Long Take: Black Lives Matter -- structural inequity is the norm, not the exception

Hi Fintech futurists --

This week is a reckoning with the structural racial and economic inequity in the United States. It would be irresponsible of me to use this space to talk about anything else.

For more on Fintech, check out the Wednesday edition here. We'll talk about Bolt, Starling, and Google.


Long Take

Let me fumble for words. Let me be embarassed. Tell me it's not the place, or the time, or whatever. If Citi has the courage to stand up, let me use my small corner of the world to do the same.

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Black Lives Matter.

You can help by saying this, and you can help here.

The United States of America is my country. I came to America when I was ten years old from the former Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was particularly good at using state power and hard military against its own people, dissidents, and minorities. Purging family after family for being an enemy of the people. When I saw New York for the first time, where everyone was from somewhere else, where diversity was the default and not the exception, I believed in a United States that protected its people. It did not use its sovereign immunity to gaslight, oppress, and murder. It did not kill George Floyd and Eric Garner, and it did not tear gas citizens for free speech.

There was after all the Bill of Rights, bolted onto the Constitution.

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Remember, the Bill of Rights is written as a series of negative commands. These are limits on the Federal government (e.g., Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, etc.). Unlike a one-party totalitarian regime, like the Communist part in the USSR or today's China, the American experiment attempts thousands of checks and balances against the worst of human nature and the corruption that settles in our hearts. The optimist sees such principles as a beacon.

The realist knows to dig deeper. We can look up, but we must know the ground we stand on. I came to the US in 1994, and had the privilege of not knowing about Rodney King -- beaten by the police in 1991, an act that ignired the 1992 LA riots. For Americans of a different skin color, King was the inescapable norm. I thought that NWA and Rage Against the Machine were putting out catchy radio hits. But it was the violent truth of a generation in poetry.

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The realist digs deeper to that Constitution and holds it up to a magnifying glass. The Three Fifths Compromise is right there in Article 2, counting "other persons" as 3/5ths of a free person for taxation and representation. The intent of this clause was to balance power between the North and South, preserving Congressional representation of the free States, where slavery was outlawed. Maybe it was better than nothing -- but in all cases it reminds us of the truth of American slavery and the determinations of its power.

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All this to say, it's not just about individuals. Yes, our world churns out horrible example after example of people suffering at each other's hands. But more fundamentally, we live in interlocking systems that generate these repeating data points. People are racist not because they are bad in some isolated way, or due to some personal failing in a moment of passion. It is instead because of the structural institutions that move the human herd through the social machine.

The Sovereign Institution

It's your school. It's your television. It's your job, and your legal system, and your board of directors, and your taxes, and your government representative. The gears of our countries turn on centuries of history, centuries literally built out of the things we find uncomfortable to watch today. You want to look away from the protests demarcating the fault lines in our society? You find the looting ugly, and the kneeling disrespectful?

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Look at the history of power. Its threads are woven into our money. Our economic empire and its sovereign choices, stripping black lives of dignity, choice, and opportunity through a myth of capitalist meritocracy, dominates the world still. How do we change that which is the lifeblood of the world? All great powers were built on this blood, money flowing from inequity.

The dollar grew with cotton in the South, built the great railroads with Chinese hands, stood unemployed during the Great Depression, manufactured tanks for the World Wars, and exploded out of Hiroshima. It fought back evil and harvessed its own. It broke the Soviet Union and landed on the Moon. The dollar killed George Floyd. It will save countless others. It is up to us to wrestle for its soul.

Others empires are no different. The sterling conquered India, bringing a billion people to their knees. Hong Kong today burns with a fire we can trace to collonialism. The Chinese yuan starved millions chasing a hallucination of collectivist industrialization. It now weaves a technological super-state into its monetary ambition. The euro is a scar from the Great World War and European genocide. Our moneys are an accounting of culture, politics, and hard military power. Our moneys are a choice by which we select values and livelihoods.

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The Tinderbox and the Match

It is not an accident the world is melting down during a pandemic.

We are inside to watch. We sit with our thoughts. We take the time to taste the injustice. People want to be social, connected, fair, ethical, alive. People want to come together more than ever before, exhausted from the hate, fear, and virtriol that has come from our leaders.

Structurally, there are literally 40 million unemployed people waiting to act.

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How do you think it feels like to be young today?

A thorough destruction of economic opportunity, community busineses shuttered, and debt piling up from education that is not much better than watching YouTube. If you are a woman or black -- or have the statistically unfortunate outcome of being both -- the long term outlook for economic success looks bleaker relative to your white male neighbors. Add to this the generational issues around children no longer outperforming their parents on average, and the quantitative easing policies that guarantee continued wealth level inflation through ownership of financial assets, and you can see the tinderbox we live in.

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Now add to this recipe the use of police power to disproportionately kill.

And the power of social media to organize resistance.

And the power of hostile actors to spread disinformation.

What Next?

The least we should do is raise our hands and say it again. Black Lives Matter.

Maybe you have arguments about your journey and how hard it was. Or maybe you think one thing is disproportional to another. Or maybe it feels like your politics tie your hands behind your back.

Take a stand on the right side of history. By being compassionate to another human being, you lose nothing at all. Generosity is additive. The more we give, the more of generosity there is. By acknowledging a clear injustice, you are not diminishing some other. You are championing a common core that binds beyond the institutional super organisms we inhabit. We are not just Party and Nation, gears clicking in some horrific industrial spreadsheet. We can be poets too, you and I.

From a more practical perspective, we can choose where we spend and what money we use. Aspiration, a neobank with a social impact bend just raised $135 million and supports over 1 million customers. It's effortless to switch between Chime, Aspiration, Acorns, SoFi, and all the rest. Your money pays for the livelihood of individuals. Spend it with companies that reflect and care about your values. Spend it with companies run by women or minority business owners. Not everything has to come from the estate of Jeff Bezos.

I think about money as a story. After all, this is a Fintech newsletter! The dollar, the sterling, the yuan -- each is a page in the history book. Using a currency makes it that much stronger, spawning taxes that pay for the hard power of the police and military force. I think about the stories of Bitcoin and Ethereum a lot these days. Making something new that doesn't anchor into the sins of the past, and carries with it the optimism of an open world is one of the freshest things about a global Internet money. We can take apart these financial machines, the ones that still fund injustice and inequity, format them into open source code, and run them as a public good. There is no cost to this charity. There is no debt behind this gift.

If you don’t like what you see, vote with your money. Choose the tax you pay, whose sword you shine, and whose power you grow.


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