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Jewish World Review /July 24, 1998 / 1 Menachem-Av, 5758

Larry Elder

Larry Elder Advising the advisors

THE PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION on Race recently suggested three things: a minimum wage hike, better media images for minorities, and that Americans should learn a foreign language. My advice to the Commission? Take Economics 101.

David Duke starts a company. David Duke Enterprises manufactures widgets. Now David Duke, being David Duke, hires at $5 an hour 500 white male workers.

One day, an employment agency calls on Mr. Duke. "Look," the personnel guy says, "I got 500 black guys who can do the work just as well. The black guys will take $4.75 an hour, 25 cents per hour less than you pay now.

"Do the math," the agent suggests. "Over a year, a savings of 25 cents an hour times 500 workers equals increased profits of $250,000."

Question. How much bigotry does it take to leave a quarter of a million dollars on the table? But David Duke, being David Duke, turns the deal down. That night, he tells Mrs. Duke about it. Any takers on how long this marriage lasts?

What's worse, David Duke's competitor, Colorblind, Inc., sits down the road. Its founder, Randy Racist, seeking to cut costs and boost profit margins, takes the employment agency up on its deal. David Duke Enterprises now faces some options, none pleasant. Black workers or Chapter 11. You make the call.

This example, conceived by Pepperdine University economist George Reisman, shows how the marketplace punishes racism.

The President's Advisory Commission on Race should remove its race-tinted glasses. The solution to marketplace racism is timeless: skills. A business' most cherished asset remains its employees. Employers find it hard to come by competent, loyal, enthusiastic and dependable workers. Competition compels bosses to fight over this type of employee, thus providing the worker plenty of options if he or she feels under-appreciated.

In From Slavery, Booker T. Washington put it this way: "When a Negro girl learns to cook, to wash dishes, to sew, to write a book, or a Negro boy learns to groom horses, or to grow sweet potatoes, or to produce butter, or to build a house, or to be able to practice medicine, as well or better than someone else, they will be rewarded regardless of race or colour. In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion, or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants.

"I think that the whole future of my race hinges on the question as to whether or not it can make itself of such indispensable value that the people in the town and the state where we reside will feel that our presence is necessary to the happiness and well-being of the community. No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward. This is a great human law which cannot be permanently nullified."

I once argued with a black civil rights lawyer who called America deeply racist against blacks. Blacks, he said, face discrimination in housing, applications for loans, admissions into colleges and universities and in obtaining employment and getting fair compensation. I said, "If you could snap your fingers tomorrow, would you become white?" To which he responded, "Absolutely not." "Why," I said, "given the horrors that blacks face routinely? Why wouldn't you change your complexion to become an ever-advantaged white?" "Because I have pride," he said.

Oh, really? Kunta Kinte had pride, too. But what if a genie visited him and said, "Snap your finger, and instead of the welts from some beatings on your back, and instead of having your foot chopped in half from your attempts to escape, you could sit first class on a train bound for the North." I think Kunta takes that deal.

A recent Times-CNN poll found that nearly 90 percent of black teens saw little or no racism in their own lives. Black Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson (who, by the way, favors affirmative action) put it this way: "The sociological truths are that America, while still flawed in its race relations ... is now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black; offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all those of Africa ... "

Commissioners, the gap is not between black and white; but between prepared and unprepared, the motivated and unmotivated, the skilled and unskilled, the focused and unfocused. Whether my boss "likes me" is less important than whether the check bounces. So, please excuse some for excusing themselves from this "dialogue on race." The "dialogue" isn't worth the paper it's written on.


7/17/98: Camille Cosby's carelessness
7/9/98: Moses mugged
7/2/98: Al Campanis -- forever a racist?
6/25/98: And you thought "coke" was worse than smokes
6/19/98: Is Jasper ‘America'?
6/12/98: Guess who's not coming to dinner
6/5/98: What now, NOW?
5/29/98:What's next, ‘burger busters'?
5/21/98: 'Stuff' happens
5/18/98: This just in
5/11/98: Stepping up
4/30/98: Who's faking whom?
4/16/98:To spank or not to spank

©1998, Laurence A. Elder