Monday, May 20, 2019

Alabama: Uncharted Territory

With passage of Alabama's new, strict abortion law; many are claiming that the Southern state is "turning back the clock" to the 1960's. Actually, Alabama is travelling into uncharted territory.

From 1919, Alabama, like other Southern states, led the way in racially-biased, pseudo-scientific eugenics programs, which often resulted in sterilizing poor woman of color deemed "mentally deficient". (University of Vermont)

In contrast to Midwestern and New England states, the South was more accepting of abortion, especially in cases of foul play. "Negrophobia", an unfounded fear of sexually-aggressive Black males, ensured that the strictest abortion laws belonged outside the south. 

Lee Atwater's 1988 Willie Horton ad, portraying an African-American rapist, played against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign, "especially in the South". Perhaps the soft-on-crime message would've been as effective without Willie Horton's menacing mugshot. Or would it? 

Alabama formally legalized interracial marriage in 2000, through referendum with 59% approval, according to Ballotpedia.

Racial attitudes have developed much over the past 20 years. Alabama's flag still portrays Saint Andrew's cross. Yet a more visible reminder of the past, the Confederate Flag, was removed from state capitol grounds in June 2015.

In the 1960's, Spiro Agnew, then governor of Maryland, suggested that new-built neighborhoods be subject to equal housing laws. He surmised that prejudice was a learned behavior, and that new neighbors had no inherent bias. Verifying this statement, commentators today look to the racially integrated "New South" sunbelt suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and other Southern cities; in contrast to ethnic-heavy suburbs in the Northeast (Staten Island and Ocean County, NJ as two examples). 

And this past week, racial fears did not prevent Alabama from passing a strict abortion law.
Unless "a serious health risk" (confer the Alabama law) includes giving birth to a mixed-race child.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May Day for Who?

"Their wages had gone down by a full third in the past two years, and a storm of discontent was brewing that was likely to break any day. Only a month after Marija had become a beef-trimmer the canning factory that she had left posted a cut that would divide the girls’ earnings almost squarely in half; and so great was the indignation at this that they marched out without even a parley, and organized in the street outside. One of the girls had read somewhere that a red flag was the proper symbol for oppressed workers, and so they mounted one, and paraded all about the yards, yelling with rage."

 (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 1906)

Today, working-class interests are back in the public sphere. New York State is clearly debating a progressive agenda, which covers the gamut from rent control, the minimum wage, transportation policy, and the gig economy. From what I've seen, the progressive approach is to put the agenda forward, and work the details later. I caution the zealous to tread steadily.

Rent control, for example, has populist appeal. But in New York City after World War Two, this led to disinvestment in older neighborhoods, ultimately ending in urban blight. (See a previous blog post on South Bronx decline and revival). Changes to rent control, beginning in 1974, provided a balanced approach that allowed new market development while preserving some affordable housing. Small, multifamily properties; found in places like Queens and Brooklyn; are the foundation of middle-class investment. Universal rent control, as proposed, would soak these working savers as much as it would "soak the rich". 

As we debate the path forward in the digital age, consider putting away the spite towards either side (owner and worker), and work towards creating upward mobility (which in many aspects has stalled) by "sharing the pie".