Category Archives: Uncategorized

the significance of the progressive primary victories

Representative Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appears to have lost a primary to Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal:

This is part of a significant trend: relatively conservative incumbent Democrats in relatively safe Democratic states and districts are falling to more progressive newcomers, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.-14), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.-07), and Marie Newman (IL-3). These insurgents are more diverse and younger than the incumbents. To be sure, a majority of progressive primary challengers have lost, but the net shift is toward a larger bloc within the Democratic caucus.

We should now see assertive progressive caucuses grow in the US House and in many city councils and state legislatures–mirror-images of the House Freedom Caucus on the right. They should and will help to maintain and expand Democratic Party control of as many legislative chambers as possible, while acting as the sharp, leading edge of Democratic majorities. (Jamelle Bouie made this argument in the New York Times.)

The country is becoming more diverse, and people of color tilt heavily toward the Democratic Party. As a result, the Democrats are about to cease being a white-majority party, although many of their national leaders still are white, especially in the Senate.

In 2016, half of the voting delegates at the Democratic National Convention were people of color. These delegates were not appointed as a gesture to symbolic representation or diversity. They were elected by their own power bases. When a party that elects these delegates wins national elections, white dominance is at risk. That is potentially a shift of global significance, bookending 1492 and 1619.

But the party’s leadership must represent its own electorate better. A 58% white Democratic House caucus is a bit too white for a 54% white party, and the party is getting more diverse. The main opportunities to diversify the caucus are districts with Black or Latino majorities. (The Senate represents a bigger problem.)

If you’re not as far as left some of the progressive insurgents, I still think you should welcome their voices in government. The national deliberation is enriched by their ideas, experiences, and agendas. A legislature that excludes such perspectives lacks legitimacy.

What if you were a Bernie voter in 2020? Do a few primary victories offer a disappointing consolation prize? I think not. Electing progressive Democrats in left-leaning districts was always a more promising strategy.

I’ll acknowledge that if you are a democratic socialist, you should have voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. He is, after all, a socialist. I didn’t vote for him because my political philosophy–for whatever that’s worth–does not fully align with his. At the same time, if you are a democratic socialist, you would have fundamental reasons not to expect the Sanders campaign to carry your agenda forward. You should be primarily interested in the path that AOC, Jamaal Bowman, and others represent.

Although socialist thought is vast and varied and mostly beyond my personal knowledge, I have never heard of a socialist theorist or strategist who believed that capitalists would back down in response to an individual politician who won a majority vote in a national election. Just because actual socialism would cost the ruling class trillions of dollars, they would be expected to resist it with all their power. That is why socialist strategists have often emphasized strong unions linked to a broad-based left party with internal democracy and ideological discipline (a hard pair of principles to combine), plus a left version of the mass media. Once you build that combination, you have a chance at a more-than-symbolic political campaign.

Michael Walzer writes:

Socialist politicians usually emerge from powerful social movements like the old labor movement or from political parties like the Labour Party in the United Kingdom or the Social Democrats in Germany. Sanders does not come out of, nor has he done anything to build, a significant social movement. That wouldn’t be an easy task in the United States today; in any case, it hasn’t been his task. He has, moreover, never been a member of a political party—not even of the Democratic Party whose nomination he is now seeking. He has never attempted to create a democratic socialist caucus within the party. For all the enthusiasm he has generated, he has no organized, cohesive social or political force behind his candidacy. If he were elected, it is hard to see how he could enact any part of his announced program.

One response is that Sanders is not a socialist in a significant sense, and therefore socialist theory would accept that he could have won the election. He just needed to play his cards a bit differently and receive more help from people like me (and millions of others) who resisted him.

As I once noted, Sanders’ platform is less radical than Harry Truman’s was in 1948. In that sense, Sanders stands in the mainstream of the 20th century Democratic Party. Richard Wright puts Bernie Sanders in the tradition of Victorian moralizing socialists, like William Dean Howells (who voted Republican) or Frances Willard. This is a highly mainstream American tradition, and Bernie’s only difference is the “socialist” brand. To explain socialism, Sanders sometimes cites Denmark, which the Heritage Foundation ranks very high on measures of business freedom, investment freedom, and property rights. I like Denmark’s social contract but would describe it as liberal.

Sanders has never passed any socialist legislation but is part of Chuck Schumer’s leadership team in the Senate. In the 115th Congress, Sanders and, e.g, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) agreed on 90% of their votes–all their rare divergences relating to Trump’s executive branch appointments, plus H.R. 2430, “a bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,” and H.R. 3364; “A bill to … counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea.” You could argue that if Sanders is a socialist, so is Merkley and most of the Democratic caucus.

Although Sanders made major economic proposals, they had little chance of passage, which made him sort of a notional or symbolic socialist. Yes, if Bernie had won in a landslide–carried to the White House by a wave of grassroots enthusiasm and activism for the substance of his agenda–he could have passed his bills. But the primary campaign showed no evidence of a dramatically new electorate. A capable Democratic administration pressured skillfully from a growing leftwing caucus can do much more.

See also three views of the Democratic Party when democracy is at risk; Bernie Sanders runs on the 1948 Democratic Party Platform; and democracy is coming to the USA

more data on police interactions by race

We reported on June 17:

Sixty-eight percent of African Americans say they know someone who has been unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused by the police, and 43 percent say they personally have had this experience—with 22 percent saying the mistreatment occurred within the past year alone, according to survey results from Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement.

According to the KFF Health Tracking Poll for June, 2020, about 30% of Black adults say they have “experienced unfair treatment in interactions with police” within the past year. Forty-one percent of Black adults “say they have been stopped or detained by police because of their racial or ethnic background,” and “about one in five Black adults (21%)–including 30% of Black men–say they have been a victim of police violence due to their racial background.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent (2015) Police-Public Contact Survey, 19.8% of African Americans age 16+ had some contact with the police in the past year. This number is the total of several specific types of contact that are asked in the survey, such as riding in a car that was stopped by the police or reporting a crime, among others. The total rate of contact was down by six percentage points compared to 2011.

In the BJS survey, whites were three percentage points more likely than African Americans to report any contact with the police but were also more likely to initiate the contact. Of those who reported that they had been stopped on the street by police, two thirds of whites (67.8%) but only half of Blacks (50.1%) said that the reason for the stop was legitimate.

Of Blacks who said that they had contacted the police, 90.7% said the police behaved properly and 83.6% said they were satisfied by the outcome–very similar rates to whites. The survey implies that 2.7 million African Americans initiated contact with the police in 2015, of whom about 2.3 million were satisfied. This is a fact with some political significance in discussions of defunding the police. At the same time, 3.3% of Blacks and 1.3% of whites reported that the police had used force against them in 2015.

A significant limitation involves the samples of all these surveys. Our survey excludes people in prisons or jails. So does the BJS survey, which also excludes “homeless persons.” I am not sure about the sample of the KFF survey, but it is conducted predominantly by random-digit dialing, which would miss institutionalized people and homeless people. Rates of discriminatory contact would likely be higher if institutionalized and homeless people were included.

The statistics from these three surveys are not strictly comparable. The populations, samples, dates, and questions vary. Still, careful comparisons are interesting. BJS finds that 19.8% of Blacks reported any contact with the police in 2015, and many of those contacts were perceived as legitimate. We find that 22% of Blacks experienced discriminatory treatment by the police in 2020. There could certainly be measurement errors or biases in either survey. Or the rate of discriminatory treatment could have risen in 2020 as a result of mass protests. I would also suspect that some forms of discriminatory treatment do not occur during events that people identify as “contacts.” If a police officer yells at you while driving by but doesn’t stop, that could be an act of discrimination but not a contact.

See also: Two-thirds of African Americans know someone mistreated by police, and 22% report mistreatment in past year; on the phrase: Abolish the police!; insights on police reform from Elinor Ostrom and social choice theory; and science, law, and microagressions.

Two-thirds of African Americans know someone mistreated by police, and 22% report mistreatment in past year

Survey by Tufts University researchers also finds 42% of Latinos and 27% of Whites know victims of police mistreatment

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (June 17, 2020)—Sixty-eight percent of African Americans say they know someone who has been unfairly stopped, searched, questioned, physically threatened or abused by the police, and 43 percent say they personally have had this experience—with 22 percent saying the mistreatment occurred within the past year alone, according to survey results from Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement.

Forty-two percent of Latinos and 27 percent of Whites also say they know someone who was unfairly stopped by police, with 23 percent of Latinos and 13 percent of Whites reporting that they personally have had these experiences.

The nationally representative survey of adults, conducted between May 29 and June 10, also looked at other forms of discrimination, and found that, in all types except one, higher percentages of African Americans report being subjected to discrimination than other groups. The survey was designed and analyzed by Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement.

“Some people might think that day-to-day discrimination happens primarily during routine interactions, such as shopping. But one of the eye-opening results of our survey is that Black people are about as likely to report being stopped unfairly by police as they are to encounter discrimination in a store or in other interactions,” said Deborah J. Schildkraut, professor and chair of Political Science in Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences.

Although African Americans are 3.3 times more likely than Whites to report that they personally have been unfairly stopped by police, 34% of all Americans say that someone they know has been unfairly treated by the police, and 18% have had such experiences themselves. “Across all races and ethnicities, many people may either feel a personal stake in reforming the police or they may be primed to believe accusations that the police are racially biased because of their own experiences, or both,” said Peter Levine, associate dean for research in Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life.

Other forms of discrimination are also pervasive

The survey shows that a higher percentage of African Americans report being subjected to other forms of discrimination than other groups do. For example, 28 percent of African Americans sometimes or frequently feel that other people are afraid of them. By contrast, nine percent of Latinos and six percent of Whites also have that sense.

The only form of discrimination for which African Americans are not the highest percentage involves being mistaken for someone of the same race despite having dissimilar appearances. This experience is most common for Asian-Americans in this survey, although the sample size for Asian-Americans is small.

*Includes Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and people reporting more than two races/ethnicities. The sample size does not permit reliable estimates for Asian Americans or Native Americans separately. The discrimination survey items were adapted from those developed by Williams, D. R., Yan Yu, Jackson, J. S., & Anderson, N. B. (1997). Racial Differences in Physical and Mental Health: Socio-economic Status, Stress and Discrimination. Journal of Health Psychology, 2(3), 335–351. The table and figure show the proportions of people who have ever been treated unfairly by the police, denied a service unfairly, or known someone who has faced police discrimination, and the proportions who “sometimes” or “frequently” report the other forms of discrimination. (The response options for these questions were different.)

Most people of all races and ethnicities (76 percent of the whole sample) report experiencing at least one of the forms of discrimination in the survey. However, the proportions of people who say they have never experienced any of these forms of experience varies from 11 percent of African Americans to 27 percent of Whites.

Personal experiences

In addition to answering the survey’s questions, respondents could type comments about their personal experiences with discrimination, and some described pervasive negative experiences based on feelings of racial isolation. For example, a Latina woman wrote, “It’s hard and a bit humiliating when you try to be in a town of only white people.” 

Several African American respondents offered stories of discrimination by the police. One man wrote, “[I was] walking home and got [stopped] by the police for no reason. He said ‘hey boy where are (you) going and start laughing. pull up your shirt’.  … one said this is how you plant drugs on someone” [sic].

An African American woman wrote, “I’ve been [asked] to leave a public parking lot, at an apartment complex by the police, my boyfriend resided there.” And another Black woman wrote, “I had a cop grab me by my bra for no reason other than I was doing what was asked of me.”

Forty-four percent of the people who say they have been treated unfairly by police are White.  One white man, for example, described this personal experience: “Pulled over by a police officer. He asked me to get out of the car, I did. Then he slammed me on the hood of his cruiser.” Another white man offered a more general observation: “The police almost everywhere think that they are better and more privileged than others. They think that the law does not apply to them and they act with utter impunity.”

A smaller number of respondents also provided positive comments about the police, and two respondents who are police officers said they had faced discrimination because of their law enforcement affiliations.

Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement was established in 2019 as part of a strategic effort to use resources and expertise across the university to address major global issues. It brings together researchers from across the university to discuss and investigate aspects of equity and inequity in the United States and the world. The research has been funded by Tufts University’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research as one of several such initiatives.

The group’s principal investigators are Jennifer Allen, professor of Community Health in the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences;  Peter Levine, associate dean for academic affairs and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts; and Thomas Stopka, associate professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Other members of the group can be found here.

By September 2020, the Research Group will launch a website at that will allow anyone to explore numerous dimensions of equity and inequity with an interactive data-visualization tool. Tufts’ Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life is funding the data-visualization tool.

The survey was fielded online by Ipsos using its KnowledgePanel. The sample was nationally representative, and the number of complete responses was 1,267. More technical information about the survey is at


About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.

Navigating the Pandemic: Inclusiveness, Addressing Bias, and Bridging Differences

This is the video from today’s session of a series for the Tufts Community (but open to the public.) The guests were Eboo Patel from Interfaith Youth Corps, Prof. Keith Maddox (Director of the Tufts University Social Cognition Lab, Prof. Sam Sommers (Director of the Tufts University Diversity and Intergroup Relations Lab) and Jessica Somogie with a meditation exercise. Deborah Donahue-Keegan and I moderated.

the political economy of policing

Here is a general theory, drawn from the “Bloomington School” of political economy:

  1. Public safety is a good. Providing this good is at least somewhat costly: people must keep an eye on each other, refrain from violence, teach their children to be respectful of others, maybe punish or at least shun violators. The benefit is shared: everyone gains from the prosperity and peace that result from public safety. But the benefit is fragile: when any individual violates these norms, public safety can be undermined for all.
  2. Costly, fragile, shared goods are difficult to provide. One way to provide such a good is to make and enforce a rule that everyone must pay to provide it, and then use the funds to hire some people to do the work. If public education is a public good, then we can require everyone to pay taxes and use that money to hire professional teachers, and perhaps require every child to attend public schools. If public safety is a public good, then we can collect mandatory taxes to pay for police.
  3. One advantage of a mandate is that it solves the collective-action problem of providing the common good. Another advantage is that it puts the service-provider under the control of a government, which can be an equitable and liberal democracy. A third advantage is that the same rules that create the service can also regulate it in the interest of justice. For example, when establishing public schools, we can require that they serve all children.
  4. One disadvantage of this method is that the service-providers will likely reflect the biases and downright evils of the society. In a racist society, the schools, police, public health systems, and other public services will likely be racist. In a colony, they will probably be imperialist. In a communist state, they will probably be predatory. This means that although policing is not inherently racist in all countries and times, the police will be structurally racist in any racist society. (The generic problem is untrustworthiness.)
  5. Another disadvantage is that the service-providers, although meant to be agents of the community, may develop their own interests. They may lobby, threaten to strike, vote as a bloc, form close relationships with elected leaders, and so on. Then their actual impact will deviate from their assigned mission.
  6. Considering that the basic task of policing is coercion, the generic disadvantages of mandates will likely take the form of harmful coercion in the case of police. Harmful coercion is violence. In contrast, mandatory education or public health systems are more likely to demonstrate bias in how they distribute resources and define goods. Hospitals, for example, are “violent” (if at all) in a looser or more metaphorical sense than police with guns.
  7. One kind of solution to the problems listed in #4-6 is reform: change rules, oversight mechanisms, organizational flowcharts, or budgets to reduce bias and self-interest.
  8. Another kind of solution is to develop a thorough alternative to the mandatory approach described in #2. Mandates are not the only way to provide public goods. People can provide goods voluntarily under favorable circumstances.
  9. One kind of alternative to a mandate is a market. Individuals can purchase their own goods, possibly with a subsidy from the state to equalize their buying power. This is the idea behind school vouchers; it is also very common in policing, where lots of security is actually provided by private firms and technology, such as alarm systems. The drawbacks of markets are hinted at in #3.
  10. A different kind of alternative is a “commons”: a mechanism for collective action that is neither a top-down mandate nor a market. For both education and public safety, we see pervasive elements of commons alongside states and markets. For example, on a city block where adults keep their eyes on everyone’s kids, public safety (and education) are handled as a commons.
  11. Hybrids are not only possible; they are usually wise, because they avoid the risks of systematic failure and domination that come from relying on one social form alone. For instance, it is possible to have police with a limited role, a rent-a-cop at the drug store, and a range of voluntary associations and networks that generate public safety as a commons.

See also on the phrase: Abolish the police!; insights on police reform from Elinor Ostrom and social choice theory; the Chicago police and NY State prison scandals reinforce the need for countervailing power; avoiding a sharp distinction between the state and the private sphere; China teaches the value of political pluralism; polycentricity: the case for a (very) mixed economy; what kind of a good is education?; and the right to strike.