We are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions. The subprime lending and foreclosure fiasco, the bailout or collapse of major financial institutions, and the vaporization of retirees’ savings and pension plans have left many American families and communities in disarray. The growing acceptance of free-market ideology in public policy obscures the fact of government’s influence in shaping and stabilizing the markets that are so critical to our success and sustainability as a nation. Free-market proponents’ apparent indifference to individual inequality should not blind us to the presence of group-based, durable inequalities anchored by historically discriminatory policy. Markets are impacted by our history—understanding this history is critical to better understand the varied landscape of opportunity for people and communities.
In this paper, we are concerned with industry deregulation as one of the “roll-back” tools of a free-market agenda and its impact on marginalized communities. By marginalized communities, we mean groups of people who have been historically systematically denied (and continue to be denied) full democratic participation, economic freedom, and full access to the high-quality opportunity structures (a good public education, fair and sustainable credit, meaningful career opportunities) necessary for full participation in American civic life. The Kirwan Institute has a particular focus on racially marginalized groups, but recognizes that processes of exclusion are multiple and entwined; that is, the historical and present lack of opportunity due to gender, geography, religion, able-bodiedness and the like, interact with racial dynamics to result in a quilt of varied opportunity. Our goal is to expand opportunity for everyone to fully participate in American civic, economic, and cultural life by paying particular attention to the policies that either close or open the doors of opportunity to all of our children and families.