Perhaps no issue more motivates progressive activists than social justice. Good intentions may motivate the social justice warriors, albeit sometimes sprinkled with a dollop of self-hatred. But good intentions do not necessarily produce good results. Indeed, often the policies favored by progressive idealists hinder the economic and social progress of the very people they seek to rescue.
They do this in many ways, emphasizing subsidies and preferences based on race while undermining the economic growth that most poor people, of any race, according to a recent You Gov poll, believe would be more effective than entitlement spending in reducing poverty.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
In the real world — where most people live — intentions do not necessarily produce results. Opposition to charter schools may please progressives’ allies in the teachers’ unions but removes from poor and minority communities one proven way to achieve better results. Lowering standards might allow some of these students to emerge from under-performing public schools and enter elite colleges, but the evidence is that such students do poorly in these environments, often dropping out and, if they stay, segregating into departments, like ethnic or women’s studies, devoted to, you guessed it, social justice.
Indeed the emphasis on social justice, which is now filtering into the younger grades, seems destined to lower the actual achievement of those who so indoctrinated. The emphasis on race, gender and — horror of horrors, white privilege — is no substitute for the proficiency in math, science or literacy, things actually valued in the real world.
Social class in the wokest places
In California and other progressive states, woke policies are clearly not helping the poor. Indeed despite all the progressive rhetoric, African Americans and Latinos suffer considerably higher rates of poverty in California than in the rest of the nation; the Golden State already suffers the highest percentage of poor people among the states. The twin pillars of woke politics, California and New York, also suffer both the highest rates of inequality in the nation.
Many policies embraced by progressives also hamper minority aspirations to enter the middle class. California policies that restrict peripheral development, for example, have made home ownership all but impossible, and rents unsustainably high, for most minorities and working class families. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example, 37% of Latinos and 33% of African Americans own their own home; in much dissed and less rigorously progressive places like Houston (51% & 42%) or Atlanta (44% & 45%), the percentages are much higher.
The deepest blue cities — San Francisco, New York, San Jose, Los Angeles and Boston — may be ruled by social justice activists but, according to Pew research, suffer the largest gaps between the bottom and top quintiles. Long-standing minority communities like Albina in Portland are disappearing as 10,000 of the 38,000 residents have been pushed out of the historic African-American section. San Francisco’s African-American black population is roughly half that of the 1970s, constituting less than 5 percent of the city’s population. More than half of the Bay Area’s lower-income communities, notes a recent UC Berkeley study, are in danger of mass displacement.
A direct result of climate policies, high energy prices place enormous burdens on California’s working-class families, particularly in the less temperate interior. These policies also discourage growth of manufacturing and other blue-collar industries that long incubated opportunities for working people. As the state’s manufacturing sector has stagnated last year while industrial jobs expanded 14 percent in neighboring Arizona, 5 percent in Nevada and by 3 percent in arch-rival Texas.
Regulations in California have also slowed construction growth, and left employment considerably below the industry’s 2007 numbers. Residential sales have dropped statewide, and California’s rate of new housing permits has fallen behind the national average, making construction workers’ economic prospects even dimmer.
The diminishing prospects in these blue collar industries, as well as high housing costs, may do much to explain why so many minorities, and immigrants, are increasingly migrating away from multi-culturally correct regions like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for less regulated, far less woke places like Phoenix, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
Needed: a rebellion against the benefactors
Our democracy was forged largely by rebellions against entrenched social forces — notably the church and the hereditary aristocracy — and later by the working class’ movement against monopoly capitalists. To restore the prospects of minorities, the middle and working classes, we need a new movement opposing not just the ultra-rich but also those who, like the medieval clerics, consider themselves the anointed benefactors of the masses.
A healthy first sign of the potential of such a movement was demonstrated by the state’s private-sector labor unions, who organized a “Blue Collar Revolution” protest against the Democrats’ climate legislation. Already state policies have threatened the jobs of those in building-trades unions, which count 400,000 members statewide. Calls for the elimination of fossil fuels by 2030, as well as the loss of nuclear power, another heavily unionized industry, would devastate workers in the large state’s energy-production sector. In 2012, the oil and gas industry alone employed over 400,000 Californians. These generally well-paid workers would have no place in the world promoted by progressive Green New Deal policies.
But the recent union protest is not the only sign of growing dissatisfaction with the state’s ultra-green and woke political tendencies. California’s Legislature, the font of progressive tinkering, according to one recent survey is even more disliked in the state than President Trump.
There’s room for a new politics that recognizes that the path to actual social justice lies primarily in expanding opportunities for a broad range of jobs and housing options. But this can only be done by confronting the current approach to social justice that results in conditions demonstrably unjust.
This article first appeared on The Orange County Register.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.