The main idea here is to restate once again author’s believes in complexity of the world and futility of applying simple and primitive solutions to many complex problems of contemporary society. Author goes one by one through hot points of contemporary discussions, demonstrating that in complex world only multitude of specific decisions made by individuals for themselves could lead to improvement, while violent intervention by power crazy leftists via government directives could only hurt everybody, eventually leading to dramatic decline of society.
Chapter 1: Disparities and Prerequisites
Here author presents an idea that the result of any actions depends on combination of prerequisites and demands of the moment. For example someone with 5 prerequisites to achieve something that requires all 5 will achieve it, while everybody else with either any 1 or 4 prerequisites will fail. Since these prerequisites not always and not all depend on person’s effort, the achievement is combination of luck and effort. Author provides very interesting result of Harvard longitude study of men with very high IQ, which demonstrated low correlation between lifetime achievements and IQ. Another peace of empirical data is the variance in achievement between twins raised in the same family. There is also high level of correlation between birth sequence of individuals and their achievements, with earlier born having higher achievements. Author also analyses history of Jews as high achieving group and points out that it was case at the very specific time period when their prerequisites fit to circumstances. Author also applies this point for institutions and organizations, demonstrating the same evolutionary fitness or lack thereof. Finally author discusses implications of these ideas, stating that various factors help or hamper developments, but not define them deterministically neither for individuals nor for groups.
Chapter 2: Discrimination: Meanings and Costs
Author defines two types of Discrimination:
Type I:” The broader meaning is an ability to discern differences in the qualities of people and things, and choosing accordingly”. This pretty much means evaluate people as individuals – effective, but very costly and not always easily available process.
Type II: This means evaluate people based on their belonging to some group, automatically assigning real or perceived characteristics of this group to individual – ineffective and often harmful, but low cost, intuitive, and very speedy method.
Author also discusses what he calls Discrimination IB – discrimination based on small number of group characteristics. As example author provides assumption of low creditworthiness and high insurance rate in localities with high crime rate.
After that author discusses examples of discrimination with interesting patterns when clearly ideological racists fought against discrimination that was detrimental to their own well being, like demand for segregated railroad cars when there were not enough passengers to keep it profitable: for example enough whites to fill 0.5 of car and blacks to fill 1.5. With discrimination one needs 3 cars, 2 being half-empty, while without only 2 cars.
Chapter 3: Sorting and Unsorting People
This is about human tendency to settle among people who could help one to manage life challenges. Typically it is similar people and author discusses such sorting not only on ethnic or racial basis, but also within communities: sometimes by place of origin and sometimes by business similarities. Author also discusses assumption that people immediately make about others by appearance. He provides a couple stories about rich blacks professors causing fear because they are big and black before people recognize them as rich and educated. Author also discusses government imposed sorting that unlike self-sorting is not possible remediate by better knowledge about individual.
Author also discusses methods of unsorting: Education, Residential, and equal employment. In all cases author points out to distortion brought in by government intervention, which actually causes problem for people who are really trying to rise. For example government programs of subsidized housing often leads to placement of disturbing people into locations with lower middle class population who are paying full price for housing in these areas at great sacrifices to provide safe environment for their children, only to see government nullifying their efforts.
Chapter 4: The World of Numbers
This chapter is about manipulation of statistics to promote some bureaucratic and/or political agenda. This is very typical when used to find racism where there is none: either in income distribution, crime data, capital gains calculations, and so on. The implication of such manipulation is often false believes, political support for ineffective and even harmful measures, and waste of resources.
Chapter 5: The World of Words
This chapter is about manipulation of words similar to manipulation of data and used for the same purpose: promote some political agenda and direct public resources into whatever schema manipulators desire to promote. Author presents a number of examples of such manipulation such as “Diversity” use to promote racism, Ex Ante substituted based on Ex Post events like explaining someone’s achievement by some unspecified privileges that nobody could see before the achiever obtained results. Another contemporary innovation of the left is use of word “Violence” on context where no violence could be occurring like in response to words or images. There is the whole are of manipulation when manipulator targets some ridiculous idea or notion linking it to opponent’s position, even if opponent never subscribed to this idea. Examples are “Trickle down economics”, “Racism”, “White supremacism”, and many others. One interesting example of such use is “Freedom” used with meaning of absence of fear, poverty, and poor health, even if none of these has anything to do with freedom of person to obtain information, to express self, to get job to escape poverty, or use treatment to improve health.
Chapter 6: Social Visions and Human Consequences
This chapter is the critic of prevailing social vision that diminishes individuals responsibility for their prosperity, health, and wellbeing or lack thereof. It includes absolutely unfounded assumption that results for everybody should be the same and if they are not, then some politico-bureaucratic intervention is justified to enforce equality of results. Author then discusses typical human consequences of such interventions and notes how what he calls “toxic vision” completely blinds people who religiously cling to this vision despite reality of multitude of factual data demonstrating failures of their programs.
Chapter 7: Facts, Assumptions and Goals
Author starts this chapter by stating that his goal is not really propose solutions, but rather “provide enough clarification to enable others to make up their own minds about the inevitable claims and counter-claims sure to arise from those who are promoting their own notions or their own interests.”
Correspondingly he discusses:
- Meanings and prospects of equality, which is inexorably linked to question of merit vs. productivity: do people deserve to get something that other people produce or they should be productive to get something. Another point is inequality of languages some of which are more developed then others.
- Disparities: people represent not only their inherent qualities, but also background, which are in some circumstances beneficial, but in others detrimental.
- Culture: author compares Scandinavia with Middle East and then discusses issues of culture clash when people from Middle East immigrate to Scandinavia
- Process goals versus Outcome Goals: the former highly beneficial, creating conditions for people to obtain what they want, while latter highly detrimental, prompting people demand something they did not earn.
- Social Justice understood as“(1) the seemingly invincible fallacy that various groups would be equally successful in the absence of biased treatment by others, (2) the cause of disparate outcomes can be determined by where statistics showing the unequal outcomes were collected, and (3) if the more fortunate people were not completely responsible for their own good fortune, then the government—politicians, bureaucrats and judges—will produce either efficiently better or morally superior outcomes by intervening.
- The Past and the Future: the look at history is both frustrating and aspiring because it filled with examples of decline of highly developed societies and blossoming of previously dormant societies and peoples.
MY TAKE ON IT:
As nearly always with his other books, I agree with main points that Tomas Sowell makes in this book. However I think that his position of not looking for solution is not sufficient. Presenting intellectual and moral deficiencies of contemporary left and their “toxic vision” should be combined with presentation of another vision, which would go beyond just asking for less government intervention, but also demonstrating how to decrease it and how to make people left behind to fight people of the government in order to protect themselves and retain the freedoms they still have.