America is growing skeptical of the Gospel of Big Business

My mother is a firm believer in Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. When she receives an unexpected windfall, or a report of good health from her doctor, she says she's been blessed. When things are not going well, it is God testing her faith in Him. Never, absolutely never, does she question decisions by her personal Lord and Savior.

This is the relationship many Americans have with business.

Except for a contingent on the far left, local companies, major firms and multinational corporations are revered. CEOs are venerated as job creators. The decisions filtering down about wages, benefits, and work environment are justified through the gospel of the free market.

But we need to be skeptical of our relationship to businesses.

Tributes and sacrifices
We all know about efforts made by local and state governments to court business. They are like "tributes." But the scale of these tributes can be mind-boggling. Consider Amazon. Good Jobs First has been tracking subsidies — grants and tax incentives — Amazon receives yearly. According to the nonprofit, Amazon has received over $4.1 billion in subsidies since 2000. One could imagine tax breaks for a smaller, or emergent, company. But Amazon recorded revenues of $280 billion last year. It is No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list (behind Walmart). Yet the tributes keep coming. The company has gotten $650 million in tax breaks from local and state governments this year.

There's no reason subsidies shouldn't go to a profitable company instead of an emergent one. If one sees subsidies as investment, it makes sense to give a tribute to Amazon. But what Amazon gives in return are modest wages to warehouse workers and delivery drivers plus horrible working conditions. On March 17, an Amazon warehouse worker testified at a Senate Budget Committee hearing about her warehouse's "grueling" working conditions in Bessemer, Alabama.

Maybe the tributes are more like sacrifices, and meager blessings are given in return for taking the heart out of a tax base.

It goes on. We are currently in a worker shortage crisis. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the number of job openings surpassed the number of job-seekers in July. That month, the US had 10.9 million job openings, an all-time high (the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report estimated 10.4 million job openings at the end of August).

One interpretation of this is that the COVID relief benefits have dampened interest in working. Fox Business asked in a recent story, "Are unemployment benefits the new welfare?" Quoting from a research fellow at the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability, the story claims: "Unfortunately, due to the recent COVID-19-related changes, unemployment insurance has been morphed into more of a long-term benefits program."

Yes, many people decided to receive COVID benefits instead of seeking low-paid employment. The "unemployment as welfare" line of reasoning ignores the responsibility of employers to employees. It assumes that if an employer "graces" us with a job offer, we should accept, regardless of how much it pays or the quality of work conditions. Businesses give us what we need, not always what we want. We should be thankful for what we have received.

A great awakening
Around 2015, my university decided to offer a degree in cybersecurity. The nation had coalesced around a narrative that there was a shortage of cybersecurity professionals. Our nation's president at the time, Barack Obama, allocated money for institutions that began offering degrees in this field. Our governor at the time, Terry McAuliffe, doubled down with even more money. As a result of government funding and some bright, industrious academics and administrators, we now have a fantastic School of Cybersecurity at my university.

Around this time I stopped singing from the business hymnal. I was on the front lines of my university's program development. The extent to which we attempted to meet business needs was problematic.

We wanted course content reflecting what students would be doing on the job. We even hosted seminars during which we listened to what business leaders wanted from graduates. This was already a problem for me, because I don't see universities as job-training programs.

At the same time, it became apparent to me that the tasks companies needed done did not require a four-year or two-year degree. Firms could train bright, hardworking people out of high school if they wished.

I worked with my university to create an elaborate feeder program, helping absolve businesses of their responsibility for identifying good workers and preparing them. My university's relationship with the cybersecurity industry is indicative of a broader problem.

We complain about the expense of higher education, and rightfully so. It is insane that a college graduate can expect to be saddled with $30,000 in debt. That is the average, but some end up owing much more. Universities deserve some blame. But remarkably, there are few complaints about businesses not hiring people out of high school.

Yet that is the central issue. Even if college were cheaper, a student, instead of owing $100,000 in loans for a job they could've gotten out of high school, would instead owe $50,000. Better, but they shouldn't owe anything or spend four years doing something they don't want.

Our deification of businesses makes it heretical to question this. But they also have a responsibility to identify, screen and train people.

Be a skeptic
We should question our relationships with businesses. Do localities need to offer all these tax breaks? Suppose no one offered them? I am sensing a growing pushback about these tax breaks, with evidence accumulating that these sacrifices do not lead to blessings.

On the minimum wage front, there is still an energetic Fight For 15 movement. Pushback will come from free-market proselytizers. But there are solid arguments for raising the minimum wage. Improving working conditions is a moral argument that must be articulated.

And the responsibility for worker training? I don't see anyone talking about this, which is unfortunate. The closest I have seen are commentaries about raising the profile of two-year colleges.

Understanding that everyone does not need a four-year degree is a step in the right direction but still does not put any responsibility on businesses. There is still a lot of work to do, but I feel good about where we are headed. We as a nation are becoming more skeptical.

Why are teachers in our country paid less? Because we devalue what they do

"Women's work"
Standard views by economists as to what determines wages will include worker productivity or supply and demand. Meanwhile, many economic sociologists claim that our societal assumptions about the value of a job influence the wages it can command. If a job is seen as "women's work," the wages for that job decline.

One version of this claim links the five c's — cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical work — to lower pay, because these jobs are predominantly female. One can see this without any complex analysis.


But when complex statistical models are used to tease out precise changes in pay, it gets worse. A study in 2009 showed the changes in the average wages of a profession as women move into it.

The study looked at changes from 1950 to 2000, and the findings were eye-opening. As highlighted in the Times, the pay for jobs in recreation declined by 57 percent over that period, as women entered the profession. As women became designers, wages fell by 34 percent. For biologists, 18 percent.

"It's not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance … it's just that the employers are deciding to pay it less," said Paula England, one of the authors of the study. In other words, wages are not simply about productivity or the demand for a job. It is also about how much we value what that person does.

Since the advent of mass public education in the mid-19th century, teaching has been a female-dominated profession. By the late 1880s, women were 63 percent of the nation's teachers. The percentage of women in teaching has only increased, even as other professions opened to women in the late 20th century. By 2015-2016, there were 3.8 million public K-12 teachers in the US, of which about 77 percent were female.

The long association of teaching to femininity is partly to blame for the devaluing of the teaching profession. But there is another reason.

Draining the pool
One of the best books I have read over the past year was Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. McGhee, the former president of the think tank Demos, describes the consequences of the racial hierarchy in the US.

Many white Americans view public policy, as it relates to race, as a zero-sum game. They interpret policies that disproportionately benefit Black Americans as them losing something.

McGhee uses the example of public swimming pools closing across the country in the 1960s after civil rights legislation made separate swimming facilities unconstitutional. McGhee argues that white communities saw a sharing of privileges with Black Americans as a lessening of theirs. They voted to close public swimming facilities. As McGhee puts it, they preferred to "drain the pool" rather than share it with Black Americans. McGhee, clearly linking this to the policies of the Republic Party post-1960, sees this dynamic in other public goods as well, from social programs to public infrastructure to health care.

But there is something deeper here, and this is why I like McGhee's analysis. Our public school system is supposed to be a great leveler — a dismantler of racial and class hierarchy. Our schools are supposed to be places where young people from different backgrounds can meet, mingle and learn together. It is … a kind of pool.

And so it is with teaching.

Republicans have been attacking public schools since at least Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. Most liberal commentators will center their discussion on school choice and vouchers — something Reagan indeed brought up during his campaign. School choice, some may argue, is a way of starving a public school system. A more cynical view is that school choice would reduce the power of teachers' unions that almost universally support liberal policies.

Teachers are caretakers of that pool. As such, there is little mystery as to why what they do is devalued. Why would Republicans support a pay raise or better working conditions for people who are a part of a system they despise?

They want that pool drained and cemented over permanently.

Valuing value
Two factors work together to suppress the wages of teachers. There is the historical association of teaching as "women's work." And then there is the disdain by white conservatives for public goods that threaten to level a racial hierarchy.

Knowing the cause gives us some clues as to the cure. Until we address the undervaluing of teachers, an increase in teacher salaries or investments that improve their working conditions is a non-starter. The organizations that support K-12 teachers need to value value. Our expectations about what teachers deserve, their worth, and their social esteem are important in of themselves. Without public perceptions of teachers as valuable, lawmakers are simply not going to make teacher raises or smaller classroom sizes a major priority.

I am calling out our two most prominent K-12 organizations – The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. These organizations need to make a concerted effort to improve the public perception of teachers. They need to shift some time and energy away from partisan politics and invest it in demonstrating to the American public — and yes, this includes conservatives — the value public school teachers have in our society.

The truth about political bias on college campuses

A common point in centrist and conservative spaces is that academia has a liberal bias. This charge is levied most often at the social sciences. The logic is easy to follow. There is universal agreement that professors in the social sciences are liberal and vote Democratic. Moreover, it is in social science departments (sociology, anthropology, gender studies and the like) where ideas that challenge inequality are produced. You rarely see a sociologist or someone from African-American studies making claims conservatives find agreeable.

So this must mean their activities are biased. It must mean their research confirms liberal ideas about society, and their teaching will be about indoctrinating students into a liberal worldview. Right? No.

It is a fundamental misunderstanding of research and teaching.

It's the questions, stupid
There is a link between social scientists being progressive and the research they conduct. But the conservative narrative is wrong.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool progressive. I'd love for my research (whenever I get to do any) to support progressive policies. But I can't make up data or draw conclusions too far afield from what evidence suggests. I have my professional ethics in place. I could face severe repercussions for fabricating or grossly misinterpreting data.

Even if I could get away with such a thing, would I want to? If I'm researching a social issue, I want answers that work. I gain little from drawing faulty conclusions. What if my "progressive goggles" tricked me into seeing something that wasn't there? Social sciences work on the principle of "the preponderance of information." A faulty study would get swamped by other sociologists who found evidence to the contrary. For my biased conclusions to lead to a consensus — consensus is something scholars hope to achieve over time — other sociologists would need to misinterpret data the same way I did.

Conservatives want research that supports their conclusions. Unfortunately for them, conclusions are grounded in evidence even for the most value-laden forms of research (think critical scholarship).

This does not mean, though, that the liberal orientation of academics has no effect. I can tell you it does — just not in the way conservatives want the public to believe. Imagine 10 conservative scholars recruited to study racism in the United States. Do you know what this collection of conservatives will find? Well, racism in the United States.

The bias is in the questions asked, not the conclusions.

Conservatives want the public to believe conclusions are biased so they dismiss them without going through the trouble of thinking about them. Racism in policing? The research is biased. Transphobia in society? The research is biased. Dismiss it and read this opinion piece by a writer who, oh-by-the-way, works at a conservative think tank.

Dislike college climates? Blame your kids
The notion that campuses are hostile to conservatives has some degree of validity. But, again, not for reasons conservatives give.

You see, I am teaching in a hostile climate. My 1990-early 2000s references are met with dumbfounded looks from students. If I listen carefully, I can hear muffled snickers. In the face of this social pressure, I have officially retired any references to "Friends" and Beyonce. I am being silly here. Student opinion has minimal impact on me, and in turn, they care little about what I think of them. My influence is restricted to the grades I give.

The point here is that students are the enforcers of cultural norms on college campuses, not professors. Students are the ones who draw moral lines of right and wrong. A student brave enough to say "men are naturally better at math" will get whispers and looks from other students. That is what creates the so-called "hostile climate."

Conservatives have done an excellent job of indoctrinating folks into believing that academia indoctrinates folks. The story they tell is that the social norms that dominate college campuses are imposed from above by leftist professors who stifle conservative thought. This false narrative benefits them. They don't have to reckon with the idea that at a fundamental level, their focus on traditional family values, religion, raw capitalism and the maintenance of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and white supremacy are simply antithetical to most young people.

Toward a progressive narrative of bias
The purpose of this essay was to urge readers to think differently about the damaging narrative of bias on college campuses. It starts with the fact that academics, especially in social sciences, are liberal. There is no disputing this. Unfortunately, the claims of bias in teaching and research — narrated in such a way as to benefit conservative political ideology — don't necessarily follow. The conclusions from academic research are still valid and reliable, and whatever hostility conservative students feel on campus comes from their peers, not their professors.

This conservative narrative of bias on campus is self-serving and it's used to support the status quo. It encourages dismissal of academic scholarship and young people who embrace progressive causes.

This is unfortunate.

It's time for progressives to take control of this narrative. Admit that most of the questions asked by social scientists are of primary interest to people on the left. It's just a fact. We can admit that most young people are not interested in conservative values on college campuses.

Let's acknowledge these trends. Then put the onus on conservatives. They have to articulate what they want to be answered by social scientists and integrate that into what's already known. They will also have to realize they must discard their antiquated notions about class, race, sex and economic inequality to appeal to younger voters.

They probably won't want to do those things.

That's why they stick to a false narrative.

Many white Americans feel threatened by the increasingly diverse country — and their fear is dangerous

If you put all Americans in a bag, shake us up and pull one of us out, the odds are that you will pull out someone who identifies as white. That has held since the nation's founding. However, sometime in the middle of this century — in a mere two decades — it will no longer hold. At that time, America will be a majority-minority country.

The exact date, the tipping point, tends to change based upon the latest figures. In 2018, William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote that the United States would become "minority white" in 2045, according to census projections at the time. "During that year," he wrote, "whites will comprise 49.7 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Asians and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations."

This is a demographic change few would have anticipated in the mid-20th century. How we talk about this change – its social, cultural, and political implications – can be called the majority-minority narrative. Unfortunately, we are not talking about it enough.

Threat responses
Yale psychology professor Jennifer Richeson is one of the leading researchers in what can broadly be termed intergroup relations. In a summary published in 2017 of her work and others, Richeson wrote that white Americans who are threatened by a more diverse nation express support for more conservative policies, less support for diversity, and more racial resentment:

This emerging work suggests that anticipated growth in minority groups is perceived as threatening to whites' current status as the dominant racial group in the United States, which, in turn, triggers in-group-protective and, often, out-group antagonistic attitudes, policy support and behavior.

This dynamic is not unique to white people. This is a human response to perceived threats. It is, in the abstract, a reaction to the belief that an out-group is gaining in power and status and one's in-group is losing power and status. Thus, Richeson cites research showing that in Black neighborhoods, a growing Latino population perceived to have economic advantages is met with negative attitudes by black people.

But the main concern is how this dynamic will impact the white population for obvious reasons. They are the largest racial group and control most of the resources and authority positions in society.

The average person can intuit this dynamic without rigorous research. It's just common sense. If a white person identifies as "white people" being their in-group and then perceives that non-white people are being centered in society and occupying more positions of authority, they may feel threatened. They may feel they are losing something in terms of power and privilege. This would then lead to advocacy of policies that reduce this threat.

We see this already with voter suppression and anti-immigrant policies from conservative state legislatures. If we are seeing this now, what will happen when America becomes a majority-minority country? Will it be mainstream for white politicians and white people to begin advocating openly for "pro-white" policies? Will we have interethnic conflict? This is apocalyptic. But we're not talking about it.

Saying the loud part in quiet
We have all heard the expression "saying the quiet part out loud." It describes a situation in which someone voices an ulterior motive or says something meant to be kept secret in a public space (a compilation of Republicans saying the quiet part can be found here.)

The opposite of this would be voicing that secret thing, and no one responds. They hear it but pretend they don't, because it is such a horrible thing to talk about. It is saying the loud part in quiet.

Jennifer Richeson and other scholars who are studying the threat responses of whites in response to the majority-minority narrative are saying the loud part in quiet. People hear her, but say nothing.

I suspect that most people hear themselves think about it as well. Maybe it is too icky, too unpleasant to dwell on. Maybe, as is often the case with white Americans, they may wish to imagine they are colorblind. Talking about this would therefore violate that cherished myth. Whatever the reason, there is collective silence on this issue.

Tucker Carlson was rightly called out for his endorsing of "white replacement theory" — the idea that non-European immigrants are being brought into the country to replace white Americans. Tucker Carlson notwithstanding, these demographic changes are rarely spoken about openly in conservative spaces. Instead, they are communicated through dog-whistles. When people say things like taking "our" country back, the "our" means white Americans. Making America Great Again is about making it great for white folks, and so on.

In liberal spaces, when the topic is discussed at all, a more favorable narrative is preferred over one of a potential crisis. The narrative attached to majority-minority is that of a benign statistical oddity, if not a positive development in America's quest to be a melting pot.

More sophisticated analyses in liberal spaces point to the fluidity and complexity of race and of racial categorization. A simple binary of white/non-white obfuscates more than it enlightens, the argument goes. More people are identifying as multiracial, what it means to be white changes with time. (Hispanic Americans increasingly identify as white, and the rates of intermarriage are growing exponentially.) This is the case put forth in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by George Mason University political scientist Justin Gest.

City University of New York sociologist Richard Alba is one of the more forceful voices on the subject. Alba wrote The Great Demographic Illusion in 2020, which summarized his arguments, and has appeared on several media outlets discussing the complexity of racial categorization in America. Talking about America in terms of a future majority-minority country is a divisive myth, according to Alba. In an essay for The Atlantic, Alba and co-authors wrote:

The majority-minority narrative contributes to our national polarization. Its depiction of a society fractured in two, with one side rising while the other subsides, is inherently divisive because it implies winners and losers. It has bolstered white anxiety and resentment of supposedly ascendant minority groups, and has turned people against democratic institutions that many conservative white Americans and politicians consider complicit in illegitimate minority empowerment.

For Justin Gest and Richard Alba, the loud part should never be heard. It is a myth and shouldn't even be said as it creates division.

We must talk openly
I am sympathetic to their arguments, and I suspect they are more right than wrong. However, the empirical reality that Gest and Alba describe is separate from the narrative and the feelings of threat it generates.

In other words, regardless of what is actually happening in society, conservative thought leaders will generate a narrative that plays on the fears of their white base. They are already doing it and there is no reason to suspect that they will change course simply because a few well-meaning academics want them to be more accurate.

Moreover, white Americans, from across the political spectrum, are not blind to the fact that the look of America has changed drastically in the past 40 years. Theoretical understandings of the fluidity of whiteness and statistics about rising rates of intermarriage or people checking boxes as multiracial will not be enough to assuage their fears.

They can look out of their window and see that the neighborhood they used to know has gotten browner, and they don't feel as comfortable walking across the street and asking for a cup of sugar. Even the most racially progressive people may succumb to this "threat."

To combat a damaging narrative, we must talk about it. We must say the loud part not in quiet, but in spaces where it's heard and discussed. Put it out there. Then address the concerns of people.

A handful of Democrats are holding the rest of the party hostage in a critical game of chicken

It appears we're moving toward a massive investment in infrastructure. The Senate recently passed a $1.2 trillion "core" infrastructure bill as well as a $3.5 trillion "human" infrastructure budget resolution.

The core infrastructure bill, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed with a supermajority of 69 votes on August 10. This bill provides funding for, among other things, the repair of roads and bridges, an expansion of light rail systems and the modernization of the country's electrical grid. In what was a surprise for many, 19 Republicans voted for the bill, bypassing the threat of a filibuster. This was a small but major legislative victory for the Biden administration.

On Wednesday the Senate then approved a budget resolution for the fiscal year 2022 that would expand the country's social safety net. This was not bipartisan but passed on a party-line vote 50-49 through a process called reconciliation. The reconciliation process starts with the chamber budget committee setting general goals to be reached and the funds allocated to meet them. Committees are then tasked with crafting the policies to meet those goals. As an example, the Senate Budget Committee has given instructions to 11 Senate committees, one of which is the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This committee has been given a budget of $726 billion to be used for, among other things, universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and job training programs. The separate committees then craft policy for meeting their goals, which is then combined into one omnibus bill for voting within each chamber. The Senate is now in that time-consuming reconciliation process.

The two pieces of legislation are now in the Democrat-controlled House where legislation is passed with a simple majority. The House returns this week. It would seem as if major hurdles have been overcome.

You first, no you first
But the Democratic Party is now fighting with itself.

A handful of moderates want the smaller core infrastructure bill passed and signed into law first before the arduous reconciliation process on the human infrastructure budget ends. Nine have made this pledge in an open letter sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Nine nay votes are more than enough to prevent the passage of any bill. (The House Democrats hold a slim majority of three).

Meanwhile, a larger portion led by the progressive wing, say they will not vote on a core infrastructure bill until the Senate completes the reconciliation process and passes the human infrastructure bill. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, always quotable, tweeted on August 7:

If mods want to blow up the infra deal, that's on them. I know this is tough for some to understand, but the US is more than a handful of suburbs- communities outside them aren't disposable. And just bc something is "bipartisan" doesn't mean it's good. Look at Wall St bailouts. War was bipartisan. Tax cuts for the rich were bipartisan. Wall St bailouts were bipartisan. Fossil fuel giveaways were/are bipartisan. Just because something is "bipartisan" doesn't make it intrinsically good for people or worthy of passage. Substance matters."

The logic is clear for this wing of the party. If the core infrastructure bill passes first, moderates may then withdraw their support for the human infrastructure bill – the bigger, more impactful piece of legislation. Pelosi has sided with the progressives and agreed to not bring the core infrastructure bill to a vote until the Senate has completed the reconciliation process.

In this colossal game of chicken, progressives must stand firm.

They have received a recent boost, with both senior House Democrats and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee urging the moderates to support the budget resolution.

Income inequality, not economic growth
The letter submitted to Pelosi by the nine moderates stated that "the legislation will help create millions of good-paying jobs a year across the nation and lead to continued strong economic growth."

Democrats should be focusing less on economic growth and more on economic inequality and its damaging effects on the social lives of people. Our gross domestic product can rise, but that does not mean everyone benefits equally from that growth. Our gross domestic product (GDP) has, with some bumps along the way, steadily risen over the past several decades. Meanwhile, income inequality has increased by about 20 percent since 1980.

Yes, more people will be put to work as laborers to rebuild infrastructure. But their incomes will pale in comparison to business owners and elites. Consider who will gain the most:

  • The business owners with the government contracts to do the rebuilding
  • Other businesses that will grow because of these infrastructure investments
  • Owners of stock in those businesses
  • Highly educated professionals securing employment in management, technology, and research and development

Passing the core infrastructure bill without the accompanying human infrastructure bill will only exacerbate the problem of economic inequality.

Yes, jobs are important. They will allow a person some measure of dignity and a climb out of poverty. It will be a living wage and they will be able to purchase the latest flat-screen television. But it will hardly make the lives of poor and working-class people any easier or manageable. They will still struggle to pay for healthcare and childcare. Higher education will still be cost-prohibitive. Affording housing, especially in large cities, will be a struggle.

The focus on appeasing the economic interests of businesses and elites in the guise of increasing GDP with a simultaneous hollowing out of the social safety net is a major reason why America has low life expectancy and highest suicide rates, lower rates of academic achievement, and high rates of child poverty when compared to other wealthy countries. This is despite America having the highest GDP in the world. It is also why white American male's life expectancy has dropped over the past decade. Social scientists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attribute this drop in life expectancy directly to white males dying "deaths of despair" because their prospects for achieving the American dream are so dim.

Investing in "US"
We need to make it easier for our citizens to live meaningful, rewarding lives. A mother should be able to pay for quality daycare for her children. A father of three should be able to look forward to all of his charges going off to college if they so desire. Health care should not be a privilege for those with professional jobs. A married family should be able to find adequate housing. A middle-aged person whose job has been obsoleted by new technologies should be able to find retraining and start a second career.

This is not "pushing America towards socialism" as the Republican senator from Tennessee Bill Hagerty said on Fox News recently. No, it is an investment. The moderate Democrats are focused on investing in the US as an economic entity. This is certainly needed. But they cannot do this at the expense of investing in "us" as a people.


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