May 4, 2014

Gary Becker, RIP

Gary Becker, the U. of Chicago economist, has died at 83. Becker's 1957 dissertation for Milton Friedman on the economics of discrimination helped inspire my 1996 cover story in National Review on How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America:
... Yet, beyond the obvious platitudes, baseball's long struggle over race can yield some surprising perspectives on our national predicament. The Robinson epic is generally lumped in with the 1954 Brown decision against segregated public schools and the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing job discrimination. Yet two crucial differences stand out. 1) The integration of organized baseball preceded the civil-rights revolution, and in reality baseball helped make later reforms politically feasible by giving white Americans black heroes with whom to identify. 2) Government had almost nothing to do with this triumph of the competitive market. Baseball owners finally realized that the more they cared about the color of people's money, the less they could afford to care about the color of their skin. 
It's ironic that the hallowed civil-rights revolution owed so much to something as seemingly trivial as pro sports. Yet, without this business of producing heroes for public consumption, whites might never have cared enough about blacks to be bothered by racial injustice. It's not the most noble trait of human nature, but we tend to be more outraged by minor slights to winners (note the endlessly recounted tales of the indignities Robinson endured) than by mass atrocities against downtrodden losers. 
That competitive markets make irrational bigotry expensive -- not impossible, but costly -- was first formally demonstrated in 1957 by University of Chicago economist Gary Becker (the 1992 Nobel Laureate), and in the four decades since has barely gained a toehold in conventional thinking. Let me be clear: this idea does not pollyannaishly presume that white people (or any other people) are motivated by disinterested good will. It merely assumes that if forced to by competition, people will hire whoever makes them the most money. Don't forget, though, that we humans are always conniving to exempt ourselves from competition. The more we can insulate ourselves from the open market, the more painlessly we can then discriminate for kin and countrymen and against people we don't like. Baseball's often ugly history shows this clearly.
   

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

For a minute I'd thought The War Nerd had died.

bleach said...

What's most bizzare about Becker is that he didn't even believe his own thesis about discrimination. I mean if he did, he would have spoken out against the civil rights act as an unnecessary measure which distorts the labor market. 50 years and he didn't. Perhaps he knew all along that blacks could never compete on a level field and thought the CRA was for "the greater good"

Anonymous said...

Yes good point. So therefore the leading companies in other businesses would also be able to outstrip their competitors by being the first to hire talented blacks. (No affirmative action required!) But they don't. Must be a lesson here somewhere.
Robert Hume

Anonymous said...

I never read the NR but I've read about the origins of the magazine... Revilo Oliver explained everything really well, the dawn of the Neocon movement.

Anonymous said...

That competitive markets make irrational bigotry expensive -- not impossible, but costly -- was first formally demonstrated in 1957 by University of Chicago economist Gary Becker (the 1992 Nobel Laureate), and in the four decades since has barely gained a toehold in conventional thinking.

I guess that explains why I see so few females and blacks in technical roles (and generally, except in make-work areas like HR and shipping and receiving) in high tech companies in Silicon Valley.

Anonymous said...

...inspire by 1996 cover story in National Review...

Is this a typo that should read ...inspire my 1996...?

Default User said...

The more we can insulate ourselves from the open market, the more painlessly we can then discriminate for kin and countrymen...
How horrible a person do you have to be to [sputter] discriminate for kin and countrymen.

Anonymous said...

When this Nobel laureate died, it was very obvious that his contributions to the humankind are huge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Sanger - practically every living human owes something to what the guy has started and developed.

Excuse me but could someone please explain to me how Gary Becker's lifetime work benefited humanity?

Anonymous said...

Did he bother to tell this guy how bone headed he is?

If workers are much more productive in one country than in another, restrictions on immigration lead to large efficiency losses.

Anonymous said...

Jonah Goldberg called. He wants his cover story back.

Anonymous said...

"That competitive markets make irrational bigotry expensive -- not impossible, but costly -- was first formally demonstrated in 1957 by University of Chicago economist Gary Becker..."

First formally demonstrated? What does that even mean.

Anonymous said...

"It's ironic that the hallowed civil-rights revolution owed so much to something as seemingly trivial as pro sports. Yet, without this business of producing heroes for public consumption, whites might never have cared enough about blacks to be bothered by racial injustice."

It cut both ways. Blacks in sports aroused both awe and fear.

Jack Johnson probably set back the cause of equal rights for blacks.

Anonymous said...

I frequently root for the team that most closely resembles me.

In the World Cup finals that has been Spain.

Is there a way to convert England's players into first cousins and 15th cousins 3000 times removed against a Spanish side full of second cousins?

Goatweed

International Jew said...

Hate to be pedantic, but 3000th cousins 15 times removed is more plausible (and 200 times removed more plausible yet).

Auntie Analogue said...


Robinson's entry into Major League baseball coincided closely with Truman's executive order that desegregated the armed forces. A classic proto-anarcho-tyrannous coincidence of playing the top and the bottom against the middle - the bottom is a fit here because military conscription continued until the end of the U.S.'s long and unsuccessful Southeast Asian campaigns.

International Jew said...

One of the best economics seminars I ever heard was Gary Becker speaking about the economic theory of addiction, to a room-full of heavy-smoking Israeli professors.

Anonymous said...

>>Steve Sailer writing in National Review:
"""The more we can insulate ourselves from the open market, the more painlessly we can then discriminate for kin and countrymen and against people we don't like. Baseball's often ugly history shows this clearly.""""


It was a good sports based article, then as now.

Also, there's more truth in that re: Baseball's often ugly history then some may be aware.

The Federal League wars of 1914-1915 really could've spelled disaster for the two major leagues. The feds started raiding AL & NL top players and actually drew somewhat strong gate receipts the first season ('14). It was more Midwestern based. What the Federal League lacked, however, was the strong organization of the two leagues and so most teams folded and cried uncle. However, one Fed owner sued organized baseball re: the special anti-trust exemption and it dragged out in courts until the exemption was upheld in organized baseball in federal court around 1922 or 23.

One of the Federal Leagues' teams, the Chicago Wales, did have a direct influence on baseball. The owner built a ballpark, which was taken over by the Cubs and named....Wrigley Field.

So Wrigley's first pro baseball games were not MLB but Federal League games.

But with sports in general and baseball the old Watergate adage still applies: Follow the money.

Reg Cæsar said...

Robinson's entry into Major League baseball coincided closely with Truman's executive order that desegregated the armed forces. --Auntie

I recently read a claim that Truman's integration was for practical, not idealistic nor ideological, reasons. What talent black soldiers had was offset by the collapse of discipline endemic to all-black units.

Sounds like contemporary soccer. There are scads of great African players, but no sign of any great African team.

hardly said...

Come on Steve, you know as well as I do that this thesis was and is stupid. Mozilla did not and will not suffer for kicking out Brandon Eich. The NBA and the Clippers will not suffer for kicking out Sterling. Google will not suffer for foisting these insufferable feminist doodles on us time and again. Disney will not suffer for alienating millions of devout believers with its gay agenda. And ChickfilA did not suffer for alienating homosexuals.

Political beliefs are openly expressed by all sorts of companies, which effectively causes self segregation among potential employees.
The only problem is when your target customer belongs to the group being insulted-like with Duck Dynasty.
Otherwise the fact is that most employees are interchangeable, even CEOs, as Mozilla showed.
If the powers that be decreed that being a Christian in America ought to be reason for employment discrimination, I'm sure a large number of tech corporations would go along with it. Because devout Christians are not the best tech employees anyway. On the other hand they can't piss off the gays because a large number of educated techie types are either gay or pro gay.
Gary Becker was just the yesteryear equivalent of today's "Eich was within his rights to speak his mind, and Mozilla was within their rights to let him go, it's how the free market works" crowd.
I've got a new found respect for left-libertarian assertions that millions of freely-made individual decisions can add up to systematic patterns of exclusion against certain groups. Happened with blacks and gays in the past, happening with conservatives now.
Either the government forcibly integrates them (them being schools in that age, and corporations today), or the oppressed group leaves and founds a new company/country/state. Like how the Puritans left England.

hardly said...

Meritocracy is over rated in most fields, because it is hard to for anyone except a specialized few to tell the difference between okay and exceptional. Sports is different because no affirmative action hire is going to be able to run as fast as Usain Bolt, and everyone can see that. Similar situation for Computer science or physics. But medicine, human resources, CEO-ing, firefighting, being a cop - nobody that matters can really tell the difference.
Of course, this is not to say these people actually perform as well as the others. It's just that their mild incompetence is not immediately visible, but adds up in the long run.

Thordaddy said...

Propagandizing little white boys into idolizing "black" athletes who then turn out to be hate-whitey clones of each other is a very disgusting cultural practice.

Anonymous said...

Chomsky said that, in the long run, we expect capitalism to be anti-discrimination.

Odorno said the same thing in his critique of popular music.

Anonymous said...

I've got a grudge against Milton Friedman and Friedmanism, so I really dislike to credit the old bullet-headed wrecker with any good whatsoever. In my mind he plays the role of Satan to Maynard Keynes' Christ.
Anyhow, isn't this 'elaborate economic theory' just really stating the obvious?, if you exclude the best candidate - for whatever reason - from your firm, and someone else willingly takes him, you'll suffer, I mean isn't that obvious to a 7 year old?

Anyhow, the way the Friedmanites tried to make this 'outstanding free market fact' into some sort of corner stone about how 'great' and world-benefitting their particular brand of poop is, is frankly, repulsive. The way they try to hide behind it like they are some great 'moral' force for the 'good'.
The reason why certain societies/individuals etc discriminate on the basis of race/sex etc has or had nothing whatsoever to do with 'economic utility' which never but never was the 'justification'. Other considerations were always the motivation and the discrimators, in every case, knew full well of any possible 'economic drawback' likely to ensue, but I repeat, 'economic's was never the motivation.
One can't help thinking hat Becker and Friedman being of a certain ethnicity which *had* suffered quotas back in Europe, were deliberately hiding behind blacks - and the emotive, hysterical and utterly, utterly nationally economically irrelevant arena of professional sports, to make their point.
What better way to stir the emotions of the typical paunchy, blue-collared, baseball cap wearing jock than to scream out 'Mohammed Ali' or 'Jackie Robinson'?

stari_momak said...

Sports is a special area. There are few sports stars, few of us will ever encounter one for more than a few minutes. 'Idolizing' them is harmless, it extracts no costs.

Well, in many cases, extending equal rights to public accommodation does. There's a small youtube genre of 'blacks behaving badly in restaurants'. Indeed, own restaurant owner devised specific policies so as to discourage blacks from visiting his place. Why? They drove away white customers.

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/du0rw/iama_restaurant_owner_who_saved_his_business_by/

I suspect that is the case in housing too. More returns can be realized with ethnic solidarity. That is, everyone in the group can realize better returns by discriminating.

It is, of course, much better that such things are masked in the terms of 'homeowners associations' -- but can you imagine a 'disparate impact' study on the effect of homeowner association rules.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't so much that Robinson was good on the field but that he was good off the field. That was the real selling point.

The message was that Negroes could either be tamed to be so nice or glowed with natural nobility inside them. So, even if they were stronger/faster than whites, they'd be nice negroes who married their own kind, obeyed laws, and acted so peaceable. No reason to fear them.
Joe Louis was used in the same way, which is why he became accepted in the way Johnson never was.

If black athletes in the 40s and 50s acted like they do today out in the public, their athletic success would have set back Civil Rights. If whites knew about the real character of MLK--boozing womanizing clown--, they would not have been won over.

Of course, today, our culture is so debauched and debased(and deracinated) that white boys and white girls worship blacks even as black message is loud and clear: 'you faggoty ass white boys, move aside, get on your knees and worship my black muscle, and you white girls stick your ass out so i can rub myself on you and suck my big black cock.'

To be sure, Robinsonism is still sold. Jewish media sell both. Robinsonism lives on in Obama and Oprah.
But there's also Johnsonism in rappers, football thugs, and etc.
Jews use them in tandem.

So, Jews invoke Robinsonism to denounce whites for seeing blacks stereotypically as a bunch of animal savage sex-crazed thuggish lunatics.
But then, Jews also use Johnsonism to denounce whites for wanting to see blacks stereotypically as a bunch of shuffling uncle tom coons who be acting like house negroes.

Either way, Jews and blacks win, and either way, whites lose.

Blacks win as Robinsons or Johnsons. Whites lose for seeing blacks as Robinsons or as Johnsons.

If whites prefer the Robinsons, they can be accused of preferring uncle toms.
If whites prefer the Johnsons, they can be accused of preferring the image of blacks as savage studs and ho's.

Jews play the same stunt.

They push the image of the Jew as the Holocaust victim, but they also promote the image of the Jew as pushy and nasty subversive. Jews take pride in both: as holy victim and as chutzpahistic bad boy.

But white gentiles can get in trouble with either perceptions.

If white gentiles prefer the holy victim Jew too much, Jews will accuse them of embracing the Jews as helpless victims but not as the proud victors.

If white gentiles prefer the nasty bad boy Jew too much, Jews will accuse them of stereotypically seeing Jews as a bunch of obnoxious a--holes.






dearieme said...

"first formally demonstrated": what does that mean? I'm guessing that it means that he used a bunch of guessed-at axioms plus a wee bit of algebra to "prove" a result that rational people had known for a couple of centuries. Or maybe since the Greeks.

Is economics the only field where you can be greeted as making a breakthrough by being the first person in the professional literature to discuss commonplace wisdom from outside the profession?

pat said...

I know I'm just hard hearted but I don't quite get the canonization of Jackie Robinson.

I seem to remember that the New York Yankees (or whomever had won the World Series that year) would in the post season play the Negro League All Stars. The Negros often won.

Satchel Page I think I read went barnstorming with Bob Feller And again Page usually won.

The Negro Leagues had Josh Gibson also at this time. One could make a case that the Negros were on the whole better ball players. But of course they made much less money.

So Robinson's breaking the color barrier was more about money than any kind of principal. I respect money. I admire Curt Flood and Rick Barry who broke the owner's monopoly power and spread the money around to the players.

Robinson did something similar. He brought the big money to black players by giving them access to the bigs.

But didn't that also kill off the Negro Leagues? If that's so, he probably cut the total number of pro baseball positions open to blacks.

Is there a baseball scholar in the house?

Pat Boyle

Anonymous said...

There is a fictional book where the Nazis occupy Britain. The occupation is accepted when the Nazis import German footballers to become our heros.

Anonymous said...

Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947. The Negro League, which operated from 1885, 16 years before the American League, folded in 1951. Seems pretty clear, Pat, that the integration of the majors killed the Negro League.

There were 24 Negro League teams, with rosters ranging from 15-18 players. It suffices to say that far fewer than the 450+ players didn't make it into the integrated majors in the years between Robinson and the league's folding.

walter condley said...

Neither Flood nor Barry "broke the owner's monopoly power." Flood lost, and baseball players remained indentured servants for another 7 yrs.., the big change coming when a Labor Arbitrator (who unbeknownst to non-lawyers has much more interpretive leeway than an ordinary judge) decided the time for change had come. Barry jumped leagues in '69, possibly curtailing owner leverage somewhat, by lending credibility to the fledgling ABA, but again, the merger of the leagues didn't occur for another 7 yrs. In the case of blacks generally, it was assumed that school integration would acclimate them to white norms, but of course it never happened. With pro sports, similarly the end of owner leverage just helped turn black jocks into untouchable monsters who.pay no price for their conduct. The cure was worse than the disease.

Anonymous said...

""""""There were 24 Negro League teams, with rosters ranging from 15-18 players. It suffices to say that far fewer than the 450+ players didn't make it into the integrated majors in the years between Robinson and the league's folding.""""""

Yes, but all mythologizing a la as the left is wont to do in order to bash the evil racist MLB of yore, the quality was not uniformly great throughout. At best, the overall quality was high minors, or not quite the level of Triple A.

Everyone knows the names of Gibson, Paige, Oscar Charleston, and several others. But every single one?

Remember, the Negro Leagues lacked MLB's organization structure thoughout. It was only 16 teams playing a 154game schedule. Some years, the Negro Leagues didn't even play half that many games due to lack of venues and so they had to rely on barnstorming during the season. Satchel Paige recounts how he barnstormed down in South America during the regular season. Why? Cause that's where the money was being offered, and they couldn't wait on the next month or who knew how long before there would be steady Negro League work. Their season, compared to MLB, was nowhere near uniformly structured so if the players in MLB at that time made peanuts, safe to say that Negro players made even less than that.
And they didn't always get to play in Forbes, Wrigley, and Yankee Stadium due to the race opposition.

So no, not every single player in the Negro Leagues would automatically be a shoo in for the MLB. It was a joke league and everyone knew it. But it was certainly better than nothing and all the men wanted to do was play baseball.

Then as now, MLB was the gold standard and represented the highest quality in America of the most talented ballplayers in the world. Then as now.

Anonymous said...

>>walter condley:
""""big change coming when a Labor Arbitrator (who unbeknownst to non-lawyers has much more interpretive leeway than an ordinary judge) decided the time for change had come.""""""""


As a labor arbitrator, Marvin Miller was one of the biggest left wing socialists, and nearly cost the US its preeminent place in the Steel Industry. He was still at the helm in the early 60s during JFK years and his various organized strikes helped pave the way in the late 70s early 80s to outsourcing of Steel to Asian nations. We've only now just beginning to recover from the damage he directly contributed in breaking the US Steel industry. The man was not loyal to American interests.

Hero to MLB players? Absolutely. A great American who put the long term interests of the nation above short term politics? Absolutely not, and he has left a very destructive legacy outside the National Pastime.