Friday, 28 October 2005

Capitalism is colour-blind

Thomas Sowell shares a 'non-mainstream' view on the death of Rosa Parks. (Who'd have thought it.) Sowell points out that the racially-segregated seating she won deserved fame for opposing barely existed in the American South until municipal transit systems operated by the state replaced privately-owned transit systems:
Many, if not most, municipal transit systems were privately owned in the 19th century and the private owners of these systems had no incentive to segregate the races.

These owners may have been racists themselves but they were in business to make a profit -- and you don't make a profit by alienating a lot of your customers. There was not enough market demand for Jim Crow seating on municipal transit to bring it about.

It was politics that segregated the races because the incentives of the political process are different from the incentives of the economic process. Both blacks and whites spent money to ride the buses but, after the disenfranchisement of black voters in the late 19th and early 20th century, only whites counted in the political process.

The lesson: Capitalism is colour-blind; governments aren't. As Owen McShane commented, this is "the history we seldom hear."

[UPDATE: Article link added: Rosa Parks: Pursuit of Profit vs. Racism. (Sorry to those who were looking for it earlier.)]

1 comment:

  1. This helps draw an illuminating line across my confusion. I could not reconcile the segregation in the South of the 1950s with the fact that a black woman brought suit, and won, against a trolley car company for segregated seating in San Francisco in 1863. True, SF had recently cleared itself of most people who were outspoken supporters of the South, thanks to the War being on, but this was, after all, ninety years before Mrs. Parks' day. What Sowell points out (and you provide no link, btw) makes perfect sense to me and should (but unfortunately probably won't) be used as an example of the inherent rightness of privatization and the capitalist motive.


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.