Malcolm X and the Economics of Crime
By David Henderson
Co-blogger Bryan has done a good job so far of persuading me that my attraction to Malcolm X when I was 26 years old was unjustified. I’m not complaining. It’s always good to realize when one’s old thinking was wrong, no matter how sentimental one was in thinking that way.
I want to add two thoughts, one of which I had when I first read the autobiography in 1977 and a new one that Bryan’s second post made me think of.
1. News you can use. Malcolm X talks at one point in the book–I can’t find the page offhand and there’s no index–about how he would never break into a house that had the bathroom light on. Why the bathroom light? Because, he explained, if, say, the living room or kitchen light were on, that was probably just to ward off crooks; but if the bathroom light was on, it was plausible that someone was up sick in the middle of the night or just up to use the bathroom and, as Bryan noted, Malcolm X didn’t want to confront someone.
I’m a slow learner and it took 2 burglaries–the first in Rochester in 1978 and the second in Oakland in 1979–before I started following Malcolm X’s advice.
2. The “numbers” racket. In the early 1960s, I was a big fan of The Untouchables, a show about Eliot Ness that starred Robert Stack. I loved the music, the grim scenery, Eliot Ness as hero, Walter Winchell’s voice (he narrated it), etc. When Eliot Ness’s staff would give him background info on a hoodlum, you would often learn that he got his start in “Numbers.” But they never explained what “numbers” was. I learned only about 25 years ago. Commenter Matt C gives a good explanation. Essentially, it was a lottery. Of course, if they had explained that in the show, some viewers might have said, “What’s the big deal? It’s gambling. Why should that be illegal?” And, of course, today, with so many state governments having a lottery, it would be hard to argue that the government should make gambling illegal while the government runs its own numbers operation.