Posts Tagged Thomas Sowell
The books I read in 2012 are listed below. Favorites included David Brooks’ The Social Animal, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, and, to no surprise, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
What did you read? What were some of your favorites?
Reason.tv recently interviewed some folks at the Democratic National Convention, aiming to draw out inconsistencies in the political left’s oft-pronounced “pro-choice” stance.
Watch it here:
Now, if one’s overarching philosophy and political ideology boils down to choice, choice, and more choice—as it certainly does for many of the folks at Reason.tv—being “pro-choice” on abortion and “anti-choice” on light bulbs is a glaring inconsistency. Yet I would hope that the the rest of us are working from different premises and aligning our beliefs to different ultimate standards. Life is, as they say, about so much more.
So what gives?
Why do many progressives believe women should have the “freedom” to kill their own children and homosexuals should have the power to redefine natural institutions, but they don’t believe Plump Little Jimmy should be able to choose between a 16 oz. or 32 oz. soft drink, or Catholic Lucy should be able to choose between a private school and a public one?
Why do many conservatives believe in free choice in education and healthcare, but they’re not so loosey-goosey on opening the flood-gates on infanticide, “family” redefinition, or drug legalization?
There are plenty of ways to explain the disconnect, but one fundamental conflict, as Thomas Sowell thoroughly illuminates in his book, A Conflict of Visions: A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, boils down to how we view the nature of man—“not simply his existing practices,” Sowell writes, “but his ultimate potential and ultimate limitations.” Here, we find that as a matter of discerning worldviews, it’s far less helpful to talk about “choice” than it is to talk about our underlying philosophies of life. Here, we find the beginnings of the premises from which we should launch our critiques of any diverging “inconsistencies.”
How do we view the human person? Is he imperfect yet capable of redemption, or, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, is he “born free” but “everywhere in chains”?
How do we view the project of improving mankind? Is it a process of constraining our basest passions and relying on Burkean “prudence,” or must we blindly trust in and submit to what William Godwin called “the magnanimous sentiment of our natures”?
Through what Sowell calls the unconstrained vision (what we might label today as “progressive”), the human person is a Rousseauean blossom, whose (seeming) faults are ultimately tied to imperfections in the systems that surround him rather than fundamental, universal imperfections in the human person himself. Knowing the “right path” and the “right thing to do” is the easy part. It’s overcoming all those pesky institutions that’s tricky (e.g. “Marxism works. It just hasn’t been implemented properly.”). Perfectibility is achievable (the rise of the oceans will begin to slow) if only the right captains are at the helm. Once they’re there, we need only follow the guidance of the Enlightened—buy the “good” light bulbs, drive the “good” car, go to the “good” school—and we shall further the “magnanimous sentiment of our natures” that has thus far been prohibited by systemic oppression. Fundamental to this view, Sowell writes, “is the conviction that foolish or immoral choices explain the evils of the world—and that wiser or more moral and humane social policies are the solution.”
For the unconstrained, it’s not about trade-offs or complicated analyses of history, political theory, moral philosophy and the nature of man himself. It’s about “solutions” (“Forward!”). The “good” is a given, and thus, once the wise old sages have subsequently “freed” our benevolent human nature toward collective salvation, everything the State hasn’t already delivered is ours for the taking. Follow the leader, build the tower, and give way to the “general will,” but outside of the carefully constructed Collective Mission, what you do and who you destroy is as noble as your properly pampered noble-savage self.
Now, like most dichotomies, not everyone fits neatly into place—Sowell certainly doesn’t claim as much, pointing specifically to Marx—and even those who fit the category can launch from this framework in a variety of ways and in varying degrees. But one need only look at the DNC, where the freedom to butcher “inconvenient” infants gets Read the rest of this entry »
In light of my recent posts on the inadequacy of fair trade (1, 2, 3 & 4), I thought this recent debate on the topic was well worth sharing. The discussion includes AEI’s Claude Barfield, World Fair Trade Organization’s Paul Myers, and Henderson State University’s Victor Claar.
Watch it here:
Barfield provides a good historical backdrop, but Claar, whose comments begin at 33 minutes, provides a strong and thorough critique of fair trade’s failures in both fairness and economic results.
Some of my favorite lines from Claar, in no particular order:
- “The fairest trade of all is trade that is genuinely free—free from political logrolling by politicians desperate for votes, free from opportunistic lobbying by industries like U.S. sugar and cotton, and free from the harm to the global poor that well-intentioned rich Northerners like us can sometimes bring.”
- “When the price of something is low–like coffee, or sugar, or cotton–market forces normally direct people to make less of it and move onto something else. But fair trade interferes with the signal that prices ordinarily provide; Fair Trade can never serve as a sustainable long-term development strategy because it will never make people significantly richer than they are today.”
- “Putting at least some faith in markets to be a powerful force for change in the lives of the poor does not amount to abdicating our concern for the poor–instead opting to cavalierly put our hope in little more than faeries and magic dust. Just as we trust gravity to keeps us all affixed securely to the ground, and just as the principles of particle physics assure you that the chair you are sitting in right now will not let you slip through its seat to the floor, markets work invisibly, but in ways that we understand reasonably well…The laws of physics are part of God’s providence; so are the laws of economics. And we fail miserably in our obligations to our Creator when we ignore the fundamental truths of economics in our efforts to aid the poor—even if our efforts flow from the very best intentions.”
One other item of note is how little argumentation Myers delivers in his primary remarks, throughout which he manages to disregard economic efficiency (because the poor benefit from waste?), downplay petty old “freedom” (because the poor prefer enslavement?) and elevate “rules and regulations” (because the problem is obviously too much access to markets?)—all without providing a substantive argument for how price manipulation benefits the poor and how price accuracy (is there a better word?) hurts them. He provides plenty of anecdotes about how the poor need jobs and affordable goods (is this news?), but provides no cohesive argument for why fair trade fulfills these needs and free trade perpetuates them.
I’m guessing this lapse was largely unintentional, and that, aptly representing Thomas Sowell’s “unconstrained vision,” Myers simply assumes that the (supposed) morality of fair trade is self-evident—that those who oppose it must simply value economic efficiency over the interests of the poor (and, to be fair, some do). Thus, fluffy anecdotes and pious platitudes about the struggles of the poor suffice for a moral indictment of free trade. Unfortunately, most free traders believe what they believe precisely because they think it benefits the poor. Myers should start his argument there (when he gets around to making one).
If these assumptions about Myers’ vacuous, emotion-driven remarks are true, then Claar’s later emphasis of Matthew 22:37 is even more relevant than intended.
How do we truly love our neighbor if we are aiming only to elevate our own personal, abstract notions of fairness without checking them against reason or results? How do we truly love the Lord our God if we rely only on our “hearts” and “souls” and not also on our minds? Further, as I’ve indicated elsewhere (1, 2, 3), what does it say about our “hearts” and “souls” if they are detached from an intentionally holistic love of God that looks beyond earthly emotions and assumptions?
The books I read in 2011 are listed below (alphabetically by author).
I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked in 2011, and I also didn’t write about what I read as much as I would’ve liked. I hope to provide more reviews and “nuggets” from these books in the upcoming year, as many were impactful in the development of ideas discussed on this blog.
Here were some of my favorites:
- The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark
- For God So Loved, He Gave – Kelly Kapic & Justin Borger
- The White Man’s Burden – William Easterly
- Living in God’s Two Kingdoms – David VanDrunen (enjoyment does not equal agreement!)
- Money, Greed, and God – Jay Richards
- The Holy Spirit in Mission – Gary Tyra
What did you read? What were your favorites?
I recently posted my thoughts on Hans Rosling’s TED Talk, “The Magic of the Washing Machine,” which does a fine job of illustrating how progress can feed progress, and how human ingenuity is at the heart of it.
In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I focus on a different phenomenon: our tendency to greet such progress with opposition:
If humans are really the “ultimate resource” as Julian Simon suggested, it’s no wonder that the continuous maximization of human time and freedom will lead us toward ever-increasing output. Yet just as the fruits of industrialization and widespread innovation seem to be evidence of some kind of “magic,” various opposing forces seem intent on demonstrating their own variety of bizarre tricks. Alas, just as society seems to progress, we exhibit a strange tendency toward regress.
Yet not all opposition leads to regress. We should indeed meet each new technological innovation with plenty of skepticism and criticism. In some sense, that’s what being a conservative is all about. So how do we properly discern? How do we know what will truly lead to progress and what will actually push us backwards?
We don’t. At least not always — which is why I think the more important question has to do with who is doing the discerning rather than what we are discerning about. As Thomas Sowell says, and as I quote quite frequently, “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.”
Here’s more from the post:
We will always have error, and we will always have disagreement, particularly in the realm of progress. But when we as individuals truly screw up, the consequences come quickly. When disruption comes, we humans are pretty good at responding and adapting. Nobody likes to look stupid and nobody prefers to be on the “wrong side of progress.” In a society guided by self-interest a la Adam Smith, the invisible hand typically spanks us when we need it, and progress gets back on track accordingly.
So what happens when the central planners mess up? What happens when lofty bureaucrats and paper-pushers start making decisions about what light bulbs we use, what toilets we flush, and how much salt goes in our French fries?
An inescapable, large-scale game of Read the rest of this entry »
This week at Ethika Politika, I examine two distinct approaches to the common good, one of which thinks it can be dictated, and another of which thinks it must be discovered.
Using Michael Tomasky’s now-famous essay as a starting point, I examine the fundamental errors in assuming that the common good can be achieved by enacting pushy policies from the top down.
…In Tomasky’s view, the common good is not something we should participate in or collaborate toward; rather, it is a god we should be “demanded” to serve. It is not a goal to pursue, a mystery to unravel, or a fight to win, but a preexisting plan to be enacted – a candyland of utopian perfectionism, ready and waiting to be implemented in full. No longer must we waste our time “cultivating conditions” for a moral society, for such an achievement only requires that a legion of properly informed elites step up to the task — followed, of course, by a nation of noble slaves, anxiously awaiting direction and correction from their masters on top of the hill.
An additional problem with Tomasky’s approach is his false dichotomy between individual and community interests.
The real tension, I argue, is between top-down direction and organic imperative:
For the progressive, being “asked to contribute to a project larger than ourselves” (Tomasky) is akin to being bumped into submission by the bureaucrat’s billy club. In the approach presented here, such demands come primarily through the guidance our personal journeys, community struggles, and, above all, our moral understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Whereas the top-downers believe that truth is already known and thus freedom is unnecessary, the bottom-uppers see a world in which truth must be actively pursued, with freedom being the only thing that will get us there.
I also point to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises along the way, whose “harmony of all individual interests” provides great support.
To read the full post, click here.
In today’s post at Common Sense Concept I provide a list of book recommendations for those who are doing any last-minute Christmas shopping or list-building. As far as the focus of the list, I offer five titles that proved influential in shaping my views on faith and free enterprise.
The five books are as follows:
- A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell
- The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden
- Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism by Arthur Brooks
- From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities, and the Lasting Triumph over Scarcity by Nick Schulz and Arnold Kling
- Free to Choose: A Personal Statement by Milton and Rose Friedman
As I note in the post, these titles are not (necessarily) religious: “Rather, [they] were extraordinarily valuable in steering my raw, Bible-based upbringing in the right direction when it came to economics.”
This classic Milton Friedman interview has now been seen by many on the Web, but since it deals with topics commonly discussed on this blog I thought I’d post it for your weekend enjoyment.
Watch the video here:
Donahue’s first question is this:
Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism, and whether greed is a good idea to run on?
Friedman responds with this:
Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? …The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus.
Friedman goes on to point out a few of these achievements (e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity, Henry Ford’s automobile), and emphasizes that Read the rest of this entry »