Paul Krugman Definitively Shows How Slavery Still Haunts Us

Paul Krugman opens his Monday column by acknowledging that America is a less racist country than is used to be. But, and you know there is a big "but" coming, we are still plagued by subtle racial discrimination and potent racial hatred, "as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And," he continues, "I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens."


Knowing full well that conservatives will deny this plain fact, Krugman has amassed his evidence, a couple of definitive academic papers:

The first, by the political scientist Larry Bartels, analyzed the move of the white working class away from Democrats, a move made famous in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Mr. Frank argued that working-class whites were being induced to vote against their own interests by the right’s exploitation of cultural issues. But Mr. Bartels showed that the working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon — it was entirely restricted to the South, where whites turned overwhelmingly Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Richard Nixon’s adoption of the so-called Southern strategy.

And this party-switching, in turn, was what drove the rightward swing of American politics after 1980. Race made Reaganism possible. And to this day Southern whites overwhelmingly vote Republican, to the tune of 85 or even 90 percent in the deep South.

The second paper, by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, was titled “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-style Welfare State?” Its authors — who are not, by the way, especially liberal — explored a number of hypotheses, but eventually concluded that race is central, because in America programs that help the needy are all too often seen as programs that help Those People: “Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”

Now, that paper was published in 2001, and you might wonder if things have changed since then. Unfortunately, the answer is that they haven’t, as you can see by looking at how states are implementing — or refusing to implement — Obamacare.

Overwhelmingly, the 22 states that have refused the Medicaid expansion that would give their residents access to Obamacare are former slaveholding states. Coincidence? Krugman thinks not. "And it’s not just health reform: a history of slavery is a strong predictor of everything from gun control (or rather its absence), to low minimum wages and hostility to unions, to tax policy."

All, Krugman argued, have an ugly racial component. But still, the columnist does not think we are doomed forever to live in slavery's long shadow, or at least, he'd like to think not. Increasing ethnic diversity is slowly making the black-white polarity outdated. Dog-whistle politics has to decline, eventually.

Let's hope.

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