To the Editor:
Murray Friedman’s review of Ivan Light’s Ethnic Enterprise in America [Books in Review, December 1973] and the book itself offer invaluable insights on the failure of black capitalism. The culture which social reality forced blacks to accept was devoid of the traditional foundations upon which could be built those social institutions which enabled all other ethnic groups to move upward. . . .
Mr. Friedman notes the poor showing of black-owned and managed business ($473.4 million) in America’s trillion-dollar economy and attributes it to the absence of a stable and cohesive black ethnic history. . . . I have no quarrel with this analysis. . . . I do, however, believe that there is another factor which might have been taken into account, an issue of importance in measuring all ethnic enterprise. . . . Suppose that instead of comparing the gross revenue of black businesses with the whole economy, it had been compared with the gross revenue of Jewish, Polish, Italian, and other ethnically-owned and operated businesses. This would have provided a more valid index of the success of black enterprise. Then, too, what if each ethnic group had been compared with the economy as a whole? I believe if this had been done, the original estimation would stand in respect to black enterprise, but I also believe that some interesting additional facts would also have emerged. Using gross revenue, total assets, or any other comparable data, we would reach the inevitable conclusion that the economic wealth of America is not in the hands of the “ethnics,” and probably will remain beyond their reach. Most of the wealth is owned and controlled by a small white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant elite group which has remained virtually impenetrable and invincible throughout our history.
The May 1968 issue of Fortune magazine lists sixty-six of America’s centi-millionaires in descending order of wealth, from $1.5 billion to $150 million . . . and identifies each with an industry or enterprise. Going down the list, and using surnames as my only criterion, I find three names which might possibly be Jewish, though they are perhaps German in origin. . . . None of the names appears to be Italian or ethnically identifiable with any but a Wasp background. . . .
Comparisons of black enterprises with any other ethnically-controlled enterprise are valid indicators of the success or failure of units within the total economy. However, by comparing individual units with the whole, we discover not the success of the unit in relation to other units, but the degree to which that individual unit is part of the whole in terms of a percentage. Thus, black capitalism represents x per cent of the gross revenue of the U.S., Jewish capitalism represents x per cent, and so forth. . . . I would venture to guess that . . . the total wealth of ethnic-controlled business would not come close to the wealth controlled by the industrial elite.
Black capitalism was an attempt to create a structure for the acquisition of wealth by blacks because the existing structure was closed to them. Its failure has unique and historical causes. Other ethnic groups excluded from the economic structure formed their own business enterprises, and succeeded for cultural and historical reasons. Thus in the realm of ethnic capitalism black capitalism has failed. However, in the overall realm of American capitalism, few of the ethnics seem to have done well. . . .
Jon F. Tucker
Murray Friedman writes:
I agree with Jon Tucker that the “economic wealth of America is not in the hands of the ‘ethnics’” but disagree that it “probably will remain beyond their reach.” The executive suite of the Wasp bank and corporation is beginning—admittedly, just beginning—to succumb to the historic process of ethnic succession in this country. On October 31, 1971, the New York Times cited, as examples of this, Iacocca of Ford, Riccardo of Chrysler, Halaby of Pan Am, Piore of IBM, and Goldman of Xerox. As I write, newspapers are featuring the elevation of Irving S. Shapiro as head of Du-Pont. I think this trend will continue. The 60′s witnessed what Peter and Brigitte Berger called “the blueing of America,” the emergence of working-class and ethnic groups at a time when elements of the traditional upper classes began to turn away from corporate careers and life styles.
A word of caution to Mr. Tucker (and others) about the term, “Wasp.” It has been stretched out of all possibility of usefulness by having to cover such dissimilar groups as Appalachian whites, Mississippi dirt farmers, and New England Brahmins. Some of these “Wasps” are really ethnics.