The Myth That Made Us
How False Beliefs about Racism and Meritocracy Broke Our Economy (and How to Fix It)
384 pp., 6 x 9 in, 25 b&w illus.
- Published: September 12, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: September 12, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How our false narratives about post-racism and meritocracy have been used to condone egregious economic outcomes—and what we can do to fix the system.
The Myth That Made Us exposes how false narratives—of a supposedly post-racist nation, of the self-made man, of the primacy of profit- and shareholder value-maximizing for businesses, and of minimal government interference—have been used to excuse gross inequities and to shape and sustain the US economic system that delivers them. Jeff Fuhrer argues that systemic racism continues to produce vastly disparate outcomes and that our brand of capitalism favors doing little to reduce disparities. Evidence from other developed capitalist economies shows it doesn't have to be that way. We broke this (mean-spirited) economy. We can fix it.
Rather than merely laying blame at the feet of both conservatives and liberals for aiding and abetting an unjust system, Fuhrer charts a way forward. He supplements evidence from data with insights from community voices and outlines a system that provides more equal opportunity to accumulate both human and financial capital. His key areas of focus include universal access to high-quality early childhood education; more effective use of our community college system as a pathway to stable employment; restructuring key aspects of the low-wage workplace; providing affordable housing and transit links; supporting people of color by serving as mentors, coaches, and allies; and implementing Baby Bonds and Reparations programs to address the accumulated loss of wealth among Black people due to the legacy of enslavement and institutional discrimination. Fuhrer emphasizes embracing humility, research-based approaches, and community involvement as ways to improve economic opportunity.
“Increasingly, race and economic opportunity are at the center of our national economic conversation. In the important book, Jeff Fuhrer takes on dogmas he believes have stalled progress and points the way towards new transformative policies. Agree or disagree, Fuhrer's arguments deserve close attention.”
Larry Summers, University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University; former Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton; Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama
“After a stellar career in central banking, Jeffrey Fuhrer has now taken an anguished but insightful look at an even more fundamental set of problems confronting our economy and our society. His new book is an urgent call to action for America. Even those who disagree with his proposals will respect the hard force of Fuhrer's analysis and admire the moral commitment that stands behind it.”
Benjamin M. Friedman, Professor, Harvard University; author of The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
“The Myth That Made Us compels us to recognize that wealth and affluence are built upon compounded advantages provided to the successful by others—not simply one's own hard work and talent. Opening with a surprising reinterpretation of the Horatio Alger stories, this is a rigorous, profound, and entertaining study in truth-telling about social disparity in America.”
William Darity Jr., Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, Economics, and Business, Duke University
"A thoughtful call for equality of economic opportunity, both provocative and, in the end, eminently practical."
“Economist Fuhrer carefully deconstructs this myth and discusses discriminatory policies designed to disadvantage people of color, such as the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers, who were disproportionately likely to be people of color, from New Deal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements…The troubling interviews and statistics underscore the difficulty of “making it” in America, and the proposed solutions are pragmatic and well considered. Readers will be outraged by this scathing indictment of America's failure to live up to its meritocratic ideals.”
“Jeff Fuhrer has written a tour de force, amassing a wide array of facts, figures, and features of institutional history to document that the US economy is characterized by high levels of income inequality, wealth inequality, and economic insecurity. The data and history reveal that the simplistic notion that hard work and motivation are enough to propel someone to economic success in the United States is naïve fiction. Fuhrer does not argue against capitalism but rather puts forward a positive vision—complete with a menu of specific policy reforms—for a US capitalist system that offers more opportunities to marginalized people and groups and yields more egalitarian results.”
Melissa S. Kearney, Neil Moskowitz Professor of Economics, University of Maryland; Director, Aspen Economic Strategy Group; author of The Two-Parent Privilege
"The link between narrative and policy is undeniable. Fuhrer brilliantly demonstrates the divisive ways in which race has been weaponized to forge a so-called laissez-faire and meritocracy policy apparatus, which has facilitated the resource deprivation of the many for the hoarding of the few. What's more, he presents a set of authentic policy solutions that democratize economic power and redress resource deprivation so that we may actually achieve the meritocracy in which we purport. "
Darrick Hamilton, University Professor, Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, and founding director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School