William “Sandy” Darity’s work is the proof you need that the American dream is just that, a dream. The promise that anyone who takes initiative and works hard has an equal chance at success is not true. A close look at data on income and wealth reveals an inherently unequal society. Our recent post on racial inequality points out how for example, race affects the payoffs of a college education. For a much more comprehensive view of this issue, we can dive into Darity’s work.
Darity currently serves as the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, where he teaches Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics. The focus of his work is inequality, examined through the lenses of race, class, and ethnicity. He also has analyzed policies that would help fix the legacy of racial injustice in America.
Darity rejects the neoclassical view that “markets” will arbitrage away discrimination over time, and champions a different approach called stratification economics. This strategy uncovers the stories of inequalities by looking at economic variables by different strata. Your chance at success in this society differs based on your race and gender. Examining economic variables by different groups offers a much clearer picture than the abstract “representative agent” models would depict.
As a young economist at Brown and MIT, Darity thought that studying economics would teach him why these inequalities are created and persist. Yet he found, like so many of us now, that studying economics is often more focused on math than society. Thankfully, once degrees are conferred PhD economists can pursue different lines of thought. His work today is a bright light for not only understanding how these inequalities are created and persist, but for understanding how we can fix them.
For example, the piece Umbrellas Don’t Make It Rain: Why Studying and Working Hard Isn’t Enough For Black Americans shows the broken logic behind the idea that more years of education results in higher earnings. Think about a rainy day, he argues. A lot of people might be holding umbrellas, but that doesn’t mean that the umbrellas caused the rain. Similarly, people with higher educational attainments have higher levels of wealth. Yet, it does not mean they accumulated the wealth because of the education.
Often times, working hard at an education or job is just not enough. Darity shows that white families with an unemployed family head have double the wealth of black families with a family head working full time. That’s a difference of $21,892 to $11,649. It’s not because of their educations, either. Black household heads with a college degree have two-thirds of the net worth of white household heads who never finished high school. Data like this suggests that education is not enough to correct these inequalities. This is just a taste of an enormous list of Darity’s publications that help us understand discrimination, prejudice, and inequality.
Darity hasn’t just looked at the problem, he has proposed bold solutions. Two policies which he advocates for are Baby Bonds and the Job Guarantee. The Baby Bonds idea would endow every newborn American with a trust that grows and they can access when they turn 18 years old. Everyone would receive this trust but to reduce wealth inequality those with lower levels of wealth would be given larger endowments, While this idea strengthens future generations, the Job Guarantee proposal fights inequality immediately. Guaranteeing every American access to employment at a living wage with benefits, the Job Guarantee could create a more equitable system.
Economic justice will be a necessary component for achieving racial justice in this country, and Darity’s work helps not only understand the problem but also the solutions that we, as citizens, can help promote. If you’re itching for more, check out this piece on INET, his articles at HuffPo & NYT and be sure to follow him on Twitter @SandyDarity. I’m sure we’ll hear from him there when his forthcoming book on reparations comes out. I can’t wait to read it!