Milano and NSSR’s Darrick Hamilton is Confronting Inequality with Economics

Tuesday, February 6, 2018
The New School News

The first week of 2018 was a busy one for Darrick Hamilton, one of the country’s leading stratification economists. At the start of the new year, he traveled to the American Economic Association conference in Philadelphia to make a presentation on baby bond accounts, his novel idea to provide small trust funds to all American newborns that they could use to pay for college, buy homes, and start businesses as adults. Reporters took notice: When Hamilton got home, his inbox was full with requests to comment on the proposal. First he spoke with the Washington Post, then NPR (1A and All Things Considered), and finally the Kansas City Star.

The Milano School and New School for Social Research faculty member has been in high demand amid growing public awareness of racial, gender, and class inequality. A self-proclaimed stratification economist, Hamilton has spent his career solidifying a theoretical approach that takes into consideration structural factors — public policy, intergenerational wealth transfer, prejudice in hiring and housing — in understanding and addressing economic and health disparities between races, genders, and socioeconomic classes. Baby bonds are designed to do just that, providing a path to economic mobility for all Americans — not just the wealthy few.

Since the Reagan era, ideas like Hamilton’s haven’t held much sway in the court of public opinion: Market-based theories, and their emphasis on individualism, efficiency, and growth, have dominated our economic system. But as the popularity of Bernie Sanders, the Fight for $15, and single-payer health care has shown, those theories are losing saliency. The notion of government as a force for good is trending up.

“People used to look at me with a jaundiced eye,” Hamilton says. “They’re not so shocked anymore.”

Hamilton believes that, in a world in need of solutions to urgent problems, he and other scholars no longer have the luxury of ensconcing themselves in the ivory towers of academia (“with great power comes great responsibility,” he says, quoting a famed web-slinging superhero). To that end, Hamilton has gone on a media blitz, talking up policy solutions to group-based inequality in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the American ProspectAxios, the Christian Science MonitorJacobin, and the Huffington Post, and dozens of peer-reviewed journals. Newspapers, magazines, radio shows, and cable news programs have been blowing up his phone with requests for comment on everything from the DACA to the Fight for $15 to white racial anxiety.

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