Compassion vs. Guilt in the Age of Barack Obama


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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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  • paddydonovan

    Just finished reading his book on the housing bust. Absolutely dead on perfect in regards to what regulation and quotas have done and how nobody has the political will to make sure it doesn't happen again, which it is in the process of happening again.

  • Daren

    Truly an American intellectual treasure !!! Mr. Sowell is perhaps Harlem's greatest gift to America – down to earth COMMONSENSE !!! Instrumental in curing my black nationalist marxist ideologic blindness !!! Thank You Mr. SOWELL! May God bless you and smile upon you .

  • 11bravo

    Sowell is the MAN! the BOMB!
    I do not understand why they (Sowell and Dr, Williams) are not brought on to TV much more often.
    They relate to the american people on a level no politician or TV talking can even come close to. Complicated issues stated plainly.
    Rubio and West should be the spokesmen for the Senate and House respectively. Beohnert (sp) and McConnell need to get there faces off the TV.
    They are the Trent Lot-Tom Delay hangovers from bad GOP politics of the past. The Bob-get off my lawn-Dole old rich white men image that conservatives need to shake off.

    Please bring up this point on other blogs to hopefully get out the word to the GOP establishment.

  • johnnywoods

    I wish Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams were a few years younger. Can you imagine them as a political ticket.?

  • paddydonovan

    Towering intellectual force in the world today and it drives the left insane. Why is that?

    • Daren

      because it is inconceivable that a two poor black boys -one from Harlem and the other one from a North Philly housing project – could be so brilliant!!! Racists social darwinists that the marxist leftists are !!!

  • aspacia

    Sowell is on target as usual. I sent sent one of his videos to my high school principal to refute his claims regarding economics. Guess what he said: "Why did you send me a video of some guy on the internet?" I was dumbfounded at first, and walked away. After I recovered I sent this ill-informed pedagogue a list of Sowell's credits. No response, and he never mentioned economics near me again:-)