Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences | Penn Today,” by Penn Today – University of Pennsylvania, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

November 15, 2020; Bloomberg News

“When it comes to economic policy, President-elect Joe Biden is putting racial disparities high on the agenda as he assembles his administration,” report Lananh Nguyen and Jennifer Epstein for Bloomberg News.

It can be easy to read too much into the tea leaves of transition committees, which, as their name suggests, will disband after Joe Biden is inaugurated as president on January 20th.  Nonetheless, even a casual look at the transition teams for the incoming administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris suggests a major focus on gender and racial equity.

Nguyen and Epstein note, “Women comprise more than 50 percent of the new administration’s landing teams…and more than 40 percent of advisers are from groups that are historically underrepresented in the federal government, like [people of color], people with disabilities, and those who identify as LGBTQ.”

A full list of the estimated 500 transition team members is provided by the Biden-Harris transition team at this public website. Among the prominent racial justice and community economic development advocates in the mix are the following:

  • Mehrsa Baradaran is a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of The Color of Money, a book published in 2017 about the racial wealth gap. She is a member of Treasury Department for the transition.
  • Lisa Cook is an economist at Michigan State University and a member of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s steering committee. Cook has written on gender and racial disparities of income and wealth and is a member of the transition team for the Federal Reserve and banking and securities regulators.
  • Don Graves, who leads the Treasury transition team, was head of corporate responsibility at KeyBank until he joined the campaign in September. While having a banker lead the Treasury transition committee is not exactly groundbreaking, Graves is an important community development ally; in 2017, he helped negotiate an agreement between Key Bank and community groups that committed the bank to lend $16.5 billion and provide $175 million in grants to benefit low-and-moderate income communities. A 2019 article in Buffalo Business First indicated that the bank was ahead of schedule in meeting its commitments.
  • Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Credit Union and a longtime community development financial institution (CDFI) practitioner and advocate for over 30 years, is on the transition team for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Tene Dolphin, the first executive director for the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce, is on the transition team for the Department of Commerce.

As Nguyen and Epstein point out, in addition to the public pressure that Black Lives Matter and the national uprising against anti-Black racism has provided, there has been increasing pressure from within the economics field on racial disparities. One of those “inside” advocates is Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic, who is the first Black Fed president in the central bank’s 106-year history.

At a speech given at a virtual conference hosted by Princeton in September, Bostic offered, “It is critical to not only recognize the role of individual practices and policies in creating racial inequity but also confront the ways in which institutions and systems perpetuate and entrench racial inequalities in the economy and in our broader society.”

Bostic cited data showing ongoing discrimination from 2004 through 2017, saying, “One aspect that emerges repeatedly in much of this work is that racism and racial injustice were individually profitable….The bias was embedded in the institutions.” He adds, “The median white household in America today holds 10 times the assets of the typical Black household. This ratio is not much improved from what it was more than 100 years ago…this argues that something more fundamental must happen. […] We must look ‘under the hood’ at our institutions to see and truly understand their design and its implications.”

Bostic, by the way, has been mentioned as a candidate who has an outside chance of being named Biden’s Treasury Secretary. Were such a nomination to happen, it might suggest a real change in policy direction.—Steve Dubb