Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Sailer have been engaged in some blog vs. blog fighting. Let's look at the following quote from Gladwell's blog:
In Blink, I tell the story of a study done by the law professor Ian Ayres. Ayres put togother of group of young men and women--half white and half black--and sent them to 242 car dealerships all around Chicago. All were attractive, well dressed, and well-educated. All had the same cover story: that they were professionals from a wealthy part of Chicago. All pointed to the lowest-priced car on the floor and said--"I'm interested in buying this car." Ayres's question was--all other things being equal, how does skin color and gender affect the initial price quoted by a car salesman? His results: white men, on average, got quoted a price $725 above invoice, white women got quoted a price $935 above invoice, black women $1195 above invoice, and black men $1687 above invoice.
This was, I concluded, a powerful example of discrimination--of how unconscious feelings and prejudices have the effect of dramatically influencing the fairness with which we treat different groups. Hardly a controverial statement, right? Well, in criticizing my book, one reviewer defended the car salesman, and called their discrimination entirely rational. He wrote:
"Black men for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy being seen as big spenders. And car salesmen are all too willing to help them spend big."
Let's analyze this statement according to the criteria from my racism post. First, content. Does the statement propagate false belief about a targetted group? I think it does. Since when do black men--collectively--desire to overpay for cars? The restaurant Per Se in Manhattan, where the prix fix is $250, is an example of a place where diners enjoy being seen as big spenders, and waiters are all too willing to help them spend big. Does that mean that Per Se is full of black men? Actually, it's full of white people. Although it could as easily be full of purple people, since the willingness to pay three times more for a meal than it would cost down the street has nothing to do with the color of your skin.
Yes the guy who dared to "defend" the car salesmen is none other than Steve Sailer. Gladwell just doesn't seem to get Sailer's point, nor does he seem to have any sort of understanding of human behavior.
First of all, I doubt that the discrimination cited is in any way "unconscious." The salesmen are intentionally quoting different prices based on sex and race. In the six weeks I worked as a stockbroker, the sales manager told us "don't bother to try to sell to women, it's a waste of time." If stockbrokers are taught to treat people differently based on sex, then I'm sure that car salesmen are also taught the same thing.
Steve Sailer is not "defending" the salesmen, but rather he is claiming that they are opportunistic scumbags whose goal is to rip off every customer for the biggest amount possible without losing the sale. Through trial and error, car salesmen have learned that they maximize their commissions by quoting different prices based on race and sex. This explanation of the behavior makes more sense to me than Gladwell's explanation that car salesmen quote higher prices to blacks because of "prejudices" which are implied to be untrue.
Gladwell expresses surprise that anyone would want to "overpay" for anything. Well in the real world, sales are based on emotion, not logic. That's what the sales manager at the stock broker job told me. And of course it's true. If people bought stocks logically, all full service brokers would be out of business. I definitely sensed that one of the reasons why some clients use full service brokers is because it makes them feel like a bigshot. Why to people want to overpay in order to feel like a bigshot? That's one of the mysteries of human behavior, isn't it?
I am reminded of the "suggested admission" of $14 at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. The sign says it's "suggested," and in fact you can tour the museum for free if you want, so why doesn't everybody just ask for a free ticket? Why do they want to overpay? While some people probably feel that they have a moral obligation to make a proper donation to a charitable institution, I suspect the majority of people paying full price do so because they don't want to appear to be a cheapskate. Why do they care if the person at the admissions counter thinks they're a cheapskate?
If black men like overpaying for stuff, why aren't there more black men eating at Per Se where the "prix fix" is $250? Well this one is easy to answer. Not that many black people can afford $250 for a meal. Furthermore, it may not be an environment where black people feel comfortable.
I'm not saying that I agree that Steve Sailer's overpaying explanation is correct, only that it's a reasonable explanation for rational discrimination. Maybe there are other explanations. Maybe black men just don't do as much research into prices before they walk into the car dealerships, so the salesmen know they can get away with quoting higher prices. Maybe the salesmen quote the higher price so they can then throw in a "free" upgrade such as the Enhanced Bling Package. One really needs an a car salesmen who's honest enough to talk about the issue to tell us the real motivations for the discrimination.
Sailer wins this exchange. Not only does Gladwell look pretty stupid here, but he has has also given Steve Sailer's blog a lot of free publicity.