… is from page 131 of economic historian Robert Higgs’s pioneering and persuasive 1977 book, Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865-1914:
To reap the gains growing out of the white competition, an individual black needed no power except the ability to choose among alternative opportunities, to move from farm to farm or from job to job, from house to house in the towns. Potential mobility was central, however. That the blacks possessed this after 1865 in a way that they had not previously, made all the difference between freedom and slavery. White benevolence, needless to say, had nothing whatever to do with all this. In the abstract whites resented the blacks’ newly acquired mobility, and they attempted both legally and extralegally to suppress it. But they failed, again because individual self-serving incentives clashed with the overall objective of immobilizing the blacks. An individual planter heartily approved of immobilizing the most productive laborers on his own plantation; but he would hardly concern himself with the stability of a neighbor’s labor force when his own fields lay untilled and cotton prices promised to be high. The general absence of racial discrimination in farm wage rates, rental contracts, and merchant credit terms resulted from quite selfish competition among the whites. Neither white benevolence nor black power had much to do with the attainment of these nondiscriminatory outcomes.
DBx: Bob’s brilliant and data-rich book reveals the utter falsity of the belief that the market is an enemy of integration and that capitalism is racist. Bob’s research also – along with that of (among other careful scholars) Thomas Sowell and my late, great colleague Walter Williams – shows that the economic progress of black Americans began long, long before the civil-rights movement and did not require illiberal interventions such as “affirmative action.”
This research from Bob does a third worthwhile service – namely, it further exposes as baseless the frequently heard claim that low-skilled workers in America today are helpless victims of employers with monopsony power. People who make such claims about the alleged pervasiveness of monopsony power in America today are either appallingly ignorant of economic history or totally blinded by ideology. If there was sufficient competition for the labor services of blacks in the American south during the decades immediately following the civil war to raise these workers’ wages, it’s beyond incredible to suppose that low-skilled workers in America today are generally such victims of monopsony power as to justify minimum-wage legislation.