04 December 2014

Through the Looking Glass: A Journey into the Fantasy World of Thomas Sowell (5)


As the Church continues to apostatize my hope is that the Remnant will come together with a real sense of community. The Amish figured this out long ago. It's not due to their stance on technology, though that is a factor, but they do hold common values. They're not the same values as the Jews or Armenians, but their community has common values. Right now American Christians are still enthralled with the possibilities of American cultural success. This vision and the ethics that go with it are individualist and won't allow such people to function within a community. There has to be some self-denial. Americans aren't good at that and at present there are numerous popular theologies which reject the very notion.

In the case of African-Americans their own history has forced them to focus on individualism and self-fulfillment. I understand it but it's an unhealthy side effect of their history and living in this culture.

I could go on. There are a host of factors. In this case, Sowell may make a point or two that's valid but it's all negated because they're combined with fallacies and the mix produces bad and misguided conclusions.


Such groups concentrated on developing what economists call "human capital" – their skills, talents, knowledge and self discipline. Their success has usually been based on that one four-letter word that the left seldom uses in polite society: "work."

There are individuals in virtually every group who follow similar patterns to rise from poverty to prosperity. But how many such individuals there are in different groups makes a big difference for the prosperity or poverty of the groups as a whole.


Again there's no doubt some truth to what he's saying, but it has to be placed into context. It's one thing to come to America as a persecuted community and to establish yourselves here.

It's something else if you were brought here in servitude and have a long brutal history that took place before and after the servitude formally ended.

Does this excuse all sins and conditions today? No. But Sowell's assumptions prevent the possibility of an honest fair discussion.

While Sowell may speak of American blacks in such a way, his statements do not apply to poor whites for example. In many cases these people had ancestors who were far more prosperous. There's more to the story.

Am I invalidating his argument by suggesting he has oversimplified reality? His argument has already been invalidated on numerous points. At this point I'm merely critiquing conclusions and inferences which are already patently flawed because he never proved the foundational arguments from which he derives them.


The agenda of the left – promoting envy and a sense of grievance, while making loud demands for "rights" to what other people have produced – is a pattern that has been widespread in countries around the world.

This agenda has seldom lifted the poor out of poverty. But it has lifted the left to positions of power and self-aggrandizement, while they promote policies with socially counterproductive results.


Not to sound like Marx, but in many cases the exact argument is that the Leftist workers did produce the 'what' Sowell mentions. Rights or just compensation?

Seldom? Why is that? Could it be that in some cases the Leftist position hasn't actually been applied and in other cases the reality on the ground has never allowed the policies to be implemented?

The Left at least in principle has never been about power and self-aggrandizement. There are power hungry people who have used the Left as a vehicle to power, just as there are on the Right. There are plenty of examples of Totalitarianism which have cloaked itself in Leftist language.

Totalitarianism is not a logical consequence of the Leftist politics. In some cases instability breeds crisis and a strong man steps in. In other cases Leftist policies (like those on the Right) don't work. They fail, and a crisis ensues allowing power-mad people to grab control.

Socially counterproductive? By what standard? There are millions of people living in 'Leftist' countries that believe Socialism has greatly benefitted their society. You're not going to find many Europeans sympathetic with Sowell, even those on the European Right.

In other cases Totalitarian rulers have hijacked Leftist models and crushed their societies.

Is Sowell so foolish as to think Mao or Stalin represented Marx? Does he think Marx would approve of what they did? That was his vision?

Is Sowell aware of the differences between economic theory and revolutionary theory?


The fundamental problem of the political left seems to be that the real world does not fit their preconceptions. Therefore they see the real world as what is wrong, and what needs to be changed, since apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.


That's quite a statement coming from him.


A never-ending source of grievances for the left is the fact that some groups are "over-represented" in desirable occupations, institutions and income brackets, while other groups are "under-represented."

From all the indignation and outrage about this expressed on the left, you might think that it was impossible that different groups are simply better at different things.

Yet runners from Kenya continue to win a disproportionate share of marathons in the United States, and children whose parents or grandparents came from India have won most of the American spelling bees in the past 15 years. And has anyone failed to notice that the leading professional basketball players have for years been black, in a country where most of the population is white?

Most of the leading photographic lenses in the world have – for generations – been designed by people who were either Japanese or German. Most of the leading diamond-cutters in the world have been either India's Jains or Jews from Israel or elsewhere.

Not only people but things have been grossly unequal. More than two-thirds of all the tornadoes in the entire world occur in the middle of the United States. Asia has more than 70 mountain peaks that are higher than 20,000 feet and Africa has none. Is it news that a disproportionate share of all the oil in the world is in the Middle East?

Whole books could be filled with the unequal behavior or performances of people, or the unequal geographic settings in which whole races, nations and civilizations have developed. Yet the preconceptions of the political left march on undaunted, loudly proclaiming sinister reasons why outcomes are not equal within nations or between nations.


This has nothing to do with the issues at hand. Talk about obfuscation. Are we talking about traits and characteristics intrinsic to people groups? While differences exist to make this kind of moral pronouncement is not practical racism, but ethical racism. Just stunning.

We're not talking about whether some people are genetically disposed to be better at this or that particular thing. The Left is trying to counter political and historical injustice. This line of argument on Sowell's part attempts to dismiss such concerns but this is sleight of hand and quite an underhanded argument. It doesn't fit within the general framework of the discussion. Okay, the Left won't solve all the problems of the world but therefore the answer is to just live with the status quo?

If America has created a higher standard of living for the poor, then why is it so? Is it because people on the Left just did nothing at all? Would he have us return to the 19th century with child labour and the Triangle workers?


All this moral melodrama has served as a background for the political agenda of the left, which has claimed to be able to lift the poor out of poverty and in general make the world a better place. This claim has been made for centuries, and in countries around the world. And it has failed for centuries in countries around the world.

Some of the most sweeping and spectacular rhetoric of the left occurred in 18th century France, where the very concept of the left originated in the fact that people with certain views sat on the left side of the National Assembly.

The French Revolution was their chance to show what they could do when they got the power they sought. In contrast to what they promised – "liberty, equality, fraternity" – what they actually produced were food shortages, mob violence and dictatorial powers that included arbitrary executions, extending even to their own leaders, such as Robespierre, who died under the guillotine.


This is again misleading. Most of Western Europe and its heirs would say Leftist policies, safety nets, labour laws, and even central economic planning have done tremendous good for their countries. You would be hard pressed to find a Frenchman who desires the American model. Thomas Sowell would find no audience in France.

To cite the Reign of Terror is misleading and he knows it. Yes, the Revolution fell apart and degenerated.

Is he suggesting that the Left has to bear responsibility for all the happened in a time of madness? Are we going to suggest the Right bear all responsibility for what happened under the militant nationalism of Hitler?

Oh I forgot the Right tries to cast Fascism as a Leftist movement too. There's nothing you can do with these people!

Despite the horrors of the French Revolution and the general upheaval of the era, the French certainly were pretty successful in creating a strong country and society and there's a reason why even the French Right seems pretty Leftist on most points to an American.


In the 20th century, the most sweeping vision of the left – Communism – spread over vast regions of the world and encompassed well over a billion human beings. Of these, millions died of starvation in the Soviet Union under Stalin and tens of millions in China under Mao.


Yes, Communist parties did those things but do their actions align with Leftist theory? Is that what Marx was about? These were Totalitarian regimes that abandoned Communism.

Communism doesn't work, that's true but these murderous regimes were not implementing it.

And how can he account for all the Leftist regimes running modern Europe? Are they secretly planning the mass murder of their citizenry?


Milder versions of socialism, with central planning of national economies, took root in India and in various European democracies.

If the preconceptions of the left were correct, central planning by educated elites with vast amounts of statistical data at their fingertips, expertise readily available, and backed by the power of government, should have been more successful than market economies where millions of individuals pursued their own individual interests willy-nilly.

But, by the end of the 20th century, even socialist and communist governments began abandoning central planning and allowing more market competition. Yet this quiet capitulation to inescapable realities did not end the noisy claims of the left.


This is also misleading. Some countries have been very successful. The present difficulties in Europe are largely due to run away Capitalism and the misguided Euro currency project.

Success is defined differently under a socialist system. What gauge is Sowell going to use? Besides in many socialist societies like France, Germany, Austria etc... the average person does live better than in the United States. There's more wealth in America but also a great deal more poverty.

Sowell is fine with that and the host of other problems we have in the United States, but that doesn't vindicate his arguments.


In the United States, those claims and policies reached new heights, epitomized by government takeovers of whole sectors of the economy and unprecedented intrusions into the lives of Americans, of which ObamaCare has been only the most obvious example.

At the heart of the left's vision of the world is the implicit assumption that high-minded third parties like themselves can make better decisions for other people than those people can make for themselves.


While socialism does lead to government intrusion it seems particularly egregious in the American model. The way our bureaucracy functions and the way our political system works leads to a lot of insane regulations.

But there are also many misconceptions regarding the origins of many of our laws. In my rural area there are many who decry government intrusion in the dairy industry and the restrictions placed on raw milk. They blame this on Totalitarian impulses within the American state.

The truth is the dairy industry has pushed this legislation. The big agricultural corporations are terrified of organic food movements. Numbers of books and documentaries have exposed their practices and people are turning away from them.

Their practices by the way are a direct result of Capitalism which sees profit and efficiency as the bottom line and has no moral compass to determine that many of the things they are doing are both criminal and insane. As the public learns of it, they're turning away from this agricultural model.

Lobbying has led to this legislation and insurance companies also have an interest. Our litigation obsessed culture has created a perverse and distorted view of community and has destroyed the relationship between the people and the law. The issues surrounding liability and litigation overshadow every issue.

It's the same with building codes. I deal with this on a regular basis. It's very difficult to remodel older buildings because of the requirements. Often the property owners rail against the tyrannical government and plenty of their criticism is warranted. Yet, most of the building codes have been implemented at the behest of the insurance industry. They want uniform standards, not because they care about you or me, but their bottom line. Also uniform standards clean up the liability and litigation mess.

Capitalism creates a host of situations where we lose our freedoms so big industries that dominate our congress can improve their bottom line.

In other cases we have laws like American Disabilities Act which does place a great burden on commercial property owners. I've been dealing with that for the past several months. In this case it is an application of the equal protection clause in the Constitution. This touches on larger issues concerning the nature of a constitutionally protected democracy.

Neither pure capitalism nor socialism exist in the real world. The situation is dynamic. Government officials have a duty and obligation to society and they're not going to let their society collapse in order to remain doctrinal purists. They all turn into pragmatists in a moment of crisis. Lincoln did the same during the Civil War. He broke the law in order to maintain his political order.

Was this right or wrong? That can be debated.

Sowell is engaged in caricature. He disagrees with the policies so he attacks them. That's fine, but his method is neither honest nor instructive.

As far as third parties deciding things for people...does he understand how the government works? We don't live in a pure democracy. We don't decide every legislative issue via referendum.

Sowell probably wouldn't agree but I would argue the United States is far too vast of an enterprise. The country would be far better governed if it were broken up into pieces. Generalized policies for a country of this scope, size and social complexity do not represent good governance. It's impossible as the country is too diverse in economics, culture, and geography.