Showing posts with label Thomas Sowell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Sowell. Show all posts

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sowell A Go Go

If you are having a discussion with a conservative these days (at least the ones that think they are intelligent), it won't be too long before the name of Thomas Sowell comes up. I've never done a post about Sowell so this is way past due. He certainly has the credentials of a brilliant man and is highly regarded in the community of higher education but there are key problems with his core philosophy which I will illustrate below.

Dr. Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher and author. Currently he is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution out at Stanford University. His book, A Conflict of Visions, is the work most frequently noted by conservatives as to why there is so much conflict between liberals and conservatives. To hear them proselytize about it, one would think it has as much regard as The Bible or Atlas Shrugged. Sowell's text defines two competing visions of political thought. They are summed up nicely in this table. 

There is also this excellent summation.

The Unconstrained Vision 

Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as "the self anointed." Ultimately they believe that man is morally perfectible. Because of this, they believe that there exist some people who are further along the path of moral development, have overcome self-interest and are immune to the influence of power and therefore can act as surrogate decision-makers for the rest of society. 

The Constrained Vision 

Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief that human nature is essentially unchanging and that man is naturally inherently self-interested, regardless of the best intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is essential because there are no ideal solutions, only trade-offs. Those with a constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested structures and processes over intervention and personal experience. Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and refuses to accept that all people could put aside their innate self-interest.

Conservatives continually assert that they are in the constrained vision column whereas liberals are in the unconstrained vision camp. Sowell himself has always been quick to point out that labels should not be applied or equated to his vision. Yet, I have to wonder...why would he set up such a dichotomy in the first place if that was not his intent? Couldn't he have saved a lot of time by simple saying "Liberals are stupidly naive and conservatives are intelligently grounded in reality?"

Our nation unfortunately has to live with Sowell's sort of hubris and bloviation every day (at least for the next seven years or so:)). Being the author of this preposterous ideology, Sowell is, of course, the most responsible. I say preposterous because, as a black man in the United States, it was the unconstrained vision that allowed him to become who he is today. Someone with Sowell's constrained vision would have ignored the injustices of civil rights and likely even slavery, dismissing them as the flawed nature of man and, oh well, there's nothing to be done about it. The constrained vision sees itself as grounded in reality yet how can equality be achieved without freedom of choice?

The biggest flaw, however, in Sowell's philosophy is that he rejects John Locke (in so many ways the original father of our country) stating that humans are naturally prone to error, are selfish and will never change. Locke believed (as do I), that people are born with the inherent right of freedom, liberty and property. From that point, the tabla rasa is filled in with an individual's unique nature and the environment in which they are socialized (both nature and nurture). Not every person is exactly the same, as Sowell posits.

The correlary between conservatives and the constrained vision is really a giant pile of crap. Their vision is so ridiculously unconstrained it's laughable. They have a utopian fantasy of the free market that solves all problems and in which people magically behave themselves without regulation. Further, they don't rely on empirical evidence on the major issues of the day. If they did, they would not have built The Church of the Climate Skeptic or be ass hats about gun violence. They are extremely loathe to compromise as is evidenced by the latest budget negotiations. Ironically and in many ways, they are the ones who are naive about human nature, thinking that the less laws there are, the better!

In contrast, I look at the unconstrained vision and don't really see much of myself at all and, again, see conservatives. Human nature is certainly malleable (we are in a constant state of evolution, after all) but not perfectible. And who gets to define who is the "strongest" and "most capable?" And what is the metric for this? One look at our leaders in Washington will illustrate that many are not the strongest or most capable. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you want to look at it. There is plenty of human action that is motivated by selflessness and sincerity. I am assured by many of my conservative colleagues that this is at the core of their ideology. This is especially true of Christians, right?

Not every bad thing has an explanation (poverty, war, crime) and sometimes it is best to simply try and manage the complexities. Of course, this doesn't mean that all bad things are a giant question mark (again...why have laws?...conservatives seems to always ask these days). I don't see market economies catering to a particular interest and don't think that most of them should be tailored to serve the public interest. Some of them, like health care for example, need to have more government regulation due to the inefficiencies that arise based on fundamental economics. The free market does work out in markets where there is more elasticity and many buyers and sellers.

In looking at these competing visions, one has to wonder if Sowell really thinks these things or if he is simply trying to make money in the willfully ignorant market of true believers. I think conservatives like to use him to make themselves seem smarter than they actually are. Perhaps they should take an honest look at the competing visions and reflect a little while on where they truly fall in terms of the characteristics. Then we can leave Thomas Sowell behind and engage instead in less restrictive thinking.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Sowell Goes Full Moonbat

A conservative friend of mine posted this piece by Thomas Sowell on his Facebook wall. Check out this insanity.

Perhaps the biggest of the big lies is that the government will not be able to pay what it owes on the national debt, creating a danger of default. Tax money keeps coming into the Treasury during the shutdown, and it vastly exceeds the interest that has to be paid on the national debt. Even if the debt ceiling is not lifted, that only means that government is not allowed to run up new debt. But that does not mean that it is unable to pay the interest on existing debt.

I've come to the conclusion that Jesus of the Right Wing Blogsphere is not as intelligent as I thought he was. Either that or he is just trying to play to his audience for dollars. He's certainly done that in the past. And I still can't figure out why he doesn't write "Liberals are stupid" for everyone of his books and columns. He certainly could save more time.

But if he does actually believe what he has written here, then he has officially gone full moonbat (as well as not understanding basic math). Raising the debt ceiling does not allow the federal government to spend more money. Congress authorizes how much money the government is allowed to spend and they have already done that. The debt ceiling only determines whether the U.S. government can borrow enough money to fulfill the spending obligations that Congress has already passed into law, like Medicare reimbursements or military pay not to mention unexpected crises that arise that may need funding.

He's not alone either. Politico has a piece up about the default deniers in Congress.

“Spending a day highlighting the debt and the deficit in Congress as part of raising the debt ceiling is probably a healthy thing,” said Tony Fratto, a consultant at Hamilton Place Strategies and a White House and Treasury official under President George W. Bush. “But the moment you start talking seriously about not raising the debt limit it becomes dangerous. And a lot of members of Congress are now saying things that give evidence that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to the debt limit and the way government financing works.” 

The tax money the moonbats are talking about speak won't be enough to cover the daily expenses of the government. We already hit our debt limit last May and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been doing things like tapping exchange-rate funds to raise extra cash. A recent analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center shows that the government will bring in roughly $222 billion and owe roughly $328 billion between Oct. 18 and Nov. 15, assuming the government is open, hence the date of October 17th and the threat of default.

Of course, none of this takes into account the uncertainty factor and how that will play with the image of the United States and interest rates. Sowell simply ignores this. The treasury will be in the position of having to choose which obligations to honor and which ones it won't. And the drastic spending cuts will have an extremely adverse effect on the economy, cutting growth massively. it would lead to another recession.

Whether they choose to believe it or not, a $175 billion dollar cut in government spending would take about 1 percent out of the economy. Stock markets would likely fall. Household wealth would shrink. Consumer confidence would plunge as Americans would cut back on spending. Higher rates on debt would raise borrowing costs, including mortgage rates. That's just the cut in spending, mind you, not an actual default which would add fuel to the flames.

The American Taliban doesn't really care about any of this and simply wants to burn the house down at this point. They want American to fail on Obama's watch. I guess Sowell is has now joined them.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Fine Piece of Fiction

It makes complete sense to me that Thomas Sowell is so beloved amongst the (ahem) intellectuals and the ones who think they are (see: right wing bloggers) on the right. Take a look at this recent paragrapah from his latest piece for Investor's Business Daily.

But a far more serious issue is ObamaCare, perhaps the most unpopular act of the Obama administration, its totalitarian implications highlighted by its recent attempt to force Catholic institutions to violate their own principles and bend the knee to the dictates of Washington bureaucrats.

Ah, nothing like playin' the hits, eh? Well, he's certainly a good merchant who knows that his audience will pay top dollar for these sorts of comments so you have to give him credit for that.

More importantly, though, this is a fine example of the "fictional Obama." First of all, health care is not the "most unpopular act" of the Obama administration. Polls show a variety of opinions, depending on how the question is asked, and the split is around 50-50. I'd say his most unpopular act (or almost) was the new EPA rules that he ended up caving on in the end.

And totalitarian? Good grief. When will the managing of paranoid fantasies cease to be a part of our political discourse? The recent flap over birth control coverage under the PPACA is completely ludicrous. To begin with, the government isn't forcing anyone to get birth control. The new law simply states that if you are an organization that offers health care, you must provide free coverage for birth control. For some reason, the mouth foamers think that translates into forced birth control for their employees. Users still have A CHOICE as to whether or not they want to use birth control and these religious organizations still have A CHOICE to tell their members that birth control is against their beliefs and they shouldn't use it.

And, in what has to be one of the finest examples of hypocrisy I've seen in awhile, DePaul University and other Catholic institutions already offer free contraception as part of their organizations. So, the screaming by the right is because the government is "forcing" them to do something they are already doing? Huh?

We're basically at the point now where these adolescent power fantasies about government are a gross impediment to progress. We all have to stop what we are doing (see: adults trying to fix real problems) and deal with this bullshit.

Any chance we can get Sowell and his true believers to maybe do some yoga or take a jog to clear their head?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Sowell Reflex

I was reminiscing recently about my long conversation over Facebook with Reverend Jim last spring. Our discussion on Thomas Sowell's Conflict of Visions has continued to resonate with me in an enormously frustrating way and I've finally figured out why.

I hadn't read Sowell's book since the late 80s so I dug out my old copy and re-read parts of it. As I chuckled at his insistence that the "constrained vision" relies on empirical evidence (see: The Economic Collapse of 2008 or how I learned to stop worrying and worship the free market), I realized that he was very sadly arguing this point (via Asimov):

My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

In essence, the entire book is one gigantic #3-Projection/Flipping.

The fact is that most liberals do not look at human nature as being inherently good. This is a complete fucking straw man. In reality, most liberals (including myself) look at ALL of the ways human nature is colored. We start as blank slates and develop based on number of factors. Part of it is genetic...part of it is how we are we interact with the people in our lives (family, friends, co-workers)...part of it is how we function within the institutional framework of our society. There is a mountain of empirical evidence that supports human development in each of these areas.

But Sowell and his followers don't want to look at this evidence. Instead, they jump immediately to dividing people into two camps: those that are naively optimistic and those who know how the world really works. bias there. Worse, his definition of "how the world works" (i.e. the constrained vision) is equally as ignorant as those who believe in utopias. I've talked about this before...the libertarian utopia is just as ridiculous as the socialist one.

The result of all of this is what I am now calling The Sowell Reflex, a condition that presents itself quite regularly these days in many political discussions. It's happened to me so many times in the last couple of years that I chuckle when his name (predictably) comes up. More often than not, as soon as a person questions the breadth of intelligence of ideologically right folks, Sowell is quickly mentioned as a shield and the "silly liberals" are told to go home with their tail between their legs. Yet, upon closer inspection, one can easily see that this is just another dodge that is summed up simply as this:

The Sowell Reflex is one gigantic excuse for continued and willful ignorance.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bill channels Markadelphia

On any normal day, I'm the one that usually channels my inner Maher and riffs off of it. A couple of weeks back, though, I think it was the reverse.

During his final New Rule on November 5, 2010, Maher lamented the Stewart-Colbert rally and, at several points during the commentary, he sounded just like me.

You see, Republicans keep staking out position that is further and further right and then demand that the Democrats meet them in the middle. Which is now not the middle anymore.

Sound familiar? It should because I've been saying it for years now. In a non Bizzaro world, I am center left. In a world that has been consumed by the right wing blogsphere and the likes of pathological ideologues like Thomas Sowell, I am condemned as a communist.

Of course, it's not entirely their fault.

And the biggest mistake of modern media has been this notion of balance for balance's sake; that the left is just as cruel and violent as the right; that reverse racism is just as damaging as racism.

Until more people stand up and call the Right for what it is now, we will continue to have this distorted view of reality. Unfortunately, this is going to either require large quantities of cash or for people not care about cash and actually think. The latter is going to be a tough row to hoe.

The simple fact is that these people have convinced millions of American citizens that donating money to rich people is a good thing. And protecting the wealth of rich people against the Big Bad Wolf (government) is the very definition of freedom. Talk about useful idiots....

Here's the full clip:

Martin Luther King spoke on that mall in the capital, and he didn't say, "Remember, folks, those sheriffs with with the fire hoses and the German Shepherds, they had a point too!" No. He said, "I have a dream. They have a nightmare."

Indeed. Make no mistake about it. It IS a nightmare. Like Bill, I'm through pretending.