Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wealth, Poverty and Politics

By Walter E. Williams

Dr. Thomas Sowell, my colleague and friend, told me several years ago that he wasn't going to write any more books, but that was two books ago, and now he has just published his 45th.

The man writes with both hands, as can be seen from his website (, which lists his 45 books, 19 journal articles, 71 essays in periodicals and books, 34 book reviews, and occasional columns written in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Star, Newsweek, The Times (Britain) et al. Plus, he writes a semiweekly column for Creators Syndicate.

"Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective" is a true gem in terms of exposing the demagoguery and sheer ignorance of politicians and intellectuals in their claims about wealth and poverty. Sowell discusses a number of factors that help explain wealth and income differences among people and nations around the world. They include geographical, cultural, social and political factors, which Sowell explains in individual chapters. Readers will benefit immensely from the facts and explanations laid out in those chapters, but here I want to focus on what I think is his most important chapter, "Implications and Prospects."

How many times have we been told that the rich are prospering at the expense of the poor? Sowell points out that most households in the bottom 20 percent in income have no one working. How can someone who isn't producing anything have something taken from him?

What about the supposed "paradox of poverty" in a rich society such as ours? Sowell says that this is a paradox only to those who start out with a preconception of an egalitarian world in defiance of history and have a disregard for the arbitrariness of government definitions of poverty. Poverty occurs automatically and has been mankind's standard fare throughout its entire history. It is high productivity and affluence that are rare in mankind's history and require an explanation.

Government definitions of poverty make talking about income gaps and disparities meaningless. If everyone's income doubled or even tripled, poverty would certainly be reduced, but income gaps and disparities would widen.

One of the biggest problems in analyzing poverty is the vision that the poor are permanently poor. A University of Michigan study followed specific working Americans from 1975 to 1991. It found that particular individuals who were in the bottom 20 percent in terms of income saw their real incomes rise at a much higher rate than those in the top 20 percent. An IRS study, covering the period from 1996 to 2005, found a similar result. Workers whose incomes were in the bottom 20 percent saw their incomes rise by 91 percent. Over the same span, those in the top 1 percent saw their incomes fall by 26 percent. The outcomes of both studies give lie to the claim that "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer."

Sowell argues that another source of confusion in discussions of economic differences is the failure to distinguish between income and wealth. The use of the term "the rich" to describe people in higher income brackets is just one sign of confusion. Being rich means having an accumulation of wealth rather than having a high income in a given year. This distinction is not just a matter of semantics. Calls for raising income tax rates to make "the rich" pay their undefined "fair share" are an exercise in futility because income taxes do not touch wealth. Higher income taxes are a tax on people trying to accumulate wealth.

There are many other tidbits of information in "Wealth, Poverty and Politics," such as the impact of age on income. For example, only 13 percent of households headed by a 25-year-old have been in the top 20 percent, whereas 73 percent of households headed by someone 60 or older have been.

Dr. Sowell's new book tosses a monkey wrench into most of the things said about income by politicians, intellectuals and assorted hustlers, plus it's a fun read.



Staying the Course in Syria? Which Course?

For the past six and a half years, the world has witnessed failure after failure of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It would be terrific if we had a president who understood how U.S. involvement or lack thereof can make a situation go from bad to worse. But we don’t.

During an interview with Steve Croft on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Obama insisted he would stay the course in Syria. “We are prepared to work both diplomatically and where we can to support moderate opposition that can help convince the Russians and Iranians to put pressure on [Bashar al-] Assad for a transition.” Obama then reaffirmed that he would not “reinsert [the U.S.] in a military campaign inside of Syria.”

When asked about the failure to train and equip Syrian rebels, Obama conceded the $500 million effort “did not work,” but he also argued, “I’ve been skeptical from the get-go about the notion that we were going to effectively create this proxy army inside Syria.”

Is that so? Remember his Sept. 10, 2014, national address, in which he declared, “[W]e have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.”

That doesn’t sound like he was “skeptical from the get-go.” In fact, he now says his next objective is — wait for it — to provide direct aid to existing, Pentagon-approved rebel units.

Obama insists he’s staying the course. What course? He set a phony “red line” on Assad using chemical weapons only to backtrack and attribute it to “the world” setting the line. He half-heartedly asked Congress to approve attacking Assad and then backed away in favor of throwing $500 million to train 5,000 rebels — of which only a handful were fully trained. Now he’s even stopped that program. Again, what course?

It bears repeating that Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq left a vacuum that was filled by the Islamic State. In Syria, Obama’s capricious strategies to remove Assad from power left a vacuum of a similar sort, which was also filled by the Islamic State, Russia and Iran. Remember though, Obama lectured in 2012 that Russia did not pose a threat. But Russia’s interests in the region are not the same as ours, so Russia is a threat indeed.

Writing an opinion piece for The Washington Post, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates assert, “The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well because he knows exactly what he wants to do. He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow.”

Despite Obama’s contention that Putin is weak, the Kremlin’s strongman is projecting power in Syria that has the major powers in the world on edge, including the United States. Further, as National Review’s Andrew Stuttaford explains, Putin’s intentions may be “to prove that Russia is a reliable ally to have in a tough spot,” and “to force a binary choice upon the West — Assad or ISIS.” All of this is humiliating to the United States, but hey, at least Obama is staying the course.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson offers this perspective: “Putin is sending a warning to the oil-exporting Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf, who are as rich as they are militarily weak: Russia, not the United States, is the new cop on the Middle Eastern beat.”

Hanson further notes, “If oil-rich and nuclear Russia and a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran can bully the Sunni monarchies, Putin’s new cartel may control the spigot of some 75 percent of the world’s daily export of oil.”

But don’t worry; the rebels in Syria will take care of business. It turns out the rebels who we armed may have played a part with Putin intervening in Syria. How so? Because one of the weapon systems with which we armed the Syrian rebels is the TOW missile. This is the most deadly anti-tank missile in modern warfare, and Assad’s armored vehicles have suffered substantial losses from it. Several Russian tanks have been lost as well, which explains why Russian aircraft has been targeting rebel fighting positions that are firing the TOW missiles.

Proxy war, anyone? Isn’t this reminiscent of us arming the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles in the 1980s to shoot down Russian aircraft? The decision to arm the Syrian rebels with these missiles is extremely worrisome because of the technology involved. Did anyone in this administration bother to consider what Islamic State jihadis will do if they get their hands on those missiles?

What about the U.S. fighter jets tasked with taking out Islamic State targets? Now that Russia is involved in Syria, our fighter pilots are under strict new rules to give way if Russian aircraft come within 20 miles of our aircraft. (By contrast, the British Royal Air Force has been given the green light to shoot down hostile Russian jets in Syria.) So give our pilots strict rules and declare that Russia’s strategy isn’t working. Thanks, Obama.

Finally, in case you missed it, China is moving warships into the Mediterranean, supposedly to fight the Islamic State. Given China’s general alliance with Russia, however, it’s hardly a mystery why they’re really there.

What is taking place in Syria right now is what happens when the U.S. is viewed by major powers in the world as being weak. It’s a geopolitical nightmare that will take a leader who projects strength to overcome. Perhaps a leader who doesn’t define leadership, as Obama did in his interview, as “leading on climate change.”



Tracking America's Suicide

Amidst a plethora of sensational news reports elbowing each other to seize first place in America’s national consciousness, there is a story that has lurked beneath media radar that teaches us much more about the status of our country than school shootings, Russian bombings in Syria, Iranian perfidy, Hillary Clinton’s makeover attempts, and Republican candidates' daily presidential gymnastics. It concerns an event that took place in Afghanistan in 2011, when a group of Green Berets, which included Captain Danny Quinn and Sergeant First Class Charles Martland, were faced with reprehensible acts that pitted them against some local officials in a classic episode involving a clash of civilizations.

It seems that Quinn and Martland were apprised of a situation involving an Afghan mother who was severely thrashed by an Afghan soldier who had kidnapped her son, chained him to a bed, and was repeatedly raping the helpless child whenever he felt the inclination. Quinn and Martland confronted the Afghan commander, who then laughed in their face, said that “it was only a boy,” and that Americans should find better ways to use their time.

But these Green Beret heroes wouldn’t stand for that. Martland proclaimed that they morally could not tolerate Afghan soldiers committing atrocities against their own people in the presence of U.S. forces, and the two men made their point clear by body-slamming the soldier and kicking him off the post. Whereupon the American soldiers “were reprimanded because they were told it wasn’t their place to intervene and they should properly observe Afghanistan’s cultural and relationship practices,” according to Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has taken up their case against the Army’s outrageous decision. In fact, although Quinn has since left the military, Martland is currently fighting to keep his position before he is discharged, effective November 1.

Without question, these American soldiers represent the best that our country has to offer, sterling exemplars of moral rectitude and courage. However, they are currently facing an enemy that is arguably more insidious than anything they have faced so far on the battlefield. What enemy is that? It is the reigning multiculturalist ideology, a witch’s brew of moral relativism that over the past two generations has morally castrated Western civilization by expunging efforts to make principled judgments defending our values. At best, multiculturalists believe in nothing in particular. And as the West’s enemies know, something always beats nothing, and it doesn’t matter how reprehensible that something is. In short, multiculturalism represents the suicide of Western civilization.

Indeed, westerners could learn much from the approach taken by Sir Charles James Napier, a general in the British Army who was a commander-in-chief in India during the 19th century. When confronted by Hindu priests whose custom was to burn alive widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, he is reported to have said:  “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

Wait a minute! you might say. Doesn’t this represent that terrible era when Western nations considered themselves morally superior to everyone else?  We now all agree how repulsive that was! Well, as a matter of fact, General Napier did live during that era, yes. With regard to claims of Western moral superiority, however, we might have asked the opinion of widows faced with immolation. Or, better yet, ask the boy whom that Afghan commander continuously raped what he thinks of that “custom.”

In fact, our judgments should be based on the values that have defined our civilization for the past two millennia, and not airily dismissed on the grounds of multicultural moral relativism. That means that Martland should be applauded and not condemned for refusing to “respect” a barbarous cultural practice, to which multiculturalism, which dominates nearly every aspect of Western life, can find no objection. This is why it represents the death knell of our civilization, from within and not from without, as presciently noted by another famous 19th century figure, Abraham Lincoln. "If destruction be our lot,“ he noted in his 1838 Lyceum Address, "we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: