Professor Sowell Sorts Just About Everything - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Professor Sowell Sorts Just About Everything
by

Wealth-Poverty-Politics-International-Perspective/dp/0465082939">Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective
By Thomas Sowell
(Basic Books, 328 pages, $27.99)

Thomas Sowell may well be the most rational man in an irrational world. It takes someone very rational to demonstrate clearly how little rationality plays in the economic, political, social, and personal lives of homo sapiens sapiens.

Sowell’s latest book, latest of 52 by my count, contains the kind of acute analysis and fearless commentary his readers have relied on since 1971’s Economics: Analysis and Issues. For those looking for truth rather than for political advantage or platitudes to make one feel better about oneself, Sowell is the go-to guy. If, to coin a phrase, “You can’t handle the truth!” it would be best to move on to another writer.

The arguments Sowell advances in Wealth, Poverty and Politics should be central to the 2016 presidential race. But they won’t be, as political campaigns tend to be evidence-free zones. Sowell’s arguments, backed by data and other evidence from across the globe and from history, destroy the delusional policies of a major American political party — Sowell doesn’t name the party but doesn’t have to — which amount to little more than stoking envy and resentment of the relatively well off. (And they get away with it because the other party is either too intellectually bankrupt or too timid to make the obvious counter-arguments.)

Politicians and academics who claim that any differences in the rates of success and wealth among groups are evidence that something unfair and discriminatory is going on — the politicians usually claiming that they have to be elected to correct the situation — are either cynical or ignorant (often both). The simple truth, available to any honest observer who takes the trouble to look, is that different racial, ethnic, religious, and national groups have never been equal in anything. Anywhere. Any time. Sowell documents this exhaustively. To expect wealth and occupational success to be distributed evenly among groups is to expect something that has never happened in the history of the species.

Sowell catalogues the many factors that go into determining how successful various groups will be. These are geographic, demographic, cultural, and political. Most have to do more with the presence or absence of what Sowell calls human capital than with the presence or absence of discriminatory practices. Those who insist that rich people get rich by exploiting the poor take a beating in the book, and may well wonder why it isn’t titled, “Lots of Inconvenient Truths.” Inconvenient at least for the redistribution humbugs, none of whose arguments remain standing at the end of this short — just 242 pages of text — but cogently argued treatise.

Sowell gives examples of discriminated against groups that have nonetheless succeeded at higher rates than the discriminators, and groups who have “enjoyed” government policies designed to lift them up — see his deconstruction of affirmative action — but did not perform well, even with the help these policies were supposed to deliver. That groups that come from a long-standing cultural traditions that encourage hard-work, educational achievement, thrift, and delayed gratification do better than other groups who don’t have these values is not a prejudice. It’s not a stereotype. It’s an empirical observation. And this is achievement, not privilege.  

Much of what Professor Sowell sets out in his latest has been included in his previous work, but it’s material that bears repeating. And as always, his writing is crystal-clear, free of academic jargon and the kind of specialist clutter that often disfigures the writing of academics. Sowell’s 1968 Ph.D. is in economics, but the dismal science is not dismal when it is Sowell doing the writing. And his writing over the years has branched out well beyond the usual limits of economics. In addition to his scholarly work, Sowell treats the issues of the day in his syndicated column and his periodical work in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and, I’m happy to say, The American Spectator. 
 

Professor Sowell started his academic career at the beginning of academe’s dopy phase (which it hasn’t gotten out of yet). He taught at places like Cornell, UCLA, and Amherst before becoming a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, in 1980. Most of his books remain in print and repay the time of thoughtful readers, as does Wealth, Poverty, and Politics. Santa should be aware of this.

Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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