During World War II, Australian soldiers were told they had nothing to fear from Japanese soldiers. They were short, wore glasses and their rifles fired puny bullets that would bounce off a strapping young Aussie lad. No worries. Should fix them up before tea then you can go and fight some real soldiers like the Germans once you’ve done with the Japs.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. The Japanese stormed across South East Asia and took Singapore with embarrassing ease. Thousands of Australian soldiers were taken prisoner there. Many didn’t survive that ordeal. The Japanese had their eyes on Australia and landed in Northern New Guinea, a mere island away from Queensland, and proceeded to show the Australians how to fight in jungles. Despite being labelled ‘cowards’ by the US General Douglas McArthur (who was leading from the front in Melbourne) the Australians managed to stop and forced the Japanese to retreat on the Kokoda track. They did this without any on-the-ground assistance from its allies, Great Britain or the US. The Australians found, at high cost, that they didn’t need to travel to North Africa or Europe to fight ‘real soldiers’.
What does this have to do with economics you may ask? Plenty. Counter-productive racial stereotypes leads to a huge misallocation of resources. In the case of the Japanese, it lead to thousands of Australians dying because the military and political elite didn’t treat the Japanese as a serious threat. In today’s world, it leads to smart, capable young people being discriminated because their first name is ‘Muhammad’ or ‘Xiao’. It got to the point where a Muslim woman changed her first and family name to a ‘Gabriella Hannah’. This type of discrimination contributes to differing unemployment rates between recent migrants (7%) compared to Australians (5.4%) in November 2013. Note, recent migrants include those from English-speaking countries so the unemployment rate hides considerable variation depending on country of origin. For example, recent migrants from North Africa and the Middle East have an unemployment rate of over 20% whereas those from North-West Europe had an unemployment rate of 0.9%.
Even white people aren’t exempt from racial stereotypes. Government backbencher George Christensen slammed #illridewithyou as portraying white Australians as Muslim-hating thugs who travel on public transport. Unfortunately, Mr Christensen omitted the economic impact of such a stereotype for Australians of Anglo-Saxon heritage which diminished the public policy value of his Twitter posts in my eyes.
By now, you are probably aware of the Sydney Cafe Siege. As I followed the events, I despaired that the Muslim Australian community would face another round of racial attacks on our streets and our public transport. Seems like I wasn’t the only one if #illridewithyou was anything to go by. Maybe I am one of those people who thought less of white Australians. But after I saw #illridewithyou, I knew I was wrong to hold such stereotypes. Stereotypes are erroneous assumptions. And wrong assumptions makes an ass out of u and me. Maybe we would all be better off if we parked our prejudices at the border.
Have a good Christmas and a Happy New Year!