In the past I've pointed out that I'm a "romantic racist." That is, I find Caucasian women more attractive than women of other races. I call this racism where it counts the most and statistically, it seems that a lot of people of all races suffer from this particular variant of racism. This puts me clearly at level 6 in Bret's Hierarchy of Racism (BHR)tm. Because of my racism, I've reduced my range of opportunities by billions of women. Bummer! On the other hand, what have these billions of women lost? At worst, access to 1 decrepit old guy. In other words, nothing at all. Certainly in this case, racism hurt the racist and nobody else.
Let's say I move up the BHR from level 6 to level 4 and I discriminate, based on race, as either a prospective employee or a prospective employer. It's the same thing as in the romantic version. I've substantially reduced the pool of prospective companies or employees and have therefore damaged my prospects as an employee or my company's staff. Nobody else has really lost anything at all, just access to one employee out of billions or one position at one company out of millions. The impact nearly completely only hurts the racist.
One thing that I find interesting in the racism debate is that in Japan, racism is perfectly legal (note the "JAPANESE People ONLY" in the sign below) and moderately widespread.
But there were plenty of people in Japan willing to take my Yen and so I was able to eat quite well (I love Japanese food, especially Japanese food in Japan). The vendor pictured above (hypothetically) refused my business but his competitors were quite happy to serve me. His loss was their gain. His racism mainly hurt him. Note that his competitors may well be racist too, but for them, profit trumped racism, and that's a good thing.
It's an important point that people trade to make profit and trade brings people together. Indeed, economists use that line of thinking to cast doubt on the alleged gender and racial gaps in wages. Why would a greedy businessman pass up the opportunity to hire a cheaper woman or minority if the return-on-investment of hiring them was higher than hiring a white male? Greedy businessmen hiring women and minorities would then drive wages up to the point of having the same ROI as white men. In other words, you can be greedy or racist/sexist but not both, or, more accurately, for any given hiring decision one motivator inherently trumps the other. As long as enough businessmen are greedy (and it doesn't take many), wages reach parity.
It's hard to know exactly how pervasive racism is in Japan, but for the purposes of a thought experiment, assume that it's universal; all Japanese feel superior to everybody else. So who does that affect?
In this case, it probably affects the whole world by a little bit since it probably makes trade more difficult. But this is no different than a government restricting trade for whatever reasons governments restrict trade (possibly some of those reasons for some governments are racist). And Japan would be the most adversely affected in this hypothetical example because it would have more difficulty getting crucial imports such as food and energy.
So now let's say there was a large immigration of whites into this hypothetically ultra-racist Japan. Let's say those whites were totally racist against the Japanese as well as the Japanese being totally racist against the whites. However, let's say there was no government institutionalized racism - everyone is still equal before the law. Then it would be like two separate countries with restricted trade. It would be better if the racism didn't exist, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal. Everybody could still do pretty well in their portion of the resulting highly segregated society.
But what if the whites who immigrated started with nothing, perhaps because they were fleeing severe oppression somewhere else? Would they be stuck with nothing forever? No, they wouldn't. There are a few points to consider for this argument:
- Once upon a time, wealth and productivity were mostly based on land ownership. That's simply not true anymore. Looking at the world's wealthiest people, very few, if any, are wealthy because they own a lot of land (for example Jobs, Gates, Ellison, etc.). So the fact that the white's start out owning no land is immaterial.
- There are several examples of countries and their peoples starting out with nothing and within two generations becoming wealthy with some help but also some hindrance from the rest of the world. Taiwan is good example. Just after WWII, their GDP per capita was less than one-tenth that of the United States. Now they're approaching parity with the United States. They had help from the United States but a lot of hindrance from the mainland Chinese. South Korea and Singapore (and Hong Kong to some extent) are similar examples.
- Taiwan is a small speck of a country with no significant natural resources. Innovation and hard work were the main factors of their success in building a wealthy society from nothing.
Even in the case of institutionalized racism, the racist is also hurt according to the economist Tyler Cowen:
I would suggest that most living white Americans would be wealthier had this nation not enslaved African-Americans and thus most whites have lost from slavery too, albeit much much less than blacks have lost. For instance it is generally recognized that freer and fairer polities tend to be wealthier for most of their citizens. (We may disagree about what “fair” means for many issues, but slavery and its legacy are obviously unfair.)
More specifically, many American whites benefited from hiring African-American labor at discrimination-laden discounted market prices, but many others lost out because it was more costly to trade with African-Americans. That meant fewer good customers, fewer eligible employees, fewer possible business partners, fewer innovators, and so on, all because of slavery and subsequent discrimination. The wealth-destroying effects are surely much larger here, even counting whites alone. And the longer the time horizon, the more likely the dynamic benefits from trade will outweigh the short-run benefits from discriminating against some class of others.
Empirically, I do not think whites in slavery-heavy regions have had especially impressive per capita incomes. And a lot of the economic catch-up of the American South came only when the region abandoned Jim Crow.In every case, the racist is always hurt. In the case of non-institutionalized racism, the racist is hurt the most.
Given all that, I've concluded that calling someone racist is sort of like calling someone fat. Just like being racist, eating too much primarily hurts the person doing the eating. If the person's not fat, then calling him fatso is pretty silly. If he is fat, it's just a childish and mostly meaningless and unhelpful insult.