Monday, February 22, 2010

Thomas Sowell's latest article

Thomas Sowell is a syndicated writer, and featured regularly in the El Paso Times. He graduated magna cum laude from from Harvard, has a masters from Columbia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He's been a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford for 30 years, written several books, and is by all accounts an extremely intelligent person. But the articles I've seen that he's written are horribly misguided, and the opinions he's written are, in my judgment, completely incorrect.

I read an article he wrote in the EPT this Sunday, you can read it here and judge for yourself whether my criticisms are correct.

He calls overpopulation and global warming “alarms” meant to take away our freedom, alarms that politicians have invented. Yet to believe that, one would have to assume that Science Daily, CNN, New Scientist, National Geographic, The Telegraph, and countless others are all being duped by crass politicians into “believing” overpopulation is a problem, and that Thomas Sowell is immune from their charms and exposing the truth to the rest of us.

Global warming is accepted as fact by most scientists, but for some reason there are some who won't acknowledge it no matter the reality. They never fail to come up with new “evidence” claiming it disproved global warming. The newest supposed evidence being offered that global warming doesn't exist is that it's snowing in New York. Jon Stewart does a better job than I do explaining how ridiculous that argument is here Again, to believe Mr. Sowell's argument one would have to believe that most of the worlds scientists have been duped by short-sighted politicians.

Mr. Sowell refers to “affordable housing” and “universal healthcare” as “the distractions of political magicians”. I would wager that the millions of American citizens that are unable to afford going to the doctor would vehemently disagree that access to a doctor is a distraction.

As far as what role the government should have in providing affordable housing, it's a complicated topic. While I disagree with Mr. Sowell that it's just a cheap political distraction, at least he is consistent with his laissez faire economic philosophy on this point.

Mr. Sowell references “so called health-reform bills” and claims that the bills were rushed through without Congress getting a chance to read the entire bill. The fact that the members of Congress haven't read every word of the two versions of the healthcare bill is factually correct. But members of Congress rarely read every word of any bill, it isn't reasonable or pragmatic to expect that the best use of a Senator's time is to personally read 2,000 page bills written in legalese month after month. To claim that all previous legislation passed by that method was acceptable, but suddenly it's become unpatriotic is disingenuous. Staff exists for the reason that legislators time is a valuable commodity. In addition to that, both versions of the healthcare bill have been up on the internet for quite awhile, including the House version here and the Senate version here. To pretend that healthcare reform (which has been proposed in various forms for at least 40 years and is posted online for anyone worldwide with internet access to read) is somehow being rushed through in secrecy is just plain misleading. I know that Mr. Sowell is aware of all of this, but he is misinterpreting the facts to appeal to those who are inclined to believe that there is a mysterious – yet sinister - plot afoot.

Mr. Sowell claims that “our freedom to make our own medical decisions — on which life and death can depend — was to be quietly taken from us and transferred to our betters in Washington.” Presumably he is referring to the government taking steps to expand healthcare coverage to more US citizens. Unfortunately, his statement mirrors that of the much less respected Sarah Palin and her death panel hysteria. In addition, his statement is factually incorrect. There was never and is not currently any plan under consideration to have politicians make our own medical decisions. That's just not true. Assuming that giving one the choice of going to a doctor (where that choice did not exist previously) doesn't count as a bureaucrat making my personal medical decisions.

Mr. Sowell asserts that the recent Massachusetts election put healthcare reform on hold, and unfortunately it did set it back. But he leaves out the fact Massachusetts has passed healthcare reform that's more progressive than the US healthcare reform proposals, and that Massachusetts historically has relatively balanced political representation.

Mr. Sowell expresses anger that politicians are telling people what their income can and cannot be. First of all, it's important to note that when he chooses to, he will use the word “politician” instead of “government” or “law” for the express reason that railing against politicians is popular, railing against an unfair tax code isn't as exciting. Again, the government does not tell people what their income can or cannot be. There are taxes, but unless one proposes to do away with government completely then one cannot do away with taxes. It's unfortunate, but it's hardly reasonable to malign all politicians because government exists.

Mr. Sowell complains that politicans have branded wealth as obscene, and that they will only be successful as long as we don't think about what they're saying. Then he asks “what is obscene about wealth? Wouldn't we consider it great if every human being had a billion dollars?” and skips down to calling poverty obscene. But it's the skip over that's important, and it's easily missed if one doesn't take his advice to think about what's being said. Because when someone says wealth is obscene, obviously they are referencing the inequality that exists. Wealth only has a meaning because it's relative. Therefore, the inequality of millionaires wearing 10,000 dollar suits stepping over homeless American military veterans dying in the streets can very reasonably be called obscene.

Mr. Sowell says that “the assumption that what A pays B is any business of C is an assumption that means a dangerous power being transferred to politicians to tell us all what incomes we can and cannot receive”. On its face that seems a fair enough statement, but it's fairly simple to imagine many instances in which the payment does concern another party. Some examples of what could legally happen if what Mr. Sowell seems to be proposing (that is, what someone pays for something is only the concern of the party selling and the party buying) is enacted:

Stores announcing that specific genders, or people of a certain race, will be now charged a surtax.

A police officer can demand any fine for a trivial offense, as long as the two parties involved are the government and the individual being fined, there is no reason to involve others.

Raising prices 500% during natural disasters.

Bribing politicians as a matter of course, ushering a new era of corruption.

Standing in line at a coffee shop, and being charged twice as much for the same coffee as the person in front of you.

There are many instances in which I know I want to be charged a “fair” price for a product. That doesn't mean I want the government to go into the restaurant business, but I do want the government to make sure that restaurants can't charge my race an extra fee that makes it impossible for me to eat there because of the color of my skin.

And finishing up his column, Mr. Sowell continues to express his anger at politicians, by referring to “the aptly named White House “czars””. I suppose it's a fitting end to the article, since the people he refers to are not in fact some form of Russian princes, their title is “special adviser to the President”.
Slighting the President by pointing out that he takes advice is an odd approach, but evidently it sounds better when one uses the word “czar”

Almost every part of his article I very strongly disagreed with. Thoughtful disagreement with policy issues is one thing, but simply stirring up emotions without any real basis is something completely different.

In my own opinion, his assertion that resentment is being stirred up to cloak faulty reasoning is a much stronger indictment on the GOP's position as the “party of no” than on healthcare reform.

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