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Posts Tagged ‘equality’

Between Dole and Market

Much of the recent debate over the proper role of government in the lives of the economically unfortunate poses a choice between letting Americans make as much of their opportunities as they can in the free market versus providing people with a stronger safety net, effectively a “dole” that some claim would undermine Americans’ work ethic. Newt Gingrich has, for instance, contrasted a food stamp system that claims to be compassionate to a work system that insists on work and thereby really is compassionate.

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Even liberals have accepted this framing of the debate by emphasizing how much families in distress need help such as unemployment insurance, free school lunches, health assistance, and mortgage relief. Some of the Occupy movement’s rhetoric (e.g., “eat the rich,” “millionaires’ tax”) also seems to accept that the choice we face is either an uncontrolled market or monetary redistribution.

But there is a middle position here. America has often acted in ways that neither put people on the dole nor let them sink-or-swim in the market, ways that help the unfortunate and the fortunate at the same time.

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“Red Tails,” George Lukas’s action movie celebrates the path-breaking Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American fighter pilots who earned distinction in the European Theater of World War II. That they served in a segregated unit of a segregated army made their success bittersweet. In that respect, however, the airmen were one group out of many: black soldiers going to the front lines for a country that put them at the back of the job lines.

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What is perhaps even less known than the Airmen’s story is how well the military served – and still serves – the nation’s black servicemen. Recent studies show that the army is an unusually open route to success for African Americans; it has been a source of material, social, and psychological liberation. The experience of blacks in the army also helps shed light on the struggles of African Americans in civilian life.

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