The Electric Commentary

Monday, November 14, 2005

Alex Tabarrok on Bill Cosby

It's gotta be the shoes.


  • While I agree with the overall ideas, I have major problems with some of Cosby's points. Still, harping over him talking about the cost of a pair of shoes is a bit lame. Dyson can be insightful, but I generally find him to be an overcooked ham.

    Also, the stats that the author points out don't really tell a complete story. There is no doubt that black people dig the bling, but in order to support Cosby's assertions, that table would have to stratify expenditure by class as Cosby was accusing the lower income blacks of engaging in this behavior. It could very well be that the middle-class and rich black households (which, seemingly contrary to popular belief, are the majority) are skewing the distribution.

    I thought that the most interesting bit was in a trackback to the MR article. The writer suggests that the number one consumer product that is linked to economic prosperity is a hardback book.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 2:20 PM  

  • I'm sure that the shoes are correlative and not causitive, but I'm just glad there's an ornery guy like Cosby out there.

    Anyway, I'm willing to bet that if you tried, you could come up with a stereotypically "white poor people" item that they waste money on without too much trouble. The reason I liked the MR post is that, at least factually, Cosby is right, even if his assignment of the actual cause of the problem is a little off.

    The Kling/Caplan post is also quite excellent.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 4:34 PM  

  • I have an internship working for a trial court judge right now. Last week I was watching a contempt hearing of some idiot that was waaayyyy behind on his shild support payments for his four kids (with three different baby's mamas). He was about my age. He showed up in court wearing brand new $200 sneakers. This moron honestly said to the judge, "I don't normally buy new things. The only reason I'm here looking all groomed and wearing $200 sneakers is because I want to show respect for the court."

    Judge Martin's response, "I was considering probation, but after further review, I sentence you to six months in prison to commence forthwith TODAY!"

    It was awesome.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 5:01 PM  

  • Many people spend money on things that communicate status. Poor people have some pride too. If you are poor you cannot afford a Mercedes or a big house. Sneakers seem proportionately wasteful by comparison.

    "Stereotypically white poor item"? Perhaps pick-up truck maintenance. I also have known several white and Asian guys working $8 hour jobs with a lot of very expensive car modifications.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 5:26 PM  

  • Take a closer look; there might be no real difference:
    Look at the average number of children under the age of 18 (kids still
    growing basically):
    Whites and all other races had an average of .6 kids.  Black families had an average of .9 kids.  .6/.9 = .66.  Also note that avg. amount that white and all other races spends on shoes is 274 and black families is 440.  274/440 = .623.  In other words, the added expenditure seems to
    be almost entirely explained by more kids, with maybe a little evidence (3.7%) showing a greater preference for shoes.  But, what about controlling for things like having to walk more, or not having as many computers, etc. so being more active and wearing shoes out faster?    
    More importantly, who the hell cares even if it is true?  What about video games and a bunch of other crap people buy?  Why isn't anybody comparing stuff like this?   
    I may have missed something, but it seems the difference is easily explained  

    By Anonymous phil, at 11:31 PM  

  • I'd beinterested to se the difference between the shoes and cars bought buy poor young black people versus the shoes and cars boughtbuy equally poor and equally young white people. I bet there would be a big difference.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:49 PM  

  • Phil, I think the expenditure is per capita. That means per kid too. The difference is still there.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:52 PM  

  • There probably would be a difference anonymous, but like Paul said, I'm sure that there is some group of goods that poor whites disproportionately buy as well. From my experience in the deep south, I would guess it to be camoflauge and firearms (including BB guns). Mud flaps are probably pretty well represented too.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 8:29 AM  

  • I don't think the table gives per capita expenditures. I think the dollar amounts are based on consumer units, with an average white consumer unit being 2.5 people and an average black consumer unit being 2.6 people. My understanding is that black consumer units are more likely to have children under the age of 18 in them. Namely, there is an average of .9 kids under the age of 18 in the black unit, and an average of .6 kids under the age of 18 in the white units. Kids need more shoes when they are still growing, and my understanding of the table was that average white consumer units only have about 2/3 of the children under 18 that black consumer units have. Therefore, I don't understand why it is a big deal that white consumer units only spend about 2/3 as much on footwear. (also note that the black consumer units have 104% of the people that white consumer units have. (2.6/2.5=1.04)) Now, granted, I could very well be doing something wrong here, but I ask again, is there even a real difference between the groups here, given the demogrphic differences?

    By Anonymous Phil, at 4:53 PM  

  • Anonymous,

    Why do you bet there would be a big difference between footwear expenditures between young equally poor whites and blacks? What are you basing this bet on, and what odds would you make such a bet under? Also, would you go so far as to make a bet that total expenditures of disposable income on all items with both fashion and functional aspects among equally poor young black and whites is different? Like the other posters are hinting at, isn't it kind of racist to focus on one product that one minority might show a preference for, when the fact is that the majority group shows a preference for any number of other products. Even if expenditure on shoes is a lot different, who cares? What does that show, other than a preference or need for shoes?

    By Anonymous Phil, at 5:10 PM  

  • In a word Phil, nothing at all.

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 9:06 PM  

  • errrr 3 words...

    By Anonymous Rashid Muhammad, at 9:09 PM  

  • Perhaps Cosby meant to point as shoes as an prominent example of what he considers a larger scale problem of expenditures on luxury or recreational items. Although I have no actual idea, I do see some reason to believe shoes may not be the only unwise use of limited financial resources. Also, whether overexpenditure on such items is limited to poor blacks, or is a problem for poor people of all races, it could stil be a problem.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 10:44 AM  

  • Well, yes, I appreciate Cosby's point, and of course there would be a less poor people in general, or, perhpas, people poorer to a lesser extent, if poor people spent money on only the absolute necessities of life and education or financial investments. And, obviously big expentitures on things like lottery ticktets, or going to those payday loan places, or even expensive shoes, is a problem for families who could spend the money elsewhere, for a tutor or computer or something. What got me a little upset was Marginal Revolution's post, (but most of all some of the comments to that post) which treated the census bureau stats as some sort of proof positive that poor people are foolish and look how much more black people spend on shoes than whites. What got me angry at this was a lack of spending comparisons on other items, or taking into account the demographic differences in the two groups. The failure to do this seemed misleading to readers.

    By Anonymous Phil, at 1:16 PM  

  • Phil, I think you're overstating the case that Alex makes. I think he was specifically taking the author to task for stating that the "shoes" comment was wrong. Alex clearly shows that there is some evidence that the shoe observation is correct. While it is likely that poor white folks waste money too, that is not the subject here. This was a very narrow analysis, and making too much out of it puts you up against a straw man.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:30 PM  

  • a very narrow, shallow analysis.

    By Anonymous Phil, at 2:25 PM  

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