My university is considering launching a course in the economics of racial justice and inequality, to help students tackle urgent problems such as the disproportionate health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Asian and other minority-ethnic communities in the United Kingdom. These impacts are being underscored by the widespread protests against racist violence around the world that are revealing deep fissures in our societies.
Apart from a few pioneers in the United States, economists generally know little of the systemic barriers that lead to marginalized citizens losing lives and jobs at much higher rates than majority groups. This is in part because of the current lack of pluralism in the curriculum and the topics studied, and limited diversity in terms of people in the field. Furthermore, economists usually make far-reaching assumptions about markets that narrow their analyses.
All this has to change to effect transformation to a more equitable society. An enlightened and engaged economics community needs to train a fresh lens on what comprises meaningful and material support for communities disproportionately affected by years of wage stagnation; income inequality; risks associated with poorly paid, insecure jobs; inadequate housing; criminal injustices — and now a public-health catastrophe.
Nature 582, 341 (2020)