Tag Archives: Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell: does affirmative action help minorities to get ahead?

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell – the best economist in the world

My favorite economist, Thomas Sowell has an article in Investors Business Daily that explains what affirmative action really does to minorities.

Excerpt:

Affirmative action is supposed to benefit black and other minority students admitted with lower academic qualifications than some white students who are rejected.

[…]Despite much media spin, the issue is not whether blacks in general should be admitted to higher-ranked or lower-ranked institutions.

The issue is whether a given black student, with given academic qualifications, should be admitted to a college or university where he would not be admitted if he were white.

Much research over the years has confirmed… that admitting black students to institutions for which their academic preparation is not sufficient can be making them worse off instead of better off.

I became painfully aware of this problem more than 40 years ago when I was teaching at Cornell University and discovered that half the black students there were on some form of academic probation.

These students were not stupid or uneducable. On the contrary, the average black student at Cornell at that time scored at the 75th percentile on scholastic tests. Their academic qualifications were better than those of three-quarters of all American students who took those tests.

Why were they in trouble at Cornell, then? Because the average Cornell student in the liberal arts college at that time scored at the 99th percentile. The classes taught there — including mine — moved at a speed geared to the verbal and mathematical level of the top one percent of American students.

The average white student would have been wiped out at Cornell. But the average white student was unlikely to be admitted to Cornell in the first place. Nor was a white student who scored at the 75th percentile.

That was a “favor” reserved for black students. This “favor” turned black students who would have been successful at most American colleges and universities into failures at Cornell.

None of this was peculiar to Cornell. Black students who scored at the 90th percentile in math had serious problems trying to keep up at MIT, where other students scored somewhere within the top 99th percentile.

Nearly one-fourth of these black students with stellar qualifications in math failed to graduate from MIT, and those who did graduate were concentrated in the bottom tenth of the class.

There were other fine engineering schools around the country where those same students could have learned more, when taught at a normal pace, than at a breakneck speed geared to students with extremely rare abilities in math.

[…]Mismatching students with educational institutions is a formula for needless failures.

The book “Mismatch” by Sander and Taylor is a first-rate study of the hard facts. It shows, for example, that the academic performances of black and Hispanic students rose substantially after affirmative action admissions policies were banned in the University of California system.

Instead of failing at Berkeley or UCLA, these minority students were now graduating from other UC campuses. They were graduating at a higher rate, with higher grades, and now more often in challenging fields like math, science and technology.

[…]Does the actual fate of minority students not matter to the left as much as their symbolic presence on a campus?

Now, you might ask yourself on what basis Sowell makes all these assertions, so here are a few of his academic publications about affirmative action, which are state-of-the-art:

Now, I was recently talking to a friend who has empirically false views on a number of topics. He is opposed to capital punishment, opposed to gun ownership, supports affirmative action, and so on. When I ask him why he believes these things, he doesn’t point to any evidence. I offered to give him studies showing that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on crime, that concealed carry laws reduce violent crime rates, that affirmative action laws harm minorities, etc.

If we really want to help minorities, we have to do what makes sense according the evidence. We have to aim to do good, not just feel good.

Desiring God asks: is socialism in conflict with Christianity?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

My friend Kevin sent me this amazing article about socialism, which appeared at Desiring God (!!!), of all places. It was authored by Phillip Holmes, who – I see from his picture -has dark skin like me, which is awesome!

In the past, I have given Desiring God and John Piper a lot of heat for not connecting Christianity to the real world. This was especially annoying to me during elections, or when legislation of interest to conservatives was being debated. But I’ve noted that Piper is now much better than he was before.

Anyway, here’s the intro to the article:

Socialism is trending in the minds of many Americans. Some love it, some hate it, and others are indifferent to it. Some Christians argue that it’s evil, while others argue that it’s morally good or neutral. Those that argue for its wickedness often fail to condemn the crony capitalism and corporate welfare that is widespread in the United States; therefore, their arguments often fall on deaf ears with socialist sympathizers. The arguments for its moral good or neutrality typically appeals to emotion, rather than evidence, which is considered insufficient for those that oppose it.

Then they quote John Piper for the definition of socialism – and it’s a great definition, it really captures what is interesting for us as Christians about socialism:

A social and economic system that through legal or governmental or military coercion — in other words, you go to jail if you don’t do this — establishes social ownership at the expense of private or personal ownership and/or you could say where coercion is used to establish social control — if not ownership, at least control of the means of production in society. And thus, through control, you effectively eliminate many of the implications and motivations of private ownership.

In other words, Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people’s needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced. Socialism, therefore, gets its attractiveness at certain points in history where people are drawn to the entitlements that Socialism brings, and where people are ignorant or forgetful of the coercion and the force required to implement it — and whether or not that coercion might, in fact, backfire and result in greater poverty or drab uniformity or, worse, the abuse of the coercion as we saw in the murderous states like USSR and Cambodia.

F. A. Hayek says that the rule of law and private property are the foundations for all other rights, even religious liberty. So, Piper’s focus on property rights is right on the money. This is what we should care about when it comes to socialism, because it impacts our other liberties. The more free the free market is, the most Christians can follow their consciences. But the more the government takes hold of private industry, the harder it is for Christians to earn a living without toeing the secular government’s line. Take a look at what is happening to doctors and nurses in socialist countries like Canada. They are forced to perform abortions, they are forced to assist with assisted suicide. Why? Because government is running the health care system, and there is no other company you can run to that will respect your views. There is no escape when a secular government takes over large parts of the private sector.

This part is my favorite part, the author quotes my favorite economist, Thomas Sowell:

Despite the good they seem to do in some cases, I can’t in good conscience embrace them as a necessary means to escaping poverty. In my experience, I’ve witnessed it hinder more families than it has helped. We give social programs too much credit and the importance of family and faith too little. As a matter of fact, some economists assert that it was during the welfare state the condition of a particular group of its recipients began to decelerate. As the black economist Thomas Sowell pointed out:

The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.

Sowell continues to attack the myth that social programs improved the conditions of blacks in America:

The economic rise of blacks began decades earlier, before any of the legislation and policies that are credited with producing that rise. The continuation of the rise of blacks out of poverty did not — repeat, did not — accelerate during the 1960s.

The poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs.

Evidence seems to suggest that the families that have eliminated the poverty cycle while on social programs would have very likely done the same without the programs. While there have been numerous instances of grave injustices towards minority groups in our country that have hindered progress (slavery, Jim Crow), social programs don’t seem to be the cause of any significant improvements. Therefore, I want to humbly provide three practical reasons, based on my Christian worldview, why more social programs could actually substitute the family, empower the government, and hinder the church.

This is correct. Attempts to help the poor by redistributing wealth from those who produce to those who cannot or will not actually make things worse – by drawing more people “on the margin” into dependency.

One last snip:

Social programs are a slippery slope that could lead to unjust governments, more broken homes, and dead churches. Therefore, I simply can’t embrace them. A free society under a just government gives us plenty of options. We love our neighbors by starting non-profits, building hospitals, and opening schools that address the needs of the people without using the force of the government. What I’m proposing is not easy, but it is a biblical alternative that will require sacrifice, vision, newfound conviction, and a radical shift in how we view church, family, and government.

See, he sees private, voluntary charity as an option to government-run redistribution. An option that encourages economic growth, while safeguarding liberty and conscience for Christians.

I really love this article. The problem with me is that I don’t think enough about how to make my views palatable to well-meaning people on the other side. The author of this article does know how to defuse potential objections gently and graciously.

Thomas Sowell: does affirmative action help minorities to get ahead?

Economist Thomas Sowell
Economist Thomas Sowell – the best economist in the world

My favorite economist, Thomas Sowell has an article in Investors Business Daily that explains what affirmative action really does to minorities.

Excerpt:

Affirmative action is supposed to benefit black and other minority students admitted with lower academic qualifications than some white students who are rejected.

[…]Despite much media spin, the issue is not whether blacks in general should be admitted to higher-ranked or lower-ranked institutions.

The issue is whether a given black student, with given academic qualifications, should be admitted to a college or university where he would not be admitted if he were white.

Much research over the years has confirmed… that admitting black students to institutions for which their academic preparation is not sufficient can be making them worse off instead of better off.

I became painfully aware of this problem more than 40 years ago when I was teaching at Cornell University and discovered that half the black students there were on some form of academic probation.

These students were not stupid or uneducable. On the contrary, the average black student at Cornell at that time scored at the 75th percentile on scholastic tests. Their academic qualifications were better than those of three-quarters of all American students who took those tests.

Why were they in trouble at Cornell, then? Because the average Cornell student in the liberal arts college at that time scored at the 99th percentile. The classes taught there — including mine — moved at a speed geared to the verbal and mathematical level of the top one percent of American students.

The average white student would have been wiped out at Cornell. But the average white student was unlikely to be admitted to Cornell in the first place. Nor was a white student who scored at the 75th percentile.

That was a “favor” reserved for black students. This “favor” turned black students who would have been successful at most American colleges and universities into failures at Cornell.

None of this was peculiar to Cornell. Black students who scored at the 90th percentile in math had serious problems trying to keep up at MIT, where other students scored somewhere within the top 99th percentile.

Nearly one-fourth of these black students with stellar qualifications in math failed to graduate from MIT, and those who did graduate were concentrated in the bottom tenth of the class.

There were other fine engineering schools around the country where those same students could have learned more, when taught at a normal pace, than at a breakneck speed geared to students with extremely rare abilities in math.

[…]Mismatching students with educational institutions is a formula for needless failures.

The book “Mismatch” by Sander and Taylor is a first-rate study of the hard facts. It shows, for example, that the academic performances of black and Hispanic students rose substantially after affirmative action admissions policies were banned in the University of California system.

Instead of failing at Berkeley or UCLA, these minority students were now graduating from other UC campuses. They were graduating at a higher rate, with higher grades, and now more often in challenging fields like math, science and technology.

[…]Does the actual fate of minority students not matter to the left as much as their symbolic presence on a campus?

Now, you might ask yourself on what basis Sowell makes all these assertions, so here are a few of his academic publications about affirmative action, which are state-of-the-art:

Now, I was recently talking to a friend who has empirically false views on a number of topics. He is opposed to capital punishment, opposed to gun ownership, supports affirmative action, and so on. When I ask him why he believes these things, he doesn’t point to any evidence. I offered to give him studies showing that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on crime, that concealed carry laws reduce violent crime rates, that affirmative action laws harm minorities, etc.

If we really want to help minorities, we have to do what makes sense according the evidence. We have to aim to do good, not just feel good.

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.

Excerpt:

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:

Excerpt:

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.