Roper: Behavioral economics shows who’s responsible for rise in racism (if there really is one)

By Rob Roper

Many news stories and opinion pieces in the Vermont media are opining about a rise in racism around our state and perhaps the country. In fact, you can’t turn on the news these days without hearing the term “white nationalism” 10 times in five minutes.

Our attorney general, TJ Donovan, just took part in a Hate-Free Vermont forum in Rutland, one of a five-part series being held around the state. Gov. Phil Scott just appointed Vermont’s first “executive director of racial equity” who will “work with state government agencies and departments to identify and address systemic racial disparities.” Schools from elementary to college are routinely protesting or making us “woke” to the ubiquity racial injustice.

Rob Roper

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

So, what’s the result of all of this? Studies in behavioral economics can give us some insights, and, if there really is an uptick in racism it’s probably because of, not in spite of, all the activity outlined above.

Professor Robert Cialdini did an interesting study in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. At the time, visitors were stealing pieces of petrified wood as souvenirs, and officials needed this practice to stop or it would do irreparable harm to the park. So, Cialdini’s team tried different advertising messages on visitors to see what could reduce the behavior.

The first campaign warned, “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.” It had quite an impact. The percentage of park visitors stealing wood jumped from 5 percent to almost 8 percent — a nearly 60 percent increase.

Why? Because informing the public that lots of people who visit the park steal petrified wood had the effect of normalizing the behavior. Even though the behavior was clearly considered bad, if “everybody’s doing it,” then psychologically speaking, it becomes socially acceptable.

The campaign that succeeded in reducing the removal of petrified wood portrayed the thieves as lone actors and social outcasts.

So, if we apply this lesson to solving the problem of racism, creating the impression that racism is everywhere and everyone’s a racist and racism is on the rise is probably about the worst possible thing one could do. This is the proverbial throwing of gasoline onto the fire.

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If you really want to reduce racism, the way to approach the issue is to portray racists as few, far between, socially isolated and laughable. And this shouldn’t be hard to do. The actual number of KKK members, neo-Nazis, etc. is, thankfully, incredibly small. Recall that the Unite the Right rally on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville attracted 20 or 30 kooks from around the country whereas thousands came out to protest against them.

To solve the problem, that’s the story (and those like it) to emphasize.

Only if your objective is to stoke racial tensions and exploit fear while appearing to oppose racism for political purposes, or to sell newspapers or air time, or to fundraise, should you keep pushing the narrative that the 20 nuts who showed up in Charlottesville have become a national army of bigots poised to take over the world.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Ardfern

9 thoughts on “Roper: Behavioral economics shows who’s responsible for rise in racism (if there really is one)

      • People make massive amounts of money keeping people poor and oppressed. Vermont has discovered this money train and has adopted the plan with open arms, making Vermont unaffordable, putting more people in poverty, trapping them and keeping them there. Great business if you’re into that sort of thing.

  1. Racism isn’t what it use to be, we all knew what it meant !! Today if you say something or
    anything that a ” Liberal ” doesn’t agree with, well you’re a racist according to them and their
    simple mindset……shameful.

    Again, Liberals destroying something they know nothing about, it’s just an agenda and it will
    ” rot ” from within !!


  2. The rise of Racism rhetoric comes solely from the party of Racism the Demoncrats.
    They were the KKK they permeated jim crow laws they tried to keep the Blacks unarmed and now do their darnedest to keep them on the Plantation while throwing them under the bus for illegals. The party that caused all the Racist instability is the party that hasn’t ever atoned or apologized for it. They just try to blame everyone else. This all reached peak boiling point under the most racist Pres ever Obola the incompetent…

  3. Well said. Unfortunately, it is clear that today’s social “justice” movements have nothing to do with improving racial, ethnic, or any other group relations.
    This is being done on purpose.
    Like splitting diamonds, the leaders of such “movements” nowadays know where to apply the wedges, and to cleave and fracture society, and destroy all the progress of the last century towards getting along better, and seeing that we are all human inside, and not all that different from one another.
    New generations are now raised without any idea of how these conditions had improved, and the new normal is hate and division.
    Why would anybody want to do such a wicked thing? Communism! When I was a kid, older people warned us that this was so. I never would have believe it, but look where we are now!
    And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    couldn’t put Humpty together again.

  4. Racism in Vermont? Hard to believe and now Scott has appointed an “Executive Director of Racial Equity”. Dumb questions: how many bodies will be hired to staff this ” important” bureaucracy and how much will it cost the hard working tax payers?????

  5. I agree with you Rob but I sincerely think that the liberals/socialists/progressives are using this as a tool to excite the public to get votes. They seem to be the racists..

    • Of course it’s the tool!!! It’s there plan and it’s written out for anyone interested in reading it. It’s in the hand book too!!

      I never thought there was systemic racism in America…..but then it was revealed, it’s the media, the non-conservative media.

      Who portrays the minority community (stereo type)in a certain light 24/7/365?
      Who ignores the crime in minority communities on a national basis 24/7/365?
      Who fills our communities for pornography?….a hint, it’s not Focus on the Family.
      Who promotes and sexualizes our young children?
      Who promotes certain no good race hustlers over accomplished men and women?
      Who tears down those within the community that try and get out of poverty and dysfunctional families? (Steve Harvey)
      Who promotes violence and it’s acceptance within minority communities?
      Who bans/censors and deletes comments who oppose their narrative?

      Its systemic, intentional and pure evil. Just think, what if we had news coverage about the Chicago corruption, crime and killings on national tv every week? Think things might change? Notice how nationally it’s not a concern for anybody? That is blatant racism.

      Meanwhile if we have a shooting in a white school there is national outcry. If a police officer fires upon an armed burglar in Vermont there is massive media pandemonium.

      Mean while in one United states city there are 2600 shootings every year, massive deaths. But the media doesn’t care about black, brown or minority crime, only lily white crime.

      Our media is completely racist. Racist Fake News……he president’s statement needs to be modified.

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