Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Walter Block On Black Productivity

Walter Block has created a major brouhaha at Loyloa College in Maryland as a result of his speech there and comments he made during the Q & A. See his report on the controversy here.

Part of the controversy surrounds Block's comments on the productivity of blacks. I'll let Block take it from here:

...one young man asked about the pay gap between blacks and whites, which I had said in my lecture was of about the same magnitude as that between females and males, about 25–30%. My answer, of course, was in terms of lower productivity. After all, if black people had the same productivity as white people on average, but were paid less, then there would be profit opportunities available to all those who hired blacks and fired whites, and such a situation could never last.

But why was this so: Why, that is, would this minority group have lower productivity than the majority? Surely, it couldn’t be attributed to marriage asymmetry? No, I replied. And here I was very careful to say that the cause was a matter of dispute, and that I, as an economist, was not in a position to say which was correct. Instead, I would merely offer both options, and call for the audience to make up its own mind on this issue. The politically correct answer is that lower black productivity is due to slavery, Jim Crow legislation, poor treatment of African-Americans in terms of schooling, etc. The politically incorrect explanation was supplied by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book The Bell Curve: lower black IQs.

I have never been impressed with the reasoning in Murray's book. However, I believe that there may be another reason behind lower black productivity that Block may have missed in his explanation. I call it the "Black Crutch". It's a crutch that Jews, Italians, Irish etc. just don't have.

The crutch is that when something goes wrong in business or at work, a black can say it is racism, and it stops his mind from thinking further on the topic. I hasten to add that this does not apply to all blacks. I have dated enough black women to know there are plenty of blacks that don't use such a crutch.

However, I have observed many situations where the Crutch has been used. I will provide an example.

Once I was called by a client to help a friend of the client who had started a business that was going under. The friend had borrowed money for the business from a Jew, an Italian and two blacks. To say this was not the brightest investment was to put it politely. As part of my role in helping out, I called the four investors to explain there would be a very long delay in their getting their money back, if they were to get it back at all.

The Jew and the Italian were not very happy to say the least. But, the interesting comments came from the two blacks, one was a man the other was a woman. They both said pretty much the same thing. It went something like this: "If he thinks he can put something over on me because I am black, he has another thing coming."

Now, think about this for a minute. It was a bad investment. Could the Jew say, "If he thinks he can pull one over on me in business because I am a Jew"? Of course not, since Jews are supposed to be wizened in business. Likewise, with the Italian, where some have a reputation for breaking bones when investments don't go well.

So after they calm down, the Jew and Italian will perhaps learn from the experience and think about what mistakes they made to get into such a poor investment. But, I wonder about the two blacks, they have the Crutch. It wasn't that they made a bad investment it was because they were black that they were taken advantage of. If they stop their thinking there and use the Crutch, they are simply not going to think about and develop beyond where they are now.

I think the Black Crutch is of the most dangerous excuses for failure that circulates in much of black society. Blacks have used the crutch to tell me why they have been turned down for credit or lost a job, when I could see from the facts that the case suggested otherwise. Blacks who rely on the crutch stop growing in important ways and it is very easy to see how such reliance could lower productivity.

Note: I am not saying there isn't racism or discrimination, in fact, I marvel at how often I can detect subtle racism going on when I am with black friends and they don't detect it. But any person who uses the Black Crutch is setting himself up for a life of mediocrity. The best way to deal in business is to walk as though there are no crutches and you have to overcome the situation anyway. There are lots of people who don't like Jews or Chinese, yet they succeed in business without out being liked. For anyone who needs proof that you can succeed even when being discriminated against, I recommend the Thomas Sowell books on race and discrimination.


  1. The crutch is that when something goes wrong in business or at work, a black can say it is racism, and it stops his mind from thinking further on the topic. I hasten to add that this does not apply to all blacks. I have dated enough black women to know there are plenty of blacks that don't use such a crutch.

    I imagine those women were objective enough to realize, "The reason I'm so unhappy is that I'm attracted to a-holes."

  2. Actually Bob,

    The two I dated the longest were pretty happy women, who simply didn't use a crutch if some problem came up in their careers. They just persevered. One was a professional model with some major cover credits, the other was a ballet dancer who often toured with Baryshnikov.

    I have seen these women when things were going very well for them and when the inevitable bumps in the road of life slowed them down. In both cases, they kept an optimistic view of life. They simply blamed no one or anything when things weren't working out and just doubled their efforts. I really think that this was part of the reason for the success they had in their lives form very humble beginnings. One grew up on the south side of Chicago, the other in Watts.

    And don't I think they considered themselves being attracted to a--holes.I think both women would think such a comment rude and offensive.

  3. I just saw this post and thought it was thoughtful. It's not a black thing. In India, growing up, I saw the same thing with colonialism and racism. People from my parents' generation would often explain difficulties they encountered abroad by pointing to white racism and colonial attitudes.

    Now, there was truth in this. But the problem is they got used to using this even when the real problem was a more general one - say, some one giving them a hard time had personal quirks that made them give a hard time to EVERYONE.
    Or, they (the Indians) didn't realize that success, for anyone, isn't guaranteed.

    In other words, even when racism is involved, it usually doesn't help the victim to think in those terms, since that isn't something they can control. It helps to look at the factors you can control.