you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and
be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical
60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today."
"It is bad enough that so many people believe things without any evidence. What is worse is that some people have no conception of evidence and regard facts as just someone else’s opinion."
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford University. He has written for Forbes magazine, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, amongst many others. A more detailed biography is available here.
PRAISE FOR SOWELL
Thomas Sowell is the
most original and important conservative thinker of the late 20th century,
illuminating this epoch of conservative triumph.
- George Gilder
America's leading philosopher
is Thomas Sowell. He has given me more than any other living American philosopher...
- Paul Johnson
Thomas Sowell is a
unique national resource. Almost alone among academic economists, he fulfills
the true calling of the intellectual, which is to explain the world so
that we can know how to save what we cherish, so that we have no excuse
- The Washington Times
My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that Thomas Sowell is the wisest man alive today. More than anyone else I know of, he is aware of the mistakes, follies and failings of humanity - past and present - that have cost so much in blood, sweat and tears.
Race and Culture :
A seminal study on the role of Race in history. Read quotes
from the book, or a review.
Conquests and Culture : Sowell examines the influence of Conquests by focusing on 4 cases : the British, the Africans, the Slavs and the Native Americans. Read quotes or Sowell's summary.
These 2 books, along with Migrations and Cultures, form Sowell's cultural trilogy.
The Quest for Cosmic Justice : A reflection on the different meanings of concepts such as Justice & Equality as employed by the political Left and Right. Read quotes, Sowell's summary.
Civil Rights - Rhetoric or Reality : Sowell takes a tough, factual look at the outcomes of the Civil Rights stuggle in America in the 1950s & '60s. Read quotes.
A Personal Odyssey : Looking back on a life's journey. Read the summary of his autobiography.
Conflict of Visions : Sowell explores the philosophical reasons why 'the same familiar faces can be found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the political fence, again and again.' Read quotes or an external review.
Knowledge and Decisions : Sowell presents the free market as an information system, and compares market and planned economies in light of the knowledge available to decision makers. Read quotes or an external review
Basic Economics - A Citizen's Guide to the Economy : An explanation in plain english of the simple principles underlying modern economics.
"Voters by the millions want to know basic economics, not for passing tests but for grading politcians, and for understanding how the world works. They do not need the equations, graphs, and jargon of textbooks, but the guts of the basic issues. They have waited a long time for this book, by one of the nation's best and most trenchant minds".
Sowell's latest column
is available at JewishWorldReview.
An excellent archive of his published columns.
His official home page, containing speeches and articles.
Below I present descriptions and links for my favourite columns - a * before an article indicates that I am hosting a copy on my site, as the original link is dead. :
Society : Race : Free Market : Politics : Education
History : Environment : Wisdom : In Others' Words
We once had far safer cities, including ghettoes, in the United States. Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area - crime, education, housing, race relations - the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them.
There is nothing so good that politicians can't make it bad and nothing so bad that politicians can't make it worse. Compassion is good but politicians have turned compassion into the welfare state. Crime is bad but politicians have made it worse by going easy on criminals.
When someone is brutally murdered, the media often defuse our shock by focusing on praise of the victim, instead of focusing on what can be done to keep the murderer from ever doing this again.
According to a study of how long the average American must work to pay all his taxes, this year it took until July 3rd. Only on the 4th of July did we achieve independence in the sense of being able to earn money that we can keep.
If politicians were serious about day care for children, instead of just sloganizing about it, nothing they could do would improve the quality of child care more than by lifting the heavy burden of taxation that forces so many families to have both parents working.
One of the scariest things about our times is how easy it is to scare people and start a political stampede. There are people who could be upset if they were told that half of all Americans earn less than the median income - though of course that is the way median income is defined.
"Entitlement" is not only the opposite of achievement, it undermines incentives to do all the hard work that leads to achievement. It is the people who were born and raised in the welfare state atmosphere who seem to have great difficulty finding jobs.
There was once a time when parents pointed out bums on the streets and told their children that this was what could happen to you if you didn't bother to learn the things you needed to know, and do the things you needed to do, to make it in life. Today, children are taught to be "non-judgmental" and the media keep saying that these drug-ridden derelicts are "people just like us" who happened to fall on hard times.
Cultures contain many cues and inducements to dissuade the individual from approaching ultimate limits, in much the same way that a special warning strip of land around the edge of a baseball field lets a player know that he is about to run into a concrete wall when he is preoccupied with catching the ball. The wider that strip of land and the more sensitive the player is to the changing composition of the ground under his feet as he pursues the ball, the more effective the warning. Romanticizing or lionizing as "individualistic" those people who disregard social cues and inducements increases the danger of head-on collisions with inherent social limits. Decrying various forms of social disapproval is in effect narrowing the warning strip.
What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long.
Passionate discussions of the "haves" and the "have nots" seem completely unaffected by growing evidence that most of these are the same people at different stages of their lives.
Envy plus rhetoric equals "social justice."
Nobody is equal to anybody. Even the same man is not equal to himself on different days.
To be for or against "change" in general is childish. Everything depends on the specifics. To be for generic "change" is to say that what we have is so bad that any change is likely to be for the better.
Do gun control laws actually control guns? Why would someone who is obviously willing to repeatedly break the laws against murder be unwilling to break gun control laws? Gun control laws do not control people who are in the business of breaking laws. Gun control simply disarms their potential victims, making crime a safer occupation, and hence one that can be indulged in more widely by more people.
In Statistics 101, they will tell you that correlation does not necessairly mean causation. This isnt even causation. (on gun control)
As far as the liberal media are concerned, there are only two ways that the police respond to riots - either they let the situation "get out of hand" or they "over-react" and use "excessive force." Nothing that the cops can do will fall in between, as far as the editorial office heroes are concerned.
In Britain, the total cost of the prison system per year was found to be £1.9 billion, while the financial cost alone of the crimes committed per year by criminals was estimated at £60 billion. The big difference between the two kinds of costs is not just in their amounts. The cost of locking up criminals has to be paid out of government budgets that politicians would prefer to spend on giveaway programs that are more likely to get them re-elected. But the far higher costs of letting criminals loose is paid by the general public in both money and in being subjected to violence. The net result is that both politicians and ideologues of the left are forever pushing "alternatives to incarceration." These include programs with lovely names like "community supervision" and high-tech stuff like electronic devices to keep track of released criminals' locations.
It would be hard to think of a more ridiculous way to make decisions than to transfer those decisions to third parties who pay no price for being wrong. Yet that is what at least half of the bright ideas of the political left amount to.
I do not like to see the future mothers of America becoming soldiers. There are plenty of men who are capable of becoming soldiers and who are not capable of becoming mothers.
Someone has claimed that men think about sex every 8 seconds. The way some women dress suggests that they want to make it more frequent than that.
Maybe there wouldn't be so many lawyers suing doctors for malpractice if the lawyers could be sued for legal malpractice for bringing frivolous lawsuits.
I hate it when some stranger phones me and asks who I am, instead of telling me who he is. After all, he is calling me, I am not calling him.
Anyone who grew up in the South is bound to have heard the phrase "poor white trash." Teresa Heinz Kerry has given us a new category — rich white trash.
One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.
What the radical feminists have in fact accomplished is projecting a vision and an agenda of sexual 'liberation' that have had the net effect of making it easier for husbands to dump their wives and children. They have also made it harder for new families to form, by creating a contentious atmosphere between the sexes. Women and men have both lost out, in different ways, in all this. Children have of course lost out worst of all from the decline of families. Yet the feminazis have made 'childhood poverty' one of their political cries. They are shameless.
Marriage laws have evolved through centuries of experience with couples of opposite sexes - and the children that result from such unions. Society asserts its stake in the decisions made by restricting the couples' options. Society has no such stake in the outcome of a union between two people of the same sex. Marriage is not a right extended to individuals by the government. It is a restriction on the rights they already have. People who are simply living together can make whatever arrangements they want, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.
Since death is defined by the cessation of brain waves, why shouldn't life be defined by the beginning of brain waves?
It is amazing how many people act as if the right to free speech includes the right to be free of criticism for what you say.
Poverty : How the changing definition of 'poverty' conceals the truth
about America's success at tackling it._
Perennial Economic Fallacies : Whilst demagogues talk about the poor getting poorer the reality is that yesterday's poor are today's rich. _
*Two Kinds of Rich : You would be surprised at just how easy it is to be rich, or at least, to be classified as rich by the Clinton Administration.
Facts Shatter Visions : The Census Bureau study of incomes reveals the facts behind the vision of a USA with stagnant household incomes. _
and Injustice : The importance of childhood development in future success
and inequality. _
The Million Lies March : Why more guns mean less crime, no matter how many moms march for gun control. _
Cruelty to the Innocent : Over 200 years ago, Adam Smith recognised that mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent. _
McVeigh & The Death Penalty : An examination of the arguments against the death penalty, in light of the furore over the McVeigh execution. _
Holding Parents Responsible : The consistent undermining of parental control by 30 years of government interference. _
Gay 'Marriage' : The notion of gay marriage is the result of sloppy thinking. _
The murder rate had also been going down,
for decades, and in 1960 was just under half of what it had been in 1934.
Then the new 1960s policies toward curing the "root causes" of crime and
creating new "rights" for criminals began. Rates of violent crime, including
- on America's "War on Poverty"
You want to see multiculturalism in action? Look at Yugoslavia, at Lebanon, at Sri Lanka, at Northern Ireland, at Azerbaijan, or wherever else group 'identity' has been hyped.
If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.
Over the years, slowly but surely, we have painted ourselves into a corner on a whole range of issues, where we can no longer say or do what makes the most sense to us, but only what is considered to be politically correct.
The essence of bigotry is denying other people the same rights you have.
Institutions and occupations
exist for a purpose - and that purpose is not to provide a statistical
picture that is pleasing for those people who are preoccupied with statistical
pictures. Food and shelter, housing and health, life and death, are among
the many things that depend on how well institutions function and how well
people do their jobs.
Would you be offended to have your life saved by someone who had easily become the best surgeon because he was born in the lap of privilege and always had the finest education available, regardless of how much it cost? Would it bother you if he was Asian American or even - heaven help us - a WASP?
Blacks were not enslaved because they were black but because they were available. Slavery has existed in the world for thousands of years. Whites enslaved other whites in Europe for centuries before the first black was brought to the Western hemisphere. Asians enslaved Europeans. Asians enslaved other Asians. Africans enslaved other Africans, and indeed even today in North Africa, blacks continue to enslave blacks.
Slavery was an ugly, dirty business but people of virtually every race, color, and creed engaged in it on every inhabited continent. And the people they enslaved were also of virtually every race, color, and creed... a million Europeans were enslaved by North Africans between 1500 and 1800. Europeans enslaved other Europeans for centuries before the drying up of that supply led them to turn to Africa as a source of slaves for the Western Hemisphere. Nor were they the only Europeans enslaved. No race, country, or civilization had clean hands.
The anti-slavery movement
was spearheaded by people who would today be called "the religious right"
and its organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover,
what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism.
Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world. And if it doesn't fit their vision, it is the same to them as if it never happened.
An organization called Christian Solidarity International is buying slaves -- for $100 apiece -- in the Sudan and then setting them free. But you hear very little about slavery that is still going on today in the Sudan, Mauritania and Nigeria, compared to what we hear about slavery in centuries past.
Another fallacious argument is that today's immigration is nothing new because this country has absorbed millions of immigrants in the past. In the past, people came here to become Americans, not remain foreigners.
What "multiculturalism" boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture - and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture.
The sad and tragic fact is that the civil rights movement, despite its honorable and courageous past, has over the years degenerated into a demagogic hustle, promoting the mindless racism they once fought against.
The next time some academics tell you how important "diversity" is, ask how many Republicans there are in their sociology department.
The assumption that spending more of the taxpayers' money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse. The black family - which survived slavery, discrimination, poverty, wars, and depressions - began to come apart as the federal government moved in with its well-financed programs to 'help.'
Life itself is not "fair" in the sense of offering equal chances of succeeding in any kind of endeavor. It is hard even to imagine how life could conceivably be "fair" in the sense of equal chances of doing specific things, when there are so many factors at work differently for each person. Different families and different cultures produce different habits, different values, different behavior patterns. They don't even want the same things to the same degree, much less have a willingness to sacrifice to the same extent to get those things. The only kind of fairness we can hope for is applying the same rules and the same standards to everyone.
In the real world, a sense of grievance or entitlement, as a result of the mistreatment of your ancestors, is not likely to get you very far with people who are too busy dealing with current economic realities to spend much time thinking about their own ancestors, much less other people’s ancestors.
In a world where young blacks, especially, are bombarded with claims that they are being unfairly targeted by police, and where a general attitude of belligerence is being promoted literally in word and song, it is hard not to wonder whether some people's responses to policemen do not have something to do with the policemen's responses to them. Neither the police nor people in any other occupation always do what is right but automatic belligerence is not the answer.
and the new Century : Black leaders must fight the battles of this
century, not look back to the very different struggles of the 1960s. _
Dems, GOPers and Blacks : The Republican party can offer Blacks an escape from the poverty traps the Democrats have created for them. Part Two. __
The other side of Affirmative Action : Minority students would be better off graduating from smaller colleges than failing at UCLA or Berkeley. _
Race, Romance and the Price of Eggs : Higher prices in ghetto shops are the consequences of high crimes and riots in those areas, not discrimination. _
Sorting by Race : Why cab drivers refuse to pick up Black males after dark. _
Reparations for Slavery : Clear thinking on the issue. _
Black History Month : Those concerned with Black slavery should look to the present in Africa, not the past of the country that tried to end it. _
Do Minorities really have it that bad? : A world survey reveals the true nature of the income disparities between different groups in the USA. _
Too many people in
the media, in academia, and even in courts of law, act as if numbers plus
a preconception equals proof. The preconception is that various groups
- by race, sex, or whatever - would be evenly represented in occupations
or institutions if it were not for discrimination. American men are struck
by lightning six times as often as American women. Who is discriminating?
Men are just 54 percent of the labor force but they suffer more than 90
percent of all deaths on the job. Discrimination? Discrimination has joined
a long list of charges, including sexual harassment and child molestation,
in which those who are accused are expected to try to prove their innocence.
- The Grand Fallacy
1. The poverty rate
among black married couples has been in single digits since 1994.
2. The average income of the elderly is several times their earnings, and their wealth is far higher than among younger people.
3. Just as blacks are turned down for mortgage loans more often than whites, so whites are turned down more often than Asian Americans. (What does that do to racism as an all-purpose explanation?)
- from "Economic Facts and Fallacies"
When people are presented
with the alternatives of hating themselves for their failure or hating
others for their success, they seldom choose to hate themselves.
- from "Black Rednecks and White Liberals"
It has become all too
common for some innocuous remark by a public figure to be seized upon and
twisted to make it seem "racist," setting off loud denunciations by those
who are in the business of loud denunciations. Meanwhile, actions and policies
that do very real and very lasting harm to racial and ethnic minorities
not only pass unchallenged, but are often engaged in by politicians who
enjoy overwhelming support from minority voters.
There was virtually no comment from black leaders or the media when recently published census data showed that the black population of San Francisco had declined 15 percent between the 1990 census and the 2000 census. In San Mateo County, on the adjoining peninsula, the decline was 20 percent. In once predominantly black East Palo Alto, blacks are now a minority.
All of these are places firmly under the control of liberal Democrats, so no politically incorrect words are ever likely to be said about blacks in the communities from which they are being forced out. Yet any businessman whose hiring policies had such a "disparate impact" on minority employment would be liable to find himself hauled into court and charged with discrimination.
- Racism In Word And Deed
The first two decades
after 1940 saw a more rapid rise of blacks out of poverty and into higher
paying jobs than the decades following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or
the affirmative action policies that began in the 1970s. The key fallacy
underlying the civil rights vision was that all black economic lags were
due to racial discrimination. That assumption has survived to this day,
in the courts, in the media, in academia, and above all in politics. No
amount of factual evidence can make a dent in that assumption. This means
that a now largely futile crusade against discrimination distracts attention
from the urgent need to upgrade educational standards and job skills among
- 'Brown' Fifty Years On
American prosperity and American free enterprise are both highly unusual in the world, and we should not overlook the possibility that the two are connected.
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
Under any form of economic or political system, those at the top tend to become complacent, if not arrogant. The big advantage of a free market is that you don't have to convince anybody of anything. You simply compete with them in the marketplace and let that be the test of what works best.
Somebody always gets hurt in an economy that is growing. You can't keep on doing things the old way and still get the benefits of the new way.
We are so much more rational about sports than we are about politics. No one considers it "unfair" that Tiger Woods does so much better than the average golfer, or resents him for it, or accuses him of "gouging" when he collects big bucks.
The media and academia are continuously obsessed with "gaps" and "disparities" in income. As one talk show host put it, "It makes no sense" that a corporate executive makes over $50 million a year. Ninety-nine percent of all the things that happen in this world "make no sense" to any given individual. Do you understand how your automobile's transmission works? Could you repair it if something went wrong? Do you understand how aspirin stops headaches? How to make yogurt? Why should you be surprised that you don't understand why someone is making a lot more money than somebody else? Lofty talk about "social justice" or "fairness" boils down to greatly expanded powers for politicians, since those pretty words have no concrete definition. They are a blank check for creating disparities in power that dwarf disparities in income — and are far more dangerous.
It is precisely those things which belong to "the people" which have historically been despoiled - wild creatures, the air, and waterways being notable examples. This goes to the heart of why property rights are socially important in the first place. Property rights mean self-interested monitors. No owned creatures are in danger of extinction. No owned forests are in danger of being leveled. No one kills the goose that lays the golden egg when it is his goose.
Both free speech rights and property rights belong legally to individuals, but their real function is social, to benefit vast numbers of people who do not themselves exercise these rights.
Perhaps the most widespread misunderstanding of economics is that it applies solely to financial transactions. Frequently this leads to statements that "there are noneconomic values" to consider. There are, of course, noneconomic values. Indeed, there are only noneconomic values. Economics is not a value itself but merely a method of trading off one value against another.
If statements about 'noneconomic values' (or, more specifically, 'social values' or 'human values') are meant to deny the inherent reality of trade-offs, or to exempt some particular value from the trade-off process, then such selfless ideals can be no more effectively demonstrated than by trading off financial gains in the interest of such ideals. This is an economic trade-off.
The desire of businessmen for profits is what drives prices down unless forcibly prevented from engaging in price competition, usually by governmental activity.
What is called "capitalism" might more accurately be called consumerism. It is the consumers who call the tune, and the capitalists who want to remain capitalists have to learn to dance to it.
Price fixing does not represent simply windfall gains and losses to particular groups according to whether the price happens to be set higher or lower than it would be otherwise. It represents a net lose to the economy as a whole to the extent that many transactions do not take place at all, because the mutually acceptable possibilities have been reduced.
Prices are important not because money is considered paramount but because prices are a fast and effective conveyor of information through a vast society in which fragmented knowledge must be coordinated.
What do prices do? They not only allow sellers to recover their costs, they force buyers to restrict how much they demand. For centuries, in countries around the world, laws limiting how high prices can go has led to consumers demanding more than was supplied, while suppliers supplied less. Thus rent control has consistently led to housing shortages and price controls on food have led to hunger and even starvation.
Prices impose the most effective kind of rationing — self-rationing. Why is rationing necessary? Because what everybody wants always adds up to more than there is. Prices force you to limit how much of product A you buy because you need to keep some money to buy product B. While prices convey these limitations, they do not cause them. No economy — capitalist, socialist, feudal or whatever — can keep consuming more than it produces... Nothing is easier for any government than to impose price controls. Governments have been doing that for thousands of years. What governments cannot control are the underlying realities expressed through prices. When you pay the full price of going to a doctor, you go there when you have a broken leg but not when you have the sniffles or a minor skin rash. When the government makes health care "affordable," you go there for sniffles and a minor skin rash. The underlying reality has not changed, however. The doctor's time is still limited, and the time that you take up with your sniffles or skin rash is time that somebody else with a broken leg — or perhaps cancer — has to wait to get an appointment. Government-run health care systems in countries around the world have longer waits — sometimes months — to get medical attention. Prices not only ration existing supplies, they also determine how many new supplies will be forthcoming. When a new pharmaceutical drug costs an average of $800 million to develop, there is no point talking about "affordable" medications. Either the $800 million is going to be paid or the supply of new drugs will dry up.
The real minimum wage is zero.
If workers are hard to fire, then employers are reluctant to hire, preferring to work existing workers overtime if necessary to increase production in the face of rising demand, rather than taking on new workers whom they can have a hard time getting rid of when demand slackens off. This is great for workers who already have jobs. They are on the inside looking out. But what about those who are on the outside looking in? The passage of time means that those on the inside will eventually pass into retirement while younger workers looking for jobs have a hard time finding them. Job security laws do not secure jobs. Their net effect is to redistribute the insecurity.
The most basic inherent constraint is that neither time nor wisdom are free goods available in unlimited quantity. This means that in social processes, as in economic processes, it is not only impossible to attain perfection but irrational to seek perfection - or even to seek the "best possible" result in each separate instance.
So-called 'social justice' should never be confused with humanitarianism. From a humanitarian viewpoint, it is infinitely more important to have a prospering economy, in which the great masses of the people are beyond the reach of hunger and malnutrition, and beyond the reach of poverty-related diseases, than to stifle a relative handful of specially skilled or talented people who might be envied.
Imagine that a genie magically appeared and offered to grant you one wish -- and, being a decent sort, you wished that everyone's income would be doubled. That could bring down on you the wrath of the political left, because it would mean that the gap between the rich and the poor had widened. That is basically their complaint against the American economy.
Incessant preoccupation with statistical disparities is one of the luxuries of an affluent and sheltered life. Do not expect someone who has ever had to go hungry to get upset because some people can only afford pizza while others can afford caviar.
One of the bases for the Postal Service's claims for its privileges is that it is bound by law to deliver mail everywhere in the country for the same price. That means that the guy who lives miles out in the middle of nowhere gets his mail deliveries subsidized by people who are mailing letters from New York to Chicago, which costs less than the price of a first-class stamp. But that is trying to justify one privilege by another. Why should someone who lives in isolation have someone else pay the costs created by his isolation? If the isolation is worth it, then let the person who benefits pay for it. That goes not only for the cost of delivering the mail, but also for the cost of delivering electricity, water and other things that cost more to deliver to someone living out in a desert or up on a mountain top.
"What freedom does a starving man have?" The answer is that starvation is a tragic human condition- perhaps more tragic than loss of freedom. That does not prevent these from being two different things.
Freedom... refers to a social relationship among people - namely, the absence of force as a prospective instrument of decision making. Freedom is reduced whenever a decision is made under threat of force, whether or not force actually materializes or is evident in retrospect.
Those who vent their
moral indignation over low pay for Third World workers employed by multinational
companies ignore the plain fact that these workers' employers are usually
supplying them with better opportunities than they had before, while those
who are morally indignant on their behalf are providing them with nothing.
Multi-billion-dollar corporations are seldom owned by multi-billionaires. They are usually owned by thousands, if not millions, of stockholders, most of whom are nowhere close to being billionaires. Some may be teachers, nurses, mechanics, clerks and others who own stock indirectly by paying into pension funds that buy these stocks.
It is not really news that Hollywood is still producing anti-business movies, but there is a certain irony in it nevertheless. The irony is that the average Hollywood star who is making anti-business movies is far wealthier than the average owners of those businesses, who are half the population of the country - which owns stocks and bonds — either directly or because money paid into pension funds or other financial intermediaries are used to buy stocks and bonds. Wal-Mart is the big bugaboo these days but what “power” does Wal-Mart have? I lived three quarters of a century without ever setting foot in a Wal-Mart store and there is not a thing they can do about it. Apparently Wal-Mart does not pay its employees as much as third-party observers would like to see them paid. But obviously it is not paying them less than their work is worth to other employers or they probably would not be working at Wal-Mart. Moreover, third parties who wax indignant are paying them nothing.
Think about the things
that have improved our lives the most over the past century — medical advances,
the transportation revolution, huge increases in consumer goods, dramatic
improvements in housing, the computer revolution. The people who created
these things — the doers — are not popular heroes. Our heroes are the talkers
who complain about the doers.
A vaccine may save the lives of 10,000 children but, if five children die from the vaccine itself, that can set off loud denunciations of "corporate irresponsibility" and "greed" on the part of the companies that produced the vaccine. Some people die from reactions to peanut butter. If the government banned every food from which some people can die, we would all die of starvation. If they banned every vaccine or drug from which people die, more people would die from diseases.
In an era when our media and even our education system exalt emotions, while ignoring facts and logic, perhaps we should not be surprised that so many people explain economics by "greed." Today there are adults — including educated adults — who explain multimillion-dollar corporate executives' salaries as being due to "greed." Think about it: I could become so greedy that I wanted a fortune twice the size of Bill Gates' — but this greed would not increase my income by one cent... Every time oil prices shoot up, there are cries of "greed" and demands by politicians for an investigation of collusion by Big Oil. Now that oil prices have dropped big time, does that mean that oil companies have lost their "greed"? Or could it all be supply and demand — a cause and effect explanation that seems to be harder for some people to understand than emotions like "greed"?
Each day, as I take various pills, I realize that without those pills I might not be alive — and, if I were, life would not be worth living. Yet those who produce these medications are under constant attack from people who produce nothing.
If people want to build ten-story buildings but the law limits them to building five-story buildings, then there will be twice as many buildings required to house the same number of people. That means twice as much land on which to put the buildings. In places where the land can cost more than the building itself — as in much of coastal California — that can mean that tenants living in the shorter buildings will have to pay twice as much rent to cover the higher costs created by height restrictions. It doesn't stop there. When a community cannot expand vertically, it expands horizontally, creating "urban sprawl." That means more highway commuting and more highway fatalities. The government can overlook all sorts of costs — but those costs do not go away. There is no free lunch.
A reader reminds me that "money isn't everything." That is certainly true — and especially when it is someone else's money. What developers want means absolutely nothing economically unless other people are prepared to pay for what they offer. In other words, developers are just intermediaries who represent the demand for housing by vastly larger numbers of other people. In the housing market, as in other markets, there are always people who want to use the same resources for different and conflicting purposes. There is nothing unique in the housing market when there are two sets of people wanting the same things and there is not enough to satisfy both.
I first became aware of the law of gravity as a small child when I pedalled by tricycle off the porch and crashed into the yard. Gravity was of course operating all along, whether I was aware of it or not. Economics is a lot like that. Many people who are completely unaware of economics sometimes discover it the same way I discovered gravity, through some personal or national crash. Liberals especially tend to think up all sorts of good things we want — a "living wage," "affordable housing," "universal health care," and an ever-expanding wish-list of things that everyone should receive as "rights" — with little or no awareness of the economic repercussions of turning that wish list into laws.
Americans, who produce a wholly disproportionate share of the world's new life-saving drugs, are being asked to imitate price control policies in countries where such policies have dried up the costly research behind such discoveries. These countries have left the development of new drugs to the United States. But if we follow their example by killing the goose that lays the golden egg, who can we turn to for developing new medicines? This could be the most costly free lunch of all. (submitted by Stephanie Woolard)
Marxism to the Market : The rhetoric of Socialism may inspire, but
it's actual record at helping the poor is dismal compared to the free market.
Costs versus Prices : Government attempts to reduce the price of things do nothing about their real underlying costs. _
The Real Public Service : The true servants of the public are not in Washington, they are the inventors and entrepeneurs in business. _
Shocks California : "As an economist, whenever I hear the word shortage
I wait for the other shoe to drop. That other shoe is usually price control."
Easy Economics and Complicated Politics : The California crisis should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the historical effects of price controls. _
Political & Economic Solutions : Too many politicians care about convicincing people that they are solving problems, whilst actually making them worse. _
Affordable Housing : Any house that actually gets sold is by definition 'affordable'. _
Pandering to the Annointed : Californian's do not recognise the inherent incompatibility in their desires for 'afforfable housing' and 'open spaces'. _
Amazing Politics : The liberals who complain the loudest about high prices are precisely the people who have caused those high prices. _
Property Rites : From an economic point of view, there is no real difference between confiscating half of someone's property and reducing its value by half. _
Twenty Years and Five Minutes : How the cheap cost of the physical ingredients conceal the real work involved in creating life saving medicines. _
Up : It should be up to customers not the courts to decide if they
want their products bundled. _
Unfair Advantages : The multitude of benefits people gain from those who are talented in particular fields, whether they are Bill Gates, Michael Jordan or Pavarotti. _
Politics is the art of making your selfish desires seem like the national interest.
It was the attempt to create political heaven in the 20th century that lead to the unprecedented hell of totalitarianism.
The most basic question is not what is best but who shall decide what is best. It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.
Egalitarians create the most dangerous inequality of all - inequality of power. Allowing politicians to determine what all other human beings will be allowed to earn is one of the most reckless gambles imaginable.
The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take the people's money quietly and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly.
Policies are judged by their consequences, but crusades are judged by how good they make the crusaders feel.
The great catastrophes of history have usually involved much more than mistakes. Typically, there has been an additional and crucial ingredient, some method by which feedback from reality has been prevented, so that a dangerous course of action could be blindly continued to a fatal conclusion.
The anointed don't like to talk about painful trade-offs. They like to talk about happy "solutions" that get rid of the whole problem- at least in their imagination.
When you start off by telling those who disagree with you that they are not merely in error but in sin, how much of a dialogue do you expect?
We should listen first and foremost to our own experience. We should stop looking for saviors. Society has not existed for thousands of years because it had a succession of saviors. It's existed because it has institutions and processes through which people can realize their own goals.
Too many people in positions of responsibility act as if these are just positions of opportunity — for themselves.
After so many sleazy scandals in Washington, I wonder how many college commencement speakers will repeat the old familiar theme about how much nobler it is to go into "public service" than into the private economy.
Imagine a political system so radical as to promise to move more of the poorest 20% of the population into the richest 20% than remain in the poorest bracket within the decade? You don't need to imagine it. It's called the United States of America.
If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.
Envy used to be just
a human failing, but today it is a major industry. Politicians, journalists
and academics are all part of that industry, which some call "social justice."
Virtually everybody is worse off than somebody else, if only in one dimension, so there are nearly unlimited opportunities to pander to people's sense of injustice, victimhood and entitlement.
Those who want to take our money and gain power over us have discovered the magic formula: Get us envious or angry at others and we will surrender, in installments, not only our money but our freedom. The most successful dictators of the 20th century - Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao - all used this formula and now class warfare politicians here are doing the same.
To me, drunk driving is a bigger menace than high taxes. But I would vote for someone who would cut taxes, while I would be very unlikely to vote for someone who promised to end drunk driving. Why? Because no politician can end drunk driving - at least not within my lifetime.
What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long.
The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.
The strongest argument for socialism is that it sounds good. The strongest argument against socialism is that it doesn't work. But those who live by words will always have a soft spot in their hearts for socialism because it sounds so good.
What is politically defined as economic 'planning' is the forcible superseding of other people's plans by government officials.
The secret - and the tragedy - of welfare state politics, especially in an election year, is that you can always do some immediate good, right under your nose, at costs that are hidden, ignored or postponed. But those costs don't go away. They can grow even bigger in the dark.
Social Security forces individuals to save for their old age. But it also enables the government to spend those savings immediately, so that the country as a whole is not saving anything this way. That is why old-age pensions will have to be paid from money taken from others in the future.
The grand delusion of contemporary liberals is that they have both the right and the ability to move their fellow creatures around like blocks of wood - and that the end results will be no different than if people had voluntarily chosen the same actions.
Implicit in the activist
conception of government is the assumption that you can take the good things
in a complex system for granted, and just improve the things that are not
so good. What is lacking in this conception is any sense that a society,
an institution, or even a single human being, is an intricate
system of fragile inter-relationships, whose complexities are little understood and easily destabilized.
When political solutions create new problems, the answer is never to go back and stop doing what started a string of disasters in the first place. Instead, there are an endless series of solutions to problems caused by the previous solutions.
Being a humane and decent man is not something to sneeze at but, in politics, the question about decent people is whether they are sufficiently on guard against people who are not so decent.
When Ronald Reagan said that the government was spending money like a drunken sailor, he apologized to the sailors, who were after all spending their own money.
Who says that there is no difference between the political parties? When Democrats are criticized, they counter-attack. When Republicans are criticized, they whine that they are innocent.
When have the Republicans won big? When they stood for something and told the people what that something was. Ronald Reagan was the classic example. But another example would be the stunning Republican victories in the 1994 Congressional elections, which put them in control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Articulating the message of Newt Gingrich's "contract for America" was a key to that historic victory. Too many Republicans seem to think that being "inclusive" means selling out your principles to try to attract votes. It never seems to occur to them that you can attract a wider range of voters by explaining your principles in a way that more people understand. That is precisely what Reagan did and what Gingrich did in 1994. Most Americans' principles are closer to those of the Republicans than to those of the Democrats. It is the only advantage the Republicans have. The Democrats have the media, the unions, the environmental extremists and the tort lawyers on their side. Why should Republicans throw away their one advantage by becoming imitation Democrats?
If politics were like baseball, the Republicans would be smart to trade Senator John McCain to the Democrats for Senator Joseph Lieberman, even if they had to throw in a future draft choice.
It is fascinating to watch Hillary Clinton pretending to be a human being.
It may not be emotionally satisfying to vote for the lesser of two evils but a lot depends on how bad the worse evil is. Nobody running on the Republican ticket is as dangerous as the Clintons.
Liberals are often wrong, but never in doubt.
Liberals seem to assume that, if you don't believe in their particular political solutions, then you don't really care about the people that they claim to want to help.
For society as a whole, nothing comes as a "right" to which we are "entitled." Even bare subsistence has to be produced - and produced at a cost of heavy toil for much of human history. The only way anyone can have a right to something that has to be produced is to force someone else to provide it for him. The more things are provided as rights, the less the recipients have to work and the more others have to carry their load.
It is hard to think of any word that has confused more issues than the word "rights." Nowadays, almost anything that anybody wants is called a "right" — a magic word that does away with the need for evidence, logic or even common sense.
What is especially disturbing about the political left is that they seem to have no sense of the tragedy of the human condition. Instead, they tend to see the problems of the world as due to other people not being as wise or as noble as themselves.
Some people say it is "name-calling" if you refer to someone as a liberal. There is nothing inherently negative about the word "liberal." If it has acquired negative overtones, that is because of what liberals have done and the consequences that followed.
When people have to resort to words like 'greed' or 'exploitation', it is hopeless to try to have a rational discussion with them.
The media seem determined to portray George W. Bush as someone who is not very smart. But how many dummies do you know who have piloted jet planes?
The stakes are too high to let the 4th estate succeed as a 5th column undermining the society on which our children and grandchildren's security will depend.
I am so old that I can remember a Democrat, at his inauguration as President, say of our enemies: "We dare not tempt them with weakness."
A citizen who cannot be bothered to find out the facts about the issues, not just media spin or party propaganda, is doing a disservice to this country by voting — especially when electing leaders making life-and-death decisions whose consequences will affect this generation and generations to come.
The amount of money required to bring every poor person in the country above the official poverty line is a fraction of what is spent by government on the welfare state. Put bluntly, the poor are in effect being used as human shields in the political wars over government spending, which extends far beyond anyone who could even plausibly be called poor. Politicians will spend money wherever that is likely to increase their chances of getting re-elected... The great allure of government programs in general for many people is that these programs allow decisions to be made without having to worry about the constraints of prices, which confront people at every turn in a free market. They see prices as just obstacles or nuisances, instead of seeing them as messages conveying underlying realities that are there, whether or not prices are allowed to function. But what politician wants to hear that? Politics is priceless.
An English-Political Rhetoric Dictionary : An explanation of the words used by politicians, and what they actually mean. _
For at least two centuries,
shibboleths have been at the heart of the ideology of the left, whether
moderate left or radical left. Assumptions of being more concerned, caring
and compassionate than their opponents can be found on the left from Godwin
and Condorcet in the 18th century to a whole galaxy of liberal-left journalists,
academics, organizations and movements today. But there were no such assumptions
in the writings of Adam Smith in the 18th century or in those of Milton
Friedman today. It was enough for them to say that their opponents were
mistaken and their policies harmful - and why.
to vote for at election time is not like choosing a buddy or choosing some
sports or entertainment figure to idolize. Nor is it a verdict on someone's
qualities as a human being. Theodore Roosevelt was a very honorable man
with high intelligence and high ideals but he did much harm and the country
would probably have been better off if he had never been President. The
same could be said of Herbert Hoover. It is not necessary to denigrate
individuals in order to criticize their policies... Some Republican voters
are apparently thinking of staying home on election day because they certainly
have no one in their party to idolize and the Democrats haven't had enough
power to do anything to be demonized for. Democrats of course have plenty
of Republicans in power to demonize, starting with the President and the
Secretary of Defense. It is doubtful whether anyone has ever filled either
of those jobs without making mistakes but serious proposals for alternative
policies would be more adult than demonizing Bush and Rumsfeld. So many
people have pointed out that Democrats offer no alternative policies that
this can no longer be just an oversight on the Democrats' part. Every opportunity
for in-your-face obstructionism has been seized, whether the issue was
serious or trivial.
- writing in October 2006
Some people say that there is no point voting because there is no difference between the two major parties, and the other parties have no chance of winning. However, there is a difference: the Republicans are disappointing and the Democrats are dangerous.
A recently reprinted memoir by Frederick Douglass has footnotes explaining what words like 'arraigned,' 'curried' and 'exculpate' meant, and explaining who Job was. In other words, this man who was born a slave and never went to school educated himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today's expensively under-educated generation.
There is really nothing very mysterious about why our public schools are failures. When you select the poorest quality college students to be public school teachers, give them iron-clad tenure, a captive audience, and pay them according to seniority rather than performance, why should the results be surprising?
Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of our enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.
One of many reasons why students need to be taught to use precise definitions and systematic logic is that it makes life safer for them and safer for the whole society. As the history of the 20th century shows, people do not usually create totalitarianism or start wars over clear ideas, but over nebulous nonsense that appeals to their emotions.
Wise people created civilization over the centuries and clever people are dismantling it today.
In a democracy, we have always had to worry about the ignorance of the uneducated. Today we have to worry about the ignorance of people with college degrees.
As a 1990 Brookings Institution study concluded: "When other relevant factors are taken into account, economic resources are unrelated to student achievement."
As for the teacher who wanted me to tell her what to do in the classroom, that is not my job. My job is to try to help inform the public, so that they get teachers like her out of the classroom. Nor is more money either necessary or sufficient to attract better people. Private schools get better people while paying lower salaries than the public schools. So long as education courses drive away intelligent people, more money will just mean more expensive incompetents in the schools.
This is the fallacy of composition. As long as — if you have a degree and the other guy doesn't, then you get ahead of him in the employment line. But we're not going to all get ahead of each other in the employment line by all getting degrees. Kids who have flown on the Concorde undoubtedly will make more money than kids who have only gone on buses. That does not mean if we put a lot of people on the Concorde, we're going to raise the national income.
Academic prestige is based mostly on the research achievements of the faculty. Places like Harvard or Stanford have many professors who are among the leading experts in their respective fields, including some who have won Nobel Prizes. Good for them. But is it good for you, if you are a student there? Big-name professors are unlikely to be teaching you freshman English or introductory math. Some may not be teaching you anything at all, unless and until you go on to postgraduate study. By contrast, at a small college without the prestige of big-name research universities, the introductory courses which provide a foundation for higher courses are more likely to be taught by experienced professors who are teachers more so than researchers. Maybe that is why graduates of such colleges often go on to do better than the graduates of big-name research universities. You may never have heard of Harvey Mudd College but a higher percentage of its graduates go on to get Ph.D.s than do the graduates of Harvard, Yale, Stanford or M.I.T. So do the graduates of Grinnell, Reed, and various other small colleges. Of the chief executive officers of the 50 largest American corporations surveyed in 2006, only four had Ivy League degrees. Some — including Michael Dell of Dell computers and Bill Gates of Microsoft — had no degree at all. Apparently getting into a "Prestige University" is not the life or death thing that some students or their parents think it is.
Wanting to be in college
is not the same as wanting an education. Among the other reasons for wanting
to be in college is that it is a social scene with large concentrations
of people of the same age and the opposite sex... At both Douglass College
and Howard University, where I taught the full year course in introductory
economics, the second semester classes were a sheer delight because the
less serious students dropped out after their experience with my grading
standards in the first semester. It was not just that the remaining students
were better than the ones who left, they were better than they themselves
had been in a class atmosphere that was different when influenced by less
- from "Too Many Go to College"
Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.
When the propagandizing
activities of educational institutions were recently criticized in this
column, a defender of these institutions sent an e-mail, claiming that
there was nothing wrong with pushing particular beliefs, if those beliefs
were correct. Violating my New Year's resolution to stop trying to reason
with unreasonable people, I replied, asking if this man would feel all
right, if he were a member of a jury, to vote after having heard only the
prosecution's case or only the defendant's case.
The time is long overdue for our media and our educational institutions to start presenting both sides of issues — and for our schools and colleges to start teaching students how to think, instead of telling them what to think.
Even if every conclusion with which students are indoctrinated were true, unless those students develop their own ability to weigh opposing arguments, these conclusions will become obsolete as new issues arise in the years ahead. These "educated" people will have developed no ability to analyze opposing sides of issues. Students are getting half an education at inflated prices and learning only how to label, dismiss and demonize ideas that differ from what they have been led to believe. Their "educated" ignorance is a danger to the future of this country.
Our whole educational system, from the elementary schools to the universities, is increasingly turning out people who have never heard enough conflicting arguments to develop the skills and discipline required to produce a coherent analysis, based on logic and evidence. The implications of having so many people so incapable of confronting opposing arguments with anything besides ad hominem responses reach far...
There are too many people, especially among the intelligentsia, who will never appreciate the things that have made this country great until after those things have been destroyed—with their help. Then, of course, it will be too late.
Letters from parents
often complain of a sense of futility in trying to argue with their own
children, who have been fed a steady diet of the politically correct vision
of the world, from elementary school to the university... Given the wide
range of issues on which students are indoctrinated, instead of being educated,
trying to undo all of that would require a whole shelf full of books— and
somehow getting the students to read them all. Another approach might be
to respond to the dogmatic certainty of some young person, perhaps your
own offspring, by asking: "Have you ever read a single book on the other
side of that issue?"
Chances are, after years of being "educated," even at some of the highest-priced schools and collleges, they have not. When the inevitable answer to your question is "No," you can simply point out how illogical it is to be so certain about anything when you have heard only one side of the story— no matter how often you have heard that one side repeated. Would it make sense for a jury to reach a verdict after having heard only the prosecution's case, or only the defense attorney's case, but not both?
There is no need to argue the specifics of the particular issue that has come up. You can tell your overconfident young student that you will be happy to discuss that particular issue after he or she has taken the elementary step of reading something by somebody on the other side.
When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession. If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited. Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master's degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student — which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12. Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having "professional" expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.
Another brilliant message from a school teacher: "I think you are nutso -- What a sick column ... Go into mechanics." Thank heaven she didn't go into mechanics. Imagine all the cars that would be malfunctioning on the highways.
What is history but the story of how politicians have squandered the blood and treasure of the human race?
Historically, freedom is a rare and fragile thing. It has emerged out of the stalemates of would-be oppressors. Freedom has cost the blood of millions in obscure places and in historic sites ranging from Gettysburg to the Gulag Archipelago. A frontal assault on freedom is still impossible in America and in most of Western civilization. Perhaps nowhere in the world is anyone frankly against it, though everywhere there are those prepared to scrap it for other things that shine more brightly for the moment. That something that cost so much in human lives should be surrendered piecemeal in exchange for visions or rhetoric seems grotesque. Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their 'betters.'
Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric.
The Berkeley city council has made national news by telling Marine Corps recruiters that they are unwelcome in that bastion of the academic Left. It is a shame that Berkeley is not on some island in the South Pacific, because then they could be given their independence and left to defend themselves.
We are living in a free society without the faith that built that society — and without the conviction and dedication needed to sustain it. In crisis, some have to put their lives on the line, as fireman, policemen and people in the military still do. But, for that, you have to believe that the institution and the society are worthy of your sacrifices. We have now been through at least two generations of constant denigration of American society, two generations in which cheap glory could be gained by flouting rules and mocking values. We still have the cathedral of freedom but how long will it last without the faith?
Some people think the issue is whether the glass is half empty or half full. More fundamentally, the question is whether the glass started out empty or started out full. Those who are constantly looking for the "root causes" of poverty, of crime, and of other national and international problems act as if prosperity and law-abiding behavior were so natural that it is their absence that has to be explained. But a casual glance around the world today, or back through history, would dispel any notion that good things just happen naturally, much less inevitably. (from "Ever Wonder Why?")
To include freedom in the very definition of democracy is to define a process not by its actual characteristics as a process but by its hoped for results. This is not only intellectually invalid, it is, in practical terms, blinding oneself in advance to some of the unwanted consequences of the process.
One of the most fashionable notions of our times is that social problems like poverty and oppression breed wars. Most wars, however, are started by well-fed people with time on their hands to dream up half-baked ideologies or grandiose ambitions, and to nurse real or imagined grievances.
Much of the advancement of the human race has occurred because people made the judgment that some things were not simply different from others, but better.
The ideological component of multiculturalism can be summarized as a cultural relativism which finds the prominence of Western civilization in the world or in the schools intolerable. Behind this attitude is often a seething hostility to the West, barely concealed even in public statements designed to attract wider political support for the multicultural agenda.
Deep thinkers like to talk about such things as the oppression of women in Western society - when in fact women have had a much lower position in Islamic cultures, for example, and girl babies were often routinely killed in parts of Asia. It was a Western nation - Britain - which put an end to the burning of widows alive on their husbands' funeral pyres in India. It was precisely in the West that a moral revulsion against slavery and a movement to stamp it out everywhere developed in the late eighteenth century.
Worst of all, guilt has so furtively stolen into many hearts and minds that people feel apologetic about being civilized, educated, and productive when others are barbaric, uneducated, and parasitic. When civilization apologizes to barbarism, something has gone very wrong at a very fundamental level.
Force is the antithesis of freedom, but force must be used, if only to defend against other force. If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.
The beginning of the First World War has been attributed to the assassination of the Hapsburg archduke in Serbia. But we now know that it was the German Kaiser who pushed the Hapsburg Empire into declaring war, knowing that existing alliances would bring in Russia and give Germany an excuse to launch its attack as an ally of the Hapsburg Empire and gain "a place in the sun" as a great military power.
We might have gotten a negotiated peace if we had dropped the "unconditional surrender" demand. But at what cost? Seeing a militaristic Japan arise again in a few years, this time armed with nuclear weapons that they would not have hesitated for one minute to drop on Americans. As it was, the unconditional surrender of Japan enabled General Douglas MacArthur to engineer one of the great historic transformations of a nation from militarism to pacifism, to the relief of hundreds of millions of their neighbors, who had suffered horribly at the hands of their Japanese conquerors.
One of the many failings of our educational system is that it sends out into the world people who cannot tell rhetoric from reality. Few people seem interested in the actual track record of so-called "peace" movements — that is, whether such movements actually produce peace or war. The most catastrophic result of "peace" movements was World War II. While Hitler was arming Germany to the teeth, "peace" movements in Britain were advocating that their own country disarm "as an example to others." British Labor Party Members of Parliament voted consistently against military spending and British college students publicly pledged never to fight for their country. If "peace" movements brought peace, there would never have been World War II. For the first two years of that war, the Western democracies lost virtually every battle, all over the world, because pre-war "peace" movements had left them with inadequate military equipment and much of it obsolete. The Nazis and the Japanese knew that. That is why they launched the war. "Peace" movements don't bring peace but war.
Lowering the price to be paid by aggressors virtually guarantees more aggression.
People say talk is cheap but it can be enormously costly when it becomes just a way to forestall action while an enemy nation builds up its military threat.
Some in the media seem to think that a noble cause justifies withholding facts on the other side. There has probably never been a more noble cause than wanting to spare the world the agonies and devastation of a world war with modern weapons. That is what The Times of London tried to do back in the 1930s. The carnage of the First World War was a shock from which a whole generation never recovered. Millions of soldiers on both sides were killed. A whole continent was devastated and millions of civilians were starving amid the ruins. Surely it was a humane and noble desire to want to avoid a repetition of that. So when Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times of London, decided to filter the news, in the interest of peace, that was understandable. Rather than print news that could rekindle animosities among nations that had fought in the First World War, Dawson filtered dispatches from his own foreign correspondents in Germany to remove negative reports of what the Nazis were doing. Some of The Times' correspondents complained at the deletions and rewriting of what they had written, and some resigned in protest. They apparently understood that their role was to report the facts as they saw them, not cater to some hope or agenda. We now know in retrospect that The Times' use of its great influence to promote the interests of peace had the opposite effect. It downplayed the dangers of Hitler, thus contributing to Britain's belated awakening to those dangers, and its vacillating responses — factors which emboldened Hitler to launch the Second World War. It was not just that Dawson guessed wrong. More fundamentally, he misunderstood a journalist's role and the betrayal involved when he went beyond that role, even for a noble cause.
Like a baseball game, wars are not over till they are over. Wars don't run on a clock like football. No previous generation was so hopelessly unrealistic that this had to be explained to them. (submitted by Stephanie Woolard)
There was a time when most members of Congress had served in the military, as had many people in the media. Today that is no longer true — and it shows in many ways. Ignorance should at least create caution but it seems to do just the opposite. People with little knowledge about the military, and no personal experience, often have the most sweeping and unrealistic expectations, and even demands, to make on people whose lives are at risk in battle. The military have been criticized for everything from not protecting an Iraqi museum while being shot at to not being as nice to the terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo as people in safe and comfortable editorial offices would like.
is just one of the many things in which America leads the world. We have
been a democratic republic longer than any other country. We win more Nobel
Prizes than any other country. Despite attempts to paint Americans as selfishly
materialistic, we give more money to more philanthropic causes, at home
and abroad, than any other nation. Nowhere else are so many colleges and
universities established and sustained by private individuals donating
their own money, rather than by government spending the taxpayers' money.
Unemployed Americans have a higher standard of living than most working people in most countries. The rights of criminals in the United States exceed those of law-abiding citizens in many other countries.
Real Revolutionaries : No government of the left has done as much for
the poor as capitalism has. _
The Best of the Century : Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher. _
Freedom versus Democracy : It is freedom that we should be praising and spreading around the globe, not democracy. They are not the same thing. _
Two Indispensable Lessons : This article is by Donald J. Boudreaux, but touches on some of the themes raised by Sowell on the issue of freedom and democracy. _
*Misunderstanding the Marshall Plan :Europe's recovery after WW2 had more to do with their human capital than aid money.
Lessons not Learned : We have still to learn the important lesson of the 20th century, that the rule of law is essential to guard against totalitarian power. _
Idiots : Lenin's description of the Western apologists for his regime
can still be applied to many in the West today.
Naming Names : Elia Kazan deserves his Oscar, and deserves our praise for telling the truth in the 1950s. _
Wise versus Smart : By the conventional wisdom of the age Ronald Reagan was not smart, but thankfully for the world, he was wise. _
Perhaps nowhere was patriotism so downplayed or deplored than among intellectuals in the Western democracies in the two decades after the horrors of the First World War, fought under various nations’ banners of patriotism. In France, after the First World War, the teachers’ unions launched a systematic purge of textbooks, in order to promote internationalism and pacifism. Books that depicted the courage and self-sacrifice of soldiers who had defended France against the German invaders were called “bellicose” books to be banished from the schools. Textbook publishers caved in to the power of the teachers’ unions, rather than lose a large market for their books. History books were sharply revised to conform to internationalism and pacifism.
The once epic story of the French soldiers’ heroic defense against the German invaders at Verdun, despite the massive casualties suffered by the French, was now transformed into a story of horrible suffering by all soldiers at Verdun — French and German alike. In short, soldiers once depicted as national heroes were now depicted as victims — and just like victims in other nations’ armies... In Britain, Winston Churchill warned that a country “cannot avoid war by dilating upon its horrors.” In France, Marshal Philippe Petain, the victor at Verdun, warned in 1934 that teachers were trying to “raise our sons in ignorance of or in contempt of the fatherland.” But they were voices drowned out by the pacifist and internationalist rhetoric of the 1920s and 1930s.
Did it matter? Does patriotism matter? France, where pacifism and internationalism were strongest, became a classic example of how much it can matter. During the First World War, France fought on against the German invaders for four long years, despite having more of its soldiers killed than all the American soldiers killed in all the wars in the history of the United States, put together.
But during the Second World War, France collapsed after just six weeks of fighting and surrendered to Nazi Germany. At the bitter moment of defeat the head of the French teachers’ union was told, “You are partially responsible for the defeat.” Charles de Gaulle, Francois Mauriac, and other Frenchmen blamed a lack of national will or general moral decay, for the sudden and humiliating collapse of France in 1940. At the outset of the invasion, both German and French generals assessed French military forces as more likely to gain victory, and virtually no one expected France to collapse like a house of cards — except Adolf Hitler, who had studied French society instead of French military forces. Did patriotism matter? It mattered more than superior French tanks and planes...
Our media are busy verbally transforming American combat troops from heroes into victims, just as the French intelligentsia did — with the added twist of calling this “supporting the troops.” Will that matter? Time will tell.
It is precisely those things which belong to 'the people' which have historically been despoiled - wild creatures, the air, and waterways being notable examples. This goes to the heart of why property rights are socially important in the first place. Property rights mean self-interested monitors. No owned creatures are in danger of extinction. No owned forests are in danger of being leveled. No one kills the goose that lays the golden egg when it is his goose.
Would you bet your paycheck on a weather forecast for tomorrow? If not, then why should this country bet billions on "global warming" predictions that have even less foundation?
Climate statistics show that, with all the "global warming" hysteria today, our temperatures are still not as high as they were back in medieval times. Those medieval folks must have been driving a lot of cars and SUVs.
At a recent debate over global warming sponsored by National Public Radio, the audience was polled beforehand and was solidly on the side of the hysterical predictions. Afterwards, they switched to a slight majority against those predictions. Don't look for the global-warming crusaders to risk doing any more debates. Why should they, when they have virtually a monopoly in the media, in schools and colleges, and among politicians?
The next time somebody in the media denies that there is media bias, ask how they explain the fact that there are at least a hundred stories about the shrinking arctic ice cap for every one about the expanding antarctic ice cap, which has now grown to record size.
"Global warming" seems to be joining "diversity," "gun control," "open space" and a growing list of other subjects where rational discussion has become impossible — and where you are considered a bad person even for wanting to discuss it rationally.
Kids who have yet to master spelling or basic math are in no position to dogmatize about scientific questions like global warming or nuclear power.
When environmental zealots don't want you to cut down trees, they feel they have a right to stop you - or take their revenge on you. Apparently it is okay to destroy flesh and blood in order to protect wood.
Nothing on the face of this earth is 100 percent safe. There are dangers to your holding this newspaper, which might catch fire and set off a conflagration around you.
When some advertiser says that its product is "made from natural ingredients," just what does that mean? Since businesses do not create matter out of nothing, but simply transform the matter that already exists, everything is made from natural ingredients.
I think my favorite Teflon Prophet is Paul Ehrlich because he has been so consistently wrong on so many things. One, predicting mass starvation, I think it was in the '70s or the '80s. But predicting that we're running out of -- running low on resources.
A recent editorial in the Washington Post pointed out that, while thousands have been killed by Hurricane Mitch in Central America, it has been a quarter of a century since a hurricane killed more than a hundred people in the United States. Moreover, the editorial writer understands why: We are a wealthier country, which leads to a better ability to forecast hurricanes and to cope with them through sturdier buildings, mass evacuations and more and better medical care. In short, wealth is a great factor in improved safety. This is too often completely overlooked by safety zealots who make grandiose pronouncements that "whatever it costs, it is worth it if it saves just one human life." Sacrificing wealth means sacrificing safety and ultimately lives. Whether particular regulations save more lives directly than they cost indirectly by sacrificing or inhibiting the production of wealth is an empirical question. But it is a question that is seldom asked.
Many of the same people who cry 'No blood for oil' also want higher gas-mileage standards for cars. But higher mileage standards have meant lighter and flimsier cars, leading to more injuries and deaths in accidents — in other words, trading blood for oil.
Back in the 1970s, the hysteria was about global cooling and the prospect of a new ice age. A National Academy of Sciences report back then led Science magazine to conclude in its March 1, 1975 issue that a long "ice age is a real possibility." According to the April 28, 1975 issue of Newsweek,"the earth's climate seems to be cooling down." A note of urgency was part of the global cooling hysteria then as much as it is part of today's global warming hysteria. According to the February 1973 issue of Science Digest, "Once the freeze starts, it will be too late." Nothing is easier than to come up with mathematical models and doomsday scenarios. Politicians and government bureaucrats have been trying for well over a decade to sell a doomsday scenario of global warming, which would enhance the powers of - you guessed it - politicians and bureaucrats.
Even when they are proved wrong by inescapable facts, green zealots often fall back on runaway extrapolations, claiming that they must stop development now or there will be ever increasing population densities, more pollution, more this, more that. Runaway extrapolations are the last refuge of hysteria mongers when confronted with facts that demolish their lies. Think about it: The temperature has risen about 10 degrees since this morning. If you extrapolate that, we will all be burned to a crisp before the end of the month. Extrapolations prove nothing.
Blitz : Life involves trade-offs, and the hysteria over risks hides
the dangers of swapping actual for apparent safety.
Intended Consequences : We can no longer be silent about the high cost of the moral crusades of environmentalists and others. _
Exhortations to Conserve : The price of goods, from oil to Rolls Royce, tells you all you need to know about conserving them. _
Poisonous Politics : Ultimate safety is as elusive as completely "clean" air or water, but that won't stop people fretting over hypothetical scares. _
WISDOM & KNOWLEDGE
It is bad enough that so many people believe things without any evidence. What is worse is that some people have no conception of evidence and regard facts as just someone else’s opinion.
Was Einstein's theory of relativity just a matter of how you looked at it? Even at Hiroshima or Nagasaki?
It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.
Knowledge can be enormously costly, and is often scattered in widely uneven fragments, too small to be individually usable in decision making. The communication and coordination of these scattered fragments of knowledge is one of the basic problems - perhaps the basic problem - of any society.
The simplest and most psychologically satisfying explanation of any observed phenomenon is that it happened that way because someone wanted it to happen that way.
The curse of the intelligentsia is their ability to rationalize and re-define. Ordinary people, lacking that gift, are forced to face reality.
Some things must be done on faith, but the most dangerous kind of faith is that which masquerades as 'science.' As the pretense of science has replaced commonsensical experience, we have abandoned many old-fashioned practices that worked in favor of high-sounding innovations that have led to disaster.
Too many people in the media seem to think that being objective means criticizing "both sides," when in fact it means an unbiased search for the truth. You can do objective research on the Nazis and then conclude that they were pretty rotten people.
Facts do not 'speak for themselves.' They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theories or visions are mere isolated curiosities.
People who are very aware that they have more knowledge than the average person are often very unaware that they do not have one-tenth of the knowledge of all of the average persons put together. In this situation, for the intelligentsia to impose their notions on ordinary people is essentially to impose ignorance on knowledge.
Many of these 'thinking
people' could more accurately be characterized as articulate people, as
people whose verbal nimbleness can elude both evidence and logic. This can be a fatal talent,
when it supplies the crucial insulation from reality behind many historic catastrophes.
Some people are so busy being clever that they don't have time to be intelligent.
For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert, but for every fact there is not necessarily an equal and opposite fact.
People who have time on their hands will inevitably waste the time of people who have work to do.
While it is true that you learn with age, the down side is that what you learn is often what a damn fool you were before.
One of the more frequently
recurring buzzwords of the contemporary anointed liberals is 'complex',
often said with a sense of superiority toward those who disagree with them
- the latter being labeled 'simplistic.' The real world, of course, is
more complex than any statement that anyone can make about it, whether
that statement is in three words or in three volumes. Complex phenomena
may, of course, also have complex causes. But the a-priori dogma that they
cannot have simple causes is part of the 'complex' complex. It is one more
way of seeming to argue, without actually making any argument. It is also
one more example of the presumption of superior wisdom and/or virtue that
is at the heart of the vision of the anointed.
Merely labeling an analysis "oversimplified" on a-priori grounds puts the cart before the horse, by evading responsibility for first demonstrating the falsity of its conclusions.
The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly. Only when you do something is it almost impossible to do it without mistakes. Therefore people who are contributing nothing to society except their constant criticisms can feel both intellectually and morally superior.
Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.
The more adaptability exists for a given kind of decision, the less risky it is to make plans for the future, and therefore the more likely it is that more people will make more plans in such areas.
The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite.
Wrong ideas have a contribution to make, when they provoke open discussions and investigations that end up with our knowing and understanding more than we knew or understood before. People's lives are being saved today by medicines based on a knowledge of chemistry that developed out of alchemy, a centuries-old crazy idea of turning lead into gold.
What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about.
It is amazing how many people think that they can answer an argument by attributing bad motives to those who disagree with them.
Are Out : Many liberals are opposed even to the publication of the
facts on issues like IQ and Global Warming. _
Check It Out : Expert theories and projections should be checked against reality and history before being accepted. _
How people treat those
who cannot do them any good or any harm reveals a lot about their character.
For me, Tim Russert scored high in that department as well.
- after the sudden passing of journalist Tim Russert
Some people think they have bad luck when the real problem is that they took bad chances.
Equal treatment of individuals does not mean equal treatment of behavior.
When you have 90 percent of what you want, think twice before insisting on the other 10 percent.
I love cheap watches. For no other product are the cheapest versions just as effective for their basic purpose as versions costing ten or a hundred times as much.
Every long trip on a highway makes me question whether self-preservation really is the first law of nature. The way some people drive, preserving life and limb doesn't seem to have a high priority for them. Some of the riskiest gambles for small pay-offs are taken on highways when drivers bet their lives — and the lives of those around them — in order to get a few yards ahead.
When I see people dealing lovingly with small children, it makes me feel that there may be hope for us, after all.
A public opinion poll back in 1964 asked if America was worth fighting for — and 87 percent of blacks said "yes." Today, it is doubtful if any segment of the population would give that answer that often.
Wisdom and cleverness are very different things. My nominations for the three wisest presidents would be Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan. For the three cleverest — FDR, Nixon, and Clinton.
The only thing better than "hands-on" experience is hands-off experience -- enough experience to understand that some things will turn out better if left alone.
"Women's Liberation" and the "sexual revolution" have not liberated women. They have liberated the sort of man who is a "love and leave 'em" kind of guy, who lets the woman deal with the consequences, including pregnancy.
Does anybody seriously believe that "hate speech" prohibitions will be applied to Muslims demonizing Jews, to blacks demonizing whites, or to women demonizing men?
The fact that everyone is presumed to be innocent in a court of law until proven guilty does not mean that those of us who are not in a court of law have to make that same presumption.
To a small child, the reason he cannot do many things that he would like to do is that his parents won't let him. Many years later, maturity brings an understanding that there are underlying reasons for doing or not doing many things, and that his parents were essentially conduits for those reasons. The truly dangerous period in life is the time when the child has learned the limits of his parents' control, and how to circumvent their control, but has not yet understood or accepted the underlying reasons for doing and not doing things. This adolescent period is one that some people — intellectuals especially — never outgrow. The widespread and fervent use of the word "liberation" in a wide variety of contexts is one of the signs of the adolescent belief that only arbitrary rules and conventions stand in the way of doing whatever we want to do.
From time to time, readers ask me what books have made the biggest difference in my life. I am not sure how to answer that question because the books that happened to set me off in a particular direction at a particular time may have no profound or valuable message for others — and can even be books I no longer believe in today... There was no book that changed my mind about being on the political left. Life experience did that — especially the experience of seeing government at work from the inside. The book that permanently made me a sadder — and, hopefully, wiser — man was Edward Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. To follow one of the greatest civilizations of all time as it degenerated and fractured, even before being torn apart by its enemies, was especially painful in view of the parallels to what is happening in America in our own times... The kinds of books most readers seem to have in mind when they ask for my recommendations are books that go to the heart of a particular subject, books that open the eyes of the reader in a mind-changing way. James Q. Wilson's books on crime are like that, shattering the illusions of the intelligentsia about "root causes," "prevention" programs, "rehabilitation," and other trendy nonsense. Professor Wilson's books are a strong dose of hard facts that counter mushy rhetoric... Experience has probably changed more minds than books have. But some books can pull your experiences together and show how they require a very different vision of the world.
IN OTHERS' WORDS
America's leading philosopher
is Thomas Sowell. He has given me more than any other American living philosopher,
because he has taught me about the way the market system works and why
it works, because he presents it as an information system. The freer the
market system, the more completely uninhibited it is, the more information
it presents and the more accurate that information is. And, therefore,
the decisions you reach on the basis of that information are likely to
be the right ones. And that is why a market system delivers the goods,
whereas a command economy where there is no freedom of information, where
the market is not giving you unrestricted access to information, and, therefore,
your decisions are of low quality in consequence, that doesn't work.
- Paul Johnson, author of "A History of the American People"
Years ago, Thomas Sowell
wrote a column that I have never forgotten. He said that liberals field
their A team, while conservatives field their B team. What did he mean
by that? He meant that the “best and the brightest” of the liberals slaver
to enter politics, or journalism, in order to control other people’s lives.
But our best and brightest — the Right’s elite — are in the economy, inventing
things, establishing businesses, and making the country grow.
- Jay Nordlinger, "National Review"
"Major, I was guarding home plate back in
old Thomas Sowell Field before you were potty-trained."
- Commander Sisko, in "Star Trek DS9: Fallen Heroes" by Dafydd Ab Hugh
Thomas Sowell argues
that late 20th century America is in the grip of what Alexis de Tocqueville
would have called a depraved taste for equality. "There has now been created
a world," he writes, "in which the success of others is a grievance, rather
than an example."
The reigning assumption in this world is that all people are equal not only in the sight of God, but also in their God-given abilities. It follows, therefore, that if all groups do not, in fact, perform equally well, some malign person, or group of people, must somehow be responsible for the disparities.
As Sowell writes: One of the ways in which the dogma of equal performance is a threat to freedom is in its need to find villains and sinister machinations to explain why the real world is so different from the world of its vision. Paranoia and freedom are an unlikely and unstable combination.
For example, Asian-Americans outperform Anglo-Americans on virtually everything from SAT scores to PhDs. Surely no one would claim that American society discriminates against whites in favor of Asians. We must take other factors into account if we are to explain this mystery. Family size, age, educational courses chosen, and savings rates are just some of the myriad ways that our races distinguish themselves. When we control these factors, there is absolutely no divergence between the races. An African-American male and an Asian-American male of the same age, with the same education, in the same occupational field earn the same amount of money. The same is true of Hispanic men and white men. Incredibly, these statistics have been consistent since the 1960s when America was still supposedly a "racist" country.
We constantly hear of "social justice," he says. But how is social justice different from other kinds of justice? The word social, in fact, is redundant here: "All justice is inherently social. Can someone on a desert island be either just or unjust?"
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