By David Henderson
I’m not giving anything away in saying that the winner of best picture in last night’s Oscars, Green Book, was about a white driver driving a black musician around the southern United States and that there really was a Green Book, published annually, that told black people where they go in various states (not just in the South) to eat a meal or stay overnight. It sold millions of copies. Here’s a link to the actual Green Book.
Of course the movie was less about the Green Book and more about the development of the relationship between the musician and the driver. I won’t give any spoilers here.
The book was published annually from 1936 to 1966. It’s worth going to the link and looking inside. One of my disappointments is that, at least in the two editions I looked at, my area, Monterey, had exactly 0 entries for restaurants or hotels that would accept black people. Of course, there are two possible explanations: (1) there really were no such restaurants or hotels or (2) it was too small an area to be covered. On (2), we need to remember that Victor Green, the author, was a postal carrier who presumably had very little time to do research.
Notice the date of the last edition. Why is that significant? Not because Green died; he died in 1960, and so someone else must have kept it up. Almost certainly the reason it was not issued after 1966 is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act had made racial discrimination by restaurants and hotels illegal, and so there was much less demand for it. I’m sure the law wasn’t completely enforced but presumably it was enforced enough to cut demand enough that the book wasn’t worth revising and reissuing. Even if, say, 50% of restaurants and hotels had refused after 1964 to cater to black people (and I bet that’s an overestimate), the 50% that did would represent a huge addition to the number of feasible places for black people to go. You’ll notice if you look inside the Green Book just how few places in Los Angeles were “black-friendly.” So tripling the number of such places would still not have got you close to 50%.
Now to the point of this post. Consider a counterfactual in 1965 whereby the Civil Rights Act has not been passed by Congress but the whole Internet as we know it today exists. Then we would certainly have Airbnb.
Here’s my hypothesis. Airbnb would have been a much more comprehensive Green Book. Black people would have found many places where they weren’t welcome but Airbnb would have multiplied the number of places that did welcome black people. Why? Because of diversity in the population of people wanting to rent their places to strangers. A major constraint was presumably that white people at a hotel objected to having black people at the same hotel. But what if you’re a white person who doesn’t feel that way and who wants to make a little extra money? You don’t need to persuade any white person other than, possibly, your spouse. You just rent it out.
Free markets limit racial discrimination; more competition makes for even less racial discrimination.