Do recessions make us more racist?

by on June 12, 2014 at 9:49 am in Economics, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Speculative perhaps, but interesting nonetheless and it does not seem out of accord with broader historical experience:

When the economy declines, African Americans are more likely to be seen as “Blacker” and to bear stereotypical features, according to a new study by psychology researchers at New York University. Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that economic duress may spur racial discrimination.

The first test ran like this:

…subjects who more strongly believed in resource competition between Whites and Blacks had a lower threshold for identifying mixed-race faces as Black than did subjects who did not hold these zero-sum views.

However, the design of this study only allowed the researchers to test the correlation between perceived scarcity and race perceptions. To test the casual effect of scarcity on such race perceptions, the researchers conducted a second experiment, with a new set of subjects.

There is discussion of the other tests at the link.  The source paper is here.  For the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.

1 Kabal June 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

Was this repeated to see how black participants perceived whites under the same conditions? If not, why not?

2 Z June 12, 2014 at 10:11 am

Only whites can be racist.

3 Jan June 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

From the abstract: When the economy declines, racial minorities are hit the hardest. Although existing explanations for this effect focus on institutional causes, recent psychological findings suggest that scarcity may also alter perceptions of race in ways that exacerbate discrimination

4 Beliavsky June 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

What about a more direct test — does white-on-black and black-on-white crime increase during recessions, either absolutely or as a proportion of total crime?

5 P June 12, 2014 at 10:05 am


Tiny sample sizes, dubious methodology, small effects. Of all the “prestige” journals, I’ve found that PNAS publishes the most dodgy papers.

6 Paul Gowder June 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm

The sample sizes aren’t all that tiny. They ranged from 59-70 subjects. According to this 2011 paper (text here), the median sample size in 4 major psych journals in 2006 was 40 subjects (table on pg. 338). Admittedly, this practice has been criticized within psychology, but it’s not as if this paper is any more obviously “dodgy” than any other psych paper following the mainstream norms of the discipline.

7 P June 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Yes, psychology in general is dodgy.

8 Andrea Ostrov Letania June 12, 2014 at 10:17 am

It could be when times are bad, black behavior and attitudes tend to be blacker… as in ‘where is my reparation, white boy?’ And also more crime.

9 So Much for Subtlety June 12, 2014 at 7:56 pm

It could be simpler than that – to succeed in a corporate career you have to be bland and boring. That stereotype is based on being and acting White. A White-bread Brady-Bunch-style colorless drone. Presumably it is harder for Blacks to approximate this ideal.

If corporate jobs are no longer within reach, there is no longer any reason to act White.

The question is what would the corporate stereotype look like if most large companies were founded and run by Blacks? But I suspect every single answer would be condemned as racist so there is no point asking it. Although we can be pretty sure it doesn’t include anyone starting a board meeting by saying “I’m Rick James, B!tch!”

10 Joshua June 12, 2014 at 10:30 am

I would fully expect this. In times of diminished prosperity, tolerance for all otherness is also diminished.

In the long term, the progressive agenda is self-defeating. Their economic goals will make their social goals impossible.

The same holds true for the traditional conservative agenda (the old one that actually practiced fiscal restraint). Their policies create increased prosperity making people more tolerant of gays, drugs, other freedoms.

11 8 June 12, 2014 at 10:55 am

This is a higher order cycle though, a 300-year peak in progressivism. This might be the most tolerant you see the West for 500-1000 years.

12 James Cox June 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

These early comments, many of which are racist, seem to support the study’s finding.

13 Dan Weber June 12, 2014 at 10:37 am
14 GiT June 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Is this what passes for humor among the halfwit acolytes of Moldbug?

15 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 10:49 am

There are hardly even “many” comments. Which ones do you think are racist?

16 Jeff June 12, 2014 at 10:59 am

Doubtful. They were probably racist all along.

17 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 11:05 am

Who is racist?

18 Jeff June 12, 2014 at 11:28 am


19 jason y. June 12, 2014 at 11:28 am

there’s nothing more racist than questioning the presence of racism, so in answer to your question, you.

20 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 11:35 am


I want someone to help me see correctly.

I already know that I have deep-seeded subliminal racism.

21 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 11:37 am

My only question is how could people be less racist during non-recessions? We know everyone is equally always racist, except when they are EVEN MORE RACIST!

22 JWatts June 12, 2014 at 6:16 pm

“We know everyone is equally always racist”

That’s obviously a racist comment.

23 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

Even my coffee looks blacker. My new creamer in the smaller serving size is racist!

24 Artimus June 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

Yep. This posting by Tyler should bring out all the Neanderthals and Jerry Springer types from under their rocks.

25 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 10:59 am

By definition!

26 Slappy McFee June 12, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Notice Artimus only used traditionally white examples in his slander?

27 Andrew' June 12, 2014 at 11:12 am

So Peter Thiel thought that booms are when everyone sings Kumbaya and there is aggregate goodwill and depressions are when we attempt to separate the sheep from the goats.

I like how these researchers take that concept and generate greater impact factor with the race concern trolls.

28 freethinker June 12, 2014 at 11:20 am

When times are bad people get some solace blaming their problems on a group they always hated. So in America African Americans appear “blacker” and in South Africa Afrikaners appear “whiter” , that is more evil, than otherwise. What is the big insight here?

29 Dan Weber June 12, 2014 at 11:43 am

I thought it was a given that nativism increases in recessions. It’s why the grown-ups have to always work so hard against enacting protectionist policies that sound good but just make everyone worse off.

30 CD June 12, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Yep. A lot of arguments for protectionism are also racist as hell, especially around goods made in China.

Racism is about privilege and power – you perceive an advantage to yourself in holding other people back. If you can make the club of the privileged smaller while keeping yourself in it, you’ll do that. Even if (like protectionism) it’s socially irrational in any larger sense, it can be individually rational.

31 So Much for Subtlety June 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Is this why African-Americans with a genetic link to slavery (like Michelle Obama) are busy lobbying hard to make sure that African-Americans whose families immigrated in recent times (like Barak Obama) are not entitled to the benefits of Affirmative Action? After all, if major universities did not hold Asian Americans and poor Whites back, well, God knows what that would do for the African American student body.

Or is it why those nice Native American Cherokee voted to expel all those descendants of slaves their ancestors used to own?

32 Brian Donohue June 12, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Tyler, I’m interested in your views on economic matters from time to time, if you can squeeze ’em in.

33 Doug June 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Hitler figured this out a long time ago. Nothing like a nice hyperinflationary depression to justify killing 6 million Jews.

34 Kevin Erdmann June 12, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I wonder if we tend to also imagine more stark socioeconomic extremes….

35 The Other Jim June 12, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Well, this certainly explains Obama’s plummeting approval ratings.

At first I thought people didn’t appreciate his laying waste to the economy. But it’s actually that the horrific economy is making people more racist towards him. Makes perfect sense.

36 Jan June 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Somebody call the wahbulance. Economy is better on almost every measure since my boy Voodoo Black took over. Get angry.

37 Brian Donohue June 13, 2014 at 7:50 am

Aww, Jan likes House Republicans. Or gridlock. Or something.

38 GiT June 12, 2014 at 10:18 pm

The upswell of expressed and implicit racism preceded his taking office.

39 So Much for Subtlety June 12, 2014 at 10:45 pm

This upswell of expressed and implicit racism would be shown by the 45% of White people who, you know, voted for him?

40 Jan June 12, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Yeah, some did. But look at West Virginia. One of the most Democrat-leaning states in the country through the 90s and 2000s. In 2008, according to presidential election exit polls, one in four Clinton voters said race was an important factor in their vote. That boggles the mind. In 2012, Obama didn’t win a single county there, while holding strong in other D states.

41 So Much For Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 5:56 am

This would be Obama, the candidate who said he was going to close the coal industry down would it?

What is West Virginia’s largest industries again?

It might be that all those West Virginian Democrats were racists. Or maybe they weren’t.

One in four saying race was important can go either way. Obama’s race was and is clearly very important to African Americans.

42 Brian Donohue June 13, 2014 at 7:55 am

What percent of black voters thought race was an important factor?

Your mind boggles easily.

43 Urso June 13, 2014 at 10:49 am

Clinton won about 2/3 of the votes in that election. So 25% of 2/3 of the Democratic voters only in one of the smallest states (and one which is pretty widely recognized as backwards) said race was *an* – not *the* – important factor in their vote. This is a nationwide upswell of racism.

But to some anything other than sweeping Obama into office by unanimous acclaim, voice vote perhaps – no need for formalities – is evidence of deepseated racism.

44 GiT June 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm

West Virginia is an exemplar not a proof.

45 GiT June 13, 2014 at 3:29 pm

No, among the whites who switched voting behavior after Hilary’s loss in the primaries is one place to look, you obtuse halfwit.

46 So Much For Subtlety June 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Sure, we could look among those mythical voters. Or we could note that a large number of White people voted for an incredibly weak, and as it turned out, incredibly incompetent, Far Left candidate.

Largely, I expect, because race was important. They voted for the Black guy because they wanted to put racism behind them.

All the abuse in the world will not change the fact that there is no racism among Whites in the US that modern science can detect.

47 Nathan W June 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm

In many Western datasets, you will find opposition to immigration is usually higher during lower growth and recessions, but this could be for practical reasons rather than due to racism. However, anti-immigration sentiment is still probably a good proxy for racism, imo.

A number of surveys ask about views on immigration and related factors. I picked through surveys which included these questions some years ago in school, and I recall the effect being in the expected direction for almost all variables which could be remotely construed as racist or anti-immigrant (different things, mind you, since there are reasons other than racism to oppose immigration).

It may be worth noting that having had such good access to so much data in computer lab in a formal learning situation is one of the reasons why I value so highly any and all efforts to promote data openness on the part of government and government-funded research.

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