December 10, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell is holding a vote

on whether or not to excommunicate me as a "racist" of "the lunatic fringe" over on his blog. Drop by and check out the proceedings.

To smear me today, Malcolm is completely distorting the argument with Judge Richard A. Posner and myself on one side and Malcolm on the other over the morals of car salesmen.

Malcolm _defended_ the conscious moral innocence of car salesmen when they charge blacks and women more than they charge white men. Judge Posner and I laughed at that.

Gladwell is baffled and offended that both Judge Posner, the distinguished leader of the Law and Economics school of thought, and myself had scoffed at his theory that, as he puts it, the reason "car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise identical black shoppers is because of unconscious discrimination. They don't realize what they are doing. But buried prejudices are changing their responses in the moment."

Posner and I had pointed out that auto dealers aren't tragic victims of their own hidden bigotry. Instead, they are relying on their years of experience at milking different kinds of customers for the highest possible price. Thus, they make higher offers to blacks and women because they've found they can often manipulate them into paying more.

In a scathing review of Blink in the The New Republic, the celebrated Judge Posner explains: "It would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that an auto salesman's discriminating on the basis of race or sex might be a rational form of the "rapid cognition" that he admires… [I]t may be sensible to ascribe the group's average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average. An individual's characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high price to every black shopper even though he knows that some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists use the term 'statistical discrimination' to describe this behavior."

I concluded: "Statistical discrimination is a troubling phenomenon, because it chips away at the libertarian assumption that competitive markets eliminate racial discrimination, as they do away with most things that are irrationally costly."

In response, Gladwell sniffed: "Sailer and Poser [sic] have a very low opinion of car salesmen."

Now, that's a killer comeback!

Today, when I pointed out that he was misleading his readers, he immediately deleted my comment. You can read the whole debate of Gladwell vs. Posner & Sailer over car dealers' motivations here. It's pretty funny. And you can comment on Gladwell's ban of me here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Steve Sailer said...

Knock yourself out!

Anonymous said...

In some respects, the auto industry (though not individual dealers) discriminates against whites. For instance, Toyota can take a perfectly fine Camry, add a few fancy touches, and sell it asa Lexus for several thousand dollars more. Needless to say, Toyota reaps substantially more profit from the Lexus as it does from the Camry.
Saving one's money and buying the Camry is generally the more rational decision given the price differential and the relatively small differences between the vehicles. Driving the Lexus is a mainly a way of showing off one's status and professional success - and it's mostly whites who succumb to that temptation.

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

tggp said...

Peter, is that truly discriminating against whites? If what (certain) whites want is the status that comes from buying and owning a fancy expensive car, doing this is heeding the rule that "the customer is always right". Perhaps if the dealers were leading whites away from Camrys to prevent them from making a comparison but not trying to prevent others from purchasing Camrys you'd have a case. However, that would still be the dealers discriminating rather than "the auto industry". It would seem somewhat difficult for the industry to discriminate against people they aren't going to actually encounter just through their car design.

Anonymous said...

It's clearly not explicit discrimination. On the other hand, using the status-anxiety angle to sell slightly facier vehicles at a big markup - and luxury brands like Lexus milk this angle for all it's worth* - does, in a sense, discriminate against the status-conscious. Yes, it keeps the customers satisfied, but so does the practice of selling cars at little or no discount to black men who want to be perceived as big spenders.

* = a current Lexus ad shows about 25 people standing outside a house in a very upscale suburban neighborhood to watch their neighbor lead his blindfolded wife outside and show her the Christmas gift he got her - a new Lexus sitting in the driveway. It's postively dripping with status consciousness.

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Ron Guhname said...

Saying that black men like to be seen as big spenders is a smear? Maybe you think so if you're a penny-pinching Scrooge, and so you take that view to be an insult. Not everyone in the history of the world has thought it's attractive to be known as the guy who pays a nickel less than everyone else. Many cultures and subcultures have viewed penny-pinching as dishonorable.

A.L. said...

Who cares? Gladwell is a fraud, well if not a fraud then a terrific con artist. He has repackaged old ideas and sells them as insight, what a farce.

Anonymous said...

The auto example is kind of amusing really. I recall taking a course not that long ago on optimal communication with one's customers. One of the central pillars of this course was that customers generally had one of several motivations that drove their behavior and their emotional response to your offers. The big ones were status, price, security, convenience, and discovery (defined in that context as a longing for the 'latest and greatest'). Methods of identifying the primary motives of the customer were discussed (primarily it is in the language that the customer uses when talking about their desires). But status was a huge one, and my favorite customers have status as a primary and convenience as a secondary :-> You'd be surprised just how common that motive pairing is.