Eduardo Porter lives in the United States and is an economics reporter in The New York Times, where, from 2012 to 2018, he published the column “Economic Scene”. During his career he has been a correspondent in Mexico, Brazil, Japan and the United Kingdom; shortly before the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency, he had in mind to write an investigation on the history of social welfare policies in his country, and before the racist and xenophobic discourse of the then candidate he was able to intersect the issue of the lack of social equality with the historical ethnic hostility with the which has developed one of the richest countries in the world. Thus the book was born The price of racism. Racial hostility and the fracture of the “American dream” that editorial Debate has just launched in Mexico. About this book we chat with its author about how inequality has marked the social, political and economic history of this nation.
—How much interest is there in the United States to understand the issue of racism?
In the last year, the idea that structural racism exists in the United States and in all its institutions has started to appear in the press after the murder of the African American George Floyd. But what is also true is that the press has not paid as much attention to how damaging racism has been among African American, Latino and Asian American communities today, and even how racism affects the poorest white communities. . I think there is very little attention on this issue in a large part of the American white population, and it is that among them it was thought that the problems derived from the slave-owning past had already been solved, that it had already been solved with the civil rights movements of the United States. 60s of the last century and, if there was any racist position, it was believed that it was very much in the background of the American identity. But there are various works that show otherwise, such as investigations into how the US judicial system has incarcerated, since the 1970s, a giant number of African Americans, which seems a tool of racial oppression. In my field, which is economics, there are many works on how racial hostility has prevented the construction of a more robust welfare state in this country: for example, how this hostility for race reduces investment in public goods such as streets and in drainage systems. In addition, there are other studies that identify why in Europe there is a much more robust social security system than in the United States, and the answer is due to the fact that ethical divisions are responsible for these differences; In other words, white Americans are reluctant to pay taxes that pay for public services that will help people on the other side of the racial barrier. So my book is about how racism has prevented social solidarity from being built in the United States.
– Why do you turn to American history to explain the fracture of the so-called “American dream”?
The history of racism in the United States dates back three centuries, because this country was established in slavery. My idea was to start in the 1930s, with the Great Depression, and address President Roosevelt’s effort to create a welfare state, with government institutions that protected the poorest. But to understand why this model of well-being became so limited in our days I had to go back largely to the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, at the time when the United States was consolidating itself as a modern society, and Instead of Roosevelt taking the route of social democracy, this president realized that to build such a model he had to exclude blacks, because if he included them, none of his proposals would go through Congress, and so he excluded blacks. blacks. That is why I have documented how this social security system was built in the country and how these initiatives are based on the racial exclusion of blacks and then Latinos and Asians, so that they can be approved. But this story does not stop there, since after the civil movements of the 1960s, where many more rights were achieved for African-American minorities, it was when the white American decided not to pay for that welfare state, because while there was a state welfare only for whites, there was no problem.
—In this way we explain the government of Donald Trump?
Of course, and there was nothing to surprise us with his speech, he only manifested the prejudices that are very prevalent in North American society. That xenophobic feeling is there, you just scratch it a little and they come out, it’s just a matter of seeing how the cities are built: the blacks segregated in the poorest areas and the whites far from them, and you just have to look at the prisons to realize the enormous racial difference around what Americans consider to be crime or criminal. There is also the historical ethnic divide in the unions that prevented the union of white, black and Latino workers in the United States. And it is that each politician seeks his targets, and in his 2016 campaign for Trump it was Mexicans, and not African Americans. But in the campaign last year, when the murder of Georg Floyd occurred, the enemies with whom Trump wanted to scare off the white electorate were blacks. In the 2020 campaign, Trump tried to scare the electorate with the idea that cities were going to be invaded by people of color who had to be afraid of.
—How do you see this issue, economically and politically, under Joe Biden’s administration?
I am a journalist and I am pessimistic by nature. Last year I saw a lot of excitement in the streets, in the demonstrations, but the truth is that American politics is not determined by the streets of New York or Chicago; politics is determined by the much whiter, older and more conservative suburban neighborhoods. That is why I thought that it would be very slow and difficult to convert this young and urban protest from the previous year into public policies that seek racial justice. But with the arrival of Biden I see that surprisingly he has a very powerful agenda to combat gender, economic and racial inequality. There is an opportunity to forge a more equitable society, although it is not yet clear. I think that what we need in the United States is to redefine what the American is in practice and try to create a multiethnic and multiracial community through policies at the municipal level that eradicate segregation. And regarding immigration policy with Mexico, I think that Biden would be in favor of a great package that includes the legalization of immigrants, but politically that will be very difficult; in fact, it is the weakest political point of his government, because this issue could limit the rest of his agenda and I do not know if President Biden is going to take that risk.