Walter E. Williams
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Last week's column started off asking: "What human motivation gets the most wonderful things done?" The answer is that human greed is what gets wonderful things done. I wasn't talking about fraud, theft, dishonesty, special privileges from government or other forms of despicable behavior. I was talking about people trying to get as much as they can for themselves.

Think about greed and racial discrimination. In 1947, when the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson, why did racial discrimination by major league teams begin to drop like a hot potato? It wasn't feelings of guilt by white owners, affirmative action or anti-discrimination laws. It turned out that there was a huge pool of black baseball talent in the Negro leagues. It became too costly for teams to allow the Dodgers to gain a monopoly on this talent. Black players won the National League's Most Valuable Player award for seven consecutive seasons. Had other teams not stepped in to hire black players, allowing the Dodgers to hire them, it might have given the Dodgers a virtual monopoly on world championships.

During South Africa's apartheid era, whites were in control, both economically and politically, and enacted some of the harshest racially discriminatory employment laws. There were job reservation laws that reserved certain jobs for whites only. Many white employers went to considerable lengths to contravene and violate those laws. White building trade unions complained to the South African government that laws reserving skilled jobs for whites had broken down.

What was happening? White contractors found out that often they could earn greater profits by hiring a black worker to do the job of a white worker for only a fraction of the wage. That raised the cost of discriminating against black workers. Racist white workers did what any good liberal or labor union supporter would do; they got behind support for minimum wage laws and what produces the same effect, equal-pay-for-equal-work laws. South Africa's Wage Board said, "The method would be to fix a minimum rate for an occupation or craft so high that no Native would likely be employed." "Equal pay for equal work" became the rallying slogan of the South African white labor movement. They knew that if employers were forced to pay black workers the same wages as white workers, there'd be reduced incentive to hire blacks.

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Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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