Unsung Economists #1: Sadie Alexander
Sadie? Alexander was the first African American economist she received her PHD Nekunam IX from the university of Pennsylvania in nineteen twenty one. But because of a race nobody would hire her as an economist. So a few years later, she got her LA degree and went on to have a lustrous career as a civil rights lawyer Bucknell university professor Nina banks has been researching the career in life of Sadie Alexander for almost two decades. And she's working on a pair of books about Sadie Alexander. But economists have not been really focused on her work because of the I think the the belief that when she wasn't able to practice economics that she really stopped focusing much on ecconomic issues, but I really found that that wasn't the case that for forty years, at least she was giving speeches around the country and all of those speeches dealt with issues that that dealt with the status of African Americans. So we don't have recordings of those speeches. But we do have the transcripts and in those speeches Sadie Alexander had fascinating things to say not just about issues that were relevant during her time. But about issues that still matter now, this is the indicator from planet money. I'm Stacey Vanik Smith. I'm caught of Garcia today on the show. Our first episode of series in which we shine a new light on an economist from the past an economist contributions. We think deserve another look I up Sadie Alexander. Support for this NPR podcast and the following message. Come from WordPress dot com with powerful site. Building tools and thousands of themes that us from users can launch site that's free to start with room to grow. Get fifteen percent off any new plan. Purchase at WordPress dot com slash indicator. Support also comes from ADT, America's trusted home security company can help protect you against the break ins fires and carbon monoxide twenty four seven emergency response when you needed most more at ADT dot com, Bucknell university, economists, Nina banks, recently, analyzed the speech that CD Alexander gave in nineteen forty five at Florida agricultural and mechanical university, and in the speech Sadie Alexander spoke to the audience about the persistence of racial discrimination and the status of black workers as marginal workers and other words workers who were the last to be hired and the first to be fired when. Businesses were letting workers go the year before that speech. President Franklin D Roosevelt had given a famous speech of his own in which the president had argued for a second Bill of rights and one of those rights would be the right to employment for anyone who is willing and able to get a job. In other words that the economy should propential- be at full employment where anyone who wants to work can find work. This would alleviate the economic insecurity of those marginal workers constantly wondering if they were about to be unemployed. Now, it was already understood at the time that win the economy is at full employment workers get paid more. Because when everyone who wants a job can get one then companies have to compete with each other to attract and hire workers and also to keep their own workers from leaving them for another job and the companies compete with each other by offering better wages and working conditions to workers city Alexander's early. Distinct contribution economics was her argument that full employment was also absolutely necessary. For achieving racial equality. So Sadie Alexander believed that having a fully employed labor force would increase workers pay and they're purchasing power. But of course, this could not occur. If whites continued to exclude black workers from having the right to work, so Sadie Alexander said that full employment was quote, the only solution to the economic subjugation of the negro and of the great masses of white labor. Obviously Sadie Alexander was speaking during a time in which segregation was both legally and informally embedded across American society, American institutions, and that segregation extended to the labor market in which many white workers viewed block workers as rivals as competitors for jobs. CD Alexander made the argument that in order to get rid of economic, insecurity, the whole working class people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds were in it together that they would all benefit from an economy at full employment, and that full employment could not be defined as just. Full employment for white workers. It had to include everyone because let's say that white workers were full employment. But black workers were not then not only with the black workers experienced the hardships of unemployment, but also white workers might continue to see unemployed black workers as threat to their jobs. So if everyone who wanted a job had a job there might be less suspicion between workers of different races, which would make it more likely that the white working class and the black working class would work together to bargain for better, wages and working conditions. Another part of CD Alexander's argument win the economy is not at full employment and therefore businesses don't have to pay higher wages than the owners of businesses can keep more of the profits for themselves at least in the short term. But need a Bank says Sadie Alexandra argued that this eventually leads to rising inequality and will become a big problem for the whole economy because if you exclude a big class of workers from having jobs, it means there are fewer people earning the money to buy the goods that were made by those businesses in the first place. Which again eventually could lead to an economic downturn. But you could prevent that outcome by increasing the earnings power of all workers. And again, that's what happens when the economy is at full employment. And then finally Sadie Alexander argued that full employment would free people from material want from deprivation or starvation or from a lack of basic needs. And so they would then also be free to pursue higher goals to realize their potential professionally and personally, and that would make it less likely that workers would become disillusioned with the government itself or with democracy, and like president Roosevelt Sadie Alexander feared that economic insecurity would result in quote, men and women who have lost hope demanding a dictator to take over the reins of government Sadie. Alexander was not a socialist. She believed in regulated capitalism says Nida banks, but she did also believe that the government had an active role to play in a cheerful employment for the economy when the private sector couldn't do that by itself. She. Envisioned a public work programme that addressed pressing needs that would enhance people's well-being she focused on improving housing conditions in urban slums or providing electricity to every form she talked about reducing illiteracy, reducing hunger and making sure that people were properly clothed. That's typically not what we think about today when we focus on public works as part of this goal of cheating full employment for the economy Sadie. Alexander also argued that the government should guarantee a job to people who would want one and professor banks believes that Sadie Alexander might even have been the first economist to make that case. In fact, a national jobs guarantee is a policy idea that is being hotly debated right now something else that communists are debating right now is the question of whether the economy is in fact at full employment, and there is obviously no way to know for sure how Sadie Alexander would answer that question. But here's what we can say the labor market has improved. A lot in recent years and the unemployment rate for black or African Americans has mostly been falling during that time. But at six point eight percent, it is almost twice as high as the unemployment rate for white Americans, which is only three point five percent. And according to the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank, a black worker with the same education as a white worker is only getting paid roughly eighty percent as much as the white worker, and that applies at every educational level, and that wage gap is bigger now than it was back in the year two thousand it. Of course, it isn't just in the economy where there still exist big racial disparities. Another place is in the very disciplined that Sadie Alexander tried to enter nearly a hundred years ago economics to see this. You just have to look at the numbers numbers that Anna Gifty Poku Osman senior at the university of Maryland knows really well, so basically in between two fifteen to sixteen five out of one thousand one hundred and fifty eight doctoral degrees and economics where worth of black women. So that's. Less than half of one percent. One half of one percent. The numbers for black men. Earning PHD's and for black undergraduate economics degrees are only slightly better. But in is trying to do something about this. She co founded the CD collective in organization that wants to create a better environment for black women to go into economics and this weekend. The Sadie collective is hosting the inaugural Sadie TM Alexander conference for economics. Anna says that it just felt natural to Namie organization and the conference after Sadie Alexander, we she was very interested in economic equality in advocating for marginalized groups is so we felt that that was in line with our overall mission sort of equalizing the playing field by giving black women the same opportunities that we've been seeing other people received in the field the conference is sold out which along with the papers and the upcoming books from Nina banks suggests that the legacy work and speeches of Sadie Alexander which had been forgotten for so long. 'economics might soon. Find a new and growing audience. This episode of the indicator was produced by Constanza yard, oh, edited by paddy Hirsch, and our intern is will of Ruben indicator is a production of NPR.