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Abstract

My dissertation, Race(d) Futures: Race, Risk, and the Politics of Prediction, asks how we think about racial economic justice when it comes to financial markets and institutions. It traces how market-based practices of prediction have reproduced and exacerbated racial economic inequality in the U.S., and examines how anti-racist movements sought to problematize and challenge racial inequality in housing finance and insurance markets. In the first part of my dissertation, I examine historical debates in which predictive practices of financial institutions were contested for being racially unjust. I explore how the relationship between risk, race, and prediction was conceptualized and normatively evaluated. In my case studies, I find that the dominant conception of racial justice in financial markets invoked the idea that for-profit predictive practices are fair when everybody is treated in accordance with their objective risk profile and creditworthiness rather than on the basis of ascriptive racial identities. The implicit or explicit standard of fairness, in other words, was the maxim ‘to each according to their risk.’ I call this an actuarial conception of justice. Adherence to actuarial justice as an evaluative framework, I argue, has produced a restrictive conception of racial economic justice in financial markets—a conception that continues to echo in contemporary U.S. American political discourse. Actuarial justice falls short of addressing the already extant racialized distribution of risk and creditworthiness that is the result of past racial injustice. It obscures normative questions about how market-based prediction techniques privatize the burdens of past racial injustice and displaces debates about the collective responsibility for an unjust past and present. The second part of my dissertation draws out the theoretical implications of my historical case studies and puts them in conversation with contemporary debates about racial justice in political theory. I argue that my critique of actuarial justice both resonates with and challenges liberal accounts of racial economic justice. Insofar as it critiques a narrow understanding of formally equal treatment as an insufficient framework for thinking about racial economic injustice, my critique of actuarial justice resonates with existing normative accounts that foreground institutional racism and historical injustice, such as Tommie Shelby’s and Charles Mills’ respective accounts. However, I also challenge existing liberal accounts of racial economic justice by arguing that we cannot understand the entrenchment of institutional racism and the active reproduction of historical injustice without analyzing how they relate to core institutional features of capitalist markets, specifically the profit motive and the private nature of practices of valuation. I propose that historical attempts to contest racially unjust predictive practices in financial markets—in virtue of their partial successes, ambivalences, and shortcomings—highlight something that contemporary liberal debates about racial justice have largely neglected: namely, that the for-profit and private nature of practices of valuation reproduces and obscures the economic effects of past racial injustice and the ongoing valorization of whiteness. The market, I argue, plays a key role in reproducing racial economic injustice and shielding it from demands for justification. I conclude by arguing that a more expansive conception of racial economic injustice in financial markets must explicitly politicize practices of valuation and risk assessment and thus touches directly on questions of expanding democratic control over the economy.

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