Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 27, 2021

in Competition, Complexity & Emergence, Economics, Seen and Unseen

… is from page 26 of Thomas Sowell’s slim yet significant 1981 volume, Markets and Minorities (original emphasis):

Economics takes as axiomatic the proposition that more of anything is demanded at a low price than at a high price. Discrimination is no exception. A pair of twins might be equally racist, but, if one was an employer of violinists and the other an employer of basketball players they would face very different costs of excluding blacks. Their subjective prejudices might be identical, but economics would predict that the differing costs would produce different amounts of overt discrimination….

Looked at another way, there are costs to the discriminator, as well as to the victim, and the magnitude of those costs affects the extent to which subjective prejudices produce overt discrimination. Foregone opportunities to make money – as employer, landlord, seller, lender, etc. – put a price on discrimination. Economic competition means that the less discriminatory transactors acquire a competitive advantage, forcing others either to reduce their discrimination or to risk losing profits, perhaps even being forced out of business.

DBx: Indeed so. And history testifies to the validity of the prediction from economics.

I first read Sowell’s Markets and Minorities in 1981, the year it was published. I just re-read it. I’d forgotten how deep, subtle, and excellent is the economic analysis that runs through this slim but profoundly important work. This book is written with Sowell’s signature clarity, yet also displays, on nearly every one of its 136 pages, both his sharp and rare talent as an economic theorist, and his remarkable ability to use that theory to make better sense of reality.


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