How George Floyd murder affects US priorities

First of two parts
Historians often say  there are always incidents in history, but there are no accidents. In a way, the gruesome murder of African American George Floyd recorded on video last May 25 that triggered demonstrations all over the United States and many cities around the world fits the description. George Floyd’s death has sparked what can be described as a global revolution against systemic racism.

African American condition after the civil rights movement of the 1960s

After the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there was a notable improvement of racial relations in the 1970s and 1980s. There were a good number of African American public officials elected since then, with Barack Obama being the most prominent. But the symbol of segregation — the American public school — saw its racial integration peak in 1988. Since then, American public schools have become more segregated.

The penchant of using excessive force against African American suspects by the American police is a controversial issue running deep for years in the US. The civil rights movement in the 1960s had made it subtler.

A recent National Public Radio program found that nearly 100 African Americans died in police custody over the past six years. Notable among those cases were Eric Garner’s death from a police chokehold, despite pleading, like Floyd, ”I can’t breathe!” and the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Both cases then triggered community-wide rallies but failed to bring any sustainable changes. There is an implicit recognition that subtle and systemic racism is a fact of life in society; most of the people hope that it will slowly improve with time.

Unexpected convergence of forces makes Floyd’s murder different

The first thing that brought the racial issue to the front was the attitude of President Trump. Trump’s attack on Obama not only broke the tradition that an incumbent president should not attack his predecessor, it was looked upon by many people as a veiled attack on the African American. His active campaign to eliminate Obamacare hurts the African American the most.

The second force that explains public empathy for Floyd’s killing was the increasing income distribution gap since the 2008 financial crisis. The massive government financial injection into the system helped the asset class but with little trickle-down. The “new economy” also skews income distribution against the erstwhile middle-income white-collar group. The combined effect hollows out both the middle-class and increases the vulnerability of the economically lower class of the society.  A good number of African Americans belong to the lower class.

The third force, although not the last, is the Covid-19 pandemic. The African Americans work disproportionately in the service sector, where employment has been decimated. Their share of the non-elderly US population lacking health insurance is 1.5 times higher than the whites. And it is not incidental that the Covid-19 mortality rate is 2.4 times higher among black Americans than white Americans. The disproportionate negative effect of the pandemic facing many African Americans was already approaching the unbearable breaking point. The nonchalant behavior of the police officer reinvigorated the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.”

The late American economist Alberto Alesina has developed a theory on America’s lack of a social-welfare state along European lines on its history of racism. Alesina showed that race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare in the US and that opponents of welfare-state policies have long used race-based rhetoric to mobilize their supporters. The white majority do not like the idea of redistribution because they perceived it as favoring the minority race.

Part 2 of 2
How George Floyd murder affects US priorities

Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute)  aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks

**Also published in:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *