Paul Krugman responded to fellow New York Times columnist David Brooks' recent piece, arguing that the attention paid to the racial components of the recent unrest in Baltimore obscures the fact its root causes -- both in the black community and America at large -- are economic.
He cited the work of sociologist William Julius Wilson, who argued that social changes in the black community were the result of the disappearance of jobs capable of providing a living wage in the inner cities. Wilson predicted that a similar disappearance in other communities would lead to an identical effect -- and it turns out he was correct.
Krugman bemoaned the commentator's crutch of blaming the poor for their poverty and the resulting social ills, writing that "[s]hrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect," because "[t]he poor don't need lectures on morality, they need more resources...and better economic opportunities."
Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.
And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.
Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.
Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.