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Thomas Sowell interview (city-journal.org)
575 points by RickJWagner 87 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 424 comments



Thomas Sowell has had a huge impact on me and my views on economics. I'm from a poor working-class background and am often irritated by the needless language barriers of academics.

> “Too many academics write as if plain English is beneath their dignity,” Sowell once said, “and some seem to regard logic as an unconstitutional infringement of their freedom of speech.”

Sowell is unique in this respect. He's book, "Basic Economics" is full of extremely relatable examples of economics in practice. It's one of the few books on economics that's a great read regardless of your background or level of academic achievement.


I wish other writers would take this to heart. Reading The New Yorker it’s as if their language is a shibboleth and if they didn’t use it, it would alienate their audience for using average language, yet they are the same people who pontificate and pretend they advocate for the lower classes.


Let them. If you have the psychological need to constantly show how smart you are, your life will be very stressful indeed.

You will want to manipulate others to get confirmation of your acrobatics and always be on the lookout for disproof. This will lead to you limiting your life severely for fear of actually finding it.

-former smartness showoff who now acts betterer


> Let them.

Very sound advice.

Somewhat a tangent. I used to play a lot of poker. One angle that would work frequently to get information from people is exactly this.

Say something like "Ah you had AJ", even though you don't believe that. Then you might get a response "No I had __" or they might even show you their hand.

It's all tide to the need to prove how smart we are as humans.


> Years ago my mother used to say to me, "In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.


Great line. For those who do not recognize the source, it's from "Harvey".


They are the anointed ones of which Thomas talks about in https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3044.The_Vision_of_the_A...


Amazing book.


I don't think they're signaling intelligence as much as they're signaling a specific subculture of East-Coast WASPy humanities-focused aristocrats that the most "prestigious" papers are steeped in. For example, the famous blind animus that that memeplex has towards tech certainly isn't rooted in looking down on the _intelligence_ of those steeped in Californian tech culture, but rather their will and ability to signal social class effectively.

It's a weird inversion, since the signals being defended are deeply illiberal: they exclude individualism, weirdness, inclusiveness, systems striving to be built on merit, etc etc.

I'm pretty familiar with this tendency because I come from a family who's pretty steeped in this kind of subculture. Growing up in CA and moving to the Bay as a teen, I absorbed the tech/Burning Man/CA memeplex of humanism and inherent equality and individualism way too deeply not to overwhelm my upbringing, but there are certain class markers I haven't shed, and un-self-conscious use of dense prose is one of them[1]. I actually did try to make my speech more casual when I became aware of these class markers during a period of teen rebellion, but changing how you communicate is a pretty complicated uphill battle, so I ended up with a weird hybrid of big words and idiomatic expressions (and lots of cursing, in verbal communication -_-)

[1] I want to emphasize again that this isn't quite an intelligence thing: my best friend is definitely smarter than me, and he speaks significantly more casually/colloquially than me because of his family's background.


I personally find much of the prose in the New Yorker clear, even inspiring. Especially w.r.t. its travel writing, I don't think any publication better captures the magic and the essence of the experience. [0] [1]

I also think Emily Nussbaum is a wonderful TV critic and more or less deserves credit for elevating TV criticism to equal status with art & movie reviews.

Having said that, I quite take your point and I am always pleased when a researcher takes the time to write clearly. It's a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, but unfortunately, for most academics, investing in that skill isn't obviously a good career choice.

[0] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/07/06/how-prosperity...

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/11/the-enduring-r...


It's not just the vocabulary, but the structure, the whole style. It's long, it's very meandering, it's very illustrative, but rarely direct and informative. Not many people have the time and desire to read something that presents so little value to them.


I might be a minority, but I'm willing to stick out my neck for meandering, illustrative, and indirect writing.

Don't get me wrong, if it was the only thing available, I'd probably go crazy, too. But I believe there is a time and place in my "reading diet" for this kind of long-form journalism.

As your adjectives suggest, New Yorker articles are less bullets of breathlessly-repeated facts, and more illustrations of nuanced scenes and interactions. I think it's natural, because life is messy and meandering, too.

That being said, most of their articles have very well-defined and well-informed points. They don't make them by stating it up front, but by drawing a picture, observing some of its details, and asking you to form your own opinion. We can disagree, but to me it feels more intellectually-honest than other forms of journalism.

Yes, it takes longer to get there. Yes, some of the details (what clothes people are wearing, what the rooms smell like, whatever) could probably be removed without compromising the structural integrity. But the New Yorker is about structural integrity and style. It's like the "literary fiction" of news. I don't read each article in each magazine, but it's still pretty rare that I've regretted finishing one; maybe once every other month.


What about the bleatings of a person like Kevin D. Williamson, whose prose I identify as horrifically boring, not only because he isn't a deep thinker on any of the subject matter he writes about, but also because he spends about 80% of any essay trying to beat his audience over the head with how familiar he is with obscure and / or inconsequential tangential topics to the matter at hand. I don't have an issue with writers being descriptive. I very much have a problem with writers trying to prove they're the Dennis Miller of serious thought.


I can't say I've heard of Mr. Williamson, but it looks like he hasn't written for the New Yorker.

I'm talking more of the style used by Ben Taub [0] [1], or Sam Knight [2] [3]. More investigative than "think piece", although there are some big ideas in the presentation.

[0] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/22/guantanamos-da...

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/12/24/iraqs-post-isi...

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/17/can-farming-ma...

[3] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/30/theresa-mays-i...


Not many people read, full stop.


I can understand this point of view but the point of elevated language and academic jargon is to allow for a more accurate and nuanced discussion without having to re-state assumptions and underlying principles. It's often not done well or used to obfuscate ideas, but the core principle has merit.


Yes, but. Somewhere along the way science, research, the topics science "concerns itself with" and everything suddenly exploded over the last hundred or so years, and especially since we have this thing called the Internet the number of published papers, science journalism and journals grown exponentially.

One one hand, it's great. More science/research is being done, but on the other hand it becomes less and less accessible due to the extreme specificity, very narrow scopes and due to simply being on the very edge of human knowledge accumulation.

And of course, theoretically whatever paper one is reading one can "simply" follow the references and look up the introduced technical terms. Occasionally there are great survey papers that take a look at a (sub-sub-sub-)field, and again from time to time there are amazing science communicators that allow laypeople to have some kind of real grasp on these questions and topics.

Yet, I think, it's clear that publishing terse PDFs is not the best way to communicate research and results.

And we know, we - as in DARPA, but anyway, as in civilization - did a trial, and it's very enlightening: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00672-7

And one of the big finding is that being stubbornly terse is bad.

And it's just a step, that this trial did not check, but maybe requiring researchers to spend a few days of their precious time to write a few pages about what they are actually doing, introduce the terms, techniques, methods, wouldn't be that bad, maybe even it would be helpful ... and this is basically pre-registration, and this is basically the grant proposal. And it'd be double-plus-good to link all of these in an open and really accessible manner in those fancy PDFs. (Or better yet, just use a HTML site. LaTeX is nice, but.)


I can't stand most articles in The New Yorker.


The New Yorker is an upper-middle class publication. That is its target audience. Other magazines owned by the same media conglomerate, Conde Nast, are broadly similar in orientation: Vogue, Bon Appetit, Vanity Fair, GQ, Architectural Digest. I don't think they 'advocate for the lower classes', subjectively or objectively. I read very few socialists and communists in the New Yorker!


As OP said,"pretend they advocate for the lower classes"


Hence why I wrote 'subjectively or objectively'. They have no pretence to being a working-class magazine, or to advocating a working-class politics.


OK.

Maybe we're not so different after all!


Do socialists/communists really advocate for the lower classes?


Nope, they advocate for "control", with them in charge, of course.


Who better to control the money and know how best to use money than the people?


People should be in control of the money they earn, because that's the only time there's any skin in the game.

If you think The Government == The People, you're out of your mind. It's a nice ideal, but it's never been achieved in a modern nation state. Some nation states are less abusive than others, but that's as good as it gets.

The government is careless with spending and can't be trusted with people's money because they didn't earn the money they have. They took it out of people's paychecks, and if they run out, they can levy more taxes or just print more, there's no incentive to be thoughtful, careful, or diligent. At any rate, when the government is reckless with people's money, it's never the government that has to feel any pain.


I think you’re talking past each other. In communism, in principle, things belong “to the people”, but in reality they belong to the state which can decide what you get, and taken away (as form of punishment). On the other hand, in democracies governments rarely leave things to “the people” they take the money to the feds, the state, county and then the local gov... Do I want my money going to podunk or a mismanaged (corrupt city), or locally where we have more of a voice?


That's entirely the point of the idealogy. The problem is that after the anti-communist purges of the 60s', there's no representation of the lower classes in academia or political science. This is less of a problem in European countries where their socialist parties actually have a strong working-class background.


Depends on the socialists or communists, but historically - often, yes. Certainly more so than capitalists, who are either indifferent or actively hostile, but may pretend to be otherwise as a matter of political expediency.


Overall, I like his writing, but his style can also come across as dismissive; as though he is obviously right, before he has really addressed all lines of criticism.

When used to explain something, this style is great, because he gets his point across efficiently and provides enough backing so that you can remember it. And if you read enough of his writing, he brings out the nuance in other books and the intellectual detail is clearly there.

But I can see how his straightforward style would be unpersuasive. Any one statement or paragraph or essay can be picked at by someone looking to do so.

As a teacher and thought leader, he's been very successful. As a political commentator, he's preaching to the choir.


This is why I've never been tempted by his books. His editorials come off not so much dismissive as smugly dismissive: he's not only obviously right, anyone who questions him is obviously stupid.

I don't know about him as a teacher, but as a thought leader, he is successful because he says the things that the right people want to hear.


Try a Conflict Of Visions. It's not at all smug or dismissive. In fact it's one of the most balanced books I've ever read. I didn't know who the author was before I read it, and by the time I finished, I felt I still knew nothing about the author. But I also felt I suddenly understood politics and the world, for the first time in my life. It was a mind-expanding experience. I immediately bought several copies so I could give them away to friends and family.

Later I found his videos and was surprised to learn he's a black conservative. That wasn't apparent from the book.


I would guess what you’re seeing is not an arrogant man who anyone would be stupid to question (though most would, to be honest), but someone who has devoted 50 or so years to learning and seeing every new generation make the same mistakes that he once made. He was originally a marxist.

But if you aren’t even willing to listen to him, it’s moot anyway.


That's a standard rhetorical technique you'll see in much right-wing writing. Statements are made as if they're simply correct by definition, and there is no space for argument or dissent.

Is he genuinely objective and data-driven? How many of his studies have been replicated? How many competing studies - which he fails to mention - disagree with his conclusions?

It's easy to be right when you simply assert your idea of truth. But that's rhetoric, not science. Science is peer review and open debate, and I don't see him engaging in that.


It's also a common technique among teachers, because teachers are not trying to persuade skeptics. You are presenting it as some kind of manipulation, but it's really just a different audience. And it's a lot easier to read the straightforward style, and learn a lot of stuff quickly.

His conclusions are not really the most important thing about his writing, anyway. He brings forward a lot of good approaches that are an improvement over other common approaches. For instance, he avoids grouping people by a snapshot in time, and instead analyzes them over their lifetime, or even generations.

And he also just asks a lot of interesting questions and dives into the data and finds interesting results.

He's also less US-centric than many writers. Sometimes that alone is enough to advance the conversation by breaking us our of our bubble.


Personally, I prefer my teachers with some humility and the ability to admit that they're sometimes wrong.


You’d like Sowell then. He has done a complete 180 and completely changed his views as he learned more.


Not just right-wing. I've seen the same approach from marxists. (Not an exaggeration or a projection - from literal marxists.) The unstated, unproven assumption is that Marx was right, and the analysis proceeds from there to make dogmatic statements about the economy and/or society. That's fine, if the readers are also convinced marxists. But if someone else reads it, they very quickly think "Wait a minute, I don't agree with your premise, and you did nothing to convince me. Why should I believe your conclusions?"


If you're familiar with Lakoff you'll know there's a difference in tone which is based on a difference on associated family positioning.

Conservatives tend to paternalism. Marxists are more likely to be oppositional, because Marxism and socialism are underdog discourses, and they don't have the advantage of assuming that general readers will agree - especially in the US, where the default position for most of the population is aggressive hostility towards Socialism and incandescent fury towards Marxism, without really knowing much about either.


That may be true. But in response, they should write differently. If you're the underdog discourse, don't start the conversation by assuming that you're right. Worse, don't start it by assuming that the reader agrees that you're right.


You (and other repliers to you) may be interested in George Orwell's excellent essay "Politics and the English Language".

>Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse.

https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_poli...


I picked up on that too, such a shock of recognition when the author hit us with that one. It's so true, there's something effectively plainspoken about his prose that has such economy to his words. It's incredible stuff how crystal his writing can be.


I recently started to read his book Intellectuals and Race, but stopped because his putative citations did not support his claim that whites in America are at a disadvantage relative to Asian Americans w.r.t. mortgage applications and keeping their jobs during downturns.

I think he has interesting things to say, and is certainly a great interview subject, but I would approach his claims with caution.


I spent months working 20 hour days on a major project. Got a huge bonus. More than half removed for taxes. I suddenly had opinion on tax policy.

Basic Economics was such a huge eye opener on how things really work. Not just aristocratic theory talk. So much better then college economics class I took.


One important impact he had on my thinking is that he rejects groupings of people based on snapshots in time.

For instance, it is very common to use income as a proxy for your economic success, and then to group people into quintiles, calling the bottom quintile "the poor". It seems reasonable, but it's wrong enough to lead to very wrong conclusions. A college student living on their own will appear to be a "poor household", even though many are likely to be in the top quintile later on in their life. These scenarios seem like exceptions, but when you add them up (as Dr. Sowell does), they show a very different picture.

Following people (statistically) through their lives, and across generations, is a common theme in his work. It's harder to get good data than the snapshot-in-time approach, but he does the work, and it's so much more informative.


> A college student living on their own will appear to be a "poor household", even though many are likely to be in the top quintile later on in their life.

A great example from the other side of the spectrum is house sales: Anyone who needs to move and owns a house typically sells their house and buys a new one. During that year, they'll sometimes show up as having extremely high income. Depending on how often they move, this could have a real impact.


I don't know if that's true. A house sale goes on a Schedule D, which gets pulled into Gross Income. I don't think Gross Income is what's used in those income calculations in the stats being discussed here?


A researcher having the tools to exclude a particular type of income that throws off a statistic is a different matter than that researcher having the knowledge of those tools or the lack of ideological bias required to use them.


Exactly. And when you try and track people across decades, things start to look different.

https://medium.com/@russroberts/do-the-rich-capture-all-the-...


Interesting read, but supposedly when we're talking about changes in social mobility we really care about the change in the percentage of people that are richer than their parents? Indeed towards the end of the article the author says:

> There is one study of progress over time that follows parents and children that is gloomy and that is “The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Mobility Since 1940” by Raj Chetty, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, Jimmy Narang (Chetty et al) They find that if you were born in 1940, you had a 92% chance of surpassing your parents income. But if you were born in 1984, the number is a depressing 50%. Chetty et al control for age — this is for parents and children when they are both 30. This does suggest that the American dream is dead or at least dying — half of the children do better than their parents but half do worse, suggesting no progress over time.

The author then says that we should measure income differently by using a non-standard measure of inflation. But if we had just used that non-standard measure on the wage data of Piketty et al., we would've arrived at the same conclusion anyway?


I'm not sure "richer than their parents" alone, is a fair metric for social mobility. If you're born in the top 20% and stay in the top 20% (not advancing higher), is that really a social concern? I mean, Bill Gates kids are unlikely to do better than their parents, but that's ok.

From what I've read, most social mobility metrics are from low quintiles to higher quintiles.

So if in 1984, 50% of children do better than their parents, and that 50% is mostly the bottom half (I have no idea if it is), then you're doing pretty good in terms of social mobility, no? People making below the median are doing better.

And I would also expect that social mobility would decrease as an economy "matures". If you're in a developing country seeing 7-10% GDP growth, then you'd hope mobility is higher than an economy growing at 1-2% per year.


> And I would also expect that social mobility would decrease as an economy "matures". If you're in a developing country seeing 7-10% GDP growth, then you'd hope mobility is higher than an economy growing at 1-2% per year.

They address that in the paper:

> Higher GDP growth rates do not substantially increase the number of children who earn more than their parents because a large fraction of GDP goes to a small number of high income earners today. To see why absolute mobility is insensitive to the growth rate when growth is distributed unequally, consider the extreme case in which one child obtains all of the increase in GDP. In this case, higher GDP growth rates would have no effect on absolute mobility. More generally, GDP growth has larger effects on absolute mobility when growth is spread more broadly, allowing more children to achieve higher living standards than their parents. Higher GDP growth and a broader distribution of growth have a multiplicative effect on absolute mobility: Absolute mobility is highest when GDP growth rates are high and growth is spread broadly across the distribution.

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6336/398.full


What I've seen contradicts the authors rosy glasses. 5 to 10 really good years often doesn't add much to 40 iffy years. And 5 bad years does a complete number on people.


It's the difference between being 'poor' and merely 'broke'.


The problem with Dr. Sowell is that he believes that "when he adds everything up" that it tells an accurate and whole picture. To him, people are a simple variable to plug into an even simpler economics equation.

He could learn a few things concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty from Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman.

A few points...

+ Sowell never truly questions the data that's the foundation of his work. For Sowell, history and historical data as reported by "conquerors" is never to be questioned. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman have famously proved how problematic this approach is.

+ Sowell refuses to address human decision-making, judgment and uncertainty. For him, power and violence do not matter. If the black family structure was better and enough for self-improvement post-slavery then why did millions of blacks flee the South before the enactment of massive liberal civil rights policies?

In Sowell's world, America was great from 1863-1930. A time of great uncertainty and white terrorism that resulted in the Great Migration.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Migration_%28African_Ame...


Hmm, I don't recognise that description. His books "A Conflict of Visions" and "Intellectuals and society" are all about human decision making, judgement and uncertainty.


I've read six Thomas Sowell books in the past few years. His book Basic Economics is a classic, but my favorite of his is Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One. It covers the things that the former does but, as the title suggests, applies it to a real-life scenario. He then walks through the scenario as it plays out to demonstrate his point to the reader. For example, when a city artificially lowers the rent, it makes apartments more affordable, but what happens afterwards? he would then play the scenario out as it affects tenants, landlords, and the rental market. I highly recommend it!


I like the book 'Economics in one lesson' by Henry Hazlitt which does something similar.


IMO this book should be required required reading for college students.


Does he talk about job creation? I'm curious because, as much as people talk about job creation, it doesn't seem to be part of most economics curricula.


I’ve been reading a lot of his books lately, I cannot recommend enough. He does take a conservative approach to a lot of topics but the way he breaks things down helps you understand why.

His book Basic Economics taught me more than any economics classes did in school.


I also enjoyed Basic Economics. It really encourages thinking in terms of second order effects, unintended consequences or what Bastiat referred to as the unseen.


City I lived in announced they were implementing rent freeze on all the mobile home parks. I explained to my parents (in a mobile home) that this was bad news.

Few days later they, and everyone in city got an exviction notice. Mobile home parks all decided to close down and sell the land.

Because of this book, this made perfect sense.


Basic Economics is must read book - and he keeps improving on it. He releases new editions every few years with more recent examples of principles at work. He never stops working on it.


Basic Economics is required reading for anyone who wants to claim they understand economic principles. Even if you are a hard-left Marxist you must understand classical economic theories in order to feel comfortable debating them and more firm in your own beliefs.


The problem with Sowell's book (and thinking) is that it's outdate, not that it's wrong.

Sure, many people find their confirmation bias reinforced by it ... but otherwise there are more useful books to really learn about economics: https://www.reddit.com/r/Economics/wiki/reading#wiki_general...


Basic Economics isn’t even required reading in an intro econ course. It probably has value for its alternative perspectives on a lot of economic concepts, but to say it’s “required reading for anyone who wants to claim they understand economic principles” is pretty demonstrably false.


Perhaps, but is that really a telling statement about the book or a more telling statement about the current state of academic economics?


As someone whose introduction to economics was Basic Economics, I don't think the statement reflects poorly on either the book or academia.

The book is a pithy, digestible introduction to a bunch of basic topics in economics. It is also lacking a lot of the detail and mathematical explanation of introductory university courses.

For example, I understood the basic concept of comparative advantage after listening to the book, but when I later revisited the topic using a textbook, the graphs and worked examples gave me a clearer picture and it was better related to adjacent concepts like marginal cost, the production-possibility frontier, etc.

I don't have the impression that academic economics as presented to undergraduates diverges greatly from the book, although it has been years since I heard it and my recollection is fuzzy.


It’s a more telling statement about the book. “My book is too edgy for academia” is a worn out trope used by pseudo intellectuals. The real reason Sowell’s book is not required is because it does not involve the necessary rigor or mathematical methodology when introducing economic principles. If people want to pretend that’s elitist, so be it. Antivaxxers do the same thing.


Mathematical rigour doesn't necessarily translate to correctness. A mathematics-first approach encourages oversimplified assumptions. An example is the efficient markets hypothesis, which is the "spherical frictionless cow" of economics.


We don’t use mathematical models because they are correct. We use them because they are more concretely measurable, and thus falsifiable. Without them, it becomes too easy to make vague statements about economics then make ad hoc explanations for why you were right. This is what so-called economists like Sowell do.

>A mathematics-first approach encourages oversimplified assumptions.

Wrong. It makes the oversimplified assumptions more clearly identifiable, instead of concealing them in prose which is not measurable. This is why they are superior, because we can clearly identify why they are wrong, and by how much. This is how science and the positivist framework improve our knowledge.


Perhaps, but in physics the maths and experiments run very close.

In fields like economics it's easier to make a grandiose and "falsifiable" piece of math that is absolutely correct but doesn't actually reflect anything real.

Or more often reflects a tiny part of a first order effect.

Yet people get blinded because the math is right.


Nobody is "blinded because the math is right". You're using the same sort of argumentation that is used in all of the pseudo sciences.

If you know of a way to improve upon the existing methodologies, then show it to us, and be precise. Then you will have an argument that deserves to be engaged with. Ambiguous claims that the math "doesn't actually reflect anything real" sound intelligent, but really aren't saying much at all.


Id taxes are raised, will tax income automatically go up?

Reading through this book you’ll understand that higher taxes often mean less tax revenue, and vice versa.

Many people get stuck on zero sum game.

This isn’t a mathematicians book.

This is a book so people don’t think stare bonds are free money, etc.


how so ?


> He does take a conservative approach to a lot of topics...

Sowell's book A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles [1] is, ironically, a very good starting point in understanding what makes Sowell "conservative" (the Constrained Vision) vs "progressive" (the Unconstrained Vision). I think this is the work that impressed Steven Pinker.

The categories get really messy, for example when he describes Marxism as a hybrid ideology, but the core idea is that people tend to believe either: 1. we are made of crooked timber and are made better by social structure, or 2. our potential is being held back by selfish oppressors/exploiters.

Regardless of which vision drives you, I imagine Thomas Sowell would do very well in Bryan Caplan's Ideological Turing Test [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Conflict_of_Visions

[2] https://www.econlib.org/archives/2011/06/the_ideological.htm...


Bryan Caplan also wrote a widely-circulated critical essay about A Conflict of Visions: http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/sowell

I agree with some of the criticisms, but in general I think the dichotomy of the two visions is appropriate for explaining why two individuals may irreconcilably disagree on a particular issue at a given point in time.


Reading the book description on Amazon, I don't associate Constrained or Unconstrained with Conservative and Progressive respectively.


"Constrained" is in the spirit of Adam Smith, Burke and Hayek (all of whom would be aghast at being labeled "conservative"); "unconstrained" is in the spirit of Rousseau, and in particular his claim that "man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains."

The Constrained vision assumes that the best we can do is choose a set of trade-offs that are least bad; the Unconstrained vision assumes that trade-offs are illusions imposed by defective institutions, and so if we improved/reformed/abolished the institutions, we could eliminate the trade-offs.

There's a lot more to it, so you should read the book, but that's the basic thesis.


It's a great book and one you should truly read before passing judgement on. It's helped me rationalize the various current political and social issues in the US a lot as I've read it.


I'll definitely add it to my list. I've generally found that a healthy study of psychology and economics, along with a deep dive into US history has given me a fairly clear picture of where things are today, how we got there and noticeable forces at work in public messaging/trends.


"...the two key criteria for distinguishing constrained and unconstrained visions are (1) the locus of discretion, and (2) the mode of discretion..."


> If you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, “What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?” A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don’t think it’s right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true. You try to get someone who is fiercely anti-Keynesian to even explain what a Keynesian economic argument is, they can’t do it. They can’t get it remotely right. Or if you ask a conservative, “What do liberals want?”

Krugman overlooks that many conservatives were once liberals, while the reverse is typically not true. That doesn’t mean that those folks were wrong before and are correct now. But in terms of Krugman’s proposed test, they can probably at least articulate the opposite view based on having once held those beliefs.

Speaking for myself: I was a pretty standard agnostic coastal liberal back in high school, while wife was in Iowa reading National Review. We’re the same age and have experienced the same political history over the last 20 years. But I don’t think it was until recently that I could’ve cogently articulated her views on those various events. More importantly, I don’t think I could even have cogently articulated what she viewed as the parameters of what was being debated. (That is to say, I perceived a political debate being about X, while she perceived it being about Y.) She, on the other hand, is pretty good at articulating what I thought back then—like most young people her friends held liberal views.


> many conservatives were once liberals, while the reverse is typically not true.

Is there any data to support that claim? It’s the opposite of my own personal anecdata.


It’s a byproduct of the fact that each cohort becomes more conservative with age: https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-millenn...

> On average, Americans identify as more politically liberal at age 18 and become increasingly conservative between their 20s and 60s.

See also: https://fee.org/media/14135/chart2_socialism.png?width=100%2...


Opposite of my personal anecdata as well. In the 90s I was a National Review-reading, Limbaugh-listening conservative. It started changing in the early 2000s when GWB invaded Iraq. Voted for Obama in '08 (a centrist) and Bernie in '16 (a Leftist). Now I identify as a mostly Left of center progressive.


The curious case of Benjamin Button comes to mind.


Most young people of "political age" (over 16 or so) in the 60s, 70s, an 80s were to the left. Today, those older demographics tend to swing to the right. I suppose you could make the case that Democrats die earlier than Republicans, but I doubt that is what's happening here.


Just about every Marxist on the planet believes that we are "made better by social structure", so I think that characterization of what Marxists vs. non-Marxists believe is unhelpful.


I haven't read Sowell but is this what he means by a 'hybrid ideology'? My impression of Marxists is that they view the world through both lenses and believe #1 can be achieved when #2 is solved through revolution or other means.


Isn't that the opposite of what Marx believed? His world view was that a perfect society (communism) would arise when virtually all institutions were abolished, because in his view, the imperfections of human nature were all caused by "alienation" which itself came from the capitalist system.

Actual communists tended to start out living that creed: they'd systematically destroy any existing institution. But then they'd find society didn't work at all without them, so they'd pretty rapidly build new institutions, that all happened to be controlled by them.

Conservatives on the other hand are, by their nature, conservative about changing things. They tend to regard existing social structures as evolved and thus encoding great wisdom, even if it can't be easily articulated. To change those institutions is thus highly risky, even if it may not be immediately apparent why that is. This is the opposite of Marxism, which is a utopian ideology in which changing everything at once is not too much.


A Conflict of Visions is not a book about Marxism, it is a description of a model to help us understand our ideological preferences. Like all models, it is wrong but sometimes it is useful.


I strongly disagree with Sowell on almost every topic one can think of, either in terms of philosophy, society, or economics, but I admire his outspokenness and plain speaking, as the article notes he is known for, and it's a shame to read ad-hominem style attacks have been made against him. From what I can gather, however, the academic literature engages better with his arguments than journalists do.


Be interesting to see where you think he's wrong especially where his arguments are based on some uncompromising statistical facts.


It's not that I disagree with his use of statistics, but my own philosophical framework (particularly inspired by the ideas of J.E. Roemer, Gerry Cohen, Nitzan & Bichler, and more recently Roberto Veneziani) sees serious problems (I think exploitation, domination, alienation, and insufficient focus on capabilities qua equality of opportunity) with not only capital in general but the state too.

I can't easily recall the statistics or framework he used, though the disagreement between our frameworks of society (such as methodological individualism) was what stood out to me. I recall Pikkety making a more convincing case on the economic side, and Frederic Lordon making a more convincing case on the philosophical side. I also disagree with Sowell on his position on sweatshops (again, not rejecting the principle on which it is made, which is that the workers would not be employed otherwise, or have lower wages from domestic companies, but rather a disagreement on the reach and justification of that argument).


What do you think of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's claim that Piketty basically has his math all wrong?

https://medium.com/incerto/inequality-and-skin-in-the-game-d...

>>with not only capital in general but the state too

Why should capital in general be a problem? Isn't it crony capitalism the actual problem? If you are very rich, that isn't usually a problem to your neighbor. But if you are very rich and can thus get away with tax evasion but your neighbor lands in jail for the same reason, isn't that when it actually becomes a problem?


I haven't read Taleb's response; I might, though Pikkety is less my focus, because I think he spends a lot of time arguing for the system, but continuing along the line of reducing inequality, rather than questioning the system itself.

I see capital as a problem precisely not as a matter of quantity (one person having more than another), but as a matter of quality. While 'crony capitalism' is obviously a problem, I don't think it's the root of the problem, philosophically speaking. I'd still think that a system in which a rich person can't get away with tax evasion has serious problems. This is where I likely diverge from, say, Warren's or even Sanders' platform (speaking as someone not from the US).

I think deep issues (exploitation, domination, and alienation) deserve a look, even if they seem to be an alien perspective from the outset.


For what it's worth, Thomas Sowell was a Marxist up until he did a summer internship at the US Department of Labor.

Excerpt from interview where he talks about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6PDpCnMvvw


I know that; I think his book on Marx(ism), from the parts I've read, is actually one of the better ones written by mainstream economists, but that's quite a low bar. There are some good criticisms of it floating around on the 'net.


The best criticism of Marxism I've read is in the introduction to Human Action by Mises where he shows that the concept of class struggle, specifically class itself, is illogical.

Also FWIW I have been upvoting you as you get downvoted.


Rothbard (and later Mises) are both on my reading list, I'm nothing if not open-minded. Thanks.


Personally I would recommend starting with Human Action by Mises as it represents essentially the purest distillation of that school of thought and the culmination of a lot of Mises' earlier works. Rothbard studied under Mises so it would serve as a good introduction to him as well.


At the end of the day, when it comes to Ludwig von Mises, it's a question of whether or not you believe humans have free will. If you've studied long enough to become a neurologist, you find that free will is laughable.


Do people that have studied long enough to become a neurologist, find this laughable out of their own free will?


I highly recommend Rothbard's Anatomy of the State as an excellent starting place. It's really short, practically a pamphlet.


Remember the rules.

"Please don't comment about the voting on comments." https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


The one place where I align with the Piketty-neo-Marxist crowd is that economic ignorance leads to some terrible, terrible public policy. I daresay Sowell believes the same. But it ends there.


His argument that Donald Trump would be a better choice for President than Hillary Clinton because the former would be easier to remove from office than the latter, arguing specifically that "congressional Republicans would [not] automatically spring to his defense, if he overstepped the line". Doesn't seem like a great example of keen political judgment in hindsight.


I've seen numerous examples of congressional Republicans not automatically springing to his defense


"Numerous examples" is fantastic but what he said was a generalization and as a generalization it holds up. What % of congressional Republicans would you estimate "did not automatically spring to his defense"?


Meanwhile Senate Republicans wouldn't even vote to see evidence in his impeachment trial.


That's a pretty uninformed reading of the situation as it happened. If you followed conservative media throughout the process it wasn't at all obvious that establishment Republicans were going to actually mount a defense of the President. There was a lot of wavering back and forth as the narrative evolved and was fought over. It was not automatic at all.


Your reading of the situation seems predicated on a conveniently pedantic definition of "automatic" from my perspective. I watched the entirety proceedings as they transpired and don't recall witnessing much hesitation from Republicans, but it's definitely possible that by not "following conservative media" I overlooked the actually agonizing deliberation that transpired behind the scenes. I would love to educate myself more on this topic, can you link to any examples of what you're talking about?


> but it's definitely possible that by not "following conservative media" I overlooked the actually agonizing deliberation that transpired behind the scenes.

This is actually exactly what I'm talking about, not the proceedings themselves. With the exception of the potential wildcard of the Bolton testimony (which never ended up happening) at that point the party had essentially been whipped and it was just theatre.

Here are the names that were discussed incessantly in conservative media: https://www.vox.com/2019/10/14/20908684/senate-republicans-t...

Up until Matt Gaetz did his stunt disrupting the private/secret hearings of House witnesses there wasn't very much fire on the Republican side which was why these close-door pre-impeachment vote hearings happened in the first place. Remember that at certain point there was a pseudo-impeachment process occurring prior to any impeachment vote having taken place. Even convincing Republicans that they needed to fight to get an actual vote on the record was not an simple process.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/10/23/20929023/...



Most of the conservative establishment was against Trump at the beginning. Especially Fox News, the primary mouthpiece of the then-traditional Republican Party. Remember that Trump was/is quite critical of the Bushes and other neocons. Watch one of those "Trump won't be president" highlight reels on YouTube and you'll see plenty of Republicans included.

Even today, you have a fair amount of Republicans who criticize Trump for various reasons, including Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, and John Kasich. Additionally the new "Lincoln Project" is funded and run by anti-Trump Republicans.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lincoln_Project


The Lincoln Project is mostly a group of ad guys who would normally get paid at this time of year but have made themselves anathema for the time being from their traditional customers. They've just pivoted because the smart money is on getting funding from Trump oppo groups.


"Five days before the House even approved the articles of impeachment on Dec. 18, McConnell took to television to say he would be in "total coordination with the White House counsel" as the impeachment process moved forward.

"During an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, McConnell said that "everything" he does "during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can."" (https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/mitch-mc...)

"But it evidently has great value to the president and to Mr. McConnell, who had spent nearly a year preparing for it. From the instant that Democrats assumed power in the House last January, denying that they had any intention of impeaching Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell, a six-term Kentuckian and the longest-serving Senate Republican leader, directed his staff to quietly dig into the history of impeachments and consult with outside experts.

"“We thought they would finally work themselves up to doing this on something,” Mr. McConnell said. “It has been threatened endlessly. We needed to come up to speed on what actually happens, and that began in earnest last fall.”

"So when Mr. McConnell fielded a phone call from Mr. Trump days before Christmas, he was ready. Stung by the House vote to impeach him on two charges, the president reached out to the majority leader from his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., throwing out ideas about how to handle his coming Senate trial.

"Mr. McConnell had a reassuring response for the third president ever to face removal by the Senate, urging Mr. Trump to trust him to manage the confrontation." (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/06/us/trump-impeachment.html)


Mitt Romney was the first Senator, of any party, to cross party lines to vote for an impeachment of a President of their own party. Many Republican legislators immediately and publicly renounced Trump's comments[0] regarding delaying the election.

The [R]'s can read the wind and since their base is tied to the hip to Trump at the moment they'll play ball on day to day things and have his back on most things, but they are all quite aware he is a temporary force that will be spent eventually and the last thing they want to do is give him the permanent keys to the kingdom.

[0]:https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/30/politics/trump-election-tweet...


Depends on when this was said. 2015, there was a long list of republicans who didn't like Trump.


It actually doesn't depend on when it was said. It was wrong. But, for the record, he said it in October 2016.


According to the OP he said Trump would be easier to remove than Clinton. The fact that Trump was not removed from office does not make the statement wrong.


He also said, "congressional Republicans would [not] automatically spring to [Trump's] defense, if he overstepped the line," which was clearly wrong.


I don’t think they automatically sprung to his defense though.

It seems to me that the Republican establishment didn’t support Trump but that he was able to rally his base in order force their support begrudgingly.

I believe the term that Trump’s base used for those Republicans was RINO, Republicans In Name Only. So the fact that this vocabulary existed among Trump’s base to me indicates that their support for Trump was not automatic.


I think there is merit to that, although I wouldn't care as much about republicans holding him to account. It would be nice but unrealistic from observations (not based in US).

I would argue that you should vote someone the press is actually critical of. Now, the press was very critical of H. Clinton too, but that was ignored because people made fun of Trump.


That's probably true, since Hilary's campaign cost 3 times more than Trump's campaign. In the end, both sides are there to defend their interests, and not yours.


I made this back in 2016, about voting and that famous paper that talks about how the opinions of voters are really only expressed for the top 10% of income earners in the US:

https://battlepenguin.video/videos/watch/99a2d4b3-cfe6-4a77-...

and few months later I followed it up about the outrage and anger that was being poured out:

https://battlepenguin.com/politics/the-fallout-of-american-a...

We're still in the shadow of that outrage, and it's directed at the puppets and not the Fortune 500 execs that are pulling the strings.


There is nothing simpler than misusing statistics.

The right wing does it all the time.

53% of all prisoners are black, ergo blacks are criminals.

Homosexuals represent 70% of all HIV infections, ergo homosexuality is inherently risky and should be treated the same way as hard drugs.

Now Thomas Sowell doesn't say any of those things himself. His points are much more interesting ... to people who have been only exposed to the liberal side of the story for their whole lives.

To someone who has read the original red in tooth and claw conservative talking points from the 80s his books are just a rear guard action and a not very interesting one at that.

Which is why the success of Thomas Sowell with people who have gone to university and then exposed to the real world is entirely the fault of the people who cancelled racism/sexism in the 80s/90s and are trying to do it again today.


> There is nothing simpler than misusing statistics

Lining up strawmen and knocking them down, maybe.


You're projecting your bias into the causation.

Most conservatives I know understand that disproportionate black crime has nothing to do with race and everything to do with disproportionately adopted negative value systems in the black community.

Specifically, fatherless homes and lack of appreciation for education. These variables have the same impact on people of all races.

Unfortunately, instead of correcting the problem, movements like BLM think the idea of two parent families needs to be "disrupted".


> lack of appreciation for education

Have you ever been to a Black public school, like actually attended one as a student? I promise you the #1 problem isn't lack of appreciation for education.

>fatherless homes

Except this actually has a pretty pinpoint time when it began to cultivate and it overlaps with the War on Drugs and the stagnation of Black middle class growth in the 80s. The modern situation is accumulation of these effects, not their cause.


The rate of non-marital births steadily increased for Blacks and Whites from 1950-1995 (although Blacks did start from a higher baseline). From 1995 until now it has mostly levelled off.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Negro_Family:_The_Case_F...


"Disruption" of the "nuclear family" comes from the Marxist view that a monogamous family unit leads to the holding of property. In earlier non-monogamous societies, only the women knew for sure which children were theirs. That meant that property tended to accrue to communities formed around matriarchs, rather than single families.

As a father, if you didn't know who your child was, you protected them all, and had to cede property to the matriarchs.

Engels wrote that this was why "the patriarchy" should be fought and "dismantled" because it led to property ownership, and sensitivity against redistribution. Therefore, this remains a core value of modern Marxists, to move society back to fatherlessness so that establishment of redistribution mechanisms is more palatable.

Seems like a fairly horrific goal to me. Property rights have led to the single greatest increase in standard of living for all of Western civilization. Seems like we would want more people joining the system than tearing it down.


Wow, you made a lot of maxist angry.


His economics are sound, but I often find that his takes on social issues are extremely reductionist. His social views a lot of the time are just standard conservative views (and wrong IMO), I wish he wasn't being praised for that.

One example being his view on systemic racism, which he described as:

“It does remind me of the propaganda tactics of Joseph Goebbels in the age of the Nazis, in which he was supposed to have said that people will believe any lie if it’s repeated long enough and loud enough. And that’s what we’re getting.”

I just can't take this sort of person seriously in regards to social issues. I just can't do it. And he does this all the time, all of his social views are just ultra-reductionist conservatives views that are identical to the things my hardcore mask-refusing conservative relatives post on facebook.


It is immeasurable, undefinable, unchangeable. As a propagandist you must take care to use things that can not be countered. Systemic racism is one of those.

What is the systemic racism measure for Canada vs US? That is his point, you can use that stick to beat anyone and anything you want without having to supply a shred of evidence. Just keep repeating it and call everyone who disagrees racist or Uncle Tom.


If it were immeasurable and undefinable, then we wouldn't have studies showing disproportionate sentencing of Black people [1] or the persistent negative effects of redlining [2]. And if it were unchangeable, we wouldn't be able to construct studies to show the specific choke-points of racial inequality, nor suggest policy solutions to remedy them.

> What is the systemic racism measure for Canada vs US?

I don't understand this. Why do you want to measure against other countries, and why phrase it like you just want one number? Is it not enough to claim that certain inequalities appear in certain aspects of our society?

It would be like asking for a measure of our foreign policy. Sure, we could probably make one, but that seems like an entirely inadequate means of actually assessing what's happening in a complex sociological ecosystem. Our assessments have to be more individualized.

> That is his point, you can use that stick to beat anyone and anything you want without having to supply a shred of evidence. Just keep repeating it and call everyone who disagrees racist or Uncle Tom.

You can do that with anything though. I've heard all the same language used in Climate Change discourse: "well, if you don't think humans caused climate change, they'll just label you anti-science and beat you out of the discussion." This is just a blatant rhetorical tactic to shift discussion from about the actual problem—and indeed all the evidence that this problem has—to nebulous Twitter mobs.

[1] https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article...

[2] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2852856


When it comes to redlining, sowell directly addresses it in in Vision of the Anointed. He points out that the kinds of houses blacks tend to purchase tends to be ignored in studies that find widespread discrimination.

For example blacks are much more likely to want to buy multi family homes. The income and other requirements for these are much stricter which is why they are denied loans more often.

Moreover, he points out that if blacks were being subject to stricter requirements then one would expect that they were less likely to default since the requirements are notionally to calculate default risk.

He points out that before the redlining legislation black and white default rates were broadly the same indicating that whatever criteria the banks used it fulfilled its main purpose of estimating default likelihood.

He then shows data that the anti discrimination legislation increased black default rates and questions whether you encouraging minorities to declare bankruptcy and enter financial ruin is really something to be desired.

Before you make blanket statements on the man you should be familiar with his stance on things. Your comment lacks the nuance that one is apt to find in any sowell book.


>He then shows data that the anti discrimination legislation increased black default rates and questions whether you encouraging minorities to declare bankruptcy and enter financial ruin is really something to be desired.

Sowell talked about the CRA and was proven wrong by multiple studies, like this one, which has a section dedicated to how the CRA wasn't a problem: https://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/research...

Stop the Sowell worship. Please, internet, for the love of god. He will always talk about how everything that democrats do is bad and everything conservatives do is good. He isn't right on everything all the time.


This seems more to say that the 2008 housing crisis was not caused by the CRA, which no one said it did.


It's actually an extremely common argument that conservatives make to this day. Thomas Sowell blamed the CRA himself, so I'm not sure what your point is.


>>He then shows data that the anti discrimination legislation increased black default rates and questions whether you encouraging minorities to declare bankruptcy and enter financial ruin is really something to be desired.

>Sowell talked about the CRA and was proven wrong by multiple studies, like this one, which has a section dedicated to how the CRA wasn't a problem: https://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/research....

So you agree the document you linked doesn't disprove what the other poster said? No one has brought up the 2018 housing crisis.


He brought up anti discrimination legislation causing defaulting and bankruptcy, which the 2008 crash literally caused. I brought up a specific example of how Sowell is wrong. Sowell has directly commented on this matter. It is obviously relevant and doesn't require me to explain any further.


>He brought up anti discrimination legislation causing defaulting and bankruptcy, which the 2008 crash literally caused.

No he didn't, what are you talking about? Just because he mentioned foreclosures means he meant the CRA caused the 2008 housing crisis? No one was talking about it, you just brought it up out of no where.

His statement had NOTHING to do with the housing crisis, the only link between them seems to be "both involve foreclosures, so if I prove CRA did not cause the crisis I will prove his other statement is also incorrect... Because they both have the word 'foreclose' in them"


OH MY GOD...

The OP brought up that Sowell said that anti discrimination legislation increased defaulting and bankruptcy. Thomas Sowell literally wrote an entire article blaming CRA about 10 years ago. I brought up how Sowell is wrong because studies show that he is wrong.


So even though you quoted one argument, you posted a document to prove a whole other argument wrong, never bothering to bring up that the other argument you just proved wrong. I still don't know what other argument you proved wrong, did Sowell go on record saying the CRA caused the 2008 housing crisis?


Yes, as I said he literally wrote an article about it. I literally cannot understand how you can't connect Sowell's claim that anti-discrimination legislation (like CRA) is bad to my argument.


Can you post a link? I'm honestly under the suspicious you just posted a PDF you did not read, or knowingly knew did not back up your arguments but hoped no one would read the 25 pages to find out.


https://www.creators.com/read/thomas-sowell/02/09/upside-dow...

He was wrong and/or misleading about everything he said in this article. Maybe you should apply the same suspicion to someone like Sowell instead.


Damn, guess I was wrong. Still nothing to do with the parents argument though, you should at edit your comment to include that link so people understand what you're taking about.


[flagged]


Nah, you switched arguments mid stream without any reason or warning, besides that the crisis argument was easier to prove wrong than the parent's. CRA was introduced 43 years ago, the 2008 crisis was 12 years ago, there is no reason to link them today.


My entire point the whole way through was about Sowell being wrong about the CRA, and it literally doesn't matter when it was introduced. It was an example of anti discrimination legislation regarding loans that Sowell has directly commented on, what other example should I use?


Parent's argument can still be correct even though the CRA did not cause the housing crisis.

Those are unrelated. The first argument might be correct and the CRA increases defaults by giving loans to people who can't afford them, and still there was a regulatory failure with firms rubber stamping bad debts as AAA and packaging them up in 2008.


> Stop the Sowell worship. Please, internet, for the love of god. He will always talk about how everything that democrats do is bad and everything conservatives do is good. He isn't right on everything all the time.

Stop the bad-faith discussion. I never 'worshipped' Sowell. The commenter above claimed that Sowell has not grappled with various studies that show various racial disparities. I've read his works, and Sowell indeed does directly confront these studies, so to say he is ignoring evidence is wrong.

Whether or not Sowell is right is not really up for discussion. What was being discussed is whether Sowell acknowledges studies on topics he is interested in. Indeed he does, and he finds issues in many studies as well as other studies that have remained mostly unacknowledged by academia.

> He isn't right on everything all the time.

This is a ridiculous standard to judge anyone by. No one is right all the time. Stop changing the goalposts.


I'm not debating Sowell—I don't have the background to dispute his claims, I'm arguing against the notion that systemic racism is "immeasurable, undefinable, unchangeable" and is thus propaganda. Researchers might be wrong about their findings, like in any field, but you can't just handwave the research as dogma.

If Sowell is responding to specific claims made by researchers of systemic racism, then it can't possibly be merely empty rhetoric, it's a subject of active academic inquiry.


Sowell believes that systemic racism doesn't exist because he has examined the various research and finds issues with all of them -- namely that the various discrepancies they find can be explained in other ways.

He never claimed that systemic racism could not exist. In fact, in his books, he openly admits that he believes that it did indeed once exist. He just questions whether the studies being produced today are done so without pre-existing bias (are they looking for data to back up their belief, or vice versa) and whether the data produced evidentiates the conclusion. If indeed the studies you cite and that he refutes are looking for data to back up their pre-existing conclusion, then propaganda is the correct description.

No one has put forth the argument that Sowell believes systematic racism cannot ever exist. All that has been said is that he questions whether it currently exists today and the conclusions of the studies you cite.


> No one has put forth the argument that Sowell believes systematic racism cannot ever exist.

The comment I was responding to literally said "It is immeasurable, undefinable, unchangeable. As a propagandist you must take care to use things that can not be countered. Systemic racism is one of those." A very clear implication that systemic racism doesn't exist.

Now, this may not be Sowell's views, but fortunately for Sowell, I never mentioned him in my initial reply.

> He just questions whether the studies being produced today are done so without pre-existing bias (are they looking for data to back up their belief, or vice versa) and whether the data produced evidentiates the conclusion.

All science is performed with biases. We couldn't possibly form a hypothesis without following our intuitions first. The question is whether our biases conform to the data. Of course, biases may also shape how we interpret data, but this is true for everyone. Sowell may be right, but let's not pretend that he, or anyone for that matter, is the only one approaching this research with a truly neutral, unbiased approach.

I think it's fair to subject research into systemic racism to scrutiny, but that's merely the process of academic review. It should never be touted as cutting through the propaganda, as if Sowell is some kind of crusader against the dogmatic PC police left.

> In fact, in his books, he openly admits that he believes that it did indeed once exist.

Now, call me crazy, but given that he believes it once existed, I find it hard to believe that he also believes that it's just over and done with now. John Lewis just died recently, and I consider it unlikely that we'd ferret out racism from our systems in just that span of time, especially when I hear stories of, for instance, a North Carolina legislature disenfranchising Black people with surgical precision as recent as 2014. If we still have that kind of explicit racism in our public institutions, it's unreasonable to think more subtle forms aren't also causing unequal outcomes.


> Now, call me crazy, but given that he believes it once existed, I find it hard to believe that he also believes that it's just over and done with now.

Yes, he does believe racism exists within systems. But this is not what is meant by 'systemic racism'. Today, systemic racism is both a description of a problem, as well as an insinuation of its cause -- namely 'white privilege' and white hegemony -- and an insinuation of solutions -- namely progressive legislation. Sowell rejects these insinuated causes and insinuated solutions and instead believes discrimination and poor outcomes for blacks today is driven by progressive policies such as a lack of school choice, laws encouraging loans be made to blacks who cannot afford it, etc. He believes that blacks will be helped by a return to a less regulated market. While this viewpoint could be named under the umbrella of 'systemic racism', let's be honest with ourselves that that's not what the term has come to mean


See, this just comes off as reactionary, as if saying "I believe in systemic racism" somehow secretly casts a vote for progressive policies behind your back. Is it really so hard to say "I believe that our institutions are systemically racist, and I believe that egalitarianism is best facilitated by the market"? It just seems strange to get caught up in the "culture war" notions that terms are getting co-opted for agendas and the like, when we can just address the actual issues themselves.

Also, if you believe that institutions discriminate against Black people, is the direct implication not that Whites are privileged over them in these spaces?

And as for school choice, my understanding was that the research showed that school choice worsened racial education outcomes, like this paper claims [1]. I know I've seen other research to this effect, but this is just one of the first results of google scholar. If nothing else, I would assume that any school choice policy must be coupled with a progressive transportation program, lest that choice become determined by geographic disparities, which because of segregation policies both on the books and within people's historical preferences, just bakes in racial disparities.

Regardless, to act like school choice is some kind of underground counter-culture movement to a progressive-dominated education system, when Betsy DeVoss is Secretary of Education, seems misguided at best. I don't know why you feel the need to dance around terms like "systemic racism" as if it will inadvertently empower a progressive movement when that progressive movement isn't even in power.

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/pam.20226?ca...


Words take on new meanings. Look... you're expecting me to continue to defend a man who has written dozens of full-length books explaining his positions. I'm not going to respond to your claims on charter schools because Sowell has just released a new book called 'charter schools and their enemies', which goes very in depth into his support of charter schools. I haven't read it yet, but I imagine it would contain his response to studies like the ones you posted.


I think the previous poster is just interested in the discussion, not attacking Sowell. His comments have focused on the content, not the author.


Thank you for linking to studies on the systemic racism issue.

"Using rich data linking federal cases from arrest through to sentencing, we find that initial case and defendant characteristics, including arrest offense and criminal history, can explain most of the large raw racial disparity in federal sentences, but significant gaps remain. Across the distribution, blacks receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than those of comparable whites arrested for the same crimes. Most of this disparity can be explained by prosecutors’ initial charging decisions, particularly the filing of charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences. Ceteris paribus, the odds of black arrestees facing such a charge are 1.75 times higher than those of white arrestees."

It should also be noted that the vast majority of people talking about the sentencing disparity ascribe 100% of the sentencing difference to racism, when this paper states that it's actually a 10% delta, and the other 90% is due to previous criminal record, etc. It's not like activists ever cared about nuance.

The issue I have with the term "systemic racism" is that it is typically used in a purposefully nebulous fashion to capture and group a collection of specific, actionable issues that can be measured.


Physics is also a purposefully nebulous term used to capture and group a collection of specific issues that can be measured. God forbid people want to group together racial disparities caused by institutional practices under the term "systemic racism." We could call them "fiddledydoop" for all I care, but there is obviously a good reason to group these things together.

Of course, you seem to be implying that people aren't actually trying to address these issues individually, and you couldn't be more wrong. Academics and policymakers alike are forming and implementing solutions all the time. You might just be looking too closely at Twitter.

It's frankly insulting that, despite the ongoing tragedy of racial inequality and the abundance of experts actively working to resolve it, that you and others are so caught up in such meaningless semantic games.

> It should also be noted that the vast majority of people talking about the sentencing disparity ascribe 100% of the sentencing difference to racism

I'm not sure how you can substantiate that claim.

> it's actually a 10% delta

You say that like a 10% delta because the color of your skin isn't tragic.

> It's not like activists ever cared about nuance.

Are they supposed to? We have a representative democracy for a reason: average people and activists push for change, and experts and representatives try to enact that push a reasonably as possible. I wouldn't expect the average person to approach policy failures with moderation. Most don't have years of higher education or a heterogeneous voter base to appease to moderate them. That goes for all sides. Don't act like the constituency who decry systemic racism approach it with the same nuance as Sowell.


Your analogy isn't correct. Physics isn't used as a catch-all to explain things that haven't been researched.

And I never said the 10% delta wasn't awful. That is of course a horrific thing that must be addressed. It's also a specific issue that can be measured and solved.

Systemic racism is used just like God was when I, growing up in the south, had to defend my belief in evolution. The favorite weapon of the biblical creationists is termed "God of the gaps". They would look for some biological feature (their favorite was the human eye) that wasn't fully explained by evolutionary science, and then claim that gap in science had to be filled by God's existence.

Systemic racism is "racism of the gaps". Every discrepancy between two arbitrarily separated groups is termed evidence of some non-specific, internal bigotry that absolutely must exist. The fact that various cultural groups behave and raise children differently is ignored. Southern whites are much poorer than norther whites. Must be bigotry. It couldn't be cultural differences.....

Women are radically underrepresented as victims of police violence. There must be systemic bigotry towards men by police. Asians are underrepresented in police killings. Police must systemically favor them.

We know that this isn't true, and that women are underrepresented in police killings because they are dramatically less likely to be in confrontations with police. But this logic is willfully ignored in place of the "systemic racism" canard when looking at black male overrepresentation in police killings. It's exactly what you would expect when people who seek power instead of truth are dominating the conversation.

And since you are defending activists willfully misrepresenting data to feed emotional narratives, let's talk about the fact that BLM's hyperbolic language around police killings of black men has caused a large percentage of the population to think that police are a statistically significant threat to the lives of black men in America. The other impression left on the minds of the public is that black men are exclusively the victims of police violence, when the data says otherwise.

https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/nationaltrends

Here, you see that 76% of the people killed by police are non-black in the US. And yes, black men are overrepresented, and so are latinos. Asians are underrepresented. Activists have SUCCEEDED in manipulating the public on this, and have created social pressure that academics are yielding to.

Ask yourself why you have to use Google to find the name of a Latino who was unjustly killed by police in the last 5 years, but you (if you are like me) can list the names of multiple black men unjustly killed by police in the same time frame? Do you think that discrepancy in knowledge is natural, fair, or just?

The ethno-centric activists have taken the very real issue of police violence, and turned it into a race specific one, needlessly. Racial issues are easy to weaponize, and that's probably the motivation, but it comes at the cost of actual truth. Police kill citizens of all colors with impunity. George Floyd's murderers were arrested a day later. The killer of Daniel Shaver (the second most egregious police killing video I've seen after George Floyd) was given early retirement with a full pension.


I think you make some good points toward the end, which is why I wanted to say that, as a member of the general public, I don't feel like activists manipulated me. They brought up the issue, and some of them may have more extreme views than I, but I think it's clear that some examples of police violence are unnecessary, regardless of whom they're perpetrated against.


> Physics isn't used as a catch-all to explain things that haven't been researched.

Has systemic racism not been researched?

I feel like you're just grasping at semantic straws here. Systemic racism is a theory, like any other scientific theory. Believe it or not, it's a framework that informs research.

> Systemic racism is used just like God was when I, growing up in the south

God is a theory too, just an increasingly tenuous one. Systemic racism seems to bear out in studies.

I don't know why scientifically minded people seem to act like science is just a done deal, and that any theory they instinctively don't like is somehow newfangled. This is just not how science has ever been conducted. Every theory starts out new and strange, and we just have to see how it comports to the data.

> Every discrepancy between two arbitrarily separated groups is termed evidence of some non-specific, internal bigotry that absolutely must exist.

Except the term "systemic racism" literally means that this bigotry is externalized—it exists within the systems of rules we created.

It also seems weird to use "absolutely must exist" sarcastically when you agreed to that 10% statistic earlier. That's just one stat. No, not everything is systemic racism, but as we established earlier, that's not what anyone's saying. Research suggests that the problem is pervasive enough to validate the phenomenon of "systemic racism" is quite real.

> The fact that various cultural groups behave and raise children differently is ignored.

It isn't? Culture, much like individual action, is determined heavily by institutions. People can complain about rap music glorifying a distrust of the law, but when there are actual stats showing a 10% disparity in sentencing, I can't really be too harsh on the rapper here.

Frankly, I never understand this vector of attack. Like, let's assume that all this was actually 100% culture. How do we fix anything? How do you change culture? You can't just tell Black people "be better, and stop that rap music." It seems to me that the answer is still institutional change.

> There must be systemic bigotry towards men by police.

This is actually true. The justice system is disproportionately harsher on men, but that's because we perceive men as being stronger and more in control of their actions. Indeed, we do need to have a cultural shift towards the perception of men, but that shift starts by making our institutions more willing to consider men as vulnerable so we can address it.

> women are underrepresented in police killings because they are dramatically less likely to be in confrontations with police.

But why is that the case. It's not random.

> And since you are defending activists willfully misrepresenting data to feed emotional narratives

You can be dismissive of activists, just make sure it's universal. No side has ownership of "calm rational discourse." I just see a lot of people focus on the temperament of activists rather than the actual policy being considered. It's just a pointless ad hominem. Everyone can point to some group of the unwashed masses and say "look at all those dumb people supporting you, don't you look silly now!"

> The other impression left on the minds of the public is that black men are exclusively the victims of police violence, when the data says otherwise.

Sure, I also think "defund the police" is a misguided slogan. Fortunately, laws aren't written by slogans, they're written by experts.

> Ask yourself why you have to use Google to find the name of a Latino who was unjustly killed by police in the last 5 years, but you (if you are like me) can list the names of multiple black men unjustly killed by police in the same time frame? Do you think that discrepancy in knowledge is natural, fair, or just?

No, but the reforms that BLM protesters are asking for would also help Latino people. I agree that it would be great that the discourse could be on all police violence, because it certainly is pervasive, but I'm not really going to blame Black people, who have an incredibly unique history in this country to focus on their own community's strife.

I also wouldn't expect an organization called Black Lives Matter to be advocating for Latinos (though, I think the work that they do conveniently does). No one is suppressing a Latino Lives Matter movement, it's just that the Latino experience in this country doesn't seem to coalesce in that way. I'm sure there's a very interesting investigation one could perform to figure out why.

> The ethno-centric activists have taken the very real issue of police violence, and turned it into a race specific one, needlessly.

I don't see why that's a problem when the goal is the same. Proposed police reforms aren't race-specific.


"I don't see why that's a problem when the goal is the same. Proposed police reforms aren't race-specific."

It's a problem because making it race specific undermines the goals of police reform. BLM the slogan isn't the same as the organization. The organization conflates the goals of police reforms with a lot of the typical ultra-left wing ivory tower identity ideas like claims that the nuclear family is internalized white supremacy. These ideas are unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans on all parts of the political spectrum, and weaken the goal of police reform.

I grew up in a mostly black county, and the first time I walked into a classroom that wasn't mostly black was freshman year in college. I've noticed a pattern among whites who grew up in segregated suburbs of holding black people to a lower moral and intellectual standard than they hold themselves to. Words like "its understandable that they would" are used to justify BLM willfully, actively, and purposefully misinforming the public on police violence. A consistent minority of people of all racial categories are inherently wired for bigotry. White people need to get more comfortable calling out these hard-wired bigots when they DON'T share their own skin color. Stop celebrating this behavior. It's bad, and needlessly divisive. I got my ass kicked several times by the minority of black kids in my school who were bigots. Most of the non-bigoted black kids stood by and watched. A minority would intervene on my behalf. This is pretty identical to historical acts of white racism. The conformists are what worry me the most. You know, people who suddenly, because the New York Times said so, start capitalizing Black when they've never done so in their entire lives. NYT did so because they think the tiny ivory tower academic community that told them to capitalize black was representative of the black community. As if white academics are remotely similar to the typical white American.


Redlining and sentencing disparities are institutionalized racism, not systemic racism.


I was honestly unaware of the difference. Upon looking up the term on Wikipedia, the first line is "Institutional racism (also known as systemic racism)." Every subsequent article I looked at under the google search "systemic racism vs institutional racism" seemed to make roughly the same equality.


I'm under the impression that institutional refers to specific formal institutions, like policing, jobs markets, etc. Systemic refers to that plus informal cultural biases, that is institutional is a subset of systemic.


Do you not think the institutions of justice are systems? Not sure I get what you're trying to communicate.


> If it were immeasurable and undefinable, then we wouldn't have studies showing disproportionate sentencing of Black people

By the same standard, do you agree that there is systemic sexism against men?


Of course, patriarch theory completely accounts for this. The common view that men are more powerful and autonomous, and therefore dangerous, can probably account for some degree of their harsher treatment under the justice system, just like this view probably helps them in acquiring positions of power in the workplace.


Patriarchy theory is contradicting itself on that issue. It's the pinnacle of doublethink.


I don't see how. If men are perceived as being stronger and more rational, that will help them in acquiring jobs, but hurt them when being found culpable of a crime.

I'm not sure where you learned feminist theory, but it's fairly resolute about the fact that Patriarchy is deleterious to both men and women.


Nobody learns feminist theory because it's not a learnable topic, it's just a collection of nonsensical anecdotes bound together with clever sounding words.

If men get sentenced more harshly because they are "stronger" and "more rational", or even just perceived that way, then there's no problem with them dominating roles that benefit from a lot of strength or rationality, roles like CEO of a company. But feminists have a big problem with that notion. They're all about how women are just as good as men at everything, equal in all respects and thus deserving of equal outcomes, right until there's an outcome that's better for women than men. Then suddenly there's an intellectual sounding but illogical explanation.


Something being difficult to precisely measure does not make it a Nazi tactic. This is just an attempt to reframe the argument to be more charitable to Sowell, but no, his argument is bad.


Sowell has some well-thought-out views on these issues, and he’s been expressing many of them for decades, but he has a curmudgeonly side as well. And I think if you understand his more well-thought-out views on these issues, I think you’ll also at least understand his curmudgeonly attitude.

Oddly enough, what you’re doing now—if it were done to dismiss the thoughts of a “progressive” black person—would probably be characterized as “tone policing”, and to whatever extent that’s a legitimate concept I think it applies to someone who makes his fair share of curmudgeonly remarks in the context of many decades of otherwise thoughtful and reasoned argument.


I cannot agree more. I think he's brilliant, and I've learned a lot from his ideas. However, I've seen him in multiple interviews putting forth evidence-free ideas aligned with Republican talk points.


Sowell has been criticized widely for his reductionist take on economics. Not sure what "tone policing" has to do with anything...


Did you mean to reply to a different thread? This was about Sowell’s conservative social views and the sometimes intemperate way he expresses them, not about his economics (which the person I’m replying to expressed an appreciation for).


Looking at his claim isolated from his evidence is hard to discuss. I think that also came from a TV interview, which is not the ideal forum for him to present evidence.

(When discussing "systemic racism", let's set aside specific racism, which can (and should) be specifically called out and changed.)

To explore systemic racism in more detail, we'd want to look at some measure (not necessarily a single number) of systemic racism. Once we have a way of measuring it (even crudely), we could compare across various races, countries, states, and regions. Importantly, we could compare it within a given race -- if systemic racism varies within a race, then clearly we need to revisit the definition because there are other factors at work. We could also look for other signs that something is awry, like areas that are "systemically racist" against the most politically powerful group.

Dr. Sowell has been performing this kind of research and analysis for decades, and documents it extensively in his many books.

From the quotation above, it seems that he believes that he believes that the term "systemic racism" has no useful definition remaining after this analysis, and that it's being used as propaganda to undermine institutions that stand in the way of political goals.

If you believe that systemic racism is a useful construct that leads to solutions for a better world, then by all means follow where it leads. But please focus on offering alternative policies that lead to good results, and adapt (or revert) those policies if they lead to bad results. Don't just turn it into a never-ending "discussion" that divides people with no solution.


What exactly do you disagree with?


The idea that calling out systemic racism is like a Nazi propaganda tactic. Look up any of his other views on literally any social issues, it's just whatever Fox News-esque conservative would want to hear. Like, somehow it's not the government snatching people up in vans that is Nazi-like, it's actually the anti-racist protesters that are Nazi's to the genius brain of Thomas Sowell. How do people idolize this guy?


if you define “conservative” as “wrong”, then I understand your point, but then your statement is trivial - it’s a statement of opinion, “sowell is wrong”, masquerading as evidence and using 12 times as many words as needed.


Yes, I am giving my opinion on Thomas Sowell in a post about Thomas Sowell. My post is very short, like a third of it is a quote from him. And I didn't define conservative as wrong, I said he is a standard, non-special conservative AND wrong. What are your actual disagreements?


Well, the problem with opinions is that they are not that helpful. For example, I could say the following:

Sowell is a classical liberal and right. Sowell is a neoconservative and wrong. Sowell is a traditional conservative and right. Sowell is a neoliberal and wrong. Sowell is a classical liberal and wrong. Sowell is a neoconservative and right. Sowell is a traditional conservative and wrong.

Without some way to separate the true sentences from the false sentences none of them are very helpful, even if one in the pile happens to be true.


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Of course your opinion can be more or less helpful than another's, depending on what you say, how you say it, and what your sources are


Well, by no means am I trying to shut you down, I'm doing the opposite, asking for more details. For example another comment on this thread pointed out that apparently Republicans usually sign some kind of "loyalty oath" that's associated with him. I would consider that strong evidence for his association with traditional conservatism.


If you check that part of the thread again, you'll see that that "loyalty oath" is associated with Grover Norquist rather than Thomas Sowell (although I'm fairly sure Sowell also thinks that taxes and government expenditures in the U.S. are way too high).


You're offering commentary, not a counterargument. What specifically is Sowell wrong about?


What specifically is he right about? Why do we require evidence when someone says he is wrong, but we do not require evidence for the numerous times in this thread where people say his book is “required reading”?

First, everyone here who likes Sowell can put forth specific, concrete examples where he is right, instead of making vague statements about how brilliant he is and then demanding evidence only when someone disagrees.


> First, everyone here who likes Sowell can put forth specific, concrete examples where he is right, instead of making vague statements about how brilliant he is and then demanding evidence only when someone disagrees.

Why? The positive argument already exists. It's Sowell's writing. What are you asking for a cliff's notes? The disagreement you're talking about must obviously stem from something in the source material we're talking about. So what is it?


It exists for economics exclusively, he has never proven himself in regards to social issues to be anymore than a common twitter conservative.


Do you expect to be taken seriously when you dismiss someone with a resume like his as “nothing more than a common twitter conservative”? How do you even fool yourself into believing that?


None of his books that I've read are about economics, they're all about social issues, including very deep ones like why people separate into opposing camps on political issues.

It's really just worth reading some of that stuff before you decide he's just a Tweeter. He's basically the opposite of that.


I'm asking for concrete evidence that his opinions have predictive power which has been assessed independently.

If no such evidence exists then all we have is just-so story-telling, which can be discounted.

The fact that a lot of people seem to believe his ideas are convincing is irrelevant to this discussion.

People believe all kinds of things because they sound plausible to them - partly because other people have made careers out of working out how to push people's "This sounds plausible so I shall believe it" buttons.

Which is why reproducible evidence and independent peer review are things. And why it's absolutely reasonable - in fact required - to question assertions that can't be grounded in them.


> How do people idolize this guy?

Read his books and find out. You'll be supporting a black author if you do.


> The idea that calling out systemic racism is like a Nazi propaganda tactic. Look up any of his other views on literally any social issues, it's just whatever Fox News-esque conservative would want to hear.

With regard to the Fox News-watching American conservative base and bad Nazi analogies, it's useful to keep in mind what you're dealing with. Grover Norquist said in an interview in 2003 that the estate tax is equivalent to the Holocaust. When Terry Gross politely allowed him to walk that statement back, he said that it's just morally equivalent to the Holocaust. [2] Of course all the thinking involved is total bullshit and the man is batshit crazy, but the interview is not without interest.

Such a lunatic must be the object of widespread derision on the right, right? Nope. Almost all Republican lawmakers sign his bizarre loyalty oath upon taking office, pledging they're not going to raise taxes. [3]

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2004/01/06/o...

[2] https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=145298...

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/who-is-grover-norquist-pledg...


Maybe Sowell wrote this before the internet - the man is 90 - but today I mentally turn the page whenever something is compared to Nazis.

Both the left and right do this, and it's almost never meaningful. More a lazy way to call your opponents poopheads.


Unfortunately he said it in an interview about 3 weeks ago on Fox News.


Well in fairness he didn't actually compare anything to Nazis. He compared something to one single precept that was espoused and made well-known by them. Unlike say the "Punch a Nazi" movement from last year that literally claimed modern day Nazis are numerous and living amongst us.


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So then, how does a black person adopt, of their own free will without a thought of "white belief", a conservative outlook an not run afoul of your complaint?

Are you suggesting that they stay silent? How is injecting race into the political discourse at this level not in itself patently racist? Are you suggesting that only whites are allowed such free choices in their beliefs?


Why do you attach "black free will" with adhering to the black subjugation ideas of the US right-wing?


Are you suggesting all white conservatives are racist? Doesn't that sound like an overbroad, racist generalization itself?

I'd like to find a good faith interpretation of your statement, but it really seems like your world view is that someone's skin color and political inclination determines their moral standing and beliefs.


No. Only the ones that like Thomas Sowell.


> To say things that white conservatives believe but suffer ridicule for saying.

This is so ridiculously racist and uninformed I don't know where to begin.

First, it assumes Sowell hasn't made any unique contributions to economics or politics. This is completely false but you presume it because... he's black? If he were white would you take him more seriously?

Second, you presume the only reason he is allowed to speak is to justify the racism of others. Which reduces Sowell to a useful idiot or a token. It completely strips him of his accomplishments. Imagine saying that a former member of government, a PhD, award winning economist, author of more than a dozen best selling books, and fellow at more than a dozen prestigious institutions is only listened to because he's black.


Could you clarify "the point of Thomas Sowell"? It seems as though you are ascribing a "point" to an individual, what do you mean by that?

It seems like a non-sequitur to bring racism in on this thread - how does Sowell appeal to "white conservatives" more than conservatives of other backgrounds?


because they can hold him up as an unbiased intellectual despite the fact that most of the opinions that he voices are trite, and honestly just sound like talk radio. I mean, just go through a few of his statements:

"Instead of trying to propagandize children to hug trees and recycle garbage, our schools would be put to better use teaching them how to analyze and test what is said by people who advocate tree-hugging, recycling, and innumerable other causes across the political spectrum."

"What do you call it when someone takes someone else's money openly by force? Robbery. What do you call it when a politician takes someone else's money in taxes and gives it to someone who is more likely to vote for him? Social Justice."

If you think that's uncharitable go read what he's written over the years, in particular on politics, it's indistinguishable from my rambling grandfather. Even pay attention to the title of the post. "Thomas Sowell, the Nonconformist". How is he nonconformist as far his views go? He isn't, what's nonconformist is his background.


A lot of stuff that goes into the recycling bin doesn't actually get recycled though, right? [0] So if your reason for recycling is "that's what good people do", and you don't actually know what happens to your stuff...you're not actually helping. You're doing a useless ritual that makes you feel better.

"What do you call it when someone takes someone else's money openly by force? Robbery. What do you call it when a politician takes someone else's money in taxes and gives it to someone who is more likely to vote for him? Social Justice." This just sounds like a modern rephrasing of Murray Rothbard, I wouldn't necessarily call it "trite".

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/climate/recycling-landfil...


> "Instead of trying to propagandize children to hug trees and recycle garbage, our schools would be put to better use teaching them how to analyze and test what is said by people who advocate tree-hugging, recycling, and innumerable other causes across the political spectrum."

Advocating for critical thinking is not bad. You shouldn't tell children what to believe. You should give them the tools to determine their own beliefs.

> "What do you call it when someone takes someone else's money openly by force? Robbery. What do you call it when a politician takes someone else's money in taxes and gives it to someone who is more likely to vote for him? Social Justice."

Are criticisms of social welfare limited to talk radio hosts?

> How is he nonconformist as far his views go?

He's nonconformist for the class he occupies. I.e. the "intellectual elite" (or however you want to refer to them).


Strawmanning the education systems by ranting about tree-hugging hippies who indoctrinate the children and calling taxation theft isn't critical thinking, it's living in the bizarro world that is modern American conservatism.

His views also aren't non-conformist at all, they have a deep history in US politics. Friedman, Hayek, and so on for a large time during Sowells career practically dominated public discourse. Friedman alone probably is the single most influential economist of the last few decades as far as public discourse is concerned.

And that is squarely where Sowell is situated given that he hasn't ever actually worked as an economist, but basically as a pundit. Within American conservative punditry his views are as standard as it gets.


> Strawmanning the education system

Maybe he is. If that's the case, let's "steelman" his position and do better. Do you feel that Thomas Sowell would read your response and feel you grasped the argument he was making to the fullest extent? Do you feel you've honestly and accurately portrayed his position after understanding it fully?

In my opinion, you haven't. I think you're upset and its preventing you from understanding the argument being made.

> Sowell hasn't done economic research at all.

He has a wikipedia. Try your best to read it.


>He has a wikipedia. Try your best to read it.

Sowell has published over thirty books, but I can find virtually no actual academic research. One of the last papers dates to the 60s, where he debates Marxism, but I think this is actually just a sort of philosophical treatise.

He's repeatedly rejected modelling, mathematics and virtually every other econonmic tool, so to call him an economist is kind of a misnomer.

And actually I do think I've portrayed his position fairly accurately. When you read his stuff it's often hard to tell if you're reading Sowell or Ann Coulter.

Btw I'm not opposed to conservative intellectual work in general. Chesterton is great, Carl Schmitt is probably one of the most intelligent writers of the last century. But Sowell isn't, and American Conservatism is in an intellectual crisis to put it mildly.


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I'm not a neo-nazi, I'm personally not even conservative. But Schmitt is probably one of the most influential conservatives of the 20th century. He's not only influenced conservative thought but people ranging from Arendt, to Habermas, Strauss even Derrida among others. His writing on the state of exception or the friend-foe distinction had wide reach from theory to policy-making.

Meanwhile in US Conservatism you have people ranting about taxation being theft, I mean if that's the intellectual elite I don't know what's going on exactly.


I think Sowell is a very important thinker in his own right.

At the same time, there is nothing conservatives love more than a black intellectual who strongly agrees with them. Perhaps for both good and bad reasons. That adoration does color the perception of people like Sowell.


Your perception of Sowell is colored because he's a black intellectual? That sounds pretty damn racist.

How about not judging black people when they don't fit in the box you want to put them in?


Can't tell if this is a joke or not.

For the record, I'm not having that perception. But many will judge people by who agrees with them.


Not a joke. I got heated over (what seems to me) whitewashing of liberal racism. It is a very real problem that liberals can spout blatantly racist garbage ("You ain't black") but never actually get classified as racist. Yet merely thinking capitalism is a good system is enough to get one classified as a racist and a fascist.

I apologize for getting triggered on the second part of your post and forgetting the first, but I think it's very important to call racism racism. Calling racism "colored perceptions" is so misleading as to be false.


You know, I thought briefly about rephrasing the "colored" part because the accidental "pun". But nothing came to mind.

I mostly agree with you about "liberal racism". Apology accepted.


Poor black people. You're either a token for conservative "racists" or a whip for liberal "racists" to flagellate themselves with.

Always the supporting actor. Never allowed to have ideas which inspire others to action. Just a tool for white people.


Right, but I had no idea HN people were huge fans of the guy too.


Must be hard. Hating it when the ideas of a black author are supported, admired, and shape the political leanings of a white audience.


It's not a "white audience", it's a white audience whose identity hinges on white supremacy.


I hate it when white supremacists admire and respect black authors.


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It's not a straw man to belittle you. Next time you respond to someone, try not to prefix it with "right" if you don't want to signal your agreement.


Do you have any examples not related to race relations?

What do you mean by "reductionist"?


His social commentary is some of his most important work. If you had to isolate Sowell's most repeated, potent point, it would be that disparities in population outcomes are nowhere near sufficient to infer discrimination as a primary contributor. If people better understood this single fact, it would go a long way to disentangling the absolute mess of a concept that is systemic racism.


There’s a link between his social views and his economics.


There's a link between his social views and economics as a mainstream discipline.


If you're a little older and were reading papers in the late 80s and 90s, Thomas Sowell was a fixture of the Op-Ed as a reliable apologist for capitalism and white supremacy.

It's definitely _why_ he was so prolific at that time because back then papers published hardly any Black views in editorials, much less left/liberal Black ones. Concepts that are common now (slavery's legacy is still with us; criminal justice is a huge problem for minorities; etc) would get you banned from pretty much anywhere then. But cheerily offering views like "Stop helping Black people" and "people are poor because they're lazy" with a Black writer was positively applauded.

There was kind of a moment around then, you had Ward Connerly on the UC board of directors busily dismantling affirmative action, Clarence Thomas' appointment, and Sowell blowing up the op-ed pages. There was no question that if you were a conservative Black you would be amplified and supported all over the place.

Needless to say, this led me to dismiss him intellectually then, as his political arguments are threadbare paleoconservativism. I haven't looked at his economic work, but given the appaling history of arch-conservative economics from "giants" like Friedman, I can't imagine I'd find anything very persuasive.


> I just can't take this sort of person seriously in regards to social issues. I just can't do it.

Unfortunate, but it’s your loss. I definitely understand where you’re coming from, as I thought the same a few years ago. Challenge yourself to objectively listen to people who you think you disagree with. You might find that things you were certain about have serious flaws.

There are many reasons why terms like “systemic racism” are not constructive, and frankly, he’s not at all wrong on that point.


Invoking similarity to Nazi propaganda is almost always a strategic error, and Thomas Sowell should know better. The actions of the third reich were so heinous that they are mostly recognized as precluding any comparison with the thoughts or actions of any normal, nonheinous people, and when you try to articulate such a comparison you come off in many or most people's eyes as totally hyperbolic.

Still, if you're willing to remain cool headed and entertain the most reasonable interpretation of what's being said, you'll have to admit that claims about 21st-century sociopolitical rhetoric having features in common with Nazi propaganda does not need to imply any kind of moral equivalence between the relevant 21st century activists and the Nazis.

The rhetoric of the third reich is probably the most famous example of a particular strategy, in which particular bugs of human psychology are exploited using scapegoating and the cultivation of a sense of victimhood. One could very reasonably believe that either (or both) of Donald Trump and lefty-social-justice-warrior types have been using such strategies to garner support WITHOUT thinking even with a few brain cells that either is morally comparable to the Nazis.

I have to think that this is how Mr. Sowell expects you to interpret what he's saying. It would be nice if he had an example other than the Nazis to use, since the holocaust carries so much emotional baggage, but there's just no other historical example of this rhetorical strategy that is so well known or so universally recognized as being in the wrong.


It’s really remarkable for one’s takeaway from the Nazis to be that accusations of racism might be false.


Spurious comparisons to Nazis are a favorite tactic of his -- he famously compared Obama to Hitler because they both had enthusiastic crowds for their speeches. It's a mystery to me why anybody takes this man seriously.


Everything you've said has demonstrated that you're _choosing_ not to understand, or agree with, his arguments rather than disagreeing with them through counter arguments and evidence.


His writings do exactly what he states: Sowell insists that his work “stands or falls on its own merits or applicability” and is not “enhanced or reduced by [his] personal life.”.

And they will continue to stand, objectively, for a long time to come.

But his life and character are inspirational examples of self-determination and leadership that we need far more of. It is a shame he is not more often cited as an example that others can learn from in their personal lives.


"Even if 90 percent of all Muslims are fine people, and we admit 10,000 refugees from the Middle East, does that mean that we need not be concerned about adding a thousand potential terrorists — even after we have seen in San Bernardino what just two terrorists can do?*"

Thomas Sowell, ladies and gentlemen. (https://www.desertsun.com/story/opinion/columnists/2015/12/1...)


The all too common argument that there's no problem since it's only a minute minority that is problematic is in contradiction with a huge chunk of human history.

On this particular topic, we in Europe are increasingly frequently getting a painful refresher.

Thanks for the link.


Basic Economics is a very good book. Even if you taken University economics you will learn something and you will definitely learn how to explain things to those who did not.

His debates are also great to watch highly recommended.


I very much prefer his older TV appearances to his more recent ones as he used to elaborate and present you with evidence on the spot. Nowadays, he keeps his input to a minimum on a given interview which is often unconvincing and borderline dismissive. I should keep in mind that he's 90 of age, though.


I've read a number of his books, and I reflect on them regularly. They stand the test of time.

More important than the specific facts and arguments in his books is that he checks up on the results of theories and policies. That's not common enough among social scientists and certainly not among politicians.

Does "the peace process" produce peace? Do anti-poverty programs raise people out of poverty? Surely some do, and surely some don't. Figuring out which is which is critical to success -- preferably by learning from others' mistakes, but if not, at least learning from your own mistakes.

It's too easy to get a sense of moral superiority just by supporting a policy with a noble intent, and then move on before the consequences arrive.


His book "Intellectuals and Society" helped me better understand the difference of visions between the "right" and the left. Highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in politics.


Am I the only one here who thinks that "Basic Economics" is overrated? I loved the first chapters but I didn't finish it because of his obvious bias against regulations. While I enjoyed his analyses of failed regulations, the book makes it seem like there're no successful market regulation laws in place and every attempt is doomed to be short-sighted like all his examples. This [1] review on Amazon from someone else expresses my concerns in more detail.

Can someone recommend me an alternative book, that at least tries to be a little bit more well-balanced? I'll probably finish this book for the conservative perspective anyway but it doesn't seem like a good starting point despite its name.

[1] https://www.amazon.de/gp/customer-reviews/RTG2TIDQB6AJI/ref=...


I didn't finish it either, but mostly because of lack of time. However, I was also having an almost visceral reaction to his aversion to regulation, because I was comparing it to the situation that I know in some European countries and his claims seemed to clash with what I knew.

I wouldn't dismiss the book just because of that, but it did make the lecture rather difficult because it was challenging my assumptions and knowledge quite strongly. I guess that's good :-)

I like Ha-Joon Chang's "Economics: The User's Guide" as an introduction to economics. It's understandable, it has plenty of references and is written in a pleasant tone.


> I know in some European countries and his claims seemed to clash with what I knew.

To be precisely, I would say his conclusions and the lack of other perspectives clashes with what I know about economy in European countries because I see how his reasoning makes sense in a vacuum.

> I wouldn't dismiss the book just because of that, but it did make the lecture rather difficult because it was challenging my assumptions and knowledge quite strongly. I guess that's good :-)

Exactly. I want to finish it someday for that exact reason.

> I like Ha-Joon Chang's "Economics: The User's Guide" as an introduction to economics. It's understandable, it has plenty of references and is written in a pleasant tone.

Thanks!


Try "Naked Economics" by Charles Wheelan [1]. In my opinion, he does a good job of providing examples both of failed regulation and also situations where regulation is necessary and beneficial.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Naked-Economics-Undressing-Dismal-Sci...


> because of his obvious bias against regulations

Could it be that you, the person who has almost certainly not had the degree and intensity of experience in this field as Thomas Sowell (as so few have), are the one with the bias in favour of regulations that are not strictly necessary?


1. I'm sorry if you misunderstood me and think that I'm downplaying his work in this field. But I'm also kindly asking you to not just argue with appeal to authority [1].

2. Why do you think that I rule out that I'm not biased? If you read my other comment [2], I actually want to finish this book someday to challenge my assumptions and because his critique seemed reasonable! Unfortunately this book seems to paint an incomplete picture of my reality. The economy in my country should be totally unstable because of its regulations according to his views in this book but that's not the case. I want to understand the whole picture and this book falls short of doing it.

3. Why do you think that I'm generally in favor of regulations? It's simply not all black and white.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24041550


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