Confederate Society
 
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By Thomas Sowell 

re-posted from www.lewrockwell.com with permission


One of the many painful signs of the mindlessness of our times was a recent section of the Wall Street Journal, built around the theme “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?”

Whenever some group is not equally represented in some institution or activity, the automatic response in some quarters is to assume that someone has prevented equality of outcomes.

This preconception of equal outcomes requires not one speck of evidence, and defies mountains of evidence to the contrary. Even in activities where individual performances are what determine outcomes, and those performances are easily measured objectively, there is seldom anything resembling equal representation.

For 12 consecutive years — from 2001 through 2012 — each home run leader in the American League had a Hispanic surname. When two American boys whose ancestors came from India tied for first place in the U.S. National Spelling Bee in 2014, it was the 7th consecutive year in which the U.S. National Spelling Bee was won by an Asian Indian.

We all know about the large over-representation of blacks among professional basketball players, and especially among the star players. The best-selling brands of beer in America were created by people of German ancestry, who also created China’s famed Tsingtao beer. Of the 100 top-ranked Marathon runners in the world in 2012, 68 were Kenyans. The list could go on and on. Although blacks are over-represented among professional football players, even the most avid National Football League fan is unlikely to be able to recall seeing even one black player who kicked a punt or a point after touchdown.

Should there be an article titled: “What’s Holding Black Kickers Back in the NFL?” Could it be that blacks are more interested in playing positions where there is more action and — not incidentally — more money?

Should there be an article titled: “What’s Holding Back Whites in the National Basketball Association?” Or an article titled: “What’s Holding Back Non-Asian Indian Kids from Winning the Spelling Bee?” Lawsuits claiming discrimination have been won on the basis of statistical disparities far smaller than these.

Among the many reasons for gross disparities in many fields, and at different income levels, is that human beings differ in what they want to do, quite aside from any differences in what they are capable of doing, or what others permit them to do.

Observers cannot just grab a statistic and run with it, though that is what is done too often in the media — and even in courts of law.

Particular opportunities are seized by some groups and used to rise from poverty to prosperity. But, for other groups, those same opportunities might as well not exist, because other groups are oriented in different directions, and those opportunities might not even catch their attention.

As regards statistical disparities in the representation of women in various occupations or at different income levels, a number of outstanding female scholars, including Professor Claudia Goldin of Harvard, have shown many ways in which women’s circumstances and priorities differ from those of men.

Men, for example, don’t get pregnant. And where children are raised by a single parent, that parent is a mother far more often than a father. You cannot work the 60-hour weeks that are needed to reach the top in some fields when you have children to raise.

But we seldom hear about such facts, while we constantly hear charlatans loudly proclaiming numerical “gender gaps” in employment or pay, and suing for discrimination.

Charlatans are only half the story. The other half includes people who are gullible enough to be led around like sheep by those exploiting the prevailing political correctness dispensed in our schools, colleges and the media.

Moreover, the sheep in both high and low positions often also implicitly believe that the cause of statistical disparities must have originated wherever the statistics were collected, and therefore must be the fault of the employer — even though the factors behind those disparities may have originated far from the employer and long before the people involved reached the employer.

So long as there is widespread gullibility, there will be charlatans ready to exploit it for their own benefit, either politically or financially.

Part II

One of the secrets of successful magicians on stage is directing the audience’s attention to something that is attractive or distracting, but irrelevant to what is actually being done. That is also the secret of successful political charlatans.

Consider the message directed at business owners by Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama — “You didn’t build that!”

Assuming for the sake of argument that a man who owns a business simply inherited it from his father, what follows? That politicians can use the inherited resources better than the heir? Such a sweeping assumption has neither logic nor evidence behind it — but rhetoric doesn’t have to have logic or evidence to be politically effective.

The conclusion is insinuated, rather than spelled out, so it is less likely to be scrutinized. Moreover, attention is directed toward the undeserved good fortune of the heir, and away from the crucial question as to whether society will in fact be better off if politicians take over more of either the management or the earnings of the business.

The question of politicians’ track record in managing economic activities vanishes into thin air, just as other things vanish into thin air by a magician’s sleight of hand on stage.

Another of the magic feats of political rhetoric in our time is to blame “a legacy of slavery” for problems in the black community today. The repulsiveness of slavery immediately seizes our attention, just as effectively as the attractiveness of a magician’s scantily clad female assistant or the distraction of a flash of light or a loud noise on stage.

Here again, rhetoric distracts attention from questions about logic or evidence. The “legacy of slavery” argument is not just a convenient excuse for bad behavior, it allows politicians to escape responsibility for the consequences of the government policies they imposed.

Although the left likes to argue as if there was a stagnant world to which they added the magic ingredient of “change” in the 1960s, in reality there were many positive trends in the 1950s, which reversed and became negative trends in the 1960s.

Not only was the poverty rate going down, so was the rate of dependence on government to stay out of poverty.

Teenage pregnancy rates were falling, and so were rates of venereal diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea. Homicide rates among non-white males fell 22 percent in the 1950s.

In the wake of the massive expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s “war on poverty” program — with the repeatedly announced goal of enabling people to become self-supporting and end their dependence on government — in fact dependence on government increased and is today far higher than when the 1960s began.

The declining rates of teenage pregnancy and venereal diseases in the 1950s both reversed and rose sharply in the wake of the 1960s “sexual revolution” ideas, introduced into schools under the guise of “sex education,” which claimed to be able to reduce teenage pregnancy and venereal diseases.

Black labor force participation rates, which had been higher than white labor force participation rates in every census from 1890 to 1960, fell below white labor force participation rates by 1972 and the gap has widened since then. Homicide rates among non-white males reversed their decline in the 1950s and soared by 75 percent during the 1960s.

None of this was a “legacy of slavery,” which ended a century earlier. But slavery became the rhetorical distraction for the political magicians’ trick of making their own responsibility for social degeneration vanish into thin air by sleight of hand.

Political charlatans are not the whole story of our social degeneracy on many fronts. “We the people” must accept our own share of the blame because we voted these charlatans into office, and went along with their ever-increasing power over our lives.

When it came to charlatans taking ever larger amounts of our own money to finance ever more big government programs, we stood still like sheep waiting to be sheared. We remained as meek as sheep when they turned schools into places to propagandize our children to grow up accepting more of the same.

All the while we had the power to vote them out. But we couldn’t be bothered to look beyond their magic words. Even now, many are too absorbed in their electronic devices to know or care.

Part III

The prevailing social dogma of our time — that economic and other disparities among groups are strange, if not sinister — has set off bitter disputes between those who blame genetic differences and those who blame discrimination.

Both sides ignore the possibility that groups themselves may differ in their orientations, their priorities and in what they are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of other things.

Back in the early 19th century, an official of the Russian Empire reported that even the poorest Jews saw to it that their daughters could read, and their homes had at least ten books. This was at a time when the vast majority of the population of the Russian Empire were illiterate.

During that same era, Thomas Jefferson complained that there was not a single bookstore where he lived. In Frederick Law Olmsted’s travels through the antebellum South, he noted that even plantation owners seldom had many books.

But in mid-18th century Scotland, even people of modest means had books, and those too poor to buy them could rent books from lending libraries, which were common throughout Scottish towns.

There is no economic determinism. People choose what to spend their money on, and what to spend their time on. Cultures differ.

On a personal note, as a child nearly nine years old, I was one of the many blacks who migrated from the South to Harlem in the 1930s.

Although New York had public libraries, elite public high schools and free colleges of high quality, I had no idea what a public library was, or what an elite high school was, and the thought of going to college never crossed my mind.

Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York, generations before me, seized upon the opportunities provided by public libraries and later their children flooded into the elite public high schools and free city colleges. This was consistent with the values of their centuries-old culture.

For most of the black kids of my generation, those things might as well not have existed, because nothing in their culture would have pointed them toward such things.

There was no reason to believe that I would have been any different from the rest, except for the fact that members of my family, who had very little education themselves, wanted me to get the education that they never had a chance to get.

They had no more idea of the role of public libraries and elite quality high schools and colleges than I did.

But they knew a boy a little older than I was, who came from a better educated family, and they decided that he was somebody I should meet and who could serve as a guide to me on things they knew nothing about.

His name was Eddie Mapp, and I can still recall how he took me to a public library, and how patiently he tried to explain to me what a public library was, and why I should get a library card. He opened a door for me into a wider world. But most other black kids in Harlem at that time had no one to do that for them.

Nor did kids from various other ethnic groups in New York have someone to open doors to a wider world for them. It didn’t matter how smart they were or whether opportunities were available for them, if they knew nothing about them.

An internationally renowned scholar of Irish American ancestry once said in a social gathering that, when he was a young man of college age, he had no plans to go to college, until someone else who recognized his ability urged him to do so. There was no reason to expect all groups to follow in the footsteps of the Jews.

In my later years, two middle-class couples I knew took it upon themselves to each take a young relative from the ghetto into their home and, at considerable cost in time and money, try to provide them with a good education.

One of these youngsters had an IQ two standard deviations above the mean. But both of them eventually returned to the ghetto life from which they came. It wasn’t genetics and it wasn’t discrimination.

The youngster with an IQ two standard deviations above the mean will probably never achieve what a Jewish or Asian youngster with an IQ only one standard deviation above the mean achieves.

Those who are celebrating the ghetto culture might consider what the cost is to those being raised in that culture. And they might reconsider what they are hearing from charlatans parading statistical disparities.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.


 


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