Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wealth, Poverty, and Politics

Economist Thomas Sowell has yet another book out: Wealth, Poverty, and Politics. He did an interview on Uncommon Knowledge, which came out this week. I’ve only just become aware of the book, so I haven’t read it yet, but the interview had some themes worth mentioning.

Here at the Spherical Model, we notice the interrelationships of things political, economic, and social. Thomas Sowell does that as well. Then entire interview (and so I’m assuming the entire book) covers a great deal more than what I’ll look at today. But a middle segment of the discussion takes on a couple of issues we can just lift out and benefit from.

First is his assertion about diversity—that it does no inherent good. I’ve long believed that. I remember the first time Mr. Spherical Model came home and discussed diversity training at work. They had been taught that they benefited from diversity. And I said, “You mean you learn how to get along despite diversity?” No, they were supposed to see that they got additional viewpoints from ethnic diversity.

That struck me as pointless. There are types of diversity that can help benefit the whole: variations in thinking style, attention to detail, energy for leadership, different talents. You get a diverse team, and you all benefit from each other. But skin color and ethnic background don’t provide you with that addition. In international business you do benefit from someone on your team familiar with the culture you’re doing business with. But a basic classroom in America doesn’t benefit educationally from having students with different amounts of melanin in their skin. It's not relevant to learning.

Thomas Sowell grew up poor and Black in Harlem, New York. So he can safely say things others may not be able to without backlash. Or he’s immune to the backlash.

This starts at about fifteen minutes into the conversation. The interviewer is Peter Robinson:

PR: In Wealth, Poverty, and Politics you describe three very selective—they’re public high schools in New York, but they’re very selective. You have to test to get into them. They’re Stuyvesant High—your Stuyvesant High—Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. Quote:
“The triumph of egalitarian principle and demographic ‘diversity’ in the rest of New York’s education system has not resulted in an increase in the number or proportion of Black or Hispanic students passing the admissions tests to get into Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. On the contrary, the numbers and proportions of Black and Hispanic students have declined substantially over the years at all three institutions.”
So, telegram to Mayor DeBlasio: As diversity becomes championed in the city of New York over the last forty years, fifty years, diversity actually diminishes at these very selective high schools. Why?
TS: Well, diversity really doesn’t do anything for you. There are many cultural…
PR: Doesn’t do anything for you as a society?
TS: As a society, or the people in whose interest you’re promoting diversity. In other words, when Black and Hispanic kids go to schools other than those three, they get a load of diversity. It doesn’t do them any good. For example, as of about 2012 or 2014—I forget the exact one—the percentage of Blacks at Stuyvesant High School was one tenth of what it was 33 years earlier. There’d been a major retrogression. So while they’re being taught, filling their heads full of diversity, the Asian students are learning math and science. Plus, the schools are also…  Another point against diversity is that in years past, those schools were so heavily Jewish that Stuyvesant was referred to once as a free prep school for Jews. Well, they weren’t diverse, but it was very successful.
And now, Asian Americans outnumber whites by more than two-to-one in all three of those schools. It’s still not diverse. But they’re turning out people who do marvelous things. And that’s what they’re there for—to benefit society, not to present this tableau that will please a handful of people.
If only we would deal with the content of character, rather than color of skin. I think someone said that once.

The next portion of the conversation looked further into that word retrogression. Things haven’t progressed under progressives; they have gone backward. Why?

PR: Political factors—this is the last of the large factors you discuss in Wealth, Poverty, and Politics. Quote: “Black Americans, a group often identified as beneficiaries of the welfare state in America, made considerable economic progress in the twentieth century.”
Thomas Sowell: screen shot from
Uncommon Knowledge interview
Fine. Of course. “But much, if not most…”  This is the thing with you: the dependent clause is where the sting is. “But much if not most of it was prior to the massive expansion of the American welfare state.”
That is so counter—I want to say counter-intuitive, because we hear so much about African-American progress and civil rights and the establishment of the welfare state, that it really has become kind of an American intuition. Explain yourself, Dr. Sowell.
TS: Well, as of 1940 87% of Black households were in poverty. Over the next 20 years that declined to 47%. This is all prior to the civil rights laws, prior to the social welfare policies of the Johnson administration. Over the next 20 years it fell an additional 18 points. But that was just the same trend continuing—at a reduced rate.
Affirmative action is even worse, because, as I remember—I’m trying to think now, the numbers—I think it was something like, the poverty rate was something like 30% among Black households before affirmative action. And a decade after affirmative action it was 29%. This is not the same as the 40% decline that occurred before there were any civil rights laws and before there was any social welfare state.
PR: So, what happened between 1940 and 1960 was the post-world war economic boom.
TS: It was that, but it was also the massive migration of Blacks out of the South.
PR: So they’re getting better education and jobs?
TS: That’s right.
PR: OK. Now, you mention cultural and social retrogressions. Again I’m quoting you: “Arguably the most consequential of these was the decline in two-parent families.”
Explain that one—among African-Americans, we’re still talking about.
TS: Yes. You know, when they talk about things like this, they talk about the legacy of slavery.
PR: Right.
 TS: And I argue, empirically it’s not that; it’s the legacy of the welfare state. Because, as of 1960, which is almost a hundred years after slavery ended, the majority of Black kids were being raised in two-parent households. But within one generation after the welfare state, that had dropped down to a minority. So the majority of Black kids today are raised in one-parent households. When you think about it, I mean, centuries of slavery, generations of Jim Crow did not destroy the Black family. But one generation of the welfare state did.
PR: The Moynihan report, what was it, a call for national action—“The Negro Family: A Call for National Action,” was 1965—fifty years ago. And his principle point of alarm—and again, now I’m trying to recall the statistics—but I believe the out-of-wedlock birthrate among African-Americans in 1965 was 25%.
TS: Something like that, yes.
PR: And he was so alarmed that he wrote this report. And today it’s over 70%. And, by the way, the rate among whites is one third at this stage.
TS: Yes.
PR: So, how does the family breakdown fit into an economic understanding? Is the social breakdown of the American family something that we have to understand aside from the tools of economics? It just doesn’t fit into the supply and demand curve?
TS: This occurred at a time when the black income was rising. And so, we’re saying that previous generations of Blacks with lower incomes and more racial barriers—the family stuck together under those conditions. And under the new conditioned, which were advertised to make for great progress, in fact created great retrogressions. And I think many people who were gung ho for the idea that this was going to be progress simply cannot bring themselves to look at the evidence and say, “My God! We made things worse.” (ending 22:39 or 43:06 minutes)
There are two Spherical Model principles illustrated here:

·         Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.

·         Civilization requires strong families. Anything that decays the strong family—in which married mothers and fathers together raise their children in love and security—leads to increased less civilization, prosperity, and freedom.

Freedom, prosperity, and civilization are closely interrelated. The way to get the positives we want require living the principles in all three spheres at the same time. But the starting place is the social sphere. Family is the basic unit of civilization. One strong family is its own civilization. Yet another strong family, and another, builds to thriving communities.

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