Malcolm Gladwell Blinks Again

Malcolm Gladwell, one of the
highest-paid print journalists in America, has just been
awarded the supreme MSM accolade: a 2600-word profile in
today`s New York Times entitled the

The Gladwell Effect
[by Rachel Donadio, February
5 2005]

So I am naturally honored to find
he has posted on his
website a

1000 word response
(scroll down) to my 2005

of his humongous bestseller Blink: The
Power of Thinking Without Thinking
readers may recall that I

Blink as contradictorily advising:

  • Go with your gut
    reactions, but only when they are right.

  • And even when your gut
    reactions are factually correct, ignore them when
    they are politically incorrect.

In his response, Gladwell is
baffled and offended that both

Judge Richard A. Posner
, the distinguished leader of

Law and Economics school of thought
, and myself had
scoffed at his theory that, as he puts it, the reason
"car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise
identical black shoppers is because of unconscious
discrimination. They don`t realize what they are doing.
But buried prejudices are changing their responses in
the moment."

Posner and I had pointed out that
auto dealers aren`t tragic victims of their own hidden
bigotry. Instead, they are relying on their years of
experience at milking

different kinds of customers
for the highest
possible price.

Thus, they make higher offers to
blacks and women because they`ve found they can often
manipulate them into paying more.

Gladwell sniffed: "Sailer and
[sic] have a very low opinion of car

Now, that`s a killer comeback!

I`ll return below to Gladwell`s
rebuttal and toss in my own snide comments. But let`s
first review both the magnitude and meaning of “the
Gladwell Effect.”


$250,000 salary
with The New Yorker, for
40,000 to 50,000 words annually, comes out to about

five dollars per word
. But that`s just the beginning
of the Gladwell financial empire. His books

The Tipping Point
and Blink earned

seven-figure advances
and have sold three million
copies between them. And he charges corporations roughly



like “The Intuitive Manager” and
“The Laws of Cool.”

Most remarkably, even though
is a nonfiction book with no plot, Gladwell
sold its

movie rights
for a

million dollars
. He is slated to be played by, of
all people,

Leonardo DiCaprio
, the pretty boy star of


This is even odder because DiCaprio
has lank dark blond hair, while Gladwell, who has some
black ancestry,

that he was inspired to write Blink
when he grew a vast

and suddenly started

getting hassled
by The Man.

Gladwell is important, however,
because he`s pioneering a new hybrid genre.

There are three obvious ways to get
rich as a nonfiction writer.

  • Flatter conservatives that
    they are more moral, patriotic, and practical-minded
    than liberals.

  • Flatter liberals that they are
    more ethical, cosmopolitan, and high-minded than

Although once a conservative,

working for The American Spectator,
in recent years the Canadian-born Gladwell has been
perfecting a spiel that unites the latter two
approaches: he appeals simultaneously to his audience`s

liberal snobbery

capitalist greed

His reply to me, quoted above, is a
perfect example of this. He asserts that car salesmen
would make even more money if they overcame their
primitive biases and started to offer blacks and women
lower prices.

In other words, become more
politically correct and wealthier at the same

Hey, it sure worked for Gladwell!

This is a good strategy for
snagging lucrative corporate speaking gigs, from which
Gladwell earns approximately one million dollars each
year. Every

large organization in America
is constantly battling
discrimination lawsuits from disgruntled

and female employees. Big companies
definitely don`t want to take the chance of a plaintiff
in a bias suit pointing out to the jury that they hired
a speaker who publicly engages in


You can imagine the restraining
effect that being able to make $40,000 for a day`s work
would have on anybody: a single publicized "gaffe"
where you tell the truth about some

taboo topic
and your annual corporate speaking
engagement income suddenly drops to zip.

Before Gladwell got into the
lecture racket, his net worth was no doubt smaller but
his courage was definitely larger. Back in 1997, for
instance, he published an article in The New Yorker

The Sports Taboo: Why blacks are like boys and whites
are like girls
. (May 19).

It made the

same heretical argument
about the genetic origin of
sex differences in mathematic performance that got
Harvard President

Larry Summers
in so

much trouble
last year: that men have a larger
variance on many traits, so there are more men at the
top (and bottom) of the bell curves.

And then Gladwell bravely went
ahead and applied the same logic to the biology of race
differences to try to explain why blacks are

faster Olympic runners
and dominate in



He wrote that blacks are more
genetically diverse than whites, so

"… you
would expect to see more really fast blacks-and more
really slow blacks-than whites but far fewer Africans of
merely average speed. Blacks are like boys. Whites are
like girls."

Unfortunately, Gladwell`s theory of
the genetics of race was based on a

common fallacy
: that blacks are more genetically
variable than other races. But this is only true for

junk genes
that don`t do anything.

A little bit of observation would
have shown Gladwell that the real world doesn`t look at
all like his pet theory predicts. Gladwell is unmarried,
but I`ve spent lots of time shepherding

my kids
at playgrounds and sports fields. The
average racial difference in running speed is apparent
from toddlerhood up. There simply is no question that
average sprinting ability is higher among
African-American kids than white kids.

Similarly, if black IQ is more
variable than white IQ, as Gladwell suggests, then
blacks should be over-represented in

high IQ positions
, such as Ivy League physics
departments. They aren`t. (The reality, incidentally, is
that blacks have a slightly

smaller IQ variance
than whites.)

The big racial difference in both
running speed and intelligence is not in variance
but in the mean. For IQ, the means for blacks and
whites differs by a full standard deviation.

So Gladwell`s theory about the
genetics of racial differences was self-evidently
absurd. But at least you could say that he was
trying—back in 1997.

By 2005, though, Gladwell cravenly
failed to come to the defense of Summers for saying
exactly what he`d said about sex differences eight years

Now, Gladwell merely attempts to
bolster the political pieties reigning among

New Yorker subscribers
as demonstrated in the Feb. 6th New Yorker by his

disingenuous attack
on the efficacy of racial

The Problem with Profiling: Is there any accurate way to
determine who is going to behave badly?
To make
it seem as if profiling wouldn`t work, Gladwell
constructs a Rube Goldberg analogy to the controversy
over outlawing

pit bulls
that has to be read to be believed. You
can find my debunking


Last year in, I accused
Gladwell of wielding

Occam`s Butterknife
in his interpretation in
of a well-known 1995 study by law professor

Ian Ayres
of racial discrimination by Chicago car

Ayres sent matched testers into
auto show rooms where they found that car dealers gave
the lowest initial offers to white men, then to white
women, then to black women, and then finally black men.
Even after 40 minutes of negotiating, the black guy
shoppers were still being offered prices nearly $800
higher than the initial offer made to the white guys.

(Although Gladwell didn`t mention

the race or sex of the salesperson didn`t matter
on average, black saleswomen quote higher prices to
black women than to white men.)

I pointed out that in a

scathing review
of Blink in The New
, the celebrated

Judge Richard A. Posner

would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that an
auto salesman`s discriminating on the basis of race or
sex might be a rational form of the "rapid cognition"
that he admires…
[It] may be sensible to
ascribe the group`s average characteristics to each
member of the group, even though one knows that many
members deviate from the average. An individual`s
characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief
encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his
time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high
price to every black shopper even though he knows that
some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car
shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists
use the term `statistical discrimination` to describe
this behavior."

Here`s what
Gladwell had to say on his website:

"One of
the most bizarre reactions that I received from
reviewers of Blink is an absolute inability to
accept the notion of unconscious prejudice. Here is an
example from a fairly well known writer named Steve
Sailer. Sailer, in turns, quotes from a very hostile
review of Blink in The New Republic by
Richard Posner."

Let me butt in here. Malcolm, I get
the impression that you don`t really know who Posner is,
or you would have left out mentioning that Posner agrees
with me. Here`s the intro to an

with Posner:

"Richard Posner has been showered with superlatives by
fans and critics alike. He`s been called the most
prolific, the most outspoken, the most intelligent, and
the most controversial judge in the country. Along with
his job as a Federal Appeals Court judge, he`s a
professor at the University of Chicago Law School and he
has published over 40 books."

Back in 2005
, I explained what was really happening
in the showrooms:

dislike hurting other people`s feelings more than men
do, and

car salesmen
are very good at acting emotionally
hurt when you

try to lowball them
. …

Black men,
for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy
being seen as big spenders. And car salesmen are all too
willing to help them spend big."

Malcolm, you could only sputter in
shock and repeat yourself:

hard to know just what to say in the face of arguments
like this. … My interpretation is that the reason the
car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise identical
black shoppers is because of unconscious discrimination.
They don`t realize what they are doing…

That`s naive to the point of
hilarity. Some of these guys have been selling cars for
as long as you have been alive. And, believe it or not,
they pay close attention not just to what makes the most
money for themselves but to what works for other
salesmen as well.

Further, if the salesman`s
unconscious prejudice is costing the dealership money,
his manager will make him highly conscious of it
quickly, or the salesman will be out on the street.

You go on, working up an impressive
display of righteous indignation:

and Posner, by contrast, think that the discrimination
is conscious and, what`s more, that it`s rational. The
salesmen, in Posner`s words, `ascribe the group`s
average characteristics to each member of the group,
even though one knows that many members deviate from the
average.` And what is the `group`s average
characteristic` in this case? That, as Sailer puts it,
black men "enjoy being seen as big spenders." Am I wrong
or is that an utterly ludicrous (not to mention
offensive) statement? Where does this idea come from?"

Uh, from

10,000 rap videos
? From the fact that the world`s #1
market for

cognac is Detroit
, which is 80% black? The mouths of
black stand-up comedians? Decades of marketing research?
100 years of car buying experience?

Malcolm, you go on:

"How is
it possible that when it comes to buying things black
men–magically–all take on the same personality?"

Uh, because they don`t all
take on the same personality. Go reread the line from
Judge Posner that you yourself quoted above: we`re
talking about the "average"—a concept you may
have heard of?

You say:

"… I
refuse to believe that all of the car salesmen of
Chicago are so stupid as to believe that by virtue of
having a slightly darker skin color a human being
becomes somehow predisposed towards higher prices." 

But Malcolm, saying "I refuse to
when you have no evidence bespeaks

We`re talking about an ethnic
cultural trait. And the simple fact is that the urge to
drive a hard bargain famously varies between ethnic
groups. As Dave Barry notes in his new book

Dave Barry`s Money Secrets (Like: Why Is There a Giant
Eyeball on the Dollar?)

the world`s worst car buyer. I come from a long line of

, who get their name from the Greek
words pre, meaning `people,` and sbyterian,
meaning `who always pay retail.` … My idea of an opening
tactical salvo is to look at the car`s sticker price and
say to the salesperson, `This looks like a good deal!
Are you sure you`re making enough profit on this?`"

As for your coup de grace"Sailer
and Poser
[sic] have a very low opinion of car
you must be one of the few people in the
country who claims not to have a low opinion of

car salesmen.

2005 Gallup poll
asked 1002 adults nationwide to
rate the honesty and ethical standards of 21
occupations. Nurses came in first, with 82% rating them
high or very high. Last were telemarketers at 7%. Next
to last were

car salesmen
at 8%.

You say:

"Nor do
I believe that this ridiculous prejudice is rational.
The point of the chapter is that prejudices that rely on
people`s appearance don`t help salesmen make money."

Yeah, Malcolm, Judge Posner and I
know that`s the point of your chapter. We just
think that when it comes to the specific example you
chose to illustrate it, it`s a stupid point.

This stems not from an "absolute
inability to accept the notion of unconscious prejudice"

on the part of Judge Posner and myself. Instead, it
flows both from our familiarity with economic theory and
our many years of

to Chicago car dealers and customers. We
think that

after a century
of selling cars,

Chicago car salesmen
know more about how to make
money in their business than you do.

You say:

salesman makes money on volume—"

No, he makes money on volume

profit margin.

It`s a good thing you don`t run a car dealership—your
strategy would be to lose money on every car sold, but
make up for it on volume!

anything that has the potential to stigmatize or scare
off a specific kind of customer is a really bad idea."

Yes, so the advantage in higher
profit margins from price discriminating by race and sex
must be quite lucrative. Otherwise, the
nondiscriminating dealerships would have driven the
discriminating dealerships out of business over the last

You go on:

reason the notion of unconscious prejudice is so
important is that there are certain kinds of behavior
that are so inexplicable that this is the only way to
explain them."

No, as Judge Posner
explained, this behavior is explicable—by the
well-established economic concept of "statistical

Malcolm, I`m not the world`s
biggest fan of

your buddy
Steven D. "The
" Levitt, but call him up—I`m sure he
could help you grasp the meaning of "statistical


Robert J. Stonebraker

dealers and/or salespeople may know little or nothing
about a particular customer, they know quite a bit about
statistical differences among races and genders.
They know that women and African-Americans typically
enter the showroom with less information and less
proclivity to bargain. Although white males often
salivate at the chance to lock horns with car dealers in
a bargaining struggle, females and African-Americans may
be unaware that bargaining is even possible. Ayres and
Siegelman cite a Consumer Federation of America survey
that discovered that many female respondents, and more
than one-half of African-American respondents, believed
that sticker prices were non-negotiable. Armed with such
knowledge, salespeople will rationally adopt a more
stubborn stance while bargaining with female and
African-American customers."

In summary, Malcolm, I have to
scratch my head: You get paid



corporate sales forces

Obviously, you don`t want to insult
salesmen, who butter your bread.

But I`ve spent a lot more years in
the corporate trenches with sales guys than you have,
and most of them have a good sense of humor about what
they do. They can put up with some ribbing.

What gets on their nerves is a
pompous fool.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website
features his daily