Tag Archives: Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell: if we care about poverty and crime, then we should encourage marriage

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell

My favorite economist Thomas Sowell writes about poverty and crime in National Review.


The “legacy of slavery” argument is not just an excuse for inexcusable behavior in the ghettos. In a larger sense, it is an evasion of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the prevailing social vision of our times, and the political policies based on that vision, over the past half century.

Anyone who is serious about evidence need only compare black communities as they evolved in the first 100 years after slavery with black communities as they evolved in the first 50 years after the explosive growth of the welfare state, beginning in the 1960s.

You would be hard-pressed to find as many ghetto riots prior to the 1960s as we have seen just in the past year, much less in the 50 years since a wave of such riots swept across the country in 1965.

We are told that such riots are a result of black poverty and white racism. But in fact — for those who still have some respect for facts — black poverty was far worse, and white racism was far worse, prior to 1960. But violent crime within black ghettos was far less.

Murder rates among black males were going down — repeat, down — during the much-lamented 1950s, while it went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families.

Such trends are not unique to blacks, nor even to the United States. The welfare state has led to remarkably similar trends among the white underclass in England over the same period. Just read Life at the Bottom, by Theodore Dalrymple, a British physician who worked in a hospital in a white slum neighborhood.

You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility, and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

Non-judgmental subsidies of counterproductive lifestyles are treating people as if they were livestock, to be fed and tended by others in a welfare state — and yet expecting them to develop as human beings have developed when facing the challenges of life themselves.

One key fact that keeps getting ignored is that the poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits every year since 1994. Behavior matters and facts matter, more than the prevailing social visions or political empires built on those visions.

So skin color has nothing to do with it, the real problem is that social programs encourage people to make poor choices – including more poverty and crime. We reward failure, and we are surprised when we get more failure.

The book he mentioned – Life at the Bottom – is one of my favorite books. It really shows how social programs that redistribute wealth actually teach poor people to make poor choices, and then refuse to take responsibility for their own poor choices. I posted links to the full text of the book here.

Should blacks vote for Democrats? Do liberal policies help young black men?

I want to quote from two black economists – my two favorite economists – to answer some questions.

First, Thomas Sowell.

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell

Is minimum wage good for young blacks?

He writes:

Low-income minorities are often hardest-hit by the unemployment that follows in the wake of minimum wage laws. The last year when the black unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate was 1930, the year before there was a federal minimum wage law.

The following year, the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 was passed, requiring minimum wages in the construction industry. This was in response to complaints that construction companies with non-union black construction workers were able to underbid construction companies with unionized white workers (whose unions would not admit blacks).

Looking back over my own life, I realize now how lucky I was when I left home in 1948, at the age of 17, to become self-supporting. The unemployment rate for 16- and 17-year-old blacks at that time was under 10%. Inflation had made the minimum wage law, passed 10 years earlier, irrelevant.

But it was only a matter of time before liberal compassion led to repeated increases in the minimum wage to keep up with inflation. The annual unemployment rate for black teenagers has never been less than 20% in the past 50 years, and has ranged as high as over 50%.

You can check these numbers in a table of official government statistics on page 42 of professor Walter Williams’ book “Race and Economics.”

Incidentally, the black-white gap in unemployment rates for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds was virtually nonexistent back in 1948. But the black teenage unemployment rate has been more than double that for white teenagers for every year since 1971.

Second, Walter Williams.

Economist Walter Williams
Economist Walter Williams

Is voting for black leaders good for blacks?

He writes:

Black leaders stress the importance of political power and getting out the vote, but we might ask how important political power is to the ordinary black person. As a start toward answering that question, we might examine black life in cities where blacks hold considerable political power.

Detroit is the nation’s most dangerous city. Rounding out Forbes magazine’s 2013 list of the 10 most dangerous cities are Oakland, Calif.; St. Louis; Memphis, Tenn.; Stockton, Calif.; Birmingham, Ala.; Baltimore; Cleveland; Atlanta; and Milwaukee.

According to a recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, the 10 poorest cities with populations of more than 250,000 are Detroit, with 33% of its residents below the poverty line; Buffalo, N.Y., 30%; Cincinnati, 28%; Cleveland, 27%; Miami, 27%; St. Louis, 27%; El Paso, Texas, 26%; Milwaukee, 26%; Philadelphia, 25%; and Newark, N.J., 24%.

In addition to poverty, there is grossly inferior education and high welfare dependency in these cities.

The most common feature of these cities is that for decades, all of them have had Democratic administrations. Some cities — such as Detroit, Buffalo, Newark and Philadelphia — haven’t elected a Republican mayor for more than a half-century.

What’s more is that in most of these cities, blacks have been mayors, chiefs of police, school superintendents and principals, and have dominated city councils.

[…]Let’s be clear about what I am saying and not saying. I am not suggesting that there’s a causal relationship between crime, poverty and squalor on the one hand and Democratic and black political power on the other. Nor am I suggesting that blacks ought to vote Republican.

What I am saying is that if one is strategizing on how to improve the lives of ordinary — and particularly the poorest — black people, he wants to leave off his high-priority to-do list the election of Democrats and black politicians. Also to be left off the to-do list is a civil rights agenda.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to finding solutions is the widely held vision that the major problem confronting blacks is discrimination. I am not arguing that every vestige of discrimination has been eliminated. I am arguing that the devastating problems facing a large proportion of the black community are not civil rights problems. The solutions will not be found in the political or civil rights arena.

And third, more Walter Williams.

Is focusing on the few cases where a white police officer shoots a black man good for blacks?

He writes:


Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety-four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims. Using the 94-percent figure means that 262,621 were murdered by other blacks.

Though blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, the black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, it’s 22 times that of whites.

Coupled with being most of the nation’s homicide victims, blacks are most of the victims of violent personal crimes, such as assault and robbery.

The magnitude of this tragic mayhem can be viewed in another light. According to a Tuskegee Institute study, between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched at the hands of whites. Black fatalities during the Korean War (3,075), Vietnam War (7,243) and all wars since 1980 (8,197) come to 18,515, a number that pales in comparison with black loss of life at home.

It’s a tragic commentary to be able to say that young black males have a greater chance of reaching maturity on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan than on the streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Newark and other cities.

Not everyone who runs around crying “racism, racism” is interested in helping blacks to do as well as other racial groups.

Blacks will do well, just as they used to do, when the political parties in power embrace free-market capitalist policies, such as lowering the minimum wage, or scrapping it entirely. Blacks will do well, just as they used to do, when we strengthen and subsidize natural marriage – by repealing no-fault divorce and reforming welfare for single mothers. Blacks will do well, just as they used to do, when we make public schools more responsive to parents, and less responsive to teacher unions. And so on.

Thomas Sowell explains how liberal pacifism causes wars

Thomas Sowell

I just finished reading Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals and Society” and I really recommend it. This post is about what I read in chapter 7 “Intellectuals and War” and chapter 8 “Intellectuals and War: Repeating History”. I found a couple of articles that contain the same arguments as in the book.

Here’s an article from Townhall.


On the international scene, trying to assuage aggressors’ feelings and look at the world from their point of view has had an even more catastrophic track record. A typical sample of this kind of thinking can be found in a speech to the British Parliament by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938: “It has always seemed to me that in dealing with foreign countries we do not give ourselves a chance of success unless we try to understand their mentality, which is not always the same as our own, and it really is astonishing to contemplate how the identically same facts are regarded from two different angles.”

Like our former ambassador from the Carter era, Chamberlain sought to “remove the causes of strife or war.” He wanted “a general settlement of the grievances of the world without war.” In other words, the British prime minister approached Hitler with the attitude of someone negotiating a labor contract, where each side gives a little and everything gets worked out in the end. What Chamberlain did not understand was that all his concessions simply led to new demands from Hitler — and contempt for him by Hitler.

What Winston Churchill understood at the time, and Chamberlain did not, was that Hitler was driven by what Churchill called “currents of hatred so intense as to sear the souls of those who swim upon them.” That was also what drove the men who drove the planes into the World Trade Center.

Pacifists of the 20th century had a lot of blood on their hands for weakening the Western democracies in the face of rising belligerence and military might in aggressor nations like Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. In Britain during the 1930s, Labor Party members of Parliament voted repeatedly against military spending, while Hitler built up the most powerful military machine in Europe. Students at leading British universities signed pledges to refuse to fight in the event of war.

All of this encouraged the Nazis and the Japanese toward war against countries that they knew had greater military potential than their own. Military potential only counts when there is the will to develop it and use it, and the fortitude to continue with a bloody war when it comes. This is what they did not believe the West had. And it was Western pacifists who led them to that belief.

Then as now, pacifism was a “statement” about one’s ideals that paid little attention to actual consequences. At a Labor Party rally where Britain was being urged to disarm “as an example to others,” economist Roy Harrod asked one of the pacifists: “You think our example will cause Hitler and Mussolini to disarm?”

The reply was: “Oh, Roy, have you lost all your idealism?” In other words, the issue was about making a “statement” — that is, posturing on the edge of a volcano, with World War II threatening to erupt at any time. When disarmament advocate George Bernard Shaw was asked what Britons should do if the Nazis crossed the channel into Britain, the playwright replied, “Welcome them as tourists.”

That was explained even more in the book with more examples from history.

Most people think that Thomas Sowell is a libertarian, but he isn’t a full libertarian. He just reports the evidence. If the evidence is pro-war, then he’s pro-war. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher called this view “peace through strength”. There is only one reason why evil people do not attack – because they think that good people have the firepower tomake them pay dearly for their aggression, and – and this is very important – the will to use it. In the book, Sowell explains how the the left responded to the horror of world war one by undermining the will of the people to fight. They minimized patriotism and heroism, and emphasized charges of “imperialism”, moral equivalence, and lots of sob stories about victims.

Here’s an article that explains it more.


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.

[…]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.

Everybody wants peace. Everyone – on both sides of the issue. The problem is that one side – the leftists – call their opponents names like “imperialist” and talk “disarmament” and “dialog” as if they have have the answer to peace. That doesn’t work and it has never worked. Pacifism only “works” in the classroom, where naive children are forced to parrot the opinions of their secular leftist teachers who have no expertise in war or history. What has actually worked in history is peace through strength. Strength deters wars, strength deters violence. Strength – and the will to use that strength to restrain evil.

My conversation with a leftist friend about basic economics and rent control

My conversation with a leftist friend about “Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, 4th Edition“, by Thomas Sowell.

Him: I remember why I stopped reading that book when you asked me to read it.

Me: Why did you stop reading it?

Him: Because of the chapter on rent control.

Me: Chapter 3 is the chapter on price controls. It talks about rent control.

Him: I expect an economist to present both sides of rent control. He has to present the arguments for and against rent control.

Me: There are not two sides to rent control. There is only one side to rent control. He chose that because it is a clear cut example of the problems caused by price controls. Economists universally condemn rent control, across the ideological spectrum.

Him: No they don’t.

Me: The chair of the Department of Economics at Harvard University, Greg Mankiw, reports in his economics textbook that 93% of professional economists agree that rent control reduces housing supply and housing quality. It is the most agreed upon position among economists across the ideological spectrum, number one in his list of facts on which professional economists agree. And obviously they have reasons for agreeing on that, specifically the experience of trying rent control policies in different times and places. It has always failed.

Him: Somebody must like rent control, because they have it in New York city.

Me: Politicians and low-information voters support rent control. It makes politicians feel good, and it gets them elected, too – if the voters are economically illiterate enough, as they are in New York city.

Him: But what about global warming then? Isn’t the consensus against you there?

Me: There has been no global warming in the last 17 years, according to the New York Times. They were reporting on findings by the UN IPCC in 2013.

Him: The UN never said that. The New York Times never wrote that.

Me: Yes, they did. And I have the sources I can send them to you.

Him: I’ll bet you do. (walks away in a huff)

This is the relevant quote from the Greg Mankiw post from his survey of economists that appears in his textbook:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

And this is the relevant quote from the New York Times article, dated September 2013:

The global warming crowd has a problem. For all of its warnings, and despite a steady escalation of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, the planet’s average surface temperature has remained pretty much the same for the last 15 years.

As you might guess, skeptics of warming were in full attack mode as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gathered in Sweden this week to approve its latest findings about our warming planet. The skeptics argue that this recent plateau illustrates what they always knew — that complex global climate models have no predictive capability and that, therefore, there is no proof of global warming, human-caused or not.

The author of the NYT article (a leftist) goes on to attempt to explain he is not concerned by the 17 year period of no significant warming, but the point is that the 17 year (not 15 year) period of no significant warming is A FACT acknowledged by the UN IPCC that has to be explained by those who believe in catastrophic man-made global warming. The IPCC may not like the temperature measurements, but those facts are not in doubt. The global warming crowd might make predictions about the future, but they made predictions about the past before, and we now know for a fact that those predictions (polar ice caps melting, Himalayans melting, significant global warming, etc.) were FALSE. They have been falsified by evidence, and that’s not in doubt.

Economic illiteracy is the problem

When people on the left voted for Barack Obama in 2012, they did not know based on evidence that they could keep their doctors and keep their health plans and that insurance premiums would drop $2500. They did not know it because the economic studies contradicted Obama’s words. They even believed Obama when he said that the Benghazi incident was caused by a Youtube video. Obama-supporters had a sincere belief in the words of his passionate speeches. They were impressed by the visuals of him talking to large crowds of young people. They believed him because they had feelings about him. And voting for him made them have good feelings about themselves. They felt that they were going to achieve good things by voting for this good man. They meant well, but they did not know. They did not have evidence.

Before the 2012 election, people on the right pointed to evidence from studies (like this one) showing that Obama was lying, but his supporters were apparently not interested in economic studies. They want to preserve the feelings of being good people. They want to preserve the belief that you can embrace policies that sound good, and that words that sound good will necessarily lead to good results for people who are at a disadvantage. I don’t question the motives of people on the left – they mean well. But meaning well doesn’t produce good results without knowledge of economics. In economics, policies that sound appealing to well-meaning liberals (rent control, tariffs, protectionism, minimum wage, trillion-dollar deficits) actually produce bad results for poor people. And we know this for a fact from our experience across different times and places.

If we can get people to accept the authority of our observations of policy experimentation in different times and places over and above their feelings and intuitions, then we can save this country.

Are House Republicans doing anything wrong by refusing to fund Obamacare?

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell explains separation of powers.


The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted all the money required to keep all government activities going — except for ObamaCare.

This is not a matter of opinion. You can check the Congressional Record.

As for the House of Representatives’ right to grant or withhold money, that is not a matter of opinion either. You can check the Constitution of the United States. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which means that Congressmen there have a right to decide whether or not they want to spend money on a particular government activity.

Whether ObamaCare is good, bad or indifferent is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of fact that members of the House of Representatives have a right to make spending decisions based on their opinion.

ObamaCare is indeed “the law of the land,” as its supporters keep saying, and the Supreme Court has upheld its Constitutionality.

But the whole point of having a division of powers within the federal government is that each branch can decide independently what it wants to do or not do, regardless of what the other branches do, when exercising the powers specifically granted to that branch by the Constitution.

[…]When Barack Obama keeps claiming that it is some new outrage for those who control the money to try to change government policy by granting or withholding money, that is simply a bald-faced lie. You can check the history of other examples of “legislation by appropriation” as it used to be called.

Whether legislation by appropriation is a good idea or a bad idea is a matter of opinion. But whether it is both legal and not unprecedented is a matter of fact.

Perhaps the biggest of the big lies is that the government will not be able to pay what it owes on the national debt, creating a danger of default. Tax money keeps coming into the Treasury during the shutdown, and it vastly exceeds the interest that has to be paid on the national debt.

Even if the debt ceiling is not lifted, that only means that government is not allowed to run up new debt. But that does not mean that it is unable to pay the interest on existing debt.

The House Republicans have been passing bill after bill in order to fund essential responsibilities of government. It’s their decision to fund whatever they want, because that’s what the House does. But the Senate has been rejecting most of these bills. If parts of the government are “shut down” it’s the fault of the Senate Democrats. But then again, they are no more obligated to approve whatever the House wants than the House is obligated to approve what the Senate wants. Or what the President wants. That’s why there is a separation of powers: checks and balances.