The prevailing social dogma of our time — that economic and other disparities among groups are strange, if not sinister — has set off bitter disputes between those who blame genetic differences and those who blame discrimination.
Both sides ignore the possibility that groups themselves may differ in their orientations, their priorities, and in what they are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of other things.
Back in the early 19th century, an official of the Russian Empire reported that even the poorest Jews saw to it that their daughters could read, and their homes had at least ten books. This was at a time when the vast majority of the population of the Russian Empire were illiterate.
During that same era, Thomas Jefferson complained that there was not a single bookstore where he lived. In Frederick Law Olmsted’s travels through the antebellum South, he noted that even plantation owners seldom had many books.
But in mid-18th century Scotland, even people of modest means had books, and those too poor to buy them could rent books from lending libraries, which were common throughout Scottish towns.