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essays

October 1976

Rabushka, Theory of Racial Harmony / Sowell, Race and Economics

“This book is most important to those who will probably never read it—bureaucrats and social workers.”

Theory of Racial Harmony

By Alvin Rabushka

Race and Economics

By Thomas Sowell

Reviewed by Susan Love Brown / A Theory of Racial Harmony / University of South Carolina Press, 1974 / $5.95 / Race and Economics / McKay, 1975 / $3.95 pb, $9.95 hc

To solve a problem, one must analyze it and understand it. Too often, the problems of racial minorities have not been given this due consideration. Dispassionate judgment has too often been supplanted by emotional conjecture. Let us look at two books that have managed not to fall into this trap.

In A Theory of Racial Harmony, Alvin Rabushka presents a cogent argument for his thesis: “Under conditions of voluntary exchange in free markets, racial tensions and conflicts are kept to a minimum.”

In order to lend credence to his point, Rabushka, a political scientist at the University of Rochester and a specialist in multi-ethnic societies, explains the functioning of the market. He begins with such basic concepts as preference, scarcity, competition, cost, substitutability, and self-interest. There is also an extended discussion of the theory of public goods and the way in which it is used to justify further encroachment of governments upon the private sector.

“The ‘logic of racial harmony’ is to be found in the marketplace….”

The “logic of racial harmony” is to be found in the marketplace: “Ghazali lives in the Malayan countryside in a riverside village…. Wong, on the other hand, lives in a bustling, noisy, and overcrowded city…. In the marketplace all of the Wongs and Ghazalis, and the Ramasamys in Malaya’s multiracial society can compare their personal valuations with each other for the goods and services offered for sale.”

Multi-racial societies of relatively little conflict have existed, examples being colonies of Great Britain in which the government was impartial and which were all “large, free port societies with low rates of personal taxation.”

The “logic of racial conflict” is usually exhibited in these same colonies after independence from Britain and the subsequent abandonment of free market decision-making and the adoption of political decision-making. In short, governments take resources from the public, lack the knowledge to be able to allocate these resources efficiently, fail to provide public goods efficiently with administrative and policing costs exceeding the benefits of their intervention, and consume private economic resources. Those benefited are members of the racial group currently in power. The losers in every case are the members of racial minorities who finance not only these government activities but also their own oppression by government.

Race and Economics by UCLA Professor Thomas Sowell is an exciting work largely because it achieves what its author set out to do: deal with minority progress in cause-and-effect terms. “More important than, any particular theory of ethnic minority progress is the testing of all theories against fact,” says Sowell. “Obvious as this may seem, it has been widely disregarded in practice.”

Sowell explores American slavery, giving a brief history of the phenomenon and a comparison with slavery in other times and other places. We learn about the economic progress of free blacks before and after the Civil War and also what emancipation held in store for former slaves.

The second part of Race and Economics is devoted to immigrant minorities of the nineteenth century (Jews, Irish, and Italians) and the twentieth century (Japanese-Americans, West Indians, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans). This study in combination with what we have already learned about American blacks yields many interesting conclusions: that each minority in its time experienced similar deprivations (slum and ghetto living, high crime rates, high death rates, and animosity from the majority); that economic progress varied among minority groups depending on their preparation for the urban experience into which they were thrust; that self-reliance, work skills, education, and business experience are the factors most commonly found conducive to economic progress; and that success in the political arena does not necessarily make for economic advancement.

But these are just a few of the important facts brought to light. The individual minority histories themselves are fascinating and offer opportunities to broaden understanding of minority progress; they testify that problems of minorities are much more complex and involve many more factors than the prejudice of the majority.

Perhaps the most important fact that we should keep in mind is that “all American ethnic minorities show unmistakable signs of economic progress, and those minorities commonly thought of as “disadvantaged’ or ‘problem’ minorities have advanced not only absolutely but relative to the American population as a whole.”

This book is most important to those who will probably never read it—bureaucrats and social workers. Helping people should not entail minimizing progress that they have made or hanging negative labels on them. It should not involve consuming their energies in measures that are primarily political, while detracting from economic endeavors, for where this has been the case, minorities have prospered little.