Friday, January 10, 2003

If you're like me, you're no doubt appalled at Robert Mugabe's campaign of terror against white farmers in Zimbabwe, and you consider him guilty of cynically exploiting racial tensions to maintain his hold on power. You would also have been disgusted by the brutal carnage of the anti-Chinese riots that convulsed Indonesia in 1998, many of them instigated by the military in an attempt to divert anger away from the soon-to-be-deposed military government there. In short, you would see state-sanctioned violence against minority groups as most often simply a product of ugly collaboration between racist populations and ruthless demagogues.

Unless, of course, you were visiting Yale law professor Amy Chua, who (I'm not joking) blames "free-market democracy" for creating (again, this is really her phrase) "market-dominant minorities". "[T]he pursuit of free-market democracy," she writes in the New York Times, "often becomes an engine of ethnic nationalism, pitting a frustrated indigenous majority, easily aroused by demagogic politicians, against a resented, wealthy ethnic minority." That's right--freedom, prosperity and democracy allow envy and racism to surface, and the problem, in places like Zimbabwe and Indonesia (she explicitly cites those two examples), is therefore with freedom, prosperity and democracy. "[I]f global markets are to be sustainable," she warns, "ways must be found to spread their benefits beyond a handful of market-dominant minorities and their foreign investor partners."

In fact, brutality towards affluent minorities is by no means universal. Many nations do destroy or drive out their mercantile classes--and invariably pay the price in economic ruin. But others--modern America being an obvious example--treat such groups with tolerance, and moreover usually end up sharing in their economic blessings.

Indeed, one wonders how many of her own "benefits" Prof. Chua, a native Chinese speaker and well-paid professor, is prepared to spread around to help protect her own conspicuously successful minority from a vengeful American majority. Perhaps she should specify exactly what fraction of her own income and property angry white American racists are entitled, in her view, to extort from her, before she no longer accepts their demands as natural and inevitable.

Then again, I suppose I should be thankful that she didn't mention the original "market-dominant minority", famous for sucking the blood of its majority hosts, in league with fellow rootless cosmopolitan "foreign investor partners". If only Amy Chua had been there at various opportune moments in history, she might have been able to suggest various ways to spread their predatory profits beyond their greedy, clannish hands, and to offer a shrugging I-told-you-so each time a "frustrated indigenous majority", aroused by demagogic politicians, rose up against them.

Fortunately, such outdated apologias for crude racism are normally considered monstrously uncouth in civilized countries like America--though I hear they've been making a comeback, of late, in places like the offices of the New York Times and the halls of Yale Law School.

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