A new study by a team of economist entitled, “Conspicuous Consumption and Race”, declares that:
…Blacks and Hispanics devote larger shares of their expenditure bundles to visible goods (clothing, jewelry, and cars) than do comparable Whites. We demonstrate that these differences exist among virtually all sub-populations, that they are relatively constant over time, and that they are economically large.
The above responses are all off to me and it’s pretty clear why; here we have three, highly educated and fairly well to do white people (who have good intentions, I suspect) trying to diagnose a pathos that they clearly have little real world experience with. This is not to dismiss them, it’s simply to say that I don’t think Sullivan (who has written for several of the most prominent political magazines in the United States and who studied at Oxford and Harvard) and Althouse, who went to Michigan, NYU Law, and is a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin, have a lot in common with the people they are writing about in these posts.
Why do blacks (and hispanics) spend more money on fashion, jewelery, cars and the like that do “comparable whites” (there’s an ambiguous term)? From where I sit it’s pretty clearly a mixture of several things. One is the marketing of the American dream; that is to say, we live in a culture that values and promotes luxury and celebrity and the accumulation of material goods. We see this almost everywhere we look. What’s the hot status symbol of the moment? Answer: a $600 (well, $499) cell phone. Countless magazines and blogs exist simply to relay to us, the unwashed masses, the every move of the rich and famous. Even our president, in the wake of 9/11, told us to go out and keep spending. We are almost hard wired to lust after the top of the line, the newest, biggest, and baddest toys available.
Take that mentality and then apply it to black Americans, in particular poor black Americans, for whom the overarching expression of the above way of thinking is seen in rap videos. It’s a case of people who have nothing finally “getting theirs” and showing it off for everyone to see. Women, ice, cars…you name it, the more, the better. It’s pageantry, for lack of a better word. It goes without saying that there’s not a huge premium on building life savings in the ghetto. Rates of incarceration and premature violent death are especially high for black males and so that breeds a kind of live fast and live hard mindset (why do you think so many young black rappers idolize Tony Montana, the iconic central character in the cult favorite “Scarface”)? That story is a (violently) romanticized version of a story so many of those young men want to live; coming from nothing and from nowhere to become the master of all they survey.
So, in short, the study simply points to something a lot of people could have told you without having to do a study; poor people who don’t know any better waste their money on visible flashy goods because they don’t understand the concepts of wealth creation and savings. This is something that is is pretty evident but also fairly hard to fix.