Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The 'Fairness' Fraud

Thomas Sowell

It seems as if, everywhere you turn these days, there are studies claiming to show that America has lost its upward mobility for people born in the lower socioeconomic levels. But there is a sharp difference between upward "mobility," defined as an opportunity to rise, and mobility defined as actually having risen.

That distinction is seldom even mentioned in most of the studies. It is as if everybody is chomping at the bit to get ahead, and the ones that don't rise have been stopped by "barriers" created by "society."

When statistics show that sons of high school dropouts don't become doctors or scientists nearly as often as the sons of Ph.D.s, that is taken as a sign that American society is not "fair."

If equal probabilities of achieving some goal is your definition of fairness, then we should all get together -- people of every race, color, creed, national origin, political ideology and sexual preference -- and stipulate that life has never been fair, anywhere or any time in all the millennia of recorded history.

Then we can begin at last to talk sense.

I know that I never had an equal chance to become a great ballet dancer like Rudolph Nureyev. The thought of becoming a ballet dancer never once crossed my mind in all the years when I was growing up in Harlem. I suspect that the same thought never crossed the minds of most of the guys growing up on New York's lower east side.

Does that mean that there were unfair barriers keeping us from following in the footsteps of Rudolph Nureyev?

A very distinguished scholar once mentioned at a social gathering that, as a young man, he was not thinking of going to college until someone else, who recognized his ability, urged him to do so.

Another very distinguished scholar told me that, although his parents were anti-Semitic, it was the fact that he went to a school with many Jewish children that got him interested in intellectual matters and led him into an academic career.

All groups, families and cultures are not even trying to do the same things, so the fact that they do not all end up equally represented everywhere can hardly be automatically attributed to "barriers" created by "society."

Barriers are external obstacles, as distinguished from internal values and aspirations -- unless you are going to play the kind of word games that redefine achievements as "privileges" and treat an absence of evidence of discrimination as only proof of how diabolically clever and covert the discrimination is.

The front page of a local newspaper in northern California featured the headline "The Promise Denied," lamenting the under-representation of women in computer engineering. The continuation of this long article on an inside page had the headline, "Who is to blame for this?"

In other words, the fact that reality does not match the preconceptions of the intelligentsia shows that there is something wrong with reality, for which somebody must be blamed. Apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.

Women, like so many other groups, seem not to be dedicated to fulfilling the prevailing fetish among the intelligentsia that every demographic group should be equally represented in all sorts of places.

Women have their own agendas, and if these agendas do not usually include computer engineering, what is to be done? Draft women into engineering schools to satisfy the preconceptions of our self-anointed saviors? Or will a propaganda campaign be sufficient to satisfy those who think that they should be making other people's choices for them?

That kind of thinking is how we got ObamaCare.

At least one of the recent celebrated statistical studies of social mobility leaves out Asian Americans. Immigrants from Asia are among a number of groups, including American-born Mormons, whose achievements totally undermine the notion that upward mobility can seldom be realized in America.

Those who preach this counterproductive message will probably never think that the envy, resentment and hopelessness they preach, and the welfare state they promote, are among the factors keeping people down.



A good parable

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the books of Ayn Rand. After escaping from the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Rand became a famous American playwright, philosopher, and novelist. She has written many books – three of which I would urge everyone to read. The first, Anthem, is a lot like Orwell’s 1984. The second, The Fountainhead, is a longer novel expounding on her philosophy, which is known as objectivism. The third, Atlas Shrugged, is her most famous work and includes the most complete explanation of her views on economics and morality.

For those interested in Rand, I also recommend a song that was inspired by a rock musician who reads her work. His name is Neil Peart – a member of the band “Rush.” Neil is the greatest rock and roll drummer who ever lived. He is also one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, Peart wrote “The Trees,” which fast became one of my favorite songs. I didn’t know at the time that the song was a stinging indictment of socialism and communism inspired by Neil’s reading of Ayn Rand novels. I’ve reprinted the verses below with some brief comments in between most verses.

There is unrest in the forest,
there is trouble with the trees,
for the maples want more sunlight
and the oaks ignore their pleas.

When I look back on it, I am somewhat embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out the symbolism behind the oak versus maple contrast. This is a classic Marxist over-simplification, which is intentional on Peart’s behalf. There were only two classes of people according to Marx - the “haves” and the “have nots” or, as he called them, the “bourgeoisie” and the “proletariat.” Here, the oaks are the “haves” or the “bourgeoisie” and the maples are the “have nots” or the “proletariat.”

The trouble with the maples,
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
they say the oaks are just too lofty
and they grab up all the light.

This verse is interesting because it raises the issue of absolute versus relative poverty. When the maples claim that the oak trees grab up all the light they are exaggerating – actually, the author of the song, Neil Peart, is exaggerating for effect. Oaks are big trees, to be sure. In my own yard, there is an oak that is 100 feet tall that will eventually grow to be about 125 feet tall. But maples are big trees, too. I have a sugar maple that is about 60 feet tall that will eventually grow to be about 80 feet tall.

Peart, quite ingeniously, shows that the “have nots” would be more accurately characterized as simply “having less than others.” Their problem is not that they do not have enough to get by. The problem is that, in their view, the oaks are just “too lofty.” In other words, others have too much. That is the key phrase in this paragraph because it reveals that covetousness, rather than true need, is what motivates the maples. In reality, that is always the motive of the collectivist.

But the oaks can't help their feelings
if they like the way they're made.
And they wonder why the maples
can’t be happy in their shade.

It is funny to me that the lyrics to this song were written just a few years before Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. After he took office, there was no small amount of controversy about his ideas concerning “trickle down” economics. Here, the oaks seem to reference the idea that their loftiness benefits others, too – this time, in the form of shade. This is a classic “trickle down” economic argument.

There is trouble in the forest,

And the creatures all have fled,
as the maples scream "Oppression!"
And the oaks just shake their heads.

So the maples formed a union
and demanded equal rights.
"The oaks are just too greedy;
we will make them give us light."

This is classic Ayn Rand. She focuses on unjustly taking from someone that which he has earned – noting that this always involves a violent struggle. The maples begin by screaming, and then they start demanding. Finally, they settle upon force, not reason, in order to obtain what they want. The results are always predictable.

Now there's no more oak oppression,
for they passed a noble law,
and the trees are all kept equal
by hatchet, axe, and saw.

This last verse is chilling because it reveals two truths about progressivism:

1) Progressivism is not progressive. Oppression is ended and equality is achieved not by advancing anyone but by retarding the achievements of some.

2) Social justice is punitive, not restorative. No one is restored under a progressive system, but people are often punished in order to guarantee equal outcome. That is another reason why Rand prefers to use the term “collectivism” rather than “progressivism.”

Ayn Rand was not a Christian. Nor was she one who professed belief in the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, she understood that what is often packaged as compassion is really covetousness in disguise. We would do well to familiarize ourselves with her work in an age of “collective” historical amnesia. Screams of oppression and cries for revolution are never more than a generation away.



Not a Damn Thing

Entitlement is a destructive mentality. It blinds people to the responsibilities that they have to themselves, to their lives and their happiness, which causes laziness and sloth. It makes people believe that the lives and labor of others are theirs by right, as if others live to serve them. If there's one lesson that I could impart to every child in the world, it's this: no one else owes you, and you owe no one else, a damn thing.

No One Else Owes You

At appropriate times I've counseled my children that no one owed them anything. They came into this world with nothing, including any debts owed. Nobody else, in the entire world, including mom and dad, owe them a single thing, like time, money, food, clothing, shelter, anything. Anything and everything they want in life, they must find a peaceful way to get it. Their lives are their own, and the lives of others belong to those others, not to my children, nor to me, nor to you.

What they have they've either received as a gift from someone who loves them, found, or earned. Because I love my children, I gift to them enough to meet their basic needs, and more to make sure their lives are rich with learning opportunities and excitement. I give these things freely, and at least right now, only conditional to the level of love and respect they show me, within reasonable expectations of their age. They don't owe me anything for my sharing of my abundance with them. As the time has come that they've desired more than what I offer, I've proposed trading value for value. When they want something more from me, they're shown how they can earn it, and they have.

You Owe No One Else

As important as the above principle is, it would be incomplete without this counterpart. No on owes you anything, and you don't owe anything to anyone else. Your life is yours to live, to do with whatever you decide. Nobody but you is entitled to your life and the fruits of your labor. Anybody claiming otherwise better have an explicit agreement from you. If they don't, if their claim has been pulled out of the air, they are attempting to take your life, to enslave you to them. They want something, and instead of recognizing the fact that no one owes them anything, they are choosing to take it without regard to right or the will of those they take it from. They demand from others their lives, and for that they are the enemies of reason. They show with their actions their unwillingness to live in peace with others, to live civilly. They are a threat to you and to your loved ones. If they are not removed from society, either through banishment or death, their choice, then you and society have decided to value their lives, the lives of thugs and criminals, above your own.


The implication that no one owes you anything is that you must earn everything you want in life. To do that, you must create value for others, something that they want more than what they currently have. You have no right to take what you want from others, because it is neither owed to you nor do you have a right to it. Value must be traded for value.

And the implication that you owe no one else, but yet others claim that you do, in effect enslaving you, means that you have a choice to make. You can rightfully resist them, and there are many violent and nonviolent ways of doing that, or you can submit to them. Resisting may or may not be foolish, and submitting may or may not be wise. Different political climates, as well as one's self-imposed obligations to those he loves, determine the prudence in either resistance or submission. Either way, the fact remains you don't owe anything to anyone, and no one owes anything to you.

Final Thoughts

These considerations have been empowering for me as an individual. To know where I stand in regards to my responsibilities to myself, and my obligations to others, has also been very liberating. I am my own master. I know it and have internalized it. Every child and every adult in the entire world, the entire universe even, should likewise know it and make it the bedrock principle of their lives. You won't have liberty, peace, and ultimately happiness without it.



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