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Economists, Scholars Discuss Disparities and Race

Barrington M. Salmon | 2/13/2013, 2:09 p.m.

"It wasn't about Martin Luther King, it was a march for jobs and freedom," said Anderson. "It was organized by A. Philip Randolph who believed that freedom in this country was dependent on economic opportunity. We have to have the president address the issue of racial inequality. We understand that he doesn't want race to be a dominant theme ... How ironic is it that an African- American president must remain silent on this issue?"

Rodney Green, Ph.D., chairman of Howard University's Department of Economics and a professor of urban economics there since 1977, proposed deep solutions for a deep crisis. But he detailed the economic woes the country has faced in recent years.

"With massive unemployment, and weak demand, the president faced dire circumstances," he said. "There were bank bailouts but the devastating losses of homeowners, workers and immigrants were not addressed. The focus of the economic debate continues to be the fiscal cliff, balancing the budget and cutting social programs."

More direct government involvement must happen so that distressed communities can begin to feel relief, Green said, and there has to be a focus on narrowing the significant income, health and wealth gaps that have become a feature of life in the United States. The recession has revealed flaws and weaknesses in the economy and the poor and middle class have been ravaged by "rabid capitalism," he said.

"The fundamental problem is that economic viability means serving the needs of capitalists," Green said. "All of the benefits from increased productivity had accrued to producers. The current crisis is global. There is no recovery for workers. The federal government paid $700 billion in bailouts and other benefits and businesses are effectively on strike. They hold $2 trillion in cash, $5 trillion including international holdings. They have deserted financial instruments and gone to more exotic forms of making money. This has meant a decline in actual economic activity which has not restored a modicum of relief for workers."

It seems that every solution creates another problem and capitalism is creating its own problems. In much the same way that mass movements brought change for women and laborers, in the establishment of Social Security and other economic and social gains, another mass movement is needed, said Green.

"We need to rebuild the movement," he said, citing the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, the resurgence of labor in other countries and the uprising of indigenous ethnic groups in Latin America.

Haydar Kurban, Ph.D., an associate professor in Howard's Economics Department offered a bold $860 billion jobs plan proposed by the Chicago Political Economy Group to bring the country to full employment.

"The private sector has failed to provide jobs. The failure has long-term implications and the federal government must do it," he said. "The size and role of U.S. public sector involvement must increase. We need to restructure the U.S. economy and this crisis presents the opportunity to restructure."

The job plan would produce four million jobs a year over five years, Kurban said. The private sector is slated to produce about 1.5 million jobs a year but job losses in the private sector due to wage and working conditions competition stands at 1 million jobs a year. That means there is a need to produce 3.5 million jobs per year through direct or indirect government action.

"It should reach all segments, roads, bridges and schools," said Kurban. The median salary would be $18.47 an hour or $38,000 a year.

Kurban said a tax on speculation in financial markets would pay for the jobs plan.