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Tulane University

Elections in America: It is also about rising equality

By Nora Lustig

(Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics and Director of the Commitment to Equity Institute)

In a recent Washington Post article, President Obama was quoted saying “When we see people, global elites, wealthy corporations seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes … this feeds a profound sense of injustice.”1

So, why did so many of the victims of such injustice vote for one of the members of this global elite who lives by different rules such as Trump? Could it be that what aggravates the majority of Trump voters is not that the top 1 percent in the US has been able to reap most of the economic gains in the past decades but, paradoxically, a rise in equality?2 More equality in three dimensions may be feeding a greater sense of unfairness, indignation, and impotence than the increase in income and wealth inequality: the rise of an African-American elite, the empowerment of women, and the legitimation of the gay community’s right to be treated as equals by the law. To be sure, the sense of frustration is driven in part by dwindling economic opportunities for those displaced by technological change and competition from abroad. However, for many the discontent stems from social transformation that threatens their identity, values, and norms. This is my hypothesis.3

First, some facts:

  • In the years from 2005-2013, “the income bracket with the largest increase for Black households occurred in the number of households earning over $200,000, with an increase of 138 percent, compared to an increase of 74 percent for the total population.4“ Of course, inequality among blacks is extreme. A Pew Research Study shows that 35 percent of black households have negative or no net worth. However, at the same time, the number of estimated black millionaires went from 25 in the 1960s to 35,000 today. The African-American elite not only has many more millionaires, it also produced a two-term president.5
  • Women now make up almost half of American workers (49.9% in October). They run some of the world’s best companies, such as PepsiCo, Archer Daniels Midland and W.L. Gore. They earn almost 60% of university degrees in America. Women make up the majority of professional workers.6
  • After the US Supreme Court ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional on June 26, 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all states. The court ruled that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the refusal to recognize those marriages performed in other jurisdictions violates the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.7

These three phenomena reflect a decline in what social scientists call horizontal inequality: systematic disadvantages across gender, racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation lines. The dawn of the XXIst century showed that blacks can be increasingly elite, women increasingly powerful, and the gay community increasingly socially acceptable and accepted.

There are signs that rising horizontal equality is feeding unhappiness and despair in those left behind by economic transformation, and in those who see their identity and core values unbearably threatened by uncontrollable shifts in mores and norms.8 Here are two startling examples. The discovery that the rise in mortality of high school and below educated white middle-aged men and women between 1999 and 2013 was driven by drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, chronic liver diseases, and cirrhosis.9 The finding that poor black and latinos optimism is juxtaposed against poor white desperation. Poor blacks were found to be three times more likely of being in a higher level of optimism than poor whites.10

There is evidence to suggest that people who voted for Trump are more likely to feel threatened by rising horizontal equality:

  • Supporters of Trump were found more likely to describe African Americans as “criminal,” “unintelligent,” “lazy” and “violent” than voters who backed some Republican rivals in the primaries or who supported Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.11
  • The more hostile voters were toward women, the more likely they were to support Trump.12
  • Two thirds of Republicans are said to oppose same-sex marriage. But also one-third of Democrats do.13 Trump is a consistent opponent of marriage equality.14

Just a thought. If proven true, those of us who think that rising horizontal equality is desirable must find ways to make further progress, if not embraced, at least tolerated by those who think and feel that this kind of progress must be stopped, or – worse – reversed. Rekindling economic opportunities for those left behind by economic progress and globalization is crucial. If I had to choose one policy, it would be this: make college affordable to all. In poll after poll, in study after study, the more educated people are, the more they embrace horizontal equality in the US.


1. Washington Post, November 16, 2016.
2. The disproportional reaping by the top 1% in the United States has been eloquently described by University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez in “Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States,” June 30, 2016. Saez finds that, for example, “Bottom 99% incomes grew by 3.9% from 2014 to 2015, the best annual growth rate since 1999. Top 1% incomes grew even faster by 7.7% from 2014 to 2015.”
3. Tyler Cowen, the author of the blog “Marginal Revolution,” expressed a similar conjecture in reference to attitudes towards women.
4. “Increasingly Affluent, Educated and Diverse,” Nielsen, 2015.
8. One-third of Americans feel that there is a lot of conflict between their religious beliefs and homosexuality. In this group, opposition to same-sex marriage outweighs support by more than two-to-one.
9. Case, Anne and Angus Deaton (2015). “Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 112 (49); 15078-83.
10. Graham, Carol. Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream (Princeton University Press, forthcoming).


  • Nora Lustig

    Senior Associate Research Fellow - Director of the CEQ Institute (CEQI) - Samuel Z. Stone Chair of Latin American Economics





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Chantalle Verna to Present Research on U.S. and Haitian Relationships in Post-Occupation Haiti

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Join us at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies in welcoming Dr. Chantalle Verna for a talk on her book Haiti and the Uses of America: Post- U.S. Occupation Promises on April 26, 2018, at 6:00 PM.

In her book, Dr. Verna makes evident that there have been key moments of cooperation that contributed to nation-building in both countries. Dr. Verna emphasizes the importance of examining the post-occupation period: the decades that followed the U.S. military occupation of Haiti (1915-34) and considering how Haiti’s public officials and privileged citizens rationalized nurturing ties with the United States at the very moment when the two nations began negotiating the reinstatement of Haitian sovereignty in 1930. Their efforts, Dr. Verna shows, helped favorable ideas about the United States, once held by a small segment of Haitian society, circulate more widely. In this way, Haitians contributed to and capitalized upon the spread of internationalism in the Americas and the larger world.

Dr. Verna received her Ph.D. from Michigan State University and is currently a professor in the History Department in Florida International University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Dr. Verna focuses on the culture of foreign relations, specifically concerning Haiti and the United States during the mid-twentieth century.

Apply for the Teaching Cuban Culture & Society: A Summer Educator Institute in Cuba

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Teaching Cuban Culture & Society: A Summer Educator Institute in Cuba
Havana, Cuba | June 23 – July 7, 2018
Program Application
Application Deadline: March 2, 2018

Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute at Tulane University join forces with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies to take K-16 educators to Cuba. This is our fourth year running the Cuban Culture & Society K-16 Educator Institute and we are excited about this year’s itinerary. The institute will approach Cuban society and culture form a multidisciplinary perspective focused on the arts, the geography, and history of the country. Innovative programming and annual summer teacher institutes over the past three years provide the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and studying the region. Taking advantage of Tulane’s relationship with the University of Havana and Cuba’s National Union of Writers and Artists, the institute equips teachers with multidisciplinary content, curricular resources, and methods of inquiry for developing that approach in their K-16 classrooms. Conducted in English by Professor Carolina Caballero, the institute will explore current trends and issues in Cuban culture and society through readings, films, and lectures. The program includes a series of talks by prominent Cuban intellectuals and local field trips to important political and cultural sights throughout Havana.

This two-week program provides the unique opportunity to work on developing lesson plans while exploring the sights and sounds of a nation and country that remain obscured behind political rhetoric and misinformation. Recent economic changes on the island have provoked a series of social and cultural transformations that have left Cubans and the entire world wondering what could be next for the island and the Revolution. Don’t miss the chance to witness some of these challenges and triumphs firsthand and get the opportunity to bring your experience back to your students in the classroom.

The trip will include a pre-departure orientation and two weeks in Cuba. The institute incorporates visits to local museums and exposes participants to arts organizations, schools, and teachers from the country’s national literacy campaign. Participants will stay within walking distance of the Malecón, the university, and many cultural venues. There will be group excursions to the historic Che Guevara monument, a visit to the site of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and a special visit to the town of Hershey, the town developed by Milton Hershey to begin his chocolate enterprise with the sugar from Cuba’s plantations. There will also be group excursions to the historic cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Playa Girón, and Viñales, focusing on their role in the development of the economy and culture of the country

The cost will include a shared room and two meals a day, medical insurance, airfare to/from Havana from Tampa, Florida*, airport transportation in Havana to/from residence, OFAC-licensed academic visa, and specialized tours and outings.

*Airfare to/from Tampa, Florida, a one-night hotel stay in Tampa, incidental costs, and extra meals and expenses are not included in the program cost. You are responsible for your own air flight to/from Tampa, FL.

Those interested in applying must be a K-16 educator or librarian. There is no Spanish language requirement for this program. The application deadline is March 2, 2018, at 5:00 PM.

Please note: This program is only open to K-16 educators who are currently teaching, are pre-service teachers or are serving in a school or public library.

Please be advised that this itinerary is subject to change based on availability in Cuba. The itinerary below is the schedule from the 2017 institute.

  • Day 1 – U.S./HAVANA, CUBA
    Depart from Tampa, FL, Upon arrival, enjoy dinner and a welcome reception followed by an informal walk and people watching on the Malecón.
  • Day 2 – HAVANA
    Habana Vieja (Old Havana) Tour with local preservation experts to discuss in depth the history of local landmarks, historical preservation efforts, and future plans. Visit Muraleando Lawton, a community art project in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana. Hear from the founders of this project on how the neighborhood developed to promote skills in the community and support the local economy and meet with local community leaders, students and elderly folks at the community center.
  • Day 3 – HAVANA
    Lecture with Professor Carlos Alzugaray on Cuba Since the Special Period. Visit the elementary school Sergio Luis Ferriol in Habana Vieja. Connect with teachers and administrators about their experiences in the classroom.
  • Day 4 – HAVANA
    Visit the Museo Nacional de la Alfabetización (National Museum of the Literacy Campaign) and connect with members of the literacy brigade, teachers from the literacy campaign.
  • Day 5 – HAVANA
    Visit and explore Ernest Hemingway’s house. Have lunch in the infamous fishing village of Cojimar. In the afternoon, explore art by taking a tour of the Cuban Collection of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes accompanied by a curator then visit with artists at the Taller de Gráfica.
  • Day 6 – HERSHEY
    Day trip to the Hershey, Cuba and nature park. The site where famous chocolatier Milton Hershey developed his chocolate business by setting up sugar mills in the early 1900’s. Explore the natural side of Cuba in this country town.
  • Day 7 – HAVANA
    Learn about children’s literature and the book publishing business in Cuba by visiting Cuba’s national publisher UNEAC and hear first hand from children’s book authors. We will hear from children’s book author Olga Marta Pérez about the children’s/ youth Literacy Scene in Cuba today.
  • Day 8 – HAVANA/REGLA
    Take the ferry across the bay in Havana to the town of Regla to learn about Afro-Cuban dance and music from musicologist Cari Diez and an Afro-Cuban dance performance group.
    Travel to Trinidad via Santa Clara, a town founded by 175 people on July 15, 1689. It is the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution in 1958. Visit to the Che Mausoleum in Santa Clara. Also visit the historic sugar plantation of Manaca Iznaga before arriving in Trinidad.
  • Day 10 – TRINIDAD
    Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, founded on December 23, 1514 by Diego Velázquez de Cuellar. Trinidad was a central piece of Cuba’s sugar-based economy. Guided city tour with the city historian. Visit the Trinidad library to learn about the importance of libraries and debate questions of intellectual freedom with the staff.
  • Day 11 – PLAYA GIRON (SITE OF BAY OF PIGS) Ciénega de Zapata, Playa Larga
    Day excursion to the historic site of the Bay of Pigs, one of the landing sites for the 1961 US-backed invasion. Visit the Finca Fiesta Campesina farm, the Playa Girón museum, the Parque Ciénaga de Zapata, the Laguna del Tesoro, and the Taino Indian village. Snorkel in the Bay of Pigs!
  • Day 12 – HAVANA
    Visit the U.S. Embassy and hear first-hand about the state of current relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In the afternoon, we head over to meet up with the famous hip-hop group, Obsesión to hear about their music and experience as hip-hop artists in Cuba.
    Take a day trip to Matanzas, the capital of the Cuban province of Matanzas. Known for its poets, culture, and Afro-Cuban folklore, we will explore the Triunvirato Plantation and the Castillo San Severino where we will hear about the history of slavery in Cuba. The rest of the afternoon we relax and explore the beautiful beaches of Varadero, a popular resort town covering Cuba’s narrow Hicacos Peninsula.
  • Day 14 – HAVANA
    Wrap-up curriculum workshop followed by a free afternoon ending in a celebratory dinner.
  • Day 15 – HAVANA/U.S.
    Morning departure for the U.S.

Explore our past trips through these photos and curricula:

Program Application

For more information, please contact Denise Woltering-Vargas at or call the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at 504-862-3143.