Tuesday, September 14, 2004


I have a lot of Depression-era relative still around. You can always tell these people. Saving the foil, twine, paper bags, margarine tubs, etc. Of course they often have small living spaces, and they never really do ever use the stuff they save. But to throw the stuff out? - that would be irrational. By the standards of their time, anyway.

Now we have Stuart Buck, a very sharp man, reviewing economic behavior in Atlanta in the early part of this century. He concludes that the actors were irrational.

Per his post Atlanta, or at least its Chamber of Commerce, decided to become a haven for "satisfied, intelligent, contented Anglo-Saxon labor". As a marketing strategy that might have been 100% rational at that time. If consumers liked it better, then they were the irrational ones, not the ones who gave them what they wanted.

It's fair to assume that this initiative, driven by the local Chamber of Commerce, was at worst perceived as a long-term investment at the time. We know that the companies in the examples incurred greater costs. What we don't know is if this increased expense resulted in increased profit. If not, I'm guessing those new white guys quietly started disappearing, fast.

Putting delivery boys in uniform isn't so strange by contemporary standards - it provides security bona fides and presents a consistent image to customers. That they should be white, well, people commonly believed strange things about black male sexuality then too. So the delivery boy thing might well have been completely rational.

(I helped deliver furniture for a major Atlanta department store in the late 70's, and most of my coworkers were black. They all wore uniforms. One old black guy had been at it for 30+ years, and he always kept a big empty plastic bottle in the back of his truck. I had to ask...well, that was one bathroom he knew he could use.)

Why did the hospitals demand the blacks back? Blacks were commonly thought of as caretakers and cooks et al. Aged whites likely to be found in the hospitals of the time probably preferred receiving intimate attention from blacks like they probably had in their youth. Being cleaned up by "equals" would have been humbling, but by those perceived as inferior? - well, you don't chase the dog out of the room when you take your clothes off, do you? And the blacks got the same money they had been getting before when they came back - the administrators seem to have gotten their rationality back in a hurry if they ever lost it.

In short, although the behavior certainly isn't acceptable nowadays, I conclude that at best Mr. Buck fails to make his case that the behavior was irrational.

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