A recent Gallup poll found that worries about race relations were at an all-time high in the United States, and it’s easy to see why. This has been a summer of horrific violence born of bias and racism, perpetuating an epidemic of police shootings and mass killings. It has also been a summer of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump baiting crowds at rallies until they scream racial epithets into television cameras, while he promises to usher in a neo-Nixonian era of “law and order” to police people of color in our urban cores.
And yet, against this disheartening backdrop, we believe there is reason to be optimistic about the future of race relations in America.
Below the surface and beyond the viral videos, we see the signs of organizers, activists, researchers, and policy-makers beginning to fundamentally rethink how our rules around race should change. We have seen signs for years, from Occupy to the Movement for Black Lives, that have shown how profoundly and desperately Americans want change. There has been a marked shift away from the unhelpful, race-neutral—or “color-blind”—policy making that has dominated the public debate for the last 35 years, in favor of active efforts to end racial inequity and isolation and invest in people of color. And though it may not be intuitive, we believe that the recent turn against colorblind policy is closely connected to the repudiation of trickle-down economics.
To understand why, it is helpful to examine how the ideologies of trickle-down and color blindness came up together and have reinforced each other.
We are all too familiar with the pitfalls of trickle-down economics, the theory that cutting taxes and regulations at the top will create prosperity for all. As we argue in Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy, more than 30 years of experimentation have shown that imperfect information and institutional distortions reward the powerful, who then write rules to perpetuate this cycle. Thus we end up with an increasing share of limited growth going to the top, with stagnant incomes for most and a hollowing out of the middle class.
But the orthodox belief in trickle-down economics, which has held sway since the 1980s, is no longer dominant in either major party. Donald Trump pays lip service to a kind of anti–trickle down populism, even if in reality he continues to push the Republican line on tax cuts for the rich. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has joined figures like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in calling trickle-down a “failed economic theory.” The emerging progressive economic agenda, which calls for rebalancing power at the top, strengthening our labor market by creating strong floors of standards and greater access for the most vulnerable workers at the bottom, and investing in public goods and economic security through a more robust role for the state, is the antidote to neoliberal tax-cutting.