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Exploitation and Race

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (EST)

Hosted By: Association for Social Economics & Association for Evolutionary Economics
  • Chair: Zoe Sherman, Merrimack College

“Free Labor” and Unequal Freedom of Expression

Zoe Sherman
Merrimack College


Entering an employment relationship as a worker entails much more than completing employer-assigned tasks in exchange for a wage. Employers have extensive authority to govern the lives of employees even beyond tasks directly related to production. Employers’ decisions can and very often do infringe on what in other contexts would be recognized as free speech rights. Employers may require any lawful speech act as a condition of employment and may also restrict lawful speech acts that employees might otherwise be inclined to perform but for the threat of job loss or other workplace penalties. Outside the workplace, speech about matters of public governance is generally granted the greatest respect and First Amendment protection. By contrast, critical speech about the governance of the workplace is among the most likely to be censored by the “private government” of employers. Sellers of labor power often find that in making the sale they parted with portions of their free speech (and other) rights. In recent years, the U.S. courts have increasingly identified speech with spending, as in the Citizens United case, which treated political campaign spending as speech deserving protection from limitation, and the Janus case, which treated union dues as speech that could not be coercively required as a condition of employment. Governing speech as a matter of property rights and market relations rather than as a matter of actions and collective relations of production replicates and reinforces the asymmetry of the employment relationship between capital and labor.

The “Black Second”: Intersection between (White) Progressivism and White Supremacy

Robert B. Williams
Guilford College


Arguably, two of the most notable achievements of the Progressive Era were the enactment of the federal income and estate taxes. Each enabled the eventual shift in federal taxation from a regressive, consumption- based system – primarily tariffs and excise taxes – to a more progressive, income-based tax system. Both bills were shepherded through the US Senate by Furniford M. Simmons, Senate Finance Committee chairman. Before reaching the Senate, Simmons served in the House, representing North Carolina in the 2nd District, colloquially known as the “Black Second”. Due to its large black electorate, this seat was held by four different black lawmakers over the last quarter of the 19th century, making it the most contested seat of its era. After serving one term in this seat, Simmons lost his 1888 reelection bid to Henry P. Cheatham, like Simmons was born on a plantation, but as an enslaved child. Losing again in 1890, Simmons later became head of the NC Democratic Party and orchestrated the infamous 1898 election. Democrats swept back into power defeating the “Fusionist” candidates promoting the primacy of “Anglo-Saxon blood” and organizing “Red Shirt” vigilantes to threaten voters. Immediately after the election, White citizens of Wilmington ousted their “Fusionist” local officials and rampaged through black neighborhoods killing residents and destroying property. Simmons subsequently authored the disfranchising amendment to the state constitution. The subsequent voter suppression ended the term of George Henry White, current occupant of the 2nd District and the last black lawmaker to serve in Congress for nearly 30 years.

Housing Exclusion in Westchester County, NY

Laurence F. O’Connell
City University of New York and New School for Social Research


As municipalities across the United States struggle to provide affordable housing for its citizens, they face a myriad of ethical, legal, legislative, economic and social challenges. Westchester County, NY, which is contiguous to New York City, is the 16th wealthiest county in the United States in terms of per-capita income and simultaneously, the 14th ranked county in terms of the highest income inequality. Of the 63 or so municipalities where a municipality can be considered: a city, a town, a village or a hamlet; 31, about one-half, were cited for exclusionary housing practices by the federal government. I say “or so” because in the crazy-quilt world of local government, often legislation of one government entity is at loggerheads with another – for example in particular - zoning regulations. As a case study paper, it traces the ethical and moral reasons for municipalities providing affordable housing and then synthesizes national and local legislative pieces related to affordable housing. To investigate the exclusionary practices that distinguish a non-exclusionary municipality from a municipality practicing exclusionary practices, the paper compares voter approved capital budgets via bond financing between the two municipality categories. For example, I use bond authorization for various public good projects as a proxy of municipality choice. Comparing and contrasting the various demographic and economic factors separating the two municipality groups accomplish this. The variables include: race, ethnicity, household income, home prices and educational outcomes (high school grades) and finds a distinct difference. Next, local, voter-supported bond-funded capital budgeting decisions reveal a stark difference in the bundle of capital projects approved. The Tiebout Hypothesis is used as the theoretical backdrop to explain that local government budgeting decision-making processes may indirectly lead to housing exclusion. The paper concludes with alternative policy proposals to ameliorate this externality.

Class and Race: A Broken-Up Couple

Paolo Ramazzotti
University of Macerata


The aim of the paper is to account for how social classes and racism jointly relate to inequality in modern economies. A Marxist-inspired approach by is that inequality results from the wage relation, so that racism is simply a collateral feature of society. An alternative approach is that race is socially construed in order to extract revenues from weaker sections of society. A tentative synthesis distinguishes between exploitation and expropriation, thereby suggesting a joint account for both types of inequality, but is far from satisfactory. All of these approaches explain why and how extracting revenue from the weaker sections of society is possible and convenient but they fail to explain what the rationale for racialization – i.e. the singling out of a specific (black, Jewish, Polish, etc.) race - is. The paper focuses on two types of racial ascription that relate to inequality. In the first type, racialization is a ceremonial attempt to adapt to the extant status quo and ideology of inequality (“Emulate the Jones; don’t mingle with the Blacks”). In the second, it reflects a failure to adapt to the status quo and the attempt to ‘explain’ inequality and social debasement by construing a scapegoat-centered ideology that singles out the powerful (e.g. the Jewish bankers) and the underdogs. Both accounts contrast the view that racist beliefs are exogenous relative to the economy. Both suggest policies against racism and overall inequality must go together.

Exploitation and Orthodox Economics. Does Orthodox Economics have a General Term for Income Derived from Harming Others?

Lane Vanderslice
World Hunger Education Service


This paper examines this question and argues that though there have been advances in understanding types of harm, some of which may qualify to be considered as the name by which exploitation should be considered in orthodox economics, orthodox economics does not have a standard term with a similar meaning to exploitation. These concepts of harm include monopoly/oligopoly, conflict theory, rent-seeking, external diseconomies, laws reducing harm to workers and consumers and the procedures for determining this harm, discrimination theory as developed by Black and feminist economists, and the “limited access order” political economic systems and “extractive political and economic institutions” of some economic historians. Nonetheless, as evidenced in its teaching texts which pass on its basic knowledge, orthodox economics does not have a broadly accepted concept similar to exploitation. The question of the proper term to use is discussed. The absence of this general concept presents major problems for using orthodox economics to understand reality. They include: essentially ignoring the role of harmful economic activity and thus considerably underestimating it, mistaking unproductive income for productive income, ignoring the significant role of exploitation in income distribution, marginalizing the role of conflict by considering it as the productive activity “national defense,” and others.
JEL Classifications
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches
  • Z0 - General