December 16, 2006

Joy Joy!

The Malcolm Gladwell debate appears to have inspired another new aphorism in the style of G.C. Lichtenberg from Deogolwulf at the Joy of Curmudgeonry website:

"Many have devised for themselves an additional criterion of knowledge: that it may not offend their sensibilities or disturb their repose."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 15, 2006

32 months late, the New York Times catches up to

Tonight in the NYT:

In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. 17 minutes ago
Kazakhstan’s iodized salt campaign is an example of how a country can achieve a remarkable public health success.

From my 4/4/04 VDARE article:

"The survey notes, for example, that iron shortages are driving down national GNPs by lowering national IQs:

"In most developing countries today, iron deficiency is now estimated to be preventing 40% to 60% of children from growing to their mental potential… In the last 10 to 15 years, iron deficiency has assumed even greater importance as evidence accumulates linking iron deficiency with mental impairment. In various tests of cognitive and psycho-motor skills, for example, lack of iron has been found to be associated with significant levels of disadvantage—affecting IQ scores by as much as 5 to 7 IQ points."

"Similarly, iodine shortages cause the swelling of the thyroid gland called goiter, which can lead to what the U.N. report calls "cretinism."

"In the U.S., these two problems were almost completely solved decades ago—by fortifying salt with iodine and flour with iron and other micronutrients. Similar methods should work in the Third World.

"Of course, the expense and organizational challenges are greater. In Pakistan, for example, there are 600 commercial salt producers. Getting each to iodize is a sizable undertaking.

"Yet it can and must be done.

"Even if we all have to start mentioning the dread letters "IQ.""

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 14, 2006

More free publicity from the $5 per word man

Malcolm Gladwell keeps picking away at his self-inflicted wound:

Bad Stereotyping ...

This is my third (and last) comment on the Ayres study. My first point, as those of you who have been following my thoughts on this know, is that price discrimination against black males by car salesmen is morally wrong. My second point is that it is a bad business strategy. My third—and in some ways most important point—is that its lousy stereotyping.

Let’s go back to the study. The male and female, black and white testers who Ayres sent out to car dealerships all gave the salesmen the same set of facts. They were all roughly the same age (late twenties). They all drove the same kind of car into the lot. They all dressed neatly and conservatively. They identified themselves as college-educated professionals (sample job: systems analyst at a bank). And they said they lived in the upper-income Chicago neighborhood of Streeterville. The car salesman, then, has several pieces of data from which to create his stereotype. He has the gender, race, age, occupation, educational level, and class (or at least a class proxy) of his potential customer. And what did he do? With the black men, he zeroed in on age and race, and ignored everything else.

In his critique of my analysis of Ayres, Judge Posner did the same thing. When he says that it may be “sensible to ascribe the group's average characteristics to each member of the group,” the “group” he’s talking about is race. But why is Posner—like the car salesmen—so hung up about race? Wouldn’t it be just as sensible, in the case of black men, to define their “group” as the group of college-educated, upper income professionals? So too with Steve Sailer. He says that car salesman are acting rationally, based on the fact that black men—as a group—like to be seen overpaying for cars. I have made my feelings known about what I see as the motivation behind that particular comment. But let’s just focus here on its appropriateness. Why is Sailer—like Posner and Ayres’car dealers—so intent on zeroing in on what is only one of many available and relevant facts about the customer?

The short answer to that question, I think, is that this is what racial prejudice is: it is the irrational elevation of race-based considerations over other, equally or more relevant factors.
But let me make two other points. First, thinking of the Ayres study this way gives us, I think, some insight into the anger that continues to be felt in the African-American community over discrimination. Put yourself in the shoes of one of those black males in Ayres study. You go to college. You get a good job. You make a lot of money. You move to a posh neighborhood. And when you walk into a car dealership all of those achievemens—and what they signal about you—vanish, and the salesmen only sees the color of your skin. Can you understand now why I’ve been hammering away on this subject?

Second, some of the commenters to my previous posts seem to have been of the opinion that price discrimination represented a kind of shrewd, profit-maximization strategy by salesmen. Shrewd? Tell me what’s so shrewd about being given four critical facts about a potential customer, and deciding to discard three of them?

The logical implication of Malcolm's argument is that Americans need to cultivate more sophisticated stereotypes, which is what I've been pointing out for years. In 2003 I wrote:

"I think it would be good for society if whites become more aware of black social class markers. Something that drives black anger is when a young black man with a college degree is crossing the street and he hears from inside all the cars at the stoplight the "ka-chunk" of white motorists locking their doors to keep him from carjacking them.

"For about a decade, I've assumed that a younger black man wearing those small, typically round wire-rimmed glasses is making a statement about his social class and aspirations, indicating something like "I'm no nerd, but I have definitely been to college. I'm hip-hop, but I'm not ghet-to. I'm cool, but I'm a thinker."

"The first celebrity I can remember with this look was John Singleton, director of "Boyz 'n the Hood," back about 1992. Laurence Fishburne's guru Morpheus in "The Matrix" (above) is another example. (The head doesn't have to be shaved and the lenses don't have to be tinted, but that doesn't hurt the image). You often hear a particular accent from wire-rimmed glasses wearing black guys, too: it sounds both black and educated, but rugged, not prissy."

In the past, the educated black man would adopt a white accent and white visual styles. But, the more recent generations of college-educated black men don't want to do that. They want to assert their blackness. On the other hand, they also want to assert their social class. So, they've adopted some subtle clues that other blacks can easily pick up on. Unfortunately, the little glasses and this new accent are too subtle for many whites to notice.

So, what America needs is More and Better Stereotyping!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

What I'm really obsessing over these days: vicious birds!

Forget Malcolm Gladwell, because what I've actually been dwelling on is the prospect of carnage in my backyard. As Matt Drudge long ago discovered, nothing interests the modern mind more than ferocious beasts trying to eat you or your pets.

As I mentioned last week, about a half hour after dark I was stepping into my backyard when a giant bird of prey swooped down and just about caught my son's sprinting white bunny, who lives out back. I want to thank everybody who offered advice on what to do about it.

One reader pointed out that I might have been arrested on federal environmental charges for throwing lemons at the huge predator to scare it off when it returned for a second attack.

Many others suggested blasting the bird with a shotgun, which is excellent advice assuming I owned a shotgun, could aim it accurately, had a non-tiny backyard, and wouldn't soon afterwards have LAPD helicopters circling overhead, shining spotlights on me and announcing in the Voice of Doom from Above: "Put down the weapon, sir."

I thought about stringing fishing line over the backyard to snag the brute as it dives, but then I started to wonder what exactly I would then do with an extremely angry three foot tall raptor with a broken wing hopping around my backyard.

Falconry guru Steven Bodio and birdwatcher and statistics maven Audacious Epigone both suggested it was probably not a hawk, as I initially assumed, but a Great Horned Owl, in which case the rabbit is toast, since GOH's are smart and determined.

On further reflection, however, I now think it wasn't a hawk or an owl, but a golden eagle. A few days afterwards, I saw a huge golden-brown bird circling over the freeway (rodents live in the landscaping alongside LA freeways). Perhaps he was commuting back to his home in the hills after sunset and caught a glimpse of the white rabbit below. This would probably be good news compared to it being a GOH because golden eagles are rare this far south and no doubt have huge territories.

Then I started wondering whether this kind of thing might not happen all the time to Fred the Rabbit. It was purely a fluke that I saw it this time. Maybe he narrowly escapes a bloody death once a week.

You sure can't tell from the rabbit's demeanor. What I admire about Fred is that, unlike the teenagers in my house, he never sulks. If an eagle almost got your cat, his dignity would be offended for a week. If a mountain lion almost ate your horse, he'd be skittish for a month. But rabbits don't worry about the past. They don't take offense for long. If you pick Fred up and carry him outside, he might fight you desperately all the way, but within one to two seconds of being put down, he'll be contentedly munching on some greens.

So, all we've done to protect the rabbit so far is strew even more junk around the backyard than was already out there, so that he's never more than 6-8 feet from a chair or something else to sprint under. Give Fred a chance to turn around and face the bird so he could slash at him with his powerful back paws, and he'd stand a fighting chance. W

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Not all the precincts are in yet, but …

On Sunday, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker wrote on his blog:

"I think we can all agree that comments like "black men enjoy being seen as big spenders" or black people "possess poorer native judgment" can be accurately described as examples of racism, and the kinds of people who say things like that can be accurately described as racists. Do those examples work better for you, Steve Sailer? Oh--wait. I forgot to say the name of the reviewer who wrote those two racist statements: Steve Sailer.

"Is there anyone who would object, at this point, if I made this blog a Steve-Sailer-free zone? I suggest that we vote on it. A simple "in" or "out" will suffice, although any accompanying commentary would, of course, be welcome. I promise to abide by the result."

One commenter counted up the votes on Malcolm Gladwell's own blog in response, and as a couple of days ago, I was winning 98-36.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Readers respond on car salesmen and discrimination

Readers respond about car salesmen and price discrimination: A reader writes:

Gladwell fails to understand that it is the existence of the trait within a group that attracts the sharks, not a particular animus towards that group. The car salesmen couldn't care less if the trait is possessed primarily by blacks or Asians or whites. It's the fact that some traits/vulnerabilities do exist within groups that gives them their edge. He's making the issue black when it is green$$.

Example: I live in Utah, a state that is 70% Mormon, most of them white. The religion is weird, but the people are decent, hard working and trusting. Utah is known as the scam capital of the world; pyramid schemes, downline schemes, penny stock swindles, etc.

Why is this the case? Because Mormons have two traits easily exploited by con-men: thriftiness and gullibility. They save money and they trust people who are members in good standing with the Church. Almost all of the scam artists in Utah history have pulled off their swindles by attending LDS wards, getting in close with the bishops (think priests) and presenting themselves as faithful followers of Joseph Smith. Once you're in tight with one ward, it spreads like wildfire because of the tight-knit, trusting nature of the community. Indeed, those are the traits that the cons count on. And again, the LDS membership is overwhelmingly white.


About 15 years ago, we had a hilarious exchange in The Washington Post and The New Republic on a startling discovery by a team of crack Post investigative reporters. In downtown DC, it seems, many jewelry shops have locked doors during business hours. Owners have to 'buzz' new customers in through the door before these customers can check out the sparkling wares. The Post investigators found that young black males were buzzed in at a slower pace and less frequently than were other shoppers.

Much kibitzing followed. At least two-thirds was composed of either: 1) outrage at the insult to young black males undoubtedly looking for wedding rings; or 2) Gladwell-esque lectures on the unconscious biases that governed the behavior of the doltish jewelers. Only a few people pointed out that jewelers: 1) prefer to live; and 2) know nothing about new customers except their physical appearance. Thomas Sowell, who has heard all the BS before, called it a matter of "Bayesian inference" under fairly high-stakes circumstances.

I would distinguish between jobs where you can get killed by your customers, like jewelry store employee and taxi cab driver, and jobs where you can't, like car salesman (it's impractical to violently steal a car from a dealership).

Back in the early 1990s, several dozen cabbies were being murdered each year in New York City alone. When the government tried to force them to pick up black males, they would stage huge protest parades down Fifth Avenue. Too bad Malcolm Gladwell wasn't employed at the New Yorker back then to explain to the cabbies (many of them black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean) that it wasn't really their fault they were discriminating; they were just suffering from "unconscious prejudices" against black males. Obviously, he would have told them, it would be completely irrational for a cabdriver to decide who it would be safer to pick up at 3 AM based on their skin color, so there can't be a rational explanation for the drivers' reprehensible conduct. I'm sure the slain cabbies' widows and orphans would have appreciated Malcolm's views.


Here's a quote from a very long and informative article entitled "Confessions of a Car Salesman" by a writer who went undercover and got a job as a new car salesman at a California dealership peddling Japanese models:

"My manager had, at one point, described the different races and nationalities and what they were like as customers. It would be too inflammatory to repeat what he said here. But the gist of it was that the people of such-and-such nationality were "lie downs" (people who buy without negotiating), while the people of another race were "roaches" (they had bad credit), and people from that country were "mooches" (they tried to buy the car for invoice price).

"I'll repeat what Michael, my ASM, told me about Caucasians. He said white people never come into the dealership. 'They're all on the Internet trying to find out what our invoice price is. We never even get a shot at them. I hate it. I mean, would they go (to a mall) and say, "What's your invoice price on that beautiful suit?" No. So why are they doing it here?'"


You wrote:

“Of course, a 99th percentile salesman would be precisely the one most likely to figure out what Mr. Gladwell wants to hear about the car business and feed it back to him.”

Maybe Borat should be sent to talk to the car salesmen.

Too bad Borat (or Ali G) didn't interview Malcolm.


The Inductivist blogs:

Do blacks bargain hunt as much as whites? This debate between Steve Sailer (I like) and Malcolm Gladwell (I'm indifferent to) has been very interesting. As is usually the case, my response to this sort of thing is what does the crystal ball (i.e., General Social Survey) say? Are blacks big spenders or bargain hunters, the same as whites?. (By the way, their reputation for cheapskate tipping suggests the latter).

According to the GSS, 51.5% of whites (138 out of 268) who bought a car in the past 5 years chose a particular dealership because, after searching out the best price, they decided that it was the place to go. The number for blacks: 47.8% (22 out of 46). A small difference. As much as I'd hoped these data would back up Steve, there's not much evidence here. Keep in mind the black sample is small, and doing one's homework before buying a car is a bit different than face-to-face interactions with a salesman.

I'm pretty much a penny pincher, and I do seem to see quite a few blacks shop where I frequently shop: Walmart, dollar stores, Big Lots. I don't care that being seen there makes me look like a tight wad, and some blacks evidently feel the same. (Of course, this is anecdotal, and I don't know if blacks are truly over-represented or under-represented in these stores. I believe there is a lot of data that blacks typically spend a lot more of their income on clothes than do whites.

Across Difficult Country cites a PricewaterhouseCoopers study of inner city black spending habits that finds poor blacks like spend a lot on ostentatious purchases:

"African-American inner-city shoppers are 35 percent more likely than the population as a whole to buy women's dress shoes. They're also 54 percent more likely to purchase teen boys' clothing, and 64 percent more likely than average to buy fine jewelry... "

While American households in general spend an average of $1,069 annually on apparel, inner-city African Americans spend $1,502."

This question of wanting to be seen as a big spender versus driving a hard bargain is extremely circumstance specific. Ethnic groups differ -- a friend who is a small businessman in LA tells me the most difficult customers tend to be Armenians, Koreans, and Israelis, while the most aristocratically insouciant tend to be South Americans.

But even within ethnic groups, the classes differ, with the hereditary rich and the poor tending to be more embarassed about being seen as overly concerned with getting their money's worth.

And then even within each class, whom you are supposed to impress with your largesse differs. For example, among Oxford undergrads back in the Brideshead Revisited days, honor demanded that gambling debts be paid immediately and in full. But it was perfectly gentlemanly to ignore bills from your tailor, since he was just a tradesman. In contrast, an American corporate executive who is hard as nails negotiating in the board room might tip his caddy lavishly. To him, the golf club is the place to spend the money you save at the office. Social rules vary a lot.

That's what makes Malcolm's frenzied denunciation of me -- "Is the comment malicious or intended to wound? Again, yes" -- for mentioning that black males tend to "enjoy being seen as big spenders" so hilarious. Malcolm betrays his extremely bourgeois upbringing. An awful lot of people around the world prefer being seen as big spenders that as tightwads. And just about everybody likes to be seen as a big spender at some time and place.

African-Americans tend to be poor tippers of service workers. Ian Ayres, who did the car salesman study, went on to document:

We collected data on over 1000 taxicab rides in New Haven, CT in 2001. After controlling for a host of other variables, we find two potential racial disparities in tipping: (1) African-American cab drivers were tipped approximately one-third less than white cab drivers; and (2) African-American passengers tipped approximately one-half the amount of white passengers (African-American passengers are 3.7 times more likely than white passengers to leave no tip).

Many studies have documented seller discrimination against consumers, but this study tests and finds that consumers discriminate based on the seller's race. African-American passengers also participated in the racial discrimination. While African-American passengers generally tipped less, they also tipped black drivers approximately one-third less than they tipped white drivers.

Of course, car salesmen work hard to establish in the eyes of male customers that they aren't lowly waitresses you can stiff and still feel good about yourself. They are real men, major players. Are you man enough to earn their respect? Or are you some wimp who doesn't expect to ever earn much money, so you haggle down the price of the crummy DX model and refuse the undercoating? Blacks tend to have the large but fragile male egos that are particularly vulnerable to this sales approach.

One of the major themes of Tom Wolfe's work from The Right Stuff onward is the interpersonal power of masculinity. When I mentioned to him that I had to be on the lookout all the time not to be intimidated or cajoled into doing something I didn't want to do by more masculine men, Wolfe replied that they also were always on the lookout for opportunities to intimidate guys like me.


If Malcolm would move away from the typical American thinking about race, that there are only two, black and white, and observe a culture outside the continental United States, you'd see that the car salesman discrimination phenomenon is alive and well in other places and (gasp!) with other races.

Take Hawaii, for example -- car salesman there who I've talked to have a whole system of who-will-buy-what-at-what-price, and it has nothing to do with blacks and whites -- it's exclusively about the various types of Asians which are so richly represented in Hawaii. I.e. Chinese are the most difficult to do a deal with, the hardest to rip off, while Japanese are the easiest, etc. Wake up, Malcolm -- racial and ethnic diversity exists, and those in the trenches will make assumptions based on their observations about various groups out of necessity (and greed) even when the subjects are not black and white.

There's a big difference between Japanese and Chinese on the sensitivity v. brusqueness dimension. I wonder why?


Am tremendously enjoying your fisking of Gladwell. (Perhaps with a bit too much Schadenfreude on my part.) Wanted to point out a couple things.

It is clear that Gladwell, sadly, does not really understand business and/or sales. When he writes:

"This is the context for Ayres' study of car salesmen. Cars are high-ticket items with an awful lot of discretion built into their price—and because of a variety of cultural and historical quirks in the car marketplace there isn't a lot of freely available information about who paid what for what. (Imagine, for example, if we bought cars the same way we bought real estate. You would ask the salesman about the Passat, with the sport package and the leather interior, and the salesman would give you "comparables" for every Passat sold in the United States in the past six months with the sport package and the leather interior. End of story. But for the inability of car dealers to join the 21st century, we wouldn't be having this discussion about price discrimination)."

He is actually undercutting his own argument. Both markets, real estate (and especially real estate) and automobiles, are characterized by strong information asymmetry. The seller has all the info (costs, market conditions) and has been through the process hundreds of times, you, the buyer, have very little info (depending on how much research you have done/purchased), and probably don't purchase that many homes or cars throughout your lifetime, so don't have the equivalent experience either.

Regarding his comparables example, this is laughable and a horrible fit. As if the selling real estate agent would actually seek to not maximize his commission and show comps that don't suggest the highest price possible for his product? Neither is the buyer's agent always properly incentivized either. The buying agent will always show the highest price-point comps to gain the business of the prospective seller -- what the market will bear might be a bit different. (Plus, you don't have the equivalent of a buying agent in car shopping.)

Anyhow, keep on keepin' on.

Perhaps Gladwell should try reading Steven D. Levitt's Freakonomics, which has a chapter on real estate agents as the source of all evil in this world. Of course, Gladwell provided the front cover blurb for Freakonomics, but maybe he didn't have time to read it.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 12, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell just can't leave it alone:

The New Yorker writer calms down, takes a few deep breaths, and tries to salvage what he can from his spat with me:

"More Thoughts On Selling Cars."

"I would like to take one more pass at the car dealer study, because I think it raises a few, additional, interesting questions."

As you'll recall, on Sunday he demonized me as a "racist" from "the lunatic fringe," citing my review of his bestseller "Blink." In it, I had quoted Judge Richard A. Posner who also scoffed at Gladwell's claim that even though car salesmen had been shown to offer higher prices to blacks and women during negotiations, that they weren't consciously discriminating. Car salesmen were instead, according to Gladwell, the victims of "unconscious" prejudices that, sadly, prevented them from making even more money.

Malcolm goes on today:

"My initial response to that study [by Ian Ayres] was simple: it’s wrong to try and charge someone more for something because of his or her gender and skin color. Reading the comments to my earlier posts, I was somewhat surprised to learn that for some people that is a controversial position. I’m guessing a lot of those who are indifferent to this kind of price discrimination are not black males. Oh well."

Malcolm is distorting the record here to make himself look morally superior to me. I always contended that car salesmen were mercenaries who would consciously exploit any edge, including race, to make more money. In reality, in a 1,000 word answer that Malcolm posted on his website about a year ago to the criticism made by Judge Posner and myself, Gladwell wrote:

"My interpretation is that the reason the car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise identical black shoppers is because of unconscious discrimination. They don't realize what they are doing. But buried prejudices are changing their responses in the moment. Sailer and Posner, by contrast, think that the discrimination is conscious and, what's more, that it's rational. … Now, I suppose it's possible that salesman believe this ludicrous statement to be true. But not on a conscious level. I refuse to believe that all of the car salesmen of Chicago are so stupid as to believe that by virtue of having a slightly darker skin color a human being becomes somehow predisposed towards higher prices. Sailer and Poser have a very low opinion of car salesmen."

As I responded last February to Gladwell in

"You must be one of the few people in the country who claims not to have a low opinion of car salesmen. A 2005 Gallup poll asked 1002 adults nationwide to rate the honesty and ethical standards of 21 occupations. Nurses came in first, with 82% rating them high or very high. Last were telemarketers at 7%. Next to last were car salesmen at 8%."

Gladwell's defense of salesmen reflects his own self-interest. I wrote :

"In summary, Malcolm, I have to scratch my head: You get paid $40,000 per speech to corporate sales forces?

"Obviously, you don't want to insult salesmen, who butter your bread. But I've spent a lot more years in the corporate trenches with sales guys than you have, and most of them have a good sense of humor about what they do. They can put up with some ribbing.

"What gets on their nerves is a pompous fool."

This is not an isolated example. As I explained in

"Gladwell is important, however, because he's pioneering a new hybrid genre. There are three obvious ways to get rich as a nonfiction writer:

- Flatter conservatives that they are more moral, patriotic, and practical-minded than liberals.

- Flatter liberals that they are more ethical, cosmopolitan, and high-minded than conservatives.

- Give people advice, especially on how to make more money.

"Although once a conservative, briefly working for The American Spectator, in recent years the Canadian-born Gladwell has been perfecting a spiel that unites the latter two approaches: he appeals simultaneously to his audience’s liberal snobbery and capitalist greed.

"His reply to me, quoted above, is a perfect example of this. He asserts that car salesmen would make even more money if they overcame their primitive biases and started to offer blacks and women lower prices.

"In other words, become more politically correct and wealthier at the same time.

"Hey, it sure worked for Gladwell!"

Malcolm writes today:

"So let’s move on. A good deal of the commenters made the point that the behavior of the car salesmen was rational. This was the position of Judge Richard Posner, who gave “Blink” a spanking, when he reviewed it in the New Republic two years ago...

"I am not one, ordinarily, to take issue with Judge Posner, who knows a great deal more about economics—and most everything, I suspect (except maybe the Buffalo Bills)—than me. But let’s take a little closer look at this idea: is it really in the economic self-interest--is it really rational-- of car salesmen to draw inferences about individual car-buyers from the group to which those car buyers belong?

"When I was reporting Blink, I talked to a number of car salesmen about this very question. They were all top salesmen—99th percentile—since it struck me that it wouldn’t be terribly useful to quiz mediocre salesmen about their strategies. (One of the salesmen I interviewed, Bob Golomb is quoted extensively in the book)."

Of course, a 99th percentile salesman would be precisely the one most likely to figure out what Mr. Gladwell wants to hear about the car business and feed it back to him. As I've said before, Malcolm is too nice a guy. He's too gullible to be a reliable business reporter. He trusts his sources way too much. It never seems to occur to him that they have self-interested reasons for telling him what he wants to hear.

Malcolm goes on today:

"First, that one of the things you quickly learn, in selling cars, is that your ability to draw inferences about individuals’ buying preferences based on surface characteristics of race, gender, dress, age, hairstyle or manner isn’t nearly as good as you think it is. …

"Second, that price discrimination—quoting a higher price to one customer more than another—is a risky strategy, because if it backfires you lose the sale. …

"And three—building on point two—that the incentive structure of car salesmen, in recent years, has changed."

This post of his is an improvement in rationality over his recent ones, and the last is an especially good point (although it may not be relevant to Ayres' study from the early 1990s).

But Malcolm is leaving out that Judge Posner had already answered some of the arguments he makes in this post. From Judge Posner's review of "Blink" in The New Republic:

"Golomb, the successful auto salesman, is contrasted with the salesmen in a study in which black and white men and women, carefully selected to be similar in every aspect except race and sex, pretended to shop for cars. The blacks were quoted higher prices than the whites, and the women higher prices than the men. Gladwell interprets this to mean that the salesmen lost out on good deals by judging people on the basis of their appearance. But the study shows no such thing. The authors of the study did not say, and Gladwell does not show, and Golomb did not suggest, that auto salesmen are incorrect in believing that blacks and women are less experienced or assiduous or pertinacious car shoppers than white males and therefore can be induced to pay higher prices. The Golomb story contained no mention of race or sex. (Flemington, where Golomb works, is a small town in central New Jersey that is only 3 percent black.) And when he said he tries not to judge a person on the basis of the person's appearance, it seems that all he meant was that shabbily dressed and otherwise unprepossessing shoppers are often serious about buying a car. 'Now, if you saw this man [a farmer], with his coveralls and his cow dung, you'd figure he was not a worthy customer. But in fact, as we say in the trade, he's all cashed up.'"

Gladwell also writes today:

"The study is described in Ian Ayres’ Pervasive Prejudice?: Non-Traditional Evidence of Race and Gender Discrimination, which is a book that had a great deal of influence on my thinking when I was writing “Blink.” Ayres’ project in the book is in exploring non-traditional sources of discrimination—that is, the discrimination that persists because of some flaw or condition of the marketplace in which it is operating."

Ayres' study of price discrimination by car dealers had a big impact on me as well. It is an excellent piece of work. I found it quite disturbing when I first read it in the mid-1990s, and I spent a lot of effort trying to discover a flaw in the methodology to no avail.

At the time, I was a libertarian fellow traveler and had just published a cover story in National Review ("How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America: Competition v. Discrimination") trumpeting the Milton Friedman-Gary Becker theory that a competitive market would squeeze out racial discrimination because it was irrationally expensive. (I showed how the baseball teams that integrated first, such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, went on to great success. In contrast, the two teams that met in the World Series the year before Robinson's debut, the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, were the last to integrate, and thus ended up wasting the last decade and a half of the stupendous careers of Ted Williams and Stan Musial, never allowing those two all-timers to get back to the Series).

But then along came Ayres' study that shows how, in certain circumstances, racial discrimination can prove profitable decade after decade, even in a very free market. That was quite unsettling to me because it showed that the free market wasn't the cure for all forms of racial discrimination. I hadn't really thought about the economist's concept of "statistical discrimination" much before, so Ayres' study was a real eye-opener for me.

By the way, in the study black salespeople discriminated against blacks just as did white salespeople. Same for saleswomen -- they offered female customers higher prices. The most plausible explanation is that salespeople know exactly what they are doing, and they are doing it because it makes them more money than not discriminating.

Economist Robert J. Stonebraker writes:

"While dealers and/or salespeople may know little or nothing about a particular customer, they know quite a bit about statistical differences among races and genders. They know that women and African-Americans typically enter the showroom with less information and less proclivity to bargain. Although white males often salivate at the chance to lock horns with car dealers in a bargaining struggle, females and African-Americans may be unaware that bargaining is even possible. Ayres and Siegelman cite a Consumer Federation of America survey that discovered that many female respondents, and more than one-half of African-American respondents, believed that sticker prices were non-negotiable. Armed with such knowledge, salespeople will rationally adopt a more stubborn stance while bargaining with female and African-American customers."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 11, 2006

A car salesman's secrets:

A reader wrote last February:

I sold cars on assorted lots during my summers off from college. What you're saying [in debunking Malcolm Gladwell's theory that car salesmen are unconsciously offering higher prices to blacks and women] is true.

As a matter of fact, because of this phenomena of black men wanting to appear to be big spenders, I reflexively used what is called a "negative sell" approach. When a black man would tell me what car he was interested in, I'd "try" to dissuade him. "That's kind of an expensive model. Not everyone can swing that. Maybe you should take a look at a Ford Focus? Obviously, it isn't like the car you're interested in, but they're easier to finance."

Most often, he would say, "Oh no! I can afford what I want, no problem." I'd reply with plenty of enthusiasm, and show his car of choice. Back in the office, if he gave me any objections, I'd remind him that I told him it might be a little too expensive for him to handle, and he told me it would be no problem. That usually squelched any lowballing efforts.

Where did I learn this? Through experience, and the advice of mentors who had been selling cars for decades. Nothing unconscious about it. We all just wanted to make money. What race a fellow was being irrelevant except as it may pertain to getting them out with one of our cars under their butts. If I'd been told blacks enjoy English tea and crumpets, and I found it to be true, all my black customers would be sipping Earl Grey.

Race did not matter to me. Making the sale did. Matter of fact, professional sales is all about psychological self-discipline. Generally for a professional salesman, being a racist is not cost effective. Being observant of human behavior, and accurately identifying how to exploit it... is.

It's striking how often those who denounce me for noticing some racial difference so often assume that I must be saying it's 100% genetic in origin. For example, to my mind, where a group falls on the urge to drive a hard bargain vs. to be seen as a big spender appears to be far too variable over time, place, and situation to be purely genetic. Earlier this year, I quoted one of America's most insightful social observers on his own tribe's cheapness:

"We're talking about an ethnic cultural trait. And the simple fact is that the urge to drive a hard bargain famously varies between ethnic groups. As Dave Barry notes in his new book Dave Barry's Money Secrets (Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?):

"I'm the world's worst car buyer. I come from a long line of Presbyterians, who get their name from the Greek words pre, meaning 'people,' and sbyterian, meaning 'who always pay retail.' … My idea of an opening tactical salvo is to look at the car's sticker price and say to the salesperson, 'This looks like a good deal! Are you sure you're making enough profit on this?'"

Quite true today, but I suspect that a few centuries ago, Barry's Scottish Presbyterian ancestors were viewed by English Anglicans as tight-fisted cheapskates.

Groups can change. The point, however, is that change is frequently slow enough that clear patterns can be discerned and exploited by the knowing.

It doesn't do black car buyers any good for Malcolm Gladwell to tell them that car salesmen are not consciously trying to get them to pay higher prices. Blacks are better off knowing the truth -- that they are being intentionally discriminated against by dealers who use their own typical behavioral patterns to extract more money from them.

Blacks should get mad at this situation and take steps to end it. Buy Saturn's that come with a no-haggling single price. Practice not falling for dealers' playing tricks on delicate egos about their financial situations. Complain. Criticize other blacks who fall for gimmicks like the ones described above. Do something.

The truth shall set you free.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Sometimes racial similarities are just skin deep

From the NYT:

Study Detects Recent Instance of Human Evolution

A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest milk in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago, a team of geneticists has found. The finding is a striking example of a cultural practice — the raising of dairy cattle — feeding back into the human genome.

It also seems to be one of the first instances of convergent human evolution to be documented at the genetic level. Convergent evolution refers to two or more populations acquiring the same trait independently.

Throughout most of human [pre]history, the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, has been switched off after weaning because there is no further need for the lactase enzyme that breaks the sugar apart. But when cattle were first domesticated 9,000 years ago and people later started to consume their milk as well as their meat, natural selection would have favored anyone with a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on.

Such a mutation is known to have arisen among an early cattle-raising people, the Funnel Beaker culture, which flourished some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in north-central Europe. People with a persistently active lactase gene have no problem digesting milk and are said to be lactose tolerant. Almost all Dutch people and 99 percent of Swedes are lactose-tolerant, but the mutation becomes progressively less common in Europeans who live at increasing distance from the ancient Funnel Beaker region.

Geneticists wondered if the lactose tolerance mutation in Europeans, first identified in 2002, had arisen among pastoral peoples elsewhere. But it seemed to be largely absent from Africa, even though pastoral peoples there generally have some degree of tolerance.

A research team led by Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland has now resolved much of the puzzle. After testing for lactose tolerance and genetic makeup among 43 ethnic groups of East Africa, she and her colleagues have found three new mutations, all independent of each other and of the European mutation, which keep the lactase gene permanently switched on. [More]

Similarly, the mutation for fair skin color is different in Europeans than in Northeast Asians.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Malcolm Gladwell strikes back!

Yesterday, Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker was calling me a "racist" from "the lunatic fringe" because, bizarrely enough, I believe that car salesmen intentionally discriminate against blacks and women. Today, his big complaint about me on his blog is, in effect, that I started way back in 1996 and haven't kept up with the times technologically. Because is an old-fashioned Front Page website, it can't display comments, for which he calls me a "chicken."

I do, however, use Blogger for archiving my blog entries, so I have now turned on Comments on my archive site, So, knock yourself out and comment away, Malcolm.

You know, Malcolm, instead of trying to come up with these brilliant chess moves like today's, maybe you should just go back to quoting me out of context and calling me the R word a lot.

The ostensible subject of Malcolm's ire lately has been the criticism Judge Richard Posner and I made of a section in Malcolm's bestseller "Blink" in which Gladwell, ever the loyal lackey of multi-culti capitalism, claims that the reason car salesmen offer higher prices to blacks and women is not because they are money-grubbing sons-of-guns out to extract every penny they can from every customer, but because the salesmen are innoncent victims of their own "unconscious prejudices." They just didn't realize "how egregiously they were cheating women and minorities."

Judge Posner and I were unimpressed with that line of reasoning, to which Malcolm fired back on his website about a year ago: "Sailer and Poser [sic] have a very low opinion of car salesmen."

You can read the whole spat here. You might find it amusing.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

December 10, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell is holding a vote

on whether or not to excommunicate me as a "racist" of "the lunatic fringe" over on his blog. Drop by and check out the proceedings.

To smear me today, Malcolm is completely distorting the argument with Judge Richard A. Posner and myself on one side and Malcolm on the other over the morals of car salesmen.

Malcolm _defended_ the conscious moral innocence of car salesmen when they charge blacks and women more than they charge white men. Judge Posner and I laughed at that.

Gladwell is baffled and offended that both Judge Posner, the distinguished leader of the Law and Economics school of thought, and myself had scoffed at his theory that, as he puts it, the reason "car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise identical black shoppers is because of unconscious discrimination. They don't realize what they are doing. But buried prejudices are changing their responses in the moment."

Posner and I had pointed out that auto dealers aren't tragic victims of their own hidden bigotry. Instead, they are relying on their years of experience at milking different kinds of customers for the highest possible price. Thus, they make higher offers to blacks and women because they've found they can often manipulate them into paying more.

In a scathing review of Blink in the The New Republic, the celebrated Judge Posner explains: "It would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that an auto salesman's discriminating on the basis of race or sex might be a rational form of the "rapid cognition" that he admires… [I]t may be sensible to ascribe the group's average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average. An individual's characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high price to every black shopper even though he knows that some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists use the term 'statistical discrimination' to describe this behavior."

I concluded: "Statistical discrimination is a troubling phenomenon, because it chips away at the libertarian assumption that competitive markets eliminate racial discrimination, as they do away with most things that are irrationally costly."

In response, Gladwell sniffed: "Sailer and Poser [sic] have a very low opinion of car salesmen."

Now, that's a killer comeback!

Today, when I pointed out that he was misleading his readers, he immediately deleted my comment. You can read the whole debate of Gladwell vs. Posner & Sailer over car dealers' motivations here. It's pretty funny. And you can comment on Gladwell's ban of me here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer