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Surely at some point in his long-admired writing career Thomas Sowell has grown frustrated. What to do when the same issues arise over and over again in the national debate and he’s already addressed them many times only to continue to be ignored by a political Left unwilling to deal with inconvenient facts? Compassion Versus Guilt and Other Essays is the first collection of Sowell’s newspaper columns and features his selections from 1982 through 1986. Most of the pieces are as fresh and relevant today as when they were first published.
Sowell articulates the central theme that binds these essays together in the title essay. When looking at all the suffering around the world it’s natural for Americans to have a sense of guilt since they were born into more prosperous circumstances by chance. The attempts to alleviate these feelings have often been efforts to show compassion for the less fortunate. Sowell warns,
Many of our attempts to share our good fortune with others, at home and abroad, have undermined the very efforts, standards and values that make that good fortune possible. Trying to ease our own guilt feelings is very different from trying to advance those less fortunate.
Just because a policy is put in place with the compassionate goal of trying to help those less fortunate does not mean that the less fortunate will be helped. This has been one of the central themes of Sowell’s work in fields ranging from race relations to economics.
Sowell urges a “There, but for the grace of God, go I” mentality – an approach far removed from the Obama administration’s visions of helping the uninsured with new government regulations that will have unintended consequences. For example, surveys of business-owners recently showed that come 2014, when the law’s provisions kick in, 30% of employers plan on dropping health coverage.
The common refrain from the President’s supporters when conservatives point out these unintended consequences is one Sowell anticipated decades ago: well what’s your solution?
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