Will Biden Back Black Voters or Wall Street?

The president made lots of social justice–related campaign promises. We plan to track the progress of each one.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

By Tia Oso and Morgan Harper. Published from the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE).

During his victory speech last November, incoming President Joe Biden told Black voters, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” But as the first full week of the Biden-Harris administration gets underway and the president and his team begin the complicated business of addressing our nation’s multiple crises, this promise to have the backs of Black voters remains to be seen. While many are celebrating Kamala Harrris’ Black girl magic and welcoming a return to competent government after four years of Donald Trump, it is important that we assess the substance of the policy agenda as it pertains to Black people. Black voters helped deliver the White House to President Biden, and Vice President Harris holds the tie-breaking Senate vote in favor of Dems thanks to Black women organizers and record turnout from our community. Our question is how will this administration now commit to deliver robust policy that will serve Black communities? If the first few days are any indication, the answer is troubling.

Already, Biden has made comments walking back necessary economic stimulus amounts he said he would champion and passing off student debt cancellation to a congressional vote when his large stack of executive orders could support even greater economic recovery and help close the racial wealth gap. And while his appointment process is called the most diverse of any presidency and he has specifically made efforts toward Black representation by installing Lloyd J. Austin III as the new secretary of defense, Marcia Fudge as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Jaime Harrison as the head of the Democratic National Committee, there is more work to do.

It’s troubling to see several Wall Street establishment selections being named to Biden’s cabinet. Tom Vilsack, named USDA secretary, for example, has deep ties to Monsanto and other agribusiness companies, as does Avril Haines, named director of national intelligence and has associations with Palantir and other defense contractors. They and others are in part responsible for policies that harm Black communities.

In his inaugural speech, Biden called out the scourge of White supremacy as one of our nation’s challenges, but we can’t applaud calling out racism while ignoring the role of Wall Street policy and practice in perpetuating racism. Corporate consolidation — the trend of fewer companies controlling a greater share of both markets and political power — accelerated in the 1980s during the Reagan administration, when conservatives ceased anti-trust enforcement and opened the merger floodgates. Now, in 2020, large conglomerates dominate nearly every sector. For example, the number of major airlines has decreased from nine in 2005 to four today, and the number of pharmaceutical companies has decreased from 60 to 10 since 1999. As a result of this consolidation, income inequality has grown and fewer Americans own or work for small businesses than at any previous point.

Our question is how will this administration now commit to deliver robust policy that will serve Black communities?

This consolidation has affected all Americans, but it has hit the Black community particularly hard. Among Black men, wages stagnated between 2000 and 2018; there were some modest gains by 2020, but not nearly enough. Meanwhile Black small business ownership has steadily declined over the past 40 years. For example, in 1985, there were 60 Black-owned banks; today there are only 20. During the Covid-19 pandemic alone, we lost 41% of our small businesses.

Big Tech giants like Facebook and Amazon changed the nature of work with promises of jobs and opportunity manifesting as data centers and warehouses that employ workers at wage levels that do not even cover the cost of living for a family of any size. Big Tech companies ushered in the gig economy, usurping the gains that labor movement leaders fought hard to secure. And worse, companies such as Amazon, Google, Fidelity, Blackstone, and Home Depot are among the many that platform right-wing candidates and White supremacist hate.

With their outsized money, corporations wield outsized political influence. Big Tech and Wall Street executives and leaders sit on advisory boards and commissions, where they work to roll back regulations and taxes to the detriment of Black people. Corporations routinely shirk responsibility for their role in inequity, even as they target Black communities for extraction and discrimination, which leads to a structural erosion of our health and wealth. Reports by ACRE reveal the role corporations play in polluting Black communities, driving up drug prices, and even funding White supremacists. The Biden-Harris administration has named multiple Wall Street leaders and lobbyists to its ranks who are likely to continue down this path while making platitudes about their commitments to diversity and inclusion.

The path to reversing this trend is clear. Economic policy at the federal level can limit companies from leveraging extreme market control to the detriment of the Black community. Policymakers could structurally break up companies that are already too large and place limitations on mergers to prevent future companies from attaining monopoly status. Unfortunately, because elected officials from both political parties rely on donations and Super PACs from the very corporations that are profiting from this deregulated environment, Congress has not passed meaningful legislation in a generation to address our concentration crisis.

For this 117th Congress, with Democrats controlling the House and the Senate for the first time in 10 years, Biden has no excuses. Our government must use its power to investigate companies’ monopolistic behavior and pass legislation that will eliminate predatory business models from our economy. This would help to ensure a future where the work and ingenuity of Black Americans are fairly valued at this critical time of extreme financial insecurity.

In the mid-2000s, riding a wave of hope and change, Democrats avoided implementing structural economic changes and missed an opportunity to show Black America — and everybody else — that the government can deliver for them. The Biden-Harris administration has a critical opportunity to make the policy and structural changes that will support and galvanize the Black working class, the most reliable voting bloc of the Democratic Party. We hope they make the right decision.

Morgan Harper is a lawyer and was a progressive candidate to represent the 3rd Congressional District in Columbus, Ohio. Harper leads advocacy efforts for Economic Liberties and Fight Corporate Monopolies.

Tia Oso is a Los Angeles–based racial justice organizer and director of communications for the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE).

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