Home > Conservative, Elitist, Intellectuals, Liberal, Libertarian, Sowell > Thomas Sowell on Equality and Racism

Thomas Sowell on Equality and Racism

Anyone that reads this blog knows that I think very highly of Thomas Sowell. His logic is impeccable. In his latest column,  he writes about equality.

Ask the bean-counters where in this wide world have different groups been proportionally represented. They can’t tell you. In other words, something that nobody can demonstrate is taken as a norm, and any deviation from that norm is somebody’s fault!

Anyone who has watched football over the years has probably seen at least a hundred black players score touchdowns– and not one black player kick the extra point. Is this because of some twisted racist who doesn’t mind black players scoring touchdowns but hates to see them kicking the extra points?

At our leading engineering schools– M.I.T., CalTech, etc.– whites are under-represented and Asians over-represented. Is this anti-white racism or pro-Asian racism? Or are different groups just different?

So what is it about equality that gets people all riled up? Well I think the first thing, the one Sowell is poking fun of, is the idea of equality of outcomes. No one can tell you of a time or place, where everyone was perfectly proportionally represented. Why?The simple answer is, everyone is different. Each racial group has a standard normal distribution of intellect, athleticism, musical ability, mathematical ability, etc.

So when some bean counter is looking at racial statistics at X university. What are they really looking at? They are looking at distribution of a certain ability, say math, within a distribution of people with high math ability in that certain population.

If a certain racial group makes up only 20% of the total population. And if only 20% of a racial group are good at math and only 30% of those are good enough to get into MIT. It doesn’t take a MIT math wiz to tell you that you will never get equal representation (20%) of the total population at MIT.

That’s only part of the problem. The other part is the very notion of equality. What does it mean? It might sound like a dumb question, but it’s that very question that gets people all worked up to begin with.

Most Liberals, I’d say, have a notion that equality means that the outcomes have to come out equal. This is the equality of outcomes that Sowell talks about in Conflict of Vision. This is a basic premise of “Unconstrained Vision.” That since everyman is equal (a point that both Left and Right usually share) then the outcomes have to be equal as well. It’s a very Utopian concept that almost always fail to account for what is found in reality. This premise looks past natural ability, determination, and work ethic in determining the outcomes. Only the final number is important. If the final number doesn’t fit the ideal, then some nefarious motives have to be at work.

The other notion of equality is the idea of equality of opportunity. This idea, central to the “Constrained Vision,” is one that values the natural abilities in determining the outcomes. The only ideal is that everyone be giving the same opportunity to succeed in life, what happens is up to chance and that persons desires, work ethics and abilities.

Equality of opportunity stresses that the mechanism be equal, while equality of outcomes ignores the mechanism. By mechanism, I’m talking about laws, institutions and rules (All this is from Conflict of Visions). Equality of outcomes stresses the final tally, while the equality of opportunity doesn’t really care about the outcomes. Is it any wonder why the two sides talk past each other? The whole very basic premise of what is “equal” is radically different.

I’d argue that the equality of opportunity is the one true measure of equality. Men are equal to a certain extent. When talking about rights and privileges, then all men are equal. Yet, when we are talking about abilities, then all men are certainty not equal. I am not equal to Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen. I’m not equal to Lebron James on the basketball court. I’m not equal to Eli Manning on the football field as well. Yet neither are they equal to me at what I do best. Even when it comes to my chosen profession, I doubt any of them even know what Gas Chromatography or Mass Spectroscopy are, much less know how to analyze data and troubleshoot problems.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. This is so obvious that most people overlook it when talking about equality. I think that those of the equality of outcomes persuasion kind of wish away that fact. When talking about economics (income equality is the biggie), people tend to forget that not all people act the same exact way. We all act in our interests. The variation with various ethnic and racial groups is enormous. The variation within the total human population is even bigger (imagine that).

If we all acted the same way, life would be boring. If we all acted the same, a central tenet of modern human self-worth, that we are all unique and different, is meaningless. Think about that for a minute. If we act all the same, meaning the same abilities and skills, then really each person is not really worth much of anything, since there are billions of exact duplicates all around the globe. One thing that makes human life so valuable, is that we are all unique. That we all do have differing skills, abilities and wants.

If you think about the liberal unconstrained view of equality, outcomes, you’ll notice that the end run is exact duplicates. If we were to achieve the liberal Utopia where everyone is “equal,” it doesn’t matter if they are all equally living in the mud, eating bugs and all dying from Malaria. We are all “equal” right. No one is better off than the rest. There is no room for innovation or the entrepreneurial spirit. Those are the things that lead to “unequal” outcomes. After all it was Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos drive, entrepreneurial spirit and leadership (all innate skills and abilities) that lead to their “unequal” outcomes of extreme wealth. In order to have equal outcomes, the extraordinary would have to be culled from the human race.

Of course a Liberal would contest that equal outcomes means everyone is as wealthy as the Gates, Jobs and Bezos of the world. Yet, I find that assertion flat-out insane. How do you create wealth? You don’t just print it out of a printing press. You can’t just add zeros to a bank account to create wealth. Wealth is created by innovation, drive and entrepreneurial spirit, the exact things that would need to be culled in order to attain equality of outcomes.

A cursory look at history supports my case. Pretty much every government that tried to create equal outcomes has done so by bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator. From Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Revolution in Cuba, the people live a far lower standard of living than even the poorest person here in the  “unequal” US. Hell the Cubans only just recently were allowed cell phones (although it does them no good), where as practically everyone even those living on food stamps and welfare have had cell phones here in the US for years.

One of the things that got us started on heavy-handed government regulation of the housing market were statistics showing that blacks were turned down for mortgage loans more often than whites. The bean-counters in the media went ballistic. It had to be racism, to hear them tell it.

What they didn’t tell you was that whites were turned down more often than Asians. What they also didn’t tell you was that black-owned banks also turned down blacks more often than whites. Nor did they tell you that credit scores differed from group to group. Instead, the media, the politicians and the regulators grabbed some statistics and ran with them.

The bean-counters are everywhere, pushing the idea that differences show injustices committed by society. As long as we keep buying it, they will keep selling it– and the polarization they create will sell this country down the river.

Racism is a common reason for inequality, according to Liberals. The reason is simple, they can’t find any episode from history, except those above which they want to forget, that has had equal outcomes. Racism is the only way they can cope with the fact that their ideas don’t work. It gives them a bogey man to blame because their whole concept of equality is wrong, they are thinking in the wrong terms. Outcome based equality is a pipe dream. All that we can do, giving a wide range of human interests, skills and abilities, is create an environment where everyone is given equal opportunity.

Modern Liberals can’t handle that. That would mean ending racial quotas (the most pervasive form of racial discrimination on the planet in my opinion), the end of collecting racial statistics and the end of Affirmative Action. But you can’t play identity politics that way. Identity politics is the core of the modern Democratic party. Look at their push for illegal amnesty. Even the most ardent Liberal will concede that it is for electoral political reasons.

Ironically,The Liberal world  the very opposite of the world in which Dr. King wanted. Dr. King wanted a world were people were judged by the content of their character NOT the color of their skin. Modern Liberals judge people by the color of their skin or what they are packing in their pants/pantsuit first and foremost.

Racism will be around for as long as there is money in keeping it around. The last time I checked, not too many conservatives or libertarians were giving money to Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. More importantly it will continue to be used as a weapon for as long as the people fall for it.

  1. August 15, 2010 at 20:09

    Sowell writes great stuff. I think maybe I should get t-shirts printed up with him on it in the style of the Che Guevara shirts. He could spruce up his TV appearances though. Did you see him on Nepalitano’s show? A warm smile would make a big difference.

    Have you read his “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”? In it, he traces the gangbanging and redneck cultures (which he contends are derivatives of the same culture) back to whites from the hinterlands of England who settled in the American south.

    Very interesting and I’m amazed it hasn’t been discussed more widely. When I trace his reasoning out with others on that, their eyes pop out and they say they never thought of that. A classic line near the end of one of the chapters goes something like, “when a black accuses another black of acting white, little do they know that they are too.”

    To your list of why racial groups are represented in various proportions in other groups I would add that there are different levels of interest among racial groups for different things.

    Finally, regarding the mortgage approvals, something I believe Sowell brings up is that someone (I think it was a reporter from Forbes magazine) asked a great question. If mortgage lending standards were biased on something other than income and credit history, like race, then wouldn’t that show up in the default rates? I believe they checked it out and the default rates were the same across racial groups providing more evidence that racism was not a significant enough issue in lending.

  2. yttik
    August 16, 2010 at 19:50

    No doubt Dems/liberals have exploited the crap out of racial issues with little or no regard for the people they profess to be so concerned about. But I don’t quite agree that equality of opportunity is enough, we’ve also got to remove the barriers that stop people from being able to take advantage of that opportunity we’ve created. I’m opposed to affirmative action, but there is some bean counting that is important. When you have nobody participating, it’s likely to be because there are barriers that are not being addressed. For example, we’ve never had a woman president in this country. Is that because no woman has wanted to take advantage of the opportunity? They have all the opportunity they want, all that is required is that you be a US citizen and over 35. Is it that women just aren’t good at leadership? What is it? Well, plain and simple, there’s still an uneven playing field, a ridiculous and spiteful media, and rampant sexism in this country.

    • August 19, 2010 at 12:17

      There’s always more than one way to look at something. Another plausible explanation is that women are that much smarter than men (insert emoticon here) and that is perfect evidence.

      I go with that one. I think I’m almost as smart as women and I certainly don’t have any desire to be President.

      • yttik
        August 19, 2010 at 16:14

        LOL, I know! For the past couple of administrations we’ve been telling kids who want to grow up and become president, “can’t you aim a bit higher??”

        I’m all for ending quotas and this obsession we seem to have with race and victimization, but I think we also have to keep in mind how close we still are to those times when women couldn’t run for office, when black people had to use separate water fountains. We’re in our infancy, barely two generations removed. There really have been serious obstacles and discrimination placed in people’s way in our recent past. Progress takes time.

        • September 5, 2010 at 08:35

          The question becomes when is it enough. Thinking about AA, when does it start to hurt racial equality rather than help. I think that time has long since passed. The problem is, once these laws and rules are in place, they create a constituency that is hard to shake. I mean hell we are still living the farm aid, some 80 plus years after the big droughts of the 30s.

        • September 13, 2010 at 19:17

          I agree you and ZH. It’s good to appreciate just how things were different a short time ago, just as it’s good to remember how much other improvements have been made in our standard of living over that same short time.

          But, we also have to look at where we are today with clear set of eyes and see how things really are.

  3. Woodhull
    September 16, 2010 at 08:38

    Dang, you’re good, ZH!

    I attended the 8/28 rally in D.C. When a group that large focuses on something other than skin color, wow!, watch out political ideologues.

    How’s upstate NY?

    • September 16, 2010 at 20:21

      Thanks. It’s good so far. I’m trapped with do-gooders all around me but I’ll survive.

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