Property for sale: Great views, large lots, no Blacks.
posted by Kaimipono D. Wenger
Sound like a real estate ad from 1955? Try 2005. As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune:
Eagle Mountain is a burgeoning Utah County community, full of young families, new homeowners and white people. Lots and lots of white people.
The racial breakdown of Eagle Mountain was listed as a selling point on the Web site of home builder Bigg Homes. The site also included this comparison among others: “Black race population percentage significantly below state average.” “Significantly below” was in bold.
The ad — which seems to be a likely violation of the Fair Housing Act — has been pulled. The developer is apparently “considering” firing its web designer, who put the information on the site.
The information is apparently accurate and drawn from state demographic data — Eagle Mountain has a black populace of 0.6 percent, significantly lower than the state average.
Economists have argued — Gary Becker, for example — that workplace discrimination is inherently inefficient and will eventually be driven out of the market. (There is a great back-and-forth between Posner and Donohue on the topic, from several years back). However, the Eagle Mountain case highlights a fact that no one seems to talk about much (except for Richard Epstein) — that there is in fact a market for discrimination. That’s one of the descriptive ideas in Epstein’s book Forbidden Grounds, and it’s absolutely right.
I disagree with Epstein’s subsequent normative argument — that since there is a market for discrimination, it should be allowed to exist — but he’s absolutely right to note that there is indeed a market for discrimination. People will sometimes pay for discrimination. They’ll do it in their housing — see Eagle Mountain — and they’ll do it in their employ. This is one reason why the optimistic Becker model — market forces will end discrimination — is incomplete.
As for the Eagle Mountain example, I’m curious as to how much this particular developer’s site reflects community norms in Eagle Mountain. I know one person from Eagle Mountain, and I’m going to drop him a line and see what he thinks of this. (I should note that he’s a very nice person, and is not, that I can tell, at all racist.)