Books by Floyd W.
A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African
American Studies /
Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans
* * *
Policy Professionals in the Managerial Age
By Floyd W. Hayes, III
A major feature of the evolving managerial
society is the expanding roles of formal knowledge and professional
experts in the public policymaking process.
The increasing professionalized management of people
accompanies this development.
Theorists of managerialism do not agree, however,
on the extent to which these roles have expanded.
Hence, competing perspectives about the relationship
between knowledge and power in the policymaking process appear
in the literature. Some
thinkers hold that in contemporary advanced technological
society professional experts dominate the political
Others contend that elected officials are still in
control. The issue
This essay focuses on the roles Black
policy specialists and their knowledge play in the public
policy deliberation process of America’s developing
knowledge-intensive managerial society. With the coming of the conservative Reagan regime, the 1980s
represented a major turning point in American public policy in
the form of an assault on the welfare state, which was
established during the 1930s New Deal policy agenda of the
Roosevelt administration. The
1980s also witnessed the emergence of Black policy experts
as major actors in the public debate about policies designed to
handle the problem of poverty in contemporary American society.
In the past, Black policy intellectuals were
largely ignored in the national debate about public policy
is significant about the evolution of the contemporary debate is
the ascendancy of a collection of conservative Black policy
entrepreneurs and their challenge to liberal policy ideas.
Because of their association with the Reagan regime,
these conservative Black policy actors gained public
specific aim is to examine critically the debate between some
conservative and liberal Black policy intellectuals regarding
the complex problem of urban poverty within a changing American
I will assert that in America’s managerial
society, Black professional experts and policy specialists—as
members of a rising professional-managerial class—have come to
play a major role in influencing the content and contours
of the national policy deliberation process by means of their
discursive power: argumentation and persuasion.
In the developing managerial order, the importance of
mental capacity and the ability to manage the people are
challenging the singular authority of money and finance.
In what follows, I will discuss the ascendancy
of managerial society, the growing convergence of knowledge
and power in the policymaking process of that society, the
debate between conservative and liberal Black policy specialists
during the 1980s, and an alternative perspective to the
politics of expertise and social management.
The Rise of the Managerial Class
In the United States, the
professional-managerial class emerged during the Progressive era
at the dawn of the 20th Century.
The development of a core of social engineers
devoted to helping and managing the working class and the
urban poor served as the basis for the rise of the
engineers assumed that the fundamental organization of society
was progressive and just, and they viewed education as the major
form of human engineering.
Social managers desired a smoothly running, socially
efficient, stable social order in which professional
management would replace politics; science would replace
tradition; and experts would adapt education to the conditions
of modern corporate life (Callahan 1962; Tyack 1974; Tyack and
With corporate America’s sponsorship, this
new cadre of social engineers sought specialized training and
formal accreditation as professionals.
Here is the genealogy of the professional-managerial
class of salaried professionals, engineers, managers,
administrators, and planners (see Abbott 1988; Ehrenreich 1985;
Larson 1977; Reich 1983). As
Gouldner argues, the old moneyed class gave birth to a new
cultural class whose capital is specialized knowledge
As descendants of the old moneyed class, the
new cadre of professional managers initially was dependent upon
and subservient to its benefactors.
Largely synonymous early on with the old or traditional
middle class of independent farmers, small-business men, and
self-employed professionals, the members of the emerging
professional-managerial class, even those who were social
engineers of the working class and the urban poor, maintained a
certain attachment to the tradition of rugged individualism.
However, the Great Depression proved to be
the definitive event that transformed this development.
The middle classes underwent an ideological change
from rugged individualism to New Dealism.
The professional-managerial class embraced an ostensible
“reform” of capitalism that was in fact a revolution.
Of course, it was a revolution not in the interest of the
working class, but on behalf of the new middle classes
expertise, and professionalism gained hegemonic ideological
power as the professional-managerial class sought the
rationalization and regulation of society.
This commences James Burnham’s
“managerial revolution”—in the crucible of
unparalleled capitalist crisis (Burnham 1941).
This is the historical setting for the development of the
self-conscious commitment to large-scale national economic
regulation and policy planning, buttressed by the systematic
collection of information and the development of national income
accounts. This set
of historical forces and political-economic arrangements laid
the foundation for the modern liberal welfare state,
where the federal government de facto took a free hand in
developing various policies and programs to manage the economy
and the people.
Governing elites jettisoned Adam Smith’s
(1937) minimalist theory of the state and embraced the
principle of unlimited state power.
Federal government expansion meant that the welfare state
cushioned both the members of the middle and working classes
from the exigencies of the capitalist business cycle.
In addition, however, the expansion of the state
meant increased employment opportunities for the middle
classes, giving them a dual benefit.
Thus, the growth of the public sector
provided the professional-managerial class an opportunity to
break free of corporate capital’s control.
World War II and, thereafter, the Great Society and civil
rights movement constituted further bases for still more
dramatic expansion. The
social programs of the 1960s, coupled with various civil
rights acts, can be interpreted as a response to black
rebellion; and black professionals and managers obtained
disproportionately the new positions in the public sector
welfare agencies. Here
was the essential source of growth in the black middle class
of professionals and managers reported by scholars and
journalists in the 1970s (for example, see Brown and Erie 1981).
As Robert Allen
has argued: The black
rebellions injected a new sense of urgency into the urban crisis
and prompted the corporate elite to reassess its role in
handling the problems of the cities.
The strategy evolved by the corporatists calls for the establishment
of a black elite that can administer the ghettos.
Where possible, black workers will be reintegrated into
the economy. Those
blacks that can’t be absorbed into the work force may be
pensioned off on some type of income maintenance program.
From the corporate viewpoint, this strategy
is more efficient, less costly, and more profitable than either
traditional welfare statism or massive repression.
With the federal government (i.e., taxpayers) footing the
bill, the corporations have all to gain and little to lose
The combination of the Great Society
civil rights movement took the scope of government beyond the
breakthrough achieved by the New
The judiciary, in particular, took on an activist role in
public policymaking, including management of school systems
and prison systems (Miller
1982; Shapiro 1979).
The inherent limitlessness of the managerial state was
manifest as the politics of expertise came to overtake the
politics of money.
The Basis of
Professional-Managerial Class Power in a Knowledge Society
During a 1968 Senate hearing on “The
Nature of Revolution,” an outline of the new political
society was sketched when Senator Claiborne Pell sought
confirmation of his interpretation of a paper delivered by
Harvard University professor Louis Hartz:
Another point that struck me was the progress
of society as it moves along.
Through your paper I think I detected that you moved from
a feudal stage where power is based basically on land, to
another stage which is the bourgeois or capitalistic stage,
where power is based on the possession of machinery, or
the capital with which to buy machinery.
But you left it a little up in the air, because nothing
is final, and nothing is permanent as to what the evolution of
this trend is.
Would you agree with Ken Galbraith’s
theory that the next stage would be where the possession of
mere money per se or ownership is not as important as the mental
capacity to provide the direction for the intellectual and
managerial estate which is now coming to the fore in our
it is more and more the managerial and intellectual groups that
are the ones that are becoming dominant.
Do you see this trend going on, or do you disagree with
this interpretation of your paper (U. S. Senate 1968: 36)?
Hartz’s response was direct: “I would not say that that trend is in my paper.
However, that does not mean that I do not believe there
is something in that. I
believe that this is and has been a development in American
economic life” (U. S. Senate 1968: 36).
The managerial transformation of American
society is distinguished by the transition from a capital-intensive
economy based on physical resources, which dominated the
first half of the 20th Century, to a knowledge-intensive economy
based on human resources, which characterizes the last half of
the 20th Century to the present.
The principal resource of America’s declining
industrial-capitalist economy has been finance capital,
invested in industrial plants, machinery, and technologies to
increase the muscle power of human labor.
In the evolving knowledge-intensive
economy, the decisive resource is cultural capital:
the nation’s investment in and management of education,
knowledge, science, computers, and other technologies that
enhance the mental capacity of workers (Botkin, Dimancescu, and
Stata 1984; Drucker 1969, 1993; Reich 1991; Toffler 1990). Important now are specialized knowledge, communication
skills, the capacity to process and utilize collections of
information in organizational decision-making arrangements, and
increasingly professionalized approaches to managing people.
With this expanding role for formal or
specialized knowledge, professionals and experts—intellectuals
and the technical intelligentsia—have become a “new
class” in the public and private spheres, particularly
with regard to public policymaking (Bazelon 1971; Derber,
Schwartz, Magrass 1990; Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich 1979;
Managerial society’s new power wielders are
located in such organizational arrangements as government,
elite universities, major policy research institutions,
influential policy-planning groups, the mass media, elite law
firms, philanthropic foundations, or political action committees
(Alford and Freidland 1985; Benveniste 1972; Fischer 1990;
Lebedoff 1981; Ricci 1993; Smith 1991).
The influence of the professional-managerial
class comes from the capacity to conceptualize the character
of social problems and to design strategies for
handling them. Ensconced
in knowledge-managing institutions and organizations, members of
the new class also produce and shape ideas and images that
direct the cultural, intellectual, and ideological development
of the new society (see Smith 1991; Ricci 1993).
The emerging managerial class does not rise
to power alone. To
be effective, the new power wielders must be allied to
a political, legal, or organizational base.
Their power comes from their access to and their ability
to influence policy makers in government and private
operate at many levels to influence the intellectual direction,
content, and contours of public policymaking.
They may be policy specialists within the offices
of political executives, intellectual activists who appear at
local school board hearings, renowned university professors
who consult with government officials on important policy
matters, policy entrepreneurs whose research findings
contribute to major court rulings, or more recently public
intellectuals who gain attention through publishing their ideas
in leading popular journals of opinion (Darity 1983, 1991;
Fischer 1990; Luke 1989; Majone 1988, 1989).
The Convergence of Knowledge and Power: A
There are competing perspectives about the
relationship between knowledge and power in the policymaking
process of the developing managerial society.
One view argues that in the evolving age of advanced
science and technology, knowledge, especially specialized
knowledge, dominates the public decision-making process.
This perspective can be summarized in terms of several
key propositions: Knowledge in managerial society is an
instrument of power.
Social complexity and rapid rates of change
have the effect of making pre-existing forms of knowledge and
information obsolete—particularly such things as practical
experience, common sense, or intuitive judgment.
The problems of managerial society require specialized knowledge
and information, which establish the primary roles of experts.
The problems of managerial society are
thought to be amenable to solution through the application of specialized
knowledge and technical expertise.
Because of the technical complexity of most
policy decisions, professional experts increasingly are brought
into the policymaking process in order to provide specialized
information and technical advice. The political power of
professional experts increases due to this special role.
Politicians, because they depend upon experts’
knowledge and specialized information, experience an erosion
of their political power. In the evolving managerial order,
policy experts are agents of change and responsible for societal
Policy experts dominate the policy process
because they possess knowledge necessary for making difficult
technical choices that are inherent in complex public policy
issues of managerial or postindustrial society (Bell 1973; Ellul
1964; Gouldner 1979; Harvey 1989; Lapp 1965; Meynaud 1964;
An opposing formulation of the social roles
of expert knowledge and policy professionals contends that they
do not dominate the policymaking process.
Rather, this view argues that the political roles of
expertise and policy specialists are limited to the symbolic
ratification of politicians’ decisions.
This perspective can be summarized in terms of the
following major propositions:
The primary political role of experts is to
legitimize policy decisions made by politicians and high-level
appointed officials, the real power holders. Major policy
alternatives reflect the balance of power within the political
system. After making decisions, policymakers often look for ways
to legitimize their decisions; hence, they use technical
explanations and justifications in order to diffuse
conflict. The image of the professional expert who is
“above politics” is a useful legitimizing tool.
Moreover, since they are expendable,
specialists serve as convenient scapegoats for policies
that have failed (Benveniste 1972; Milban 1980; Roszak 1973).
However, while both sets of propositions
appear reasonable and persuasive, they suggest that the
expert-politician connection is an all-or-none situation in
which either experts or politicians rule.
It may not be that these statements, taken separately,
are necessary incorrect; rather, they inadequately describe the
complex nature of the interaction between expertise and politics
in the policy deliberation process.
What is apparent is that in the evolving
managerial society, a new professional-managerial class is
gaining increasing authority because of a growing confluence
of knowledge and power (see Aberbach, Putnam, and Rockman
intellectuals provide ideas and concepts for public debate.
They help put the issues in context.
Policy experts make concrete recommendations and affect
specifics, but experts seldom are in agreement among themselves
(Hayes 1985; Majone 1988, 1989).
What is clear is that in the policymaking
process of managerial society, the power of the
professional-managerial class is exhibited not by physical force
or financial wealth but by rhetoric, persuasion, data
analysis, and argumentation. The result is a politicization of specialized knowledge or
is the case because political leanings among new class members
may be left, center, or right; what unites them is a belief
in the centrality and utilization of specialized knowledge in
the policy process.
This development was exemplified by the
growing significance of neo-conservative, especially a
small group of Black neo-conservative, policy
entrepreneurs whom the ultra-conservative Reagan administration
sponsored in the early 1980s (see The Fairmont Papers 1981;
Faryna, Stetson, and Conti 1997; Megalli 1995).
Neo-conservative Policy Discourse in Black
By the end of the 1970s, the liberal social
agenda had reached a point of diminishing returns, at least for
under-income Blacks. That
is, the two decades of the Great Society’s social welfare
measures—specifically, public employment, public assistance,
and job training programs—resulted in the growing economic
polarization of Black people.
Along side a fledging middle-income group employed as
professionals and managers within urban federal social service
bureaucracies emerged an increasingly under-income and
impoverished urban collectivity who were the clients of the
social welfare system.
Hence, strong evidence suggests that the
Great Society’s social service state provided economic advancement
for a rising class of Black professional-managers, while
linking the historic practice of economic dependency to the
contemporary era and applying it to the urban dispossessed
(Brown and Erie 1981; Darity 1980; Jones 1992, 1998; Lipsky
1990; Prottas 1979; Westcott 1982).
The 1980 ascendancy of the Reagan regime
with its ultra-conservative policy agenda set in motion a
practical and ideological assault on social policies and
programs associated with the liberal welfare state’s
burgeoning federal government (Piven and Cloward 1982).
Utilizing the rhetoric of getting government off the
people’s backs, the Reagan forces sought to slash the
budgets of the Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamp programs and
to terminate the Comprehensive Employment Training Act
(America’s New Beginning 1981; Hayes 1982, 1983, 1994).
It was perhaps the power of the Reagan
leviathan’s right-wing political rhetoric and symbolism—the
media dubbed Reagan a great communicator—and an
emerging budget crisis that helped to interrupt a fragmented and
weakened liberal social policy agenda and effectively redirect
the American public’s social outlook to the far right with white
supremacist overtones (Green 1987; Lashley and Jackson 1994;
Reed 1999; Schram 2000; Steinberg 1995; Tullis 1987).
In addition, the persistent growth of urban
economic impoverishment provided an opportunity for political
elites and policy technocrats associated with the ascendancy
of Reaganism to put forward conservative policy prescriptions
for handling the worsening predicament of the urban
Perhaps recalling the controversy surrounding
the 1965 Moynihan Report, leading white liberal policy
specialists during the 1970s largely ignored researching and
discussing problems related to the urban dispossessed, fearing
that their observations and findings might be considered as blaming
under-income Blacks for being impoverished (see Steinberg
1995; Wilson 1987).
Traditional liberal Black leaders and policy
analysts remained largely wedded to the welfare capitalist
state and, therefore, continued to ask for conventional
civil rights policies and programs.
In contrast, an emergent group of conservative Black
policy rhetoricians, who embraced the Reaganite dream of
recapturing the laissez-faire capitalist state, charged that the
liberal welfare policies and programs of the 1960s and 1970s
not only failed to solve the “underclass” predicament
but also exacerbated it (on the contested term “underclass,”
see Katz 1993).
Therefore, these Black neo-conservatives
argued that Blacks, not the federal government, should help the
Black urban dispossessed escape from moral and economic
If the discourse of liberal political elites
and policy entrepreneurs dominated the conception of the urban
crisis and the federal government’s supportive role in the
1960s, a new conservative discursive power came to
dominate the 1980s with respect to these matters.
Significantly, the neo-conservative rhetoric about the
urban dispossessed changed little, if any, from the traditional
conservative perspective put forward in the 1960s. It is largely the culture-of-poverty thesis, which
liberals sought to discredit in the late 1960s and 1970s,
resurrected and applied to the contemporary urban poor (see
Banfield 1970; Ryan 1970; Valentine 1968).
Focusing basically on the interrelationship
among cultural traditions, family history, and individual
character and behavior, conservatives argue that the “underclass”
predicament is self-perpetuating.
That is, an impoverished “underclass” family,
historically dependent on welfare and structurally unemployed,
tends to produce children who lack ambition, a work ethic,
and a sense of self-reliance and who participate in
anti-social behavior (Auletta 1982; Mead 1986, 1992).
Some conservatives even maintain that the urban
dispossessed must be culturally rehabilitated before they
can function in civil society (Banfield 1970).
In light of the fact that the urban
dispossessed are disproportionately Black and Latino, it
should hardly surprise anyone that in the Age of Reaganism,
with its ultra-right political and ideological dominance,
America witnessed the latest manifestation of Black
neo-conservative prominence within the ranks of the
professional-managerial elite as a result of the Reagan
regime’s sponsorship. Representative of this rising nucleus of Black
neo-conservatives were economists Thomas Sowell
Loury, who challenged the orthodoxy of liberal policy ideas.
In contrast, Black sociologist William J.
Wilson, a self-described neo-liberal, sought to
articulate a new liberal perspective about the urban
with the managerial argument put forward earlier, it should be
noted that what augmented the power and visibility of their
pronouncements is the significant fact that each of these policy
specialists was associated with elite knowledge-producing
what follows, I will examine critically the neo-conservative
analyses and prescriptions put forward by Sowell and Loury, as
well as Wilson’s self-styled neo-liberal response.
Thomas Sowell, a prolific economist
and scholar at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover
Institution, had long-standing conservative credentials that
predated the coming of Reaganism.
However, he remained a largely obscure policy
intellectual until the 1980 election when he emerged as a
leading conservative figure in the national debate about social
it is because Sowell and his ideas were ideologically compatible
with the conservative power of the Reagan regime that he gained
considerable attention among governing elites, other policy
intellectuals, and highly knowledgeable sectors of the lay
public (Van Dyne 1985).
argued that Blacks actually would fare
better in the long run under the Reagan administration’s
socioeconomic policies and programs.
To the problem of Black inequality, Sowell
the most appropriate solution was a program of laissez-faire
capitalism plus rugged individualist initiative.
He asserted that racial discrimination does not explain
adequately the substantial economic difference between Blacks
and white Americans in particular, or between non-white American
natives and the numerous American ethnic groups of European
origin in general.
Furthermore, according to Sowell, racism does
not explain sufficiently why Black Caribbean groups are
substantially more represented in the professional class
than native Black Americans or why their education, income, and
home ownership surpass those of native Black Americans.
Consistent with my earlier characterization of the
conservative thesis, Sowell argued that the cause of
“underclass” development was associated with cultural
patterns, family background, and individual norms and behavior.
In his view, Blacks born into poor families
with a long history of welfare dependency may, in the absence of
strong personal qualities, fail to acquire ambition, a work
ethic, and a sense of personal worth and independence (Sowell
subscribed to and recommended the view
that the great multitude of poor Blacks “pull themselves up
by their own bootstraps.” Contradicting
history, real or fictionalized, he emphasized supposed past
similarities between native Black Americans and European
immigrants, leaving aside the reality that the former originally
were brought to America involuntarily and largely stripped of
the essential factors that underlie positive human development.
overlooked the dehumanizing process
of enslavement, which sought systematically to construct
captured Africans and their American descendants as a class of
sub-humanity; destroy African families, nations, and societies;
deny enslaved Blacks literacy and education; exploit slave labor
and make chattel slaves economically dependent; and deny Blacks
all political and organizational rights (see Blackburn 1997;
Blassingame 1972; Patterson 1982, 1998; Stampp 1956; Tannenbaum
1946; Williams 1944).
In contrast to Sowell’s perspective,
substantial scholarship evidences the fact that there has been
an historic difference between the status of native Black
Americans and European or other immigrants, even following the
civil rights legislation of the 1960s (see W. D. Borrie et al
1959; Cox 1959; Feagin 2000; Schermerhorn 1970; Steinberg 1981).
Therefore, and consistent with his free
market philosophy, Sowell criticized anything that limited
individual choice. His
views can be briefly itemized.
First, he opposed government intervention into
economic affairs. Second,
he attacked the minimum wage law, suggesting that it
increased unemployment, particularly for Black youth.
In addition, Sowell argued that the minimum wage
degraded Blacks and prevented them from gaining important
employment experience and advancement.
Third, Sowell attacked the policies and practices of affirmative
action as ambiguous and ineffectual (Sowell 1980).
was a leading
neo-conservative Black policy entrepreneur just prior to and
during the beginning of the Reagan presidency.
Economics professor Glenn
Loury, (then of Harvard
University and now Boston University) became the most vocal and
visible right-wing Black policy specialist in the middle and
last years of the Reagan regime.
But for a series of personal indiscretions, Loury would
have received an influential appointment in the Department of
Education during the Reagan administration.
Loury proved to be one of the most
outspoken neo-conservative Black policy rhetoricians in the
discourse on the urban disenfranchised, the limits of the
federal government to solve this complex problem, and the
self-help responsibility of the Black middle class (see Loury
1984, 1985, 1986, 1987).
As with his neo-conservative colleagues,
Loury was concerned with the Black community’s
“underclass” predicament—the growing frequency of
inner-city teenage pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births,
single-parent households, welfare dependency, joblessness,
What was required, according to Loury, was
the transformation of a constellation of strong-held
“underclass” attitudes, values, and beliefs about sexual
relationships, pregnancy, and childbearing.
He observed that peer group and community norms in the
inner city played a significant role in the reproduction of
Loury challenged the Black middle class to
interrupt and redirect the conditions that perpetuated the
“underclass” dilemma. He
declared: “The condition of values, attitudes, and beliefs of
African American youngsters who produce children for whom they
cannot provide must be addressed; and, those aspects of
government policy which reinforce, or reward, such values must
be publicly questioned” (Loury 1986: 10).
A central theme in
Loury’s discourse was
the need to redefine the agenda for Black social development,
focusing squarely on improving the life chances for the Black
poor. Loury asserted that liberal social welfare policies and
programs worsened the problems within this sector of the Black
he maintained that only the community itself could and should
solve its own social difficulties.
Severely criticizing traditional Black
civil rights leaders and liberal political elites for
avoiding public discussion of the need to change norms and
values which he perceived as perpetuating urban poverty, Loury
challenged Black leaders and professional-managerial elites to
provide the moral leadership in the transformation of the Black
all, he asserted, they and not the Black masses benefited
from the Great Society’s welfare state policies and programs.
Loury advanced an agenda of Black
self-help that focused on the moral and material redemption
of the Black masses. He
called for the complete emancipation from Black civil rights
and political elites who continued to beg for government
handouts that, according to
Loury, doomed the Black masses to
Loury acknowledged that the federal
government could play a role, he urged that to eradicate the
worst aspects of Black urban impoverishment, Black business,
academic, and political elites should play the major role.
Loury’s view, they needed to provide the moral and
institutional leadership and develop the requisite and realistic
economic program of action necessary to foster a sense of
self-confidence and optimism among poor Blacks (Loury 1985,
Managerial Neo-liberalism in the Age of
During the Reagan years, as previously
described, dominant public discourse about urban poverty shifted
considerably to the far right in order to focus on the behavior
and attitudes of the urban dispossessed.
In the view of neo-conservative Black policy
entrepreneurs, the “underclass” predicament resulted from
a “culture of poverty” characterized by self-reproducing
To counter the mean-spirited
assertions by Black neo-conservatives, sociologist William J.
Wilson (then of the University of Chicago and now of Harvard
University), a self-styled neo-liberal, attempted to
shape an alternative social policy discourse that he hoped would
be more humane. In
his book, The Truly
Disadvantaged, Wilson sought to
“address the problems of the ghetto underclass in a
comprehensive analysis” and to “spell out, in considerable
detail, the policy implications of that analysis” (1987: vii).
Wilson argued that historical discrimination
and a migration to large metropolises that kept the
“underclass” Black and Latino populations relatively young
created a problem of weak labor force participation among them
and, especially since 1970, made them particularly vulnerable to
the industrial and geographical shifts in the American economy.
The transition from the goods-producing
economy of the industrial era to the service-producing
economy of the postindustrial or managerial era, the
increasing polarization of the labor market into low-wage and
high-wage sectors, innovations in technology, the relocation of
manufacturing industries out of central cities, and periodic
recessions drove up the rate of Black and Latino unemployment,
despite the passage of anti-discrimination legislation and the
creation of affirmative action programs.
According to Wilson, the
rise of urban
joblessness set in motion an increase in the concentrations
of poor people, a growing number of poor female-headed families,
a rise in teenage pregnancy, an increase in welfare dependency,
and mounting crime. He
noted that these problems have been especially evident in
inner-city neighborhoods of large cities, not only because the
most impoverished Blacks and Latinos live there but also because
the neighborhoods have become less diversified in a way that has
severely worsened the impact of the continuing transformation of
pointed out that especially since
1970, inner-city neighborhoods have experienced an out-migration
of working- and middle-class families previously confined to
them by the restrictive covenants of higher-status city
neighborhoods and suburbs.
Combined with the increase in the number of poor caused
by rising joblessness, this out-migration has sharply
concentrated the poverty in inner-city neighborhoods.
The number of poverty rates that exceed 40
percent—a threshold definition of “extreme poverty”
neighborhoods—has risen accordingly.
The dwindling presence of middle- and working-class
households also has removed an important social buffer that once
deflected the full impact of the kind of prolonged high levels
of joblessness in these neighborhoods that results from uneven
economic growth and periodic recessions.
In earlier decades, Wilson
wrote, not only
were most of the adults in segregated communities employed, but
Black and Latino working and middle classes also brought
neighborhood stability. They invested economic and social resources in their
communities, patronized the churches, stores, banks, and
neighborhood organizations, sent their children to the local
schools, reinforced societal norms and values, and made it
meaningful for lower-class Blacks in these segregated enclaves
to envision the possibility of some upward mobility.
argued, contemporary inner
cities feature a population, the “underclass,” whose primary
predicament is joblessness reinforced by growing social
has decreased the contact between groups of different class and
racial backgrounds and thereby concentrated the adverse effects
of living in impoverished community.
These concentration effects, reflected, for example, in
the residents’ self-limiting social dispositions, have
been created by inadequate access to jobs and job networks, the
lack of involvement in quality schools, the unavailability of
suitable marriage partners for Black women, and the lack of
exposure to informal mainstream social networks and traditional
Black role models.
concluded that these constitute the
structural forces and conditions that have resulted in the
growth and development of a self-perpetuating “underclass.”
asserted, in The Truly
Disadvantaged and later in When Work Disappears
(1996) that the factors associated with the increases in
inner-city social dislocation are complex and complicated.
They cannot be reduced to the easy explanations of a
“culture of poverty” that have been advanced by those on
the right, or simply of racism, posited by those on the left.
Although the inner city is a product of historical
racism and although present-day racism has
undoubtedly contributed to the deepening social and economic
crisis of its residents, to understand the dramatic expansion of
these problems requires the specification of a complex web of
other factors, including the postindustrial or managerial
transformation of the American economy.
Wilson’s explanation of urban
impoverishment in the new age of knowledge, science, and
technology received much attention from the media and
government, liberal politicians and policy specialists, and
informed sectors of the lay public.
Significantly, his analysis was closely aligned or
compatible with the neo-conservative perspective.
Conservatives tend to view social difficulties and their
solutions in personal or individual terms; liberals tend to see
social problems and their solutions as structural or societal.
Hence, conservatives seek to change the
individual, and liberals want to change aspects of the
social structure. Very
similar to neo-conservative policy entrepreneurs Thomas Sowell
Loury, Wilson viewed impoverished Black urban
communities as largely pathological, characterized by high
levels of female-headed households, out-of-wedlock births,
teenage pregnancies, crime, etc.
For neo-conservatives, as discussed above, the decisive
factor is the role of individual attitudes and values
in shaping the initial responses of “underclass” members to
social and economic conditions.
Notwithstanding his differences with
neo-conservatives on whether labor-market shifts, changes in
Black expectations, or a combination of the two factors were
originally responsible for the growth of the “underclass,” Wilson’s analysis of the contemporary predicament placed
substantial emphasis on the role of individual attitudes and
insisted that the social isolation of inner-city life
“generates behavior… associated with a life of casual work
(tardiness and absenteeism)” (1987: 60).
These norms develop, in Wilson’s view,
urban Blacks live in communities in which most families lack a
steadily employed breadwinner.
Young Black women find out-of-wedlock childbearing
Wilson, it was not a culture of poverty but social
isolation that generated these negative norms and responses
to economic conditions. Although
Wilson admitted that cultural traits are significant dimensions
of behavior, he insisted that social isolation can be reversed
through appropriate changes in public policy and improved
argued for changes not in the
individual as do conservatives but, rather, in the social
conditions that affect poor Black people’s lives.
On the question of improving the life chances for the
urban Black dispossessed, Wilson’s neo-liberal perspectives
proved to be ambivalent, at best, and neo-conservative,
To handle the “underclass” predicament, Wilson
argued that universal—as opposed to race-specific
or income targeted—policies were likely to be more
policies—whether they call for equal opportunity or for
preferential treatment—tend to aid the more advantaged
members of the Black community, since only they can qualify
for preferred positions.
Although affirmative-action programs
have assisted some less advantaged Blacks obtain employment in law
enforcement, construction work, and craft jobs
in large companies, Wilson stated that members of the urban
“underclass” are severely underrepresented among those who
actually benefit from such programs.
Income-targeted program, he asserted, lack
long-term political support by whites and have too marginal an
impact on the employment opportunities for inner-city Black men.
Wilson, thus, called for implementing
policies that would appeal to the more advantaged groups of all
races or nationalities in America, but that would have an
especially large impact on the inner-city “underclass.”
He advocated the adoption of the Western European
model of social policy, whose major elements are full
employment and a national labor-market strategy, perhaps
involving training programs integrated with the education system
very much like apprenticeships.
also proposed other broad-based
programs, such as child-care credits, assure child-support
payments, and family assistance.
Despite his criticism of race-specific and
income-targeted programs, Wilson wanted to maintain these
programs, but more effectively implemented.
Wilson’s policy prescriptions were
persuasive to largely white neo-liberal and neo-conservative
policy watchers and policymakers; he came under heavy
criticism from most Black, especially Black left leaning,
Wilson’s discussion did not draw on policy lessons from past
American and Western European experiences.
In a 1988 critique of The Truly
Disadvantaged, radical political scientist Adolph
Reed, Jr. (then of the University of Illinois-Chicago and
now of the New School for Social Research), argued that
Wilson’s policy agenda failed to deal adequately with three
critical problems. First,
it did not appear that Wilson’s policy proposals would
substantially improve life chances for the urban dispossessed.
Wilson seemed to think that merely by improving Black
male job options Black families would become stronger,
encouraging delinquent fathers to contribute more to their
children’s care and development.
Yet, improvements in employment possibilities
would not necessarily override the much more lucrative
potentialities of the underground economy.
reasoned, it was not certain that
improved employment prospects for young Black men would be
sufficient enough to deter gang members from attempts to
dominate inner-city schools and streets.
A second difficulty Reed
found with Wilson’s policy prescriptions was the possible conflict
between achieving full employment without inflation and
adding universal programs to the existing array of income-tested
was not attentive to the major objection to universal
programs—their high costs.
More importantly, he did not realize that only a few of
the small Western European welfare states have been able to
maintain both a full-employment economy and a good
Reed’s third problem with Wilson was
the sociologist’s failure to consider the political
dimension of his argument.
This permitted Wilson, argued Reed, to subsume race
neatly into the category of economic dynamics.
In short, Wilson overlooked the politicization of race
in the affirmative policy apparatus.
Careful analysis of the spatial
colonization of American cities makes it impossible to
distinguish purely racial from purely economic
Black labor markets were assumed to be plagued by low skill
levels and poor “work habits”; sections of land occupied by
urban Blacks were underutilized and ripe for redevelopment
because the presence of impoverished populations tended to lower
market values. Wilson
himself noted that numbers of low-skill jobs were
increasing nationally but not in those cities where
“underclass” members were concentrated.
In this context, the race/class debate
was beside the point, according to Reed, because it ignored that
the logic of markets is socially and politically constructed and
that race enters into social and economic life in complex and
indirect ways. Racial
subordination is reproduced through the impersonal operation
of markets—with or without active anti-Black racism.
acknowledged that Wilson did correctly
observe that racism—a notion that implies individual instances
of prejudice and discrimination—did not explain the
“underclass” predicament; however, like his neo-conservative
antagonists, Wilson did accept a perspective that viewed only
the alternatives of explicit white supremacy and color-blind
structural forces as explanations for Black economic
subordination. This is in part because Wilson did not see that history is
made by human action. Contrary
to the imputations of some left-leaning policy intellectuals,
Wilson’s argument did not juxtapose race and class but race
and economics, which he treated as beyond the scope of
In this regard, Wilson’s apolitical
approach seemed to view the urban dispossessed as objects
of managerial problem-solving strategies.
Defined by Wilson as an urban “underclass,” members
of the permanently poor appeared incapable of changing their
circumstances; they were not agents of social change and,
thus, could play no role in human affairs.
Wilson’s conception of class was limited
and ahistorical. This
allowed him to misread the racial and class dimensions of Black insurgence in the 1960s—when the Black
professional-managerial class sought to contain and manage
grassroots Black rebellion and opposition to a variety of
national urban policy betrayals, such as urban renewal and the
decline of quality education in inner-city public schools.
approach to policy discourse for improving the life chances
of urban disinherited Blacks is managerial or technocratic
Conclusion: Managerial Challenge to
What are the implications of the kind of
elite policy discourse examined in this paper?
The expanding political role of policy specialists
generally, and Black policy professionals specifically,
demonstrates the increasing politicization of expertise in the
policy discourse of America’s evolving managerial society.
Whether right, left, or center, policy experts—as
members of the professional-managerial class—believe in the
central importance of knowledge in the policymaking process.
They seek to shape the issues, define the problems, and
Policy specialists seek to influence
governmental policymaking by means of communication: rhetoric,
persuasion, data analysis, and argument through publishing and
speaking (Majone 1989).
This is a major dimension of political dynamics in the
contemporary period. Policy
experts align themselves with organizational and ideological
bases of power. Neo-conservative
policy entrepreneurs Thomas Sowell
Loury had political
and ideological support from the powerful, ultra-right Reagan
Loury, and Wilson were associated with and spoke from the pedestal
of powerful, elite universities.
Along with mass media attention, these Black
policy professionals became prominent actors in the national
debate about social policies directed at the urban poverty
crisis during the 1980s and beyond.
In America’s increasingly
knowledge-intensive society, expertise has become a key
commodity for political policymaking and the professional
management of people. As
this paper suggests, a fundamental characteristic of the policy
deliberation process is a struggle to assert one definition of a
problem over another. The
ability to control the definition of a problem is a major
political resource in the determination of public policy.
Power, in the policymaking process, is a
function of the extent to which the management of others is
accomplished by getting them to accept the power wielder’s
views and perspectives about social reality.
“This is achieved by controlling, influencing, and
sustaining your definition of the situation since, if you can
get others to share your reality, you can get them to act in the
manner you prescribe” (Hall 1972: 51).
When it comes to policymaking, as Edelman
asserts, “it is not the facts that are crucial, but language
forms and socially cued perceptions” (Edelman 1977:
85. See also Froman
The discursive battle between
neo-conservative and neo-liberal Black policy professionals, as
discussed in this paper, demonstrated this theoretical
the one hand, Thomas Sowell
Loury defined the
“underclass” predicament in individual terms and relied on a
culture of poverty explanation.
On the other hand, Wilson
defined the problem in
more structural terms and relied on a much more complex argument
about spatial confinement and postindustrial or managerial
Even so, Wilson’s self-styled
neo-liberal policy ideas proved to be nearly as conservative
as those of his right-wing proponents, suggesting that
neo-liberalism is conservatism with a sympathetic face.
Given the power of the Reagan regime’s political ideas
and policy agenda, together with its war against the liberal
welfare state, it is not surprising that the neo-conservative
(and neo-liberal) assault on affirmative action and welfare
policies has continued into the 21st Century (see Katz 2001;
Meeropol 2000; Reed 1999).
The politics of managerial society, a virtual
politicization of knowledge and expertise, necessarily marginalizes
meaningful citizen participation (see Fischer 2000).
This development has had the most severe consequences for
urban Black communities, which historically have been largely
powerless. In view
of these circumstances, it is widely recognized that a major
challenge to democratic theory and practice is the need to
bring ordinary citizens back into the policymaking process
(see DeSario and Langton 1987; Fischer 1990, 2000; Wilinsky
The role of citizens in the United States of
America has been increasingly weakened by the growth of powerful
institutions—both public and private—where members of the
professional-managerial class are lodged and where they shape
policy agendas beyond the view of ordinary citizens.
In the evolving social order, the political ascendancy of
policy intellectuals and professional experts exacerbates the
disempowerment of citizens.
Indeed, power is exercised at the expense of the
This obstruction to citizen participation
largely is a structural dimension of the increasing
complexity of policy problems in managerial society.
Complexity demands expertise.
Professional experts and policy intellectuals gain
increasing authority and autonomy (Brint 1994).
It also is a function of the mystifying technical
discourse or language that serves—often intentionally—to
intimidate those who attempt to contest or deliberate with
professional experts (Forester 1989; Gouldner 1979; Hummel
In short, this is one of the critical
issues facing the future of democracy in the new age of
knowledge, science, and technology.
Any credible theory of democratic practice needs to
consider seriously the possibility of democratizing the
mechanisms that integrate scientific expertise and political
experts, and the powerful knowledge institutions to which they
belong, are today clearly working in the interest of an
elitist rather than a democratic political society.
More and more, policy professionals are being trained to
become agents of a new system of technocratic power
(Silva and Slaughter 1984).
In the new society, knowledge is used increasingly not
for citizen participation but for social management.
The alternative to managerial politics is a
reconstitution of the organization, mobilization, and power of
ordinary citizens, particularly Blacks and Latinos at the level
of local communities. This means a renaissance in Black and Latino activism,
initiative, self-reliance organizations, community-based
development and service-delivery programs, political lobbying
and policy advocacy efforts, and direct action political protest
In a knowledge-driven managerial polity,
citizen activists and community leaders themselves need to view
knowledge as a key resource in their efforts to resist the power
of policy experts, the managerial-class, and of the institutions
they represent. In
a manner of speaking, Black and Latino community activists will need
to become policy analysts and advocates in order to put
forward their own policy agendas for achieving social justice
and to hold policy professionals accountable and to make them
responsive to the people’s needs (see Fischer 1990, 2000;
additional strategy to challenge managerial power, community groups
can also employ their own policy specialists in order to
assert a counter-discourse that challenges and resists the
power of professional-managerial policy entrepreneurs (see Hayes
Indications are that politics and
policymaking in America’s evolving managerial estate may be
increasingly repressive, elitist, and anti-democratic
(Fischer 2000). In
response, there is a growing cynical disillusionment among the
people about the role of professional experts and policy
technocrats, along with mounting distrust of government and
other social institutions (Goldfarb 1991; 1998).
In the face of increasing multitudes of
impoverished and unwanted urban residents, the new social order
is rapidly becoming a garrison-prison state, which is
characterized by the increasing militarization of the police,
the dramatic growth of prisons, and the unrestrained police
murder and incarceration of Blacks and Latinos (see Donner 1990;
Garland 2001; James 1996; Lasswell 1941; Parenti 1999).
These developments, along with the expanding
roles of policy intellectuals and the increasing
politicization of expert knowledge, also signal the managerial
imperative—the coming of an increasingly fragmented,
nihilistic, and repressive society. The new politics of policymaking is witnessing an increasing
nexus between professional policy specialists and professional
politicians—a veritable convergence of knowledge and power—which
appears to dominate, monopolize, and manipulate the dynamics of
public policy discourse.
This springs from the growing complexity of
social problems and the demand for expertise.
The great threat of the managerial polity is to the
belief in and practice of democracy itself.
If there is to be a democratic society in America’s
future, the role and responsibility of policy experts and their
specialized knowledge cannot be to manage the people but to improve
the quality of public discourse by probing assumptions,
raising issues, and thereby helping the people to consider
different formulations of problems and a wider set of possible
solutions (Majone 1988, 1989).
Policy intellectuals need to become not servants
of the powerful few but representatives of the silenced
masses; policy intellectuals must become dissenters who
speak truth to power (Said 1994). In the final analysis,
knowledge must have a more public value and role so that the
people can decide their own future (Willinski 2000).
As we stand at the dawn of the new millennium, a burning
question is whether industrial-capitalism and American
democracy can survive an increasingly technocratic, elitist
policymaking process that more and more defines the managerial
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* * *
* * * * *
A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention
By Jamal Joseph
In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he’s chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph’s personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Riker’s Island and Leavenworth to the halls of Columbia—is as gripping as it is inspiring. Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But this was the late 1960s in Bronx’s black ghetto, and fifteen-year-old Eddie was introduced to the tenets of the Black Panther Party, which was just gaining a national foothold. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on the infamous Rikers Island—charged with conspiracy as one of the Panther 21 in one of the most emblematic criminal cases of the sixties. When exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—became the youngest spokesperson and leader of the Panthers’ New York chapter. He joined the “revolutionary underground,” later landing back in prison. Sentenced to more than twelve years in Leavenworth, he earned three degrees there and found a new calling. He is now chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division. . . . In raw, powerful prose, Jamal Joseph helps us understand what it meant to be a soldier inside the militant Black Panther movement. . . .
* * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a
sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi
for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin
was falsely accused of stealing a white
man's turkeys and was almost beaten to
death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling,
a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem
after learning of the grove owners'
plans to give him a "necktie party" (a
lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster
made his trek from Louisiana to
California in 1953, embittered by "the
absurdity that he was doing surgery for
the United States Army and couldn't
operate in his own home town." Anchored
to these three stories is Pulitzer
Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's
magnificent, extensively researched
study of the "great migration," the
exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates
sociological and historical studies into
the novelistic narratives of Gladney,
Starling, and Pershing settling in new
lands, building anew, and often finding
that they have not left racism behind.
The drama, poignancy, and romance of a
classic immigrant saga pervade this
book, hold the reader in its grasp, and
resonate long after the reading is done.
* * *
Race, Incarceration, and American Values
By Glenn C. Loury
In this pithy
discussion, renowned scholars debate the American penal
system through the lens—and as a legacy—of an ugly and
violent racial past. Economist Loury argues that
incarceration rises even as crime rates fall because we have
become increasingly punitive. According to Loury, the
disproportionately black and brown prison populations are
the victims of civil rights opponents who successfully moved
the country's race dialogue to a seemingly race-neutral
concern over crime. Loury's claims are well-supported with
genuinely shocking statistics, and his argument is
compelling that even if the racial argument about causes is
inconclusive, the racial consequences are clear.
Three shorter essays
respond: Stanford law professor Karlan examines prisoners as
an inert ballast in redistricting and voting practices;
French sociologist Wacquant argues that the focus on race
has ignored the fact that inmates are first and foremost
poor people; and Harvard philosophy professor Shelby urges
citizens to break with Washington's political outlook on
race. The group's respectful sparring results in an
insightful look at the conflicting theories of race and
incarceration, and the slim volume keeps up the pace of the
argument without being overwhelming.—Publishers
19 March 2012