More diversity, less equality: why the tradeoff?

During the past 30 or 40 years ago, the United States has come closer than ever before to equal opportunity, not only for African-Americans and women, but also GLBT folks and the physically handicapped.

At the same time a huge gap has developed between a tiny elite, who gather a greater share of American wealth and income year by year, and the vast majority of Americans, who are either falling behind or struggling as hard as they can to keep even.

Samuel Goldman, writing in The American Conservative recently, said this is no paradox.  He wrote that the tradeoff between diversity and equality is a result of a tacit grand bargain between the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s and corporate America.

inequality… The stories of greater social equality and economic inequality are far from “unrelated”.  Rather, social inclusion has been used to legitimize economic inequality by means of familiar arguments about meritocracy.   According to this view, it’s fine that the road from Harvard Yard to Wall Street is paved with gold, so long a few representatives of every religion, color, and sexual permutation manage to complete the journey.  Superficial diversity at the top thus provides an moral alibi for the gap between the one percent and the rest.

via The Spiritual Crisis of the Bourgeois Bohemians.

Rod Dreher, also writing in The American Conservative, put it this way.

economic_inequalityFrom a contemporary progressivist point of view, non-rich social conservatives who vote Republican do so out of false consciousness, or mindless bigotry.  But how many liberals would vote for a politician who proposed to stick it to the banks and the oligarchs, and who endorsed a broadly progressive economic agenda, but who openly opposed gay marriage and abortion, and endorsed religious piety?  (Basically, your pre-1970s Catholic Democrat).  Very few, I would imagine.

The culture war is in some ways class war by another name. Whenever you see some middle or upper class person gabbing on about the importance of diversity, you shouldn’t expect that they mean actual diversity — because then they would be eager to include, say, white working-class Republican Pentecostals — but rather diversity as what Goldman calls a “moral alibi,” which entails one’s ability to conceal one’s own real motivations from oneself.

via Culture (War) Is Everything.

I think there is a lot of truth in this, and it explains a lot.

It explains how Silicon Valley billionaires can avoid taxes, export jobs to some low-wage Third World country and shrug off the problems of middle-class and working-class Americans, and still be considered liberals and good friends of President Obama.

And it explains how President Obama can still be considered a liberal as he tries to undermine Social Security, attack teachers unions and negotiate trade treaties that lock in the corporate agenda.

When I worked for Gannett, CEO Al Neuharth ostentatiously promoted the advancement of African-Americans, women and gay people, which made him bullet-proof against criticism for offering sub-standard pay and benefits and crushing labor unions.

Our “diversity training” sessions always seemed to me to be part of a policy of divide-and-rule. I remember that at one session, a gay white man got up and said that gays, African-Americans and women in the newsroom should unite against the straight white men—not a view that would improve morale or teamwork.   He was not rebuked, and was later promoted.

The tipoff as to management’s aims was in the fact that they refused to agree to a clause in the union contract calling for non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The company wanted GLBT people, as well as African-Americans and women, to look to management, not to fellow workers, for their rights.

Of course acceptance of diversity is a good thing, not a bad thing.  It is a good thing that Ursula Burns, a black woman, can become CEO of Xerox, but not everybody can be a CEO or wants to be one.   Some people are content with an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and what’s wrong with that?

Nor is there any logical reason why diversity and equality should be tradeoffs.  The U.S. labor union movement has long ceased to be a movement primarily of native-born white men.   Trade unions recognize that they can’t win unless they stand together, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else.



As I see it, one link between social liberalism and economic inequality is a widespread meme that sees society as an arena of competition and social justice as a guarantee of fair rules and a level playing field.

If you see society in this way, rather than as a means for people to co-operate for mutual benefit, then justice demands that you do your best to assure equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, physical handicap or anything else that isn’t under control of the individual.   But these meme does not give the wealthy any obligation toward the non-wealthy.  It would be like demanding that the winner of a high-stakes poker game return some of his winnings to the loser.


Here are links to articles more or less related to diversity, equality and liberalism that I found interesting, and you may also find interesting.

America’s New Oligarchs: Silicon Valley’s Shady 1 Percenters by Joel Kotkin for The Daily Beast.   Silicon Valley is committed to President Obama, and he listens more to them than he does to civil rights or labor leaders.  Most Americans, myself included, have a more favorable opinion of Silicon Valley billionaires such as Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google or the late Steve Jobs of Apple than of the Wall Street banking crowd.  They have created things of value.  But, as Kotkin pointed out, they also have hollowed out the U.S. manufacturing economy, created monopolies and exercise enormous power without accountability..

Mark Zuckerberg’s Self-Serving Immigration Crusade by Adrien Chen of Gawker.  Chen described, an organization funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to advocate expansion of the H1-B program for bringing in high tech workers from overseas.  The interesting thing about is that it has two front groups, one pretending to be liberal and the other pretending to be conservative.

The Spiritual Crisis of the Bourgeois Bohemians by Sam Goldman in The American Conservative.  The “bohemian bourgeoisie” is a phrase invented by columnist David Brooks to describe educated people who want to differentiate themselves from middle-class society by their hip, liberal attitudes, without giving up middle-class comforts.

The New Liberalism and Its Discontents by Ross Douthat in the New York Times.   Douthat pointed to immigration liberalization as an example of self-serving elite liberalism.   Increased immigration of low-wage workers has to drive down the wages of resident workers, he wrote, but Silicon Valley liberals rationalize this as diversity.  I think there is some truth in this, although I don’t think that immigration is the main thing holding down American wages.

Culture (War) Is Everything by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative.   Dreher’s web log is on my BlogRoll; I read his writing regularly.  He has genuine sympathy for the underdog and contempt for our financial oligarchy.

Republicans Fight Obama Plan to Privatize the TVA by Gar Alperovitz and Mark Hanna of AlterNet.   The Tennessee Valley Authority was one of the crowning achievements of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.   The TVA built dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries for flood control and land reclamation, and financed its activities by selling hydroelectric power, later expanding into coal-fired and nuclear power.  When Senator Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964, he was derided as a crackpot for proposing to sell the TVA.   But President Obama has proposed just that in his proposed 2014 budget.  Consumers served by TVA in Tennessee and Alabama pay considerably less than customers of privately-owned utilities, and Republican Senators from these two states are strongly against any change.    That is, a supposedly liberal Democratic President wants to shut down a successful New Deal era program that conservative Republicans want to preserve.

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One Response to “More diversity, less equality: why the tradeoff?”

  1. Hard equality § Unqualified Offerings Says:

    […] Phil Ebersole asks some hard questions about economic inequality and cultural values, and links to some thought-provoking pieces from TAC.  Mind you, while I find this thought-provoking, I’m not saying that we need to view cultural liberalism as being in opposition to economic equality and opportunity, but I think we should ask some questions about why many of the forces that are culturally egalitarian are not necessarily hospitable to economic egalitarianism. […]


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