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Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Sowell’

What Turned Thomas Sowell From Marxism? Facts

Posted by M. C. on October 19, 2020

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EconomicPolicyJournal.com: Thomas Sowell On The Reality Of Multiculturalism

Posted by M. C. on August 22, 2020

https://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2020/08/thomas-sowell-on-reality-of.html

This interview was conducted in 2013 but is even more relevant today in the age of Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter, intersectionality etc.

RW

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Beyond Reparations – Taki’s Magazine – Taki’s Magazine

Posted by M. C. on July 18, 2020

This is unfair, but as Thomas Sowell has long pointed out, the quest for cosmic justice is both totalitarian in implication and can lead only to continual sifting of the entrails of group and individual disparities, a sifting that itself promotes resentment in both individuals and groups, as well as conflict.

When American blacks go to Africa, not a few of them are inclined to thank their lucky stars that their ancestors were taken into slavery.

https://www.takimag.com/article/beyond-reparations/

Theodore Dalrymple

There is no proposal so foolish that it has no advocates, or sometimes even its fanatics. If hope springs eternal in the human breast, delusion springs eternal from the human head.

Recently I was scrolling through The Guardian looking for easy targets—The Guardian is an inexhaustible source of these, which are, of course, any journalist’s best friends—when I came across an article by Dedrick Asante-Muhammad. I don’t know whether this was the name he had at birth, but whether it was given or assumed, it seems perfect for a monomaniac, a fanatic, or a mere political entrepreneur.

The idea propounded in the article was that every black person in the United States with an identifiable slave ancestor should be given, as of right, $20,000 a year for 20 years. Those younger than 25 should have it put in trust for them till they reach that age. Thus—only thus?—will the difference in wealth between blacks and whites in America be annihilated.

Needless to say, the average reader of The Guardian, ever on the lookout for yet another reason to feel good about himself and morally superior to the rest of benighted mankind (or should I say humankind?), will not dismiss this idea with the snort of derision that it deserves, but roll it round in his mind as an oenophile rolls a mouthful of wine round in his mouth. For such a person, the prospect of economic confiscation—of others, of course—acts as the presence of blood in the sea is said to act upon sharks.

“Open societies have this great disadvantage: that they force you to look at your own part in your situation.”

The objections to the proposal are so many and so obvious that it is difficult to know where to begin. When American blacks go to Africa, not a few of them are inclined to thank their lucky stars that their ancestors were taken into slavery. No one, I presume, would suggest that they had incurred a financial debt to the descendants of those who took their ancestors into slavery, and to those who created and maintained the demand for slaves.

Large gifts of money do not always benefit those who receive them. This is true of groups as it is of individuals. I think it distinctly possible that if I had received a large sum at the age of 25 (or at any rate a sum that seemed to me at that age to be very large), I might have used it so unwisely that I would never have recovered from it. Naturally, individuals vary and some would benefit. But in general, good fortune is a more difficult test of character than bad, in part because bad fortune is apt to reduce the scope of choice—and choice is often disastrous for those of bad, juvenile, or even merely weak character.

Long ago, I visited a small island in the Central Pacific called Nauru a few times. Its population, about 4,000, had once been subsistence cultivators and fishermen. Their island was a source of valuable phosphate rock, which was mined by an organization called the British Phosphate Commission, the profits of which went almost entirely to Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.

When Nauru gained its independence, the assets—the phosphate rock—were transferred to Nauru, and the Nauruans went almost overnight from being poor to rich, their country being at one time the richest, or among the richest, in the world.

The sudden accession to wealth did not have an altogether happy result for the Nauruans. They did not have to work; indeed, there was very little work for them to do. They ate and drank instead. In a way, the country was in the avant-garde of Western civilization, for half of its population began to suffer from Type 2 diabetes and became the object of medical study by, among others, the distinguished Australian physician Professor Paul Zimmet. Overall, the effects of money for nothing were not good.

It is hardly necessary to go into other objections to the scheme proposed in The Guardian, moral and practical. To do so would be like trying to refute the idea that the moon is made of marshmallow.

Is it very far-fetched to see a great deal of anxiety and even self-contempt, albeit unstated or subliminal, as well as condescension, in this proposal? After all, it is not deemed necessary to assist any other group in the way proposed, not even women. In other words, there is in it the suspicion that in an open society (and no society can be open without also being unequal), such as America has long been, blacks are doomed to end up, on average and as a group, at the bottom of the pile unless they are given special privileges.

No one doubts that prejudice exists against blacks (and not only, incidentally, among whites) in America. But prejudice by itself, provided it is not universal and there are people who do not share it, does not prevent ascension on the social scale, unpleasant as it must be for those who suffer it. It is not a lifetime ago that some of the elite education institutions in America placed limits—and very low limits—on the number of Jews admitted to them. No one would say, however, that (lamentable or disgraceful as this was) the Jews in America were impeded from advancement. And something similar is true of many other groups, some of which started off poorer than American blacks today, and whose members did not require immense subsidies to advance themselves.

It is obviously true that in any unequal society, life is easier for some people than for others, both as groups and as individuals. This is unfair, but as Thomas Sowell has long pointed out, the quest for cosmic justice is both totalitarian in implication and can lead only to continual sifting of the entrails of group and individual disparities, a sifting that itself promotes resentment in both individuals and groups, as well as conflict.

Open societies have this great disadvantage: that they force you to look at your own part in your situation. Unless you are a rip-roaring success, which very few of us are (and those few are often not very attractive as people), you are forced to confront your own ineptitude, lack of talent, bad choices from an early age, etc., etc. It is much easier to deny that your society is an open one, and then sink back into a mixture of apathy, politicking, and continuation of immediately gratifying but ultimately self-destructive bad habits.

Theodore Dalrymple’s latest book is Embargo and Other Stories, Mirabeau Press

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THOMAS SOWELL – THE REAL HISTORY OF SLAVERY

Posted by M. C. on July 16, 2020

 

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Thomas Sowell: ‘Systemic Racism’ Has ‘No Meaning’

Posted by M. C. on July 13, 2020

“It really has no meaning that can be specified and tested in the way that one tests hypotheses,” answered Sowell, who added that the currency of the phrase reminds him of the “propaganda tactics” of Nazi Germany, where Sowell claimed that if a lie was “repeated long enough and loud enough” it would be widely believed.

https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/07/12/thomas-sowell-systemic-racism-has-no-meaning/

by Joel B. Pollak

Conservative African American economist Thomas Sowell says that the term “systemic racism,” which is central to the Black Lives Matter movement, has “no meaning.”

Sowell is set to appear on Fox News’ Life, Liberty and Levin on Sunday evening with host Mark Levin at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT).

According to Fox News:

You hear this phrase, ‘systemic racism’ [or] ‘systemic oppression’,” host Mark Levin told Sowell. “You hear it on our college campuses. You hear it from very wealthy and fabulously famous sports stars. What does that mean? And whatever it means, is it true?”

“It really has no meaning that can be specified and tested in the way that one tests hypotheses,” answered Sowell, who added that the currency of the phrase reminds him of the “propaganda tactics” of Nazi Germany, where Sowell claimed that if a lie was “repeated long enough and loud enough” it would be widely believed.

Sowell, who recently turned 90, was born poor in North Carolina, and grew up in Harlem before attending the Stuyvesant magnet school and moving on to the Ivy League and the University of Chicago.

Initially attracted to the left, Sowell eventually rejected socialism in favor of conservatism. He has written some of the most important critiques of left-wing dogma.

In his 2005 book Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study, Sowell observed: “Despite sweeping claims made for affirmative action programs, an examination of their actual consequences makes it hard to support those claims, or even to say that these programs have been beneficial on net balance — unless one is prepared to say that any amount of social redress, however small, is worth any amount of costs and dangers, however large.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2017, Sowell described President Donald Trump as “the first Republican who’s made any serious attempt to get the black vote by addressing problems that affect most blacks who are trying to do the right thing—such as education, which is such low-hanging fruit.”

On Life, Liberty, and Levin, Sowell added: “If the election goes to [Joe] Biden, there’s a good chance that the Democrats will control [Congress] and considering the kinds of things that they’re proposing, that could well be the point of no return for this country.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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Thomas Sowell Turns 90: The Greatest Living Economist (Still)

Posted by M. C. on July 4, 2020

He began with the simplest theorem of economics, scarcity — “at zero price, there is greater demand than supply” — and applied it to a key economic resource, which is arguably the central economic resource: accurate knowledge. For 400 pages, he mined his unregistered claim for all it was worth. It turned out to be the mother lode. Why? Because knowledge is widely regarded as a free good. Even when it is not so regarded, it is regarded as a good that ought to be free. Sowell showed in ten cogent, carefully argued chapters that accurate knowledge is never free.

https://www.garynorth.com/public/21054.cfm

Thomas Sowell turned 90 on June 30.

He received a wonderful birthday present. His publisher released his latest book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies. If you want to treat him to a nice present — book royalties — order a copy here. Think of it as a gift to yourself.

I first encountered his name in 1967, when I was writing the chapter on Marx’s economics in my first book, Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968).

Sowell had written an article for the American Economic Review in 1960. I did not know at the time that he had written it while he was in graduate school, which is unheard of for any author of an AER article. He received his Ph.D. in 1968, the year my book was published. I also did not know that Sowell was a Marxist. In 1960, the year the article was published, he got a job as a summer intern in a federal bureaucracy. He began to abandon his Marxism.

I was not overly impressed by the article. I cited it in a footnote:

Thomas Sowell, “Marx’s ‘Increasing Misery Doctrine’,” American Economic Review, L (1960), pp. 111-20. Sowell argues that Marx did hold to the absolute increasing misery doctrine before 1850 or so, but in the context of this chapter, I have tried to indicate that he also wrote in terms of it after 1850.

Little did I suspect what was to come.

There is no Sowell theorem in economic theory. There is no Sowell movement. Nobody has publicly identified himself as a Sowellist. Then why do I regard him as the greatest living economist? This:

1. He applies simple but fundamental concepts of economics to real-world problems, which are often problems that are not widely perceived as being heavily influenced by economic categories.2. He relies exclusively on verbal communications, not graphs or equations, to explain these concepts and their applications. This keeps his expositions firmly within the realm of historical cause and effect.

3. He never begins his economic analyses with this phrase: “Let us assume. . . .” The only time he ever uses “let us assume,” is when it is followed by “for the sake of argument,” which is in preparation for a lambasting of some conventional political assumption.

4. He writes in well-honed English that is the product of over 30 years of writing newspaper columns: clear, precise, and rhetorically persuasive — in short, efficient.

5. He is the most creative economist in our era — or perhaps in any era — in implementing the division of labor in his writing. He hires astoundingly productive research assistants, and then he incorporates their remarkable but diverse discoveries into a single coherent narrative.

6. He is a better historian than he is an economist. Other economists have made observations similar to his. But no other historian matches him in his chosen specialty: economic motivations that have prompted the international migration and subsequent economic successes of modern racial, national, and religious groups.

7. His commitment to discovering historical applications of economic theory, which keeps his theories from straying into the realm of irrelevant mathematical precision, where most academic economists prefer to dwell in safety — preferably tenured safety.

8. He does not suffer fools gladly. He takes no prisoners.

9. He writes editorials with such regularity that he warrants a permanent Drudge Report link. This volume of output, written under the pressure of deadlines, gives him ample opportunities to make wrong-headed, off-the-cuff statements. He has kept these to a minimum, usually confined to areas in which he claims no expertise.

Features 1-7 are guaranteed to keep him from winning a Nobel Prize.

He was not an overnight sensation. It was two decades between that article on Marx and his breakthrough book. In 1974, he hit conceptual pay dirt. He began working on a project that resulted in a specialized monograph. He began with the simplest theorem of economics, scarcity — “at zero price, there is greater demand than supply” — and applied it to a key economic resource, which is arguably the central economic resource: accurate knowledge. For 400 pages, he mined his unregistered claim for all it was worth. It turned out to be the mother lode. Why? Because knowledge is widely regarded as a free good. Even when it is not so regarded, it is regarded as a good that ought to be free. Sowell showed in ten cogent, carefully argued chapters that accurate knowledge is never free. Any attempt by the state to make knowledge free will backfire, he argued. The digital counter-culture’s slogan — “information wants to be free” — is nonsense. It is a variant of the ancient quest of something for nothing, which always ends badly.

Then he hit publishing pay dirt. The manuscript was accepted by Basic Books, the leading publisher of academic books on the Right. It published Knowledge and Decisions in 1980. I regard that book as the most important one-volume monograph in economics that I have ever read. I thought so in 1980, and I still do. Why? Because there are so many areas of life in which we have ignored or discounted the cost of accurate and applicable information. Unless you have given a great deal of thought to this, you have missed most of them.

Also in 1980, he went on the payroll of the Hoover Institution. Hoover decided to trade a guaranteed salary in exchange for Sowell’s future output. This was a deal for Hoover comparable to Red Auerbach’s trade in 1956 of Cliff Hagen and “Easy” Ed McCauley for a newly drafted and untried rookie, Bill Russell.

In 1986, I offered to pay him $3,500 to fly an hour to Los Angeles, give a speech, and fly back to Palo Alto. That was worth about $7,300 in today’s money. That was over three times what I had ever offered anyone to speak at one of my conferences. I knew that he normally asked $10,000 per speech. So, I tried the old trick I use when dealing with used car salesmen. I sent him the check. He sent it back, but he thanked me for making the offer. He thereby proved to me that his time was an economic good. At zero price, there was way too much demand for my budget. He clearly placed a high price on his time. Over the next quarter century, he justified this price in terms of the value of his output.

I must now issue a warning. Four of his books, which were written for his academic peers, are second rate. Why do I say this? Because they violated the criteria that I apply to his later work. They are unclear, without rhetorical power, dishwater dull, made no impact on the economics profession, and sank without a trace. First is his monograph, Say’s Law, published by Princeton University Press in 1972. Second is Classical Economics Reconsidered (1974), also published by Princeton University Press. It was much better than Say’s Law, because it was 90 pages shorter. Third, there is his book on Marxism, published in 1985. As of today, you can buy a hardcover used copy of his book on Marxism on Amazon. You can pay $191.37, $318.18, or $318.20, plus $3.99 for shipping. Don’t.

His original economic textbook, Economics (1971), was unmemorable. It had a lot of graphs, which conveyed no useful theoretical knowledge beyond the text, and which made reading the book far more laborious. It was a conventional textbook. It was therefore boring. Its main benefit was that it was short: 340 pages, not the standard 1,000 pages of a college-level textbook. It therefore had this advantage: it is better to bore captive collegiate readers out of their skulls for 340 pages than for 1,000. The proof of how mediocre his textbook was is this: his 2004 non-textbook, Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy. It was written for a non-captive audience: readers who are not enrolled in college. It contains no graphs or equations. It is intensely real-world focused, as are all of the books that he wrote for the general public.

This is his great contribution. With a few exceptions, which I regard as youthful indiscretions, he has written for the general public. No Nobel Prize for him!

There is one other thing. Sowell, in his dust jacket photos, has always looked at least ten years younger than he is. I like to think they were Photoshopped, but Photoshop is too recent. This has annoyed me for over three decades. (My solution: I never put my photo on my dust jackets. I don’t want to be reminded.)

[I published this on March 9, 2013.]

If you want evidence of my evaluation, watch this interview. It was recorded in December 2018, when Sowell was 88. It is on a topic that is a hot topic these days: economic inequality. He talks about his youthful dalliance with Marxism, and what cured him.

For an assessment of his career written by an Austrian School economist and a mainstream free market economist, go here.

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Why It’s Rational to Fear Cops | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on June 6, 2020

This example also illustrates Sowell’s observation that brands are substitutes for specific knowledge. We do not know whether any individual is trustworthy or not, but, ideally, a police uniform should be a consistent marker of trustworthiness. But the converse may also be true. Just as I avoid the McDonald’s arches because I don’t like their food, the information conveyed by a police uniform is not always consistent with the idealized vision of police.

https://mises.org/wire/why-its-rational-fear-cops?utm_source=Mises+Institute+Subscriptions&utm_campaign=dd4114620d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_9_21_2018_9_59_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8b52b2e1c0-dd4114620d-228343965

In economics, branding serves an important purpose. Brands allow people to economize on knowledge, a scarce resource. We make decisions with imperfect information, and brand labeling and trademarks help us navigate these decisions. As Thomas Sowell writes:

When you drive into a town you have never seen before and want to get some gasoline for your car or to eat a hamburger, you have no direct way of knowing what is in the gasoline that some stranger at the filling station is putting into your tank or what is in the hamburger that another stranger is cooking for you to eat at a roadside stand that you have never seen before. But, if the filling station’s sign says Chevron and the restaurant’s sign says McDonald’s, then you don’t worry about it.

He goes on to add that “brand names are substitutes for specific knowledge.”1

You don’t know much about the particular bottle of ketchup you may be buying—the quality of the factory it was produced in, the farmer who grew the tomatoes, or the recipe used—but if it says Heinz on the label, you have a good idea of what you’re going to get. The need to economize on knowledge is so important that in the Soviet Union, people began to learn how to read barcodes to know whether or not they were getting products from reliable factories.2

In customer service industries, this is also the purpose of a uniform. Customers can quickly identify the person they need to talk to in a retail environment, and the uniform conveys certain expectations. The electronic retailer Best Buy dresses its computer technicians, called the “Geek Squad,” in comically cliché “geek” uniforms—white shirts and black clip-on ties—in an attempt to help customers distinguish the employees with specialized computer knowledge from those who sell televisions.

But brand names, trademarks, and uniforms don’t always convey the information that companies want them to convey. For instance, if a customer had a bad experience with an incompetent Geek Squad agent, they may see the uniform as an indicator of somebody whose computer advice should not be trusted. Similarly, McDonald’s famous golden arches may inform a potential customer about the consistent quality of their hamburgers, as Sowell points out, but some consumers may see this as a sign of where not to eat. People always economize on information, but not necessarily in the way that companies hope.

This is why companies are so protective of their brand and trademarks. Any dilution of their reputation hurts the value of their product in the eyes of the consumer, not because the quality itself is lowered, but because when consumers face greater uncertainty in their economic decisions they are less likely to buy a given product.

As in the customer service industry, a police officer’s uniform conveys information to civilians. In the idealized vision of police, the uniform should convey security. Most of us were taught as children that if we get separated from our parents, we should avoid strangers but find a police officer. Even though the officer is also a stranger, children are taught to see the police uniform as an indicator of trustworthiness in the potentially dangerous uncertainty of human interaction.

This example also illustrates Sowell’s observation that brands are substitutes for specific knowledge. We do not know whether any individual is trustworthy or not, but, ideally, a police uniform should be a consistent marker of trustworthiness. But the converse may also be true. Just as I avoid the McDonald’s arches because I don’t like their food, the information conveyed by a police uniform is not always consistent with the idealized vision of police.

Any given police officer may be a kind, helpful person who only wants to serve and protect, as the police mantra claims, or he may be a scoundrel who enjoys asserting violent authority over others. This is the uncertainty that people face every time they interact with a police officer. But the uniform does convey some consistent, reliable knowledge that helps people know whether to feel safe or threatened.

For instance, thanks to the doctrine of qualified immunity, all police officers are immune from the consequences of excessive and unnecessary force, even in cases that result in the death of unarmed, nonresisting civilians. Certainly not all police take advantage of this immunity. Social media loves heartwarming stories of cops helping people or simply showing kindness. Many cops are not needlessly violent—in fact, it’s likely that the vast majority of them are not. But the uniform does not inform civilians of whether or not a cop will be gracious or abusive; it merely informs us that if they want to commit violence they can do so without fearing the consequences that the rest of us would face.

The result is that, in contradistinction to what we are taught as children, many people rationally feel unsafe interacting with a police officer than they do with a random civilian stranger. I stress the word “rationally” because their feeling of insecurity is not the product of a delusional prejudice or false propaganda, but rather of the reasonable weighing of possibilities in the face of uncertainty. They do not have knowledge of the specific officer’s temperament and character, but they do have knowledge of the legal immunity that will protect the cop if he abuses his authority.

Similarly, practices such as civil asset forfeiture become attached to the police uniform in the minds of civilians. Many cops, I’m sure, would never steal a person’s life savings or confiscate their legally owned property just because the law allows them to do so—but the law does allow them to. In the face of uncertainty, this is the knowledge that people have. If somebody has cash on their person or in their vehicle, as people often do when buying a used car off the internet or conducting a similar legitimate transaction, they don’t know whether a given cop will steal their money—they only know that the officer can.

And just as when a company hurts their brand by consistently providing poor service or a disappointing product, the frequent stories of police brutality and extrajudicial killings re-create the image of police conveyed by the uniform. The lack of accountability in these stories amplifies the effect. The actions of individual officers, even if we accept that they are anecdotal and not representative of the majority, convey information that people rationally attach to the uniform of all cops.

In short, people increasingly feel unsafe around police, because, frankly, it would be irrational to feel otherwise. It is impossible for anybody to know what a given cop will do, but thanks to the perverse incentive structures created by courts and tough-on-crime legislators, as well as the poor behavior of individual officers, who are virtually never brought to justice, people make their judgments of the police based on what officers can do. As long as we live in a world of imperfect information, it would be silly to expect people to make assumptions about police according to any other standard.

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Selected Gems By Thomas Sowell

Posted by M. C. on May 4, 2020

sowell

https://www.azquotes.com/author/13901-Thomas_Sowell

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

 

Racism is not dead, but it is on life support — kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as ‘racists’

 

What do you call it when someone steals someone else’s money secretly? Theft. 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.

 

It is bad enough that so many people believe things without any evidence. What is worse is that some people have no conception of evidence and regard facts as just someone else’s opinion.

 

I have never understood why it is “greed” to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.

 

If you believe in equal rights, then what do “women’s rights,” “gay rights,” etc., mean? Either they are redundant or they are violations of the principle of equal rights for all.

 

In the long run, the greatest weapon of mass destruction is stupidity.

 

Politics is the art of making your selfish desires seem like the national interest.

 

What the welfare system and other kinds of governmental programs are doing is paying people to fail. In so far as they fail, they receive the money; in so far as they succeed, even to a
moderate extent, the money is taken away.

 

A recently reprinted memoir by Frederick Douglass has footnotes explaining what words like ‘arraigned,’ ‘curried’ and ‘exculpate’ meant, and explaining who Job was. In other words, this man who was born a slave and never went to school educated himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today’s expensively under-educated generation.

 

‘Fair’ is one of the most dangerous concepts in politics. Since no two people are likely to agree on what is ‘fair,’ this means that there must be some third party with power – the government – to impose its will. The road to despotism is paved with ‘fairness’.

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Voters-From Cafe Hayek

Posted by M. C. on September 7, 2019

Quotation of the Day…

by DON BOUDREAUX on SEPTEMBER 5, 2019

in VIRGINIA POLITICAL ECONOMY

… is from page 120 of Thomas Sowell’s monumental 1980 volume, Knowledge and Decisions (original emphasis):

Voters can only choose process characteristics and hope for results. Consumers buy results and leave the process to those with specialized knowledge of such things.

DBx: This important point is so obvious when stated, yet it is ignored almost completely in discussions of democratic decision-making.

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Watch “Thomas Sowell on the Origins of Economic Disparities” on YouTube

Posted by M. C. on May 18, 2019

The best 46 minutes you will spend today.

“You can redistribute wealth but you can’t redistribute the capital it took to create that wealth”

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