Criticizing Barack Obama is the third rail of left of center American political thought. With Trump in office, Democrats yearn for the Obama administration—especially Democrats of color. Highlighting federal data showing that the first black president’s policies hurt African Americans is almost certain to enrage people.
But the numbers don’t lie. And Matt Breunig isn’t afraid to tell hard truths.
“The Destruction of Black Wealth Under the Obama Administration” was the first formal paper from People’s Policy Project (PPP), the progressive think tank Bruenig founded last year. He and co-author Ryan Cooper sifted through recent Federal Reserve data detailing wealth loss form the great recession. The numbers provide a full account of the recession’s effects from 2007 to 2016, including who rebounded and who didn’t. With regards to rebuilding wealth, the data shows a stark racial divide. While rich white families regained wealth lost during the recession, black and Latino middle class families did not.
Splinter, Jacobin and Newsweek ran stories about the paper. Around the same time, Breunig wrote a The New York Times editorial calling for a creation of a national wealth fund to combat inequality.
The media exposure opened up new opportunities for the PPP.
“It’s easier to get people to work for us, because I can point to them and say our stuff has been covered in major outlets,” Bruenig says. “That’s sort of a big hurdle to get this thing going.”
With more than 1,800 monthly supporters, he’s far exceeded his expectations. The donations have allowed him to publish more content for them.
“I thought maybe at first, given the level of support, that we’d be able to put something out every few months on top of my day-to-day writing,” he says. “I’ve been trying to do one [paper] per month instead, because support has been greater and I’m able to hire people to do more stuff.”
In January, PPP published its second paper, exploring how race and class disparity influence mass incarceration. Another paper, exploring social housing solutions that includes renting out to various income groups, published today.
He’s still figuring out the pacing of publications, but given PPP’s consistent support, the steady flow of content Bruenig aspired for is becoming reality.
The response has been positive from supporters, who are excited by a think tank dabbling in socialist ideas.
“That’s what we set out to do initially,” Bruenig says.