Thomas Sowell Quotes #4

“In the most varied conditions in countries around the world – whether in Third World countries or in economically more advanced countries, and whether in countries where the majority or the minority has the higher skills – those seeking either the leadership or the votes of lagging groups tend to offer them four things:

  1. Assurance that their lags are not their fault.
  2. Assurance that their lags are the fault of some more fortunate group that they already envy and resent.
  3. Assurance that the lagging group and their culture are just as good as anybody else’s, if not better.
  4. Assurance that what the lagging group needs and deserves is a demographically defined ‘fair share’ of the economic and other benefits of society, sometimes supplemented with some kind of reparations for past injustices or some special reward for being indigenous ‘sons of the soil’.

“In addition, racial or ethnic leaders have every incentive to promote the isolation of the groups they lead – despite the fact that isolation has been a major factor in the poverty and backwardness of many different peoples around the world.

“Where a lagging group is concentrated in a particular region of a country, leaders of such groups have incentives to promote secession from the more advanced part of the country… The people themselves may also benefit physically by being spared the public embarrassment and private shame of being visibly outperformed repeatedly by others in the same economy and society.”

~from Wealth, Poverty and Politics, page 268-269

Thomas Sowell Quotes #3

“Where [democratic socialism and communism] differed was in whether the government officials who were to wield this power [to control the nation’s economy] should be elected by the general public, as advocated by democratic socialists, or chosen by some autocratic process, including dictatorship, as advocated by communists.*

“Although both socialist and communist governments began by replacing market economies with centrally planned economies in the twentieth century, by the end of that century most democratic socialist governments and most communist dictatorships had abandoned central planning after experiencing its results. Then, as many economic decisions were transferred from government officials to private individuals and organizations operating in markets, the rate of growth of output usually increased — dramatically in India and China. In both of these countries, this lifted millions of people out of dire poverty, as had happened in various other countries before. Despite the Marxian premise that the poor are poor because they are exploited by the rich, none of the Marxian dictatorships around the world with comprehensive central planning ever achieved as high a standard of living as was common in various market economies in Western Europe, North America or in such Asian nations as Japan and South Korea.

“Despite the indispensability of government for some economic activities and its value for some other economic functions, the limitations of its ability to carry out some more sweeping economic activities under comprehensive central planning are not simply the limitations of particular individuals who wield power, but include inherent limitations on what power itself can accomplish.”

* “Other central planners include fascists, who allowed private ownership of the means of production, but with these owners subject to government dictates. In Germany, a special xenophobic form of fascism was called National Socialism, more commonly known by a contraction of this party’s name in Germany as Nazis.”

~from Wealth, Poverty and Politics, page 257

Thomas Sowell Quotes #2

On Culture…

“Tangible material wealth is only a conversion of pre-existing physical material into a form that is more valued by human beings. The ability [the skills] to do so is the real wealth [which is called human capital].

“Behind such skills are cultural values that give a priority to the acquisition of those skills — and new skills as the old ones become obsolete over time, making the mastering of new skills imperative.

“Different groups living in the same external environment can have very different productivity if their internal cultural values produce very different priorities as to what they want to do, and at what sacrifices of other things.”

~from Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, page 96-97


Deceptive Simplicity


Sometimes we can use simple illustrations to explain more complex ideas. That is fine if the illustration is in fact used to explain the more complex idea. Often that’s not what happens – often we’re just shown the illustration, and because it’s simple, we think we understand the more complex situation automatically.

Take the picture above: On the left, they all have a box, but still the short guy can’t see. So, on the right, the tall guy gives him his box and all is well. That’s justice, see? Simple.

Well, if I were at a game watching over the fence and some guy needed my box to stand on, and I didn’t need it myself, of course I would give mine to him – I’m not a complete jerk. But of course, a baseball game is not what’s really the issue here. We’re talking about wealth, poverty, and social politics – much more complex issues.

How can we translate the simple illustration to the real complex problem?

We ask what each item in the illustration represents.

What do the boxes represent? Money? Power? Knowledge? All three? Something else? Why are there only three boxes? They can’t get more? Why do they all start off with one box each? Why is one guy taller than the other? Do these guys always stay the same height over the course of their lives? How is time illustrated in this picture, if at all?

What does the fence represent? Why is it the height it is? Is it shorter in other places where the short guy could see over with only one box? Why are all three guys standing right next to each other? In the real world, does the tall guy even know the short guy exists? Could the tall guy simple pass his box over to the short guy without someone else getting involved? What if the tall guy doesn’t want to give up his box? What if he’s going to need it to look over a taller section of fence further down?

What does the baseball game represent? Happiness? A house, car, and a flatscreen TV? Or just basic living needs? Who determines what poverty is? What’s being compared to what? Is the standard of living the same for all three guys? Is it essential to watch the game at all? Why don’t they buy tickets and watch inside?

These are just starter questions. As they’re answered more questions will come.

So, try answering all these questions and you’ll see that the situation is much more complicated than what the picture suggests.

Here’s a couple of other versions of the picture I found online…


Ha! Okay, evil conservatives are the problem.


Chain link fences! Of course!