue to be seen as the root cause of larger and larger portions of the population being made redundant and eliminated. The birth rate in America is at historic lows for these reasons. We’ve seen that riots do no good. A lot of older white voters are turning to Trumpism, more out of hatred of out-groups than any plan to make things better for themselves or their children. It’s likely that race-baiting and identity politics will continue to be highly effective means of keeping the population isolated and divided until the United States ceases to be an effective nation-state, which we are perilously close to already.
There’s always some sort of rationalization for people in the pecking order to justify the treatment of those below them. At different levels of society, the rationalizations may be different, but they are always there nevertheless. It is the most effective form of social control ever devised.
The problem is, with the need for labor ever-diminishing, and with an overpopulated third world able to supply more than enough employees for the rest of time between outsourcing and immigration, there is no incentive for the leaders of wealthy industrialized nations to do anything but feed their populations into the meat grinder of globalization and keep them distracted and at each other’s throats. Either that or ineffective palliative measures which will only help individuals and not solve the large problem (more education, start-ups, etc.). Elites in these societies are protected by their police and surveillance states and have more in common with each other than they do their own citizens. The only options are a slow liquidation of internal populations with all of the political instability and rioting that entails, or some sort of black-swan like collapse event. Neither outcome seems desirable.
After all these words I’m still not sure if I’ve said what I want to say, nor do I have any solutions besides declaring this former British colony a failed experiment and starting over from scratch.