All Commentary
Sunday, May 1, 1955

A Decree Of Racial Inferiority

F. A. Harper is a member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education.

The decision of the Supreme Court on the issue of segregation in the public schools is commonly being heralded as a body blow at racial discrimination. One not a lawyer should hardly presume to question a legal decision of the Supreme Court, especially when it is a decision unanimous among that learned body. But on another basis—an extra-legal basis—an interesting question may be raised about the reasons given in support of the legal decision.

In forcing Negroes and Whites to be schooled together, the issue was not whether they shall be schooled at public expense. Nor was it whether both shall receive equal facilities so far as teachers and books and buildings and playgrounds and all that are concerned. Equality in these respects was not the issue. The issue was, instead, whether equality in all these respects insures “equal educational opportunities” for Negroes.

According to the Supreme Court opinion, the presence of the Whites is necessary before the Negroes can attain equal access to school learning. For the Court has said that “segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprives the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities . . . . ‘Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children.’”

Is not this opinion clearly discriminatory against the Negro race? It is, beyond question, based on the idea that the exclusive company of Negroes in school is somehow lacking in educational opportunity. If the nine Supreme Court Justices did not themselves each believe that Whites are superior to Negroes, surely they would not have supported the opinion which says, in effect, that Whites are superior to Negroes. If they believed otherwise, surely they would not have decreed that Negroes are denied “equal educational opportunities” unless they have the constant association of Whites in school. According to the Supreme Court Justices, segregation has a detrimental effect only on colored children, not on both colored and white children equally nor on Whites alone.

What could be more discriminatory than such an opinion?

If I were a Negro, I suspect I might resent the implied inferiority of Negroes contained in this opinion. []


It's the Utility That Counts

Every time a customer makes a purchase in a free economy, he is also forced to make a decision. For since he cannot afford to buy all the goods and services offered to him, he must select between them.

This process of selection is complicated because it involves the customer’s personal needs and wants, his supply of each article, as well as the prices asked. For example, there is no want today for high-buttoned shoes, no need for buggy whips; prices of two dollars a loaf would drastically curtail the sale of bread; and a man with a supply of eight automobile tires for one car would hardly buy a ninth, regardless of price. To describe all these factors that enter into a decision to buy, economists use the word utility, which means the additional satisfaction that a person realizes—or hopes to realize—from some particular service or commodity as compared with others that may be available to him.

In a dictatorship, utility has relatively minor economic significance. People may be forced to buy bread at two dollars a loaf or high-buttoned shoes, even if they don’t want them. But in a free economy, the utility of any commodity or service largely determines its fate in the market place. If it has utility for the consumer, it will be sold. If not, the company producing it will be forced to change or to go out of business.

This is more important than it may first appear. For it not only provides for the gratification of individual desires, but it also pushes producers into making better and better goods at more favorable prices. In a dictatorship, the economy can stagnate and become outmoded; but in a free nation, the continuing pressure of what the economist calls utility leads to constant improvements and progress. It is this factor, perhaps more than anything else, that has led to America’s dominance as a world economic power. Mellon Bank Notes, No. 7

  • Floyd Arthur "Baldy" Harper (February 7, 1905 – April 1973) was an American academic, economist and writer who was best known for founding the Institute for Humane Studies in 1961. He worked with FEE in its early years.