August 22, 2006

A Different Take on Andy Young

I'm an admirer of Steve Sailer, although I'm far from agreeing with him much of the time. In addition to movie reviews, interesting analysis of politics and demography, and occasional screeds against neo-Wilsonianism in foreign policy, Sailer writes about race both in its genetic and evolutionary aspect and in its social and political aspects. The insidious fog of political correctness has made discussion of such topics the ultimate taboo.

Although nowadays, Lady Chatterly's Lover is less shocking than Tales of Uncle Remus, human evolution has continued right down to the present and there are important at least partly inherited differences between human breeding groups not just in skin, noses, and hair, but in digestive abilities, susceptibility to disease, specialized athletic ability, and yes, Virginia, IQ. Sailer has the guts to write about these matters and thus earns the enmity of those for whom any mention of such matters is heresy.

Sailer has a very interesting post on the vigorously anti-immigration VDare site wherein he says that Andy Young's recent excursus on immigrant retailers in black neighborhoods was "right," if impolitic. I, on the other hand, called Young a "fool" in this recent post.

Seemingly, Sailer and I can't both be right.

And yet . . . we agree about many of the facts. Here's Sailer:
Needless to say, the fact that mom-and-pop stores in black neighborhoods are seldom owned by blacks has more to do with black entrepreneurial failings than with the moral failings of middle-man minority shopkeepers. And the stores' high prices and poor selection more reflect the risk of operating in crime-ridden neighborhoods and the inherent inefficiencies of small shops than any nefarious plot against blacks.

If blacks owned those stores, the bread would presumably be even staler and the prices even higher.
Here's me:
His equal-opportunty bigotry conceals an ignorance of economics. Where there is a higher risk of crime and many people don't have cars, stores must be smaller, and as a result charge higher prices, or they won't make a profit. Small stores also give credit informally, which "big box" stores don't. Ethnic groups with active extended family structures and a work ethic make more effective small merchants than those who lack both. Their children become Americanized and join the meritocracy, and the old retail enterprises either disappear or get passed on to the next ethnic group.

And last time I looked, black folks were allowed to open businesses under the same terms as immigrants.
So where's the disagreement?

Sailer makes two points, which are also not wrong. First, the small merchants often sell liquor, and their demise, when it happens, may mean less liquor availability in the ghetto, which the ministers, at least, favor. Second, the big box stores, with their discipline and hierarchy, offer blacks more job opportunities than the familistic and distrustful ethnic merchants.

Sailer also notes, as did I, the ubiquity of the "middleman minority" phenomenon, of which Jewish, Korean and Middle Eastern retailers in the ghetto are an instance.

So, why does Sailer call Andy Young "right," while I call him a "fool"?

This paragraph is key, it seems to me:
That the advancement of African-Americans, who are our fellow citizens, would diminish immigrants' profits is just one of those uncomfortable truths that you aren't supposed to mention—even if you are a civil rights icon.
In other words, Young is right, says Sailer, to point to the conflict between the advancement, or at least the profits, of immigrants, and that of black folks.

There is such a conflict. I'm convinced, as is Sailer, that low-wage, low-skilled Mexican immigration is an unmitigated political and economic disaster for poor blacks. To Sailer, for whom the immigration issue is central, at least when he writes for, Young is right to point to the conflict, and being right on that issue is the main thing, because it's an argument against immigration.

To me on the other hand, where Young acts the fool is to place moral blame on immigrant merchants, who are just filling a somewhat unattractive economic niche, useful in its way to the communities they put their stores into, for this conflict. Some may cheat and some are rude, no doubt, and some are ignorant of the culture of their customers. But if their prices are higher than Wal Mart or Albertson's outside the ghetto, there are reasons grounded in economic reality. If blacks pay a risk premium to merchants because their community has a high crime rate, or they need or want the convenience of a small store on every corner, that's basic economics.

Noticing the tension and conflict is fine; urging that Wal-Mart be allowed to compete is fine, too. Fanning the flames of an ethnic conflict that already exists isn't. With Sailer, I'm prepared to accept the view that one of the remedies for the conflict is restricting immigration.

But I still think Young's economics is that of a fool, and his cheap demagoguery does him no honor.

UPDATE: Here's Thomas Sowell on Young's comment. He agrees that Young knows nothing about economics. Sowell doesn't comment on the immigration issue.

UPDATE II: John McWhorter, no race-card player he, opines that Young's remarks are no hanging offense, and people should stop being so damn sensitive, about Andy Young, George Allen, and Mitt Romney.

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