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Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South Hardcover – January 28, 2013
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By placing economics at the heart of his investigation of the central issues of the civil rights movement, Wright deepens and expands our understanding of what was at stake for those who participated in the civil rights movement as well as those who opposed it. (James C. Cobb, University of Georgia)
Sharing the Prize transforms quite dramatically our understanding of the economics of the civil rights movement in the South, showing how the civil disobedience of black Southerners wrought a transformation that improved the lives of whites as well as blacks. (Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Yale University)
Sharing the Prize is an exceptionally rich study of the civil rights revolution in the American South and will immediately become the book on its economic dimensions. (Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Gavin Wright has written a definitive study of the economic implications of the civil rights revolution in the American South. He shows that while highly useful, economic analysis must be richer and more socially oriented than usual in characterizing the nature of racial discrimination in the South. (Kenneth J. Arrow, Stanford University)
Wright argues that government action spurred by the civil-rights movement corrected a misfiring market, generating large economic gains that private companies had been unable to seize on their own. (The Economist 2013-04-27)
The civil rights movement of the 1960s has had a lasting impact on American society. Although it has hardly been neglected by historians, until now there has been no comprehensive economic interpretation of these events. In this volume, Wright offers an important and illuminating reinterpretation of the civil rights movement and its consequences for both black and white economic progress in the subsequent half century.
(J. L. Rosenbloom Choice 2013-08-13)
Written by Stanford’s Gavin Wright with the care and imagination he displayed in his superb work on slavery and the southern economy since the Civil War, this excellent economic history offers the best empirical account to date of the effects the civil rights revolution had on southern labor markets, schools, and other important institutions…With much of the nation persuaded that a post-racial age has begun, Wright’s analytical history…takes on fresh urgency. (Ira Katxnelson New York Review of Books 2014-04-03)
About the Author
Gavin Wright is William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History at Stanford University.
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Sharing the Prize addresses very fundamental questions: "What were the historical origins of segregation and other forms of race discrimination, and how did these persist over time? How did Civil Rights legislation and enforcement alter these practices, and did resistance to change intensify or diminish over time? How did gains for African Americans affect the economic well-being of white southerners?" (258)
Wright sees no clear economic causes of the civil rights movement, whereas some others have suggested, wrongly I think, that the mechanization of cotton agriculture undermined the need for segregation and brought on the movement. Wright credits the advancement of universalist values, the natural right of every human being to justice and equality, by Martin Luther King and movement activists for pushing the nation to a crisis in 1963 that suddenly yielded monumental works of reform legislation. Given Wright's ability to synthesize scholarship, I wish he had spent some time on the causes matter, but his brief is economics, and that wasn't the cause.
Wright's great addition of value to the understanding of the civil rights movement comes with his evaluation of the impact of the movement. Both blacks and whites made big gains in income after 1965, which belied the broad presumption among American whites that racial change was a zero-sum game. White businessmen had to be coerced to change, but when they did, they did not suffer. The civil rights revolution was a not a program of redistribution of wealth but a circumstance in which both blacks and whites gained. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had a large impact on ending job discrimination. The opening of jobs to blacks in the textile industry, formerly an all-white preserve, was an astonishing development. The migration of two million blacks to the South after the 1960s was strong indication that the civil rights movement had made meaningful changes. Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty programs and his intervention in blacks' access to hospitals resulted in a drastic improvement in the health profile of black southerners. American corporations adopted affirmative action goals and maintained them even after Ronald Reagan effectively killed the government's commitment to equal job opportunities. Black business managers hired other blacks fairly, and the number of blacks in managerial and professional occupations rose dramatically, thus transforming the size and influence of the black middle class in southern cities. But again, whites did not suffer, as they assumed they would; their incomes grew at the same rate as blacks, which they maintained at overall higher levels.
Wright spends a lot of time on the impact of civil rights changes on schools, summarizing social science literature and emphasizing again to the huge impact of Johnson's legislation, the in-tandem effects of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary School Act, which provided the first significant surge of federal funds to local school systems. Black children did better in integrated schools, white children did just as well, and busing orders worked in some places. With regard to the effects of expanded voting rights, blacks got tangible gains of employment as a result of black elected officials who pursued federal aid. Wright sees acceptance of black representation and power as encouraging urban revitalization.
Having shown the positive effects of the movement on American and southern life, Wright ends on a somber note. The South has returned to being a one-party region, and that party is decidedly a white one. Republicans have no incentive to care about blacks, and certainly not poor ones. Wright provides evidence of the harsh impact of regressive consumption taxes on the poor. Republicans in the South do not compete for black votes because they do not have to. In my state, ninety-five percent of white men voted Republican in the recent Presidential election. A high proportion of them were, realistically, voting against their economic interests. Would that they all could read this excellent book and take it to heart.