Thomas Sowell, one of America’s best economists and social philosophers, recently gave a lengthy interview upon the publication of the 5th edition of Basic Economics. In part two of this three-parter, he offers his views on race relations, illegal immigration and the so-called “War on Women.” For part one, click here.
David Hogberg: Back when President Obama was first running for President, he gave a speech in the wake of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright incident. In that speech he said, “I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.” Yet, we seem further away from that now than when he took office. Why?
Thomas Sowell: I blame, obviously, Obama. But I blame the voters too, damn it! If you can’t be bothered to look beyond someone’s glib rhetoric to his whole history, which is not hidden, and some of it revealed in his own books, then this is the result. Looking at the whole Reverend Jeremiah Wright episode, my God, Obama was in his church for 20 years, and you buy this BS that he didn’t know what Revered Jeremiah Wright was saying? There are some people today who seem so surprised that Obama has had someone like Al Sharpton visiting the White House dozens of times. Really? In just what way is Al Sharpton different from Jeremiah Wright?
DH: Finally, how has the civil rights movement gone from someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. to Al Sharpton?
TS: It is common for insurgent movements to degenerate into the opposite of what they are supposed to be. And it is perfectly logical in a sense. An insurgent movement is, by definition, opposed to the dominant forces in a society, and thus it has to fear the dominant forces in a society. And people who join that movement, at that time, are going to be very different from the people who join it after it has triumphed, gained whatever influence it has to gain, and so forth. So, for example, someone who joined Christianity in its early days, during the Roman Empire, they were letting themselves in for a lot of grief and, quite conceivably, losing their lives. They are in a sense, the crusaders. So you had a very different type of person, both in the leadership and followership, in Christianity at that time. But once it became the state religion of the Roman Empire, then it attracts very different people. Eventually, the crusaders are replaced by the opportunists.
When civil rights was a struggle, when it involved putting your life on the line in the South, you got people like Martin Luther King. But when civil rights became a political and financial bonanza, then you are going to get the Al Sharptons and the Jesse Jacksons.
DH: Why do we continue to have an illegal immigration problem in this country? And, let’s approach that question as if I asked it before Obama became President.
TS: First, from the point of view of the illegal immigrant, it’s a slam-dunk. He moves to the U.S. and his economic situation is going to be much better. But the question is why is this a political issue when it is so fundamental that a nation controls its borders? Otherwise, it has no immigration policy. It may have immigration hopes or immigration laws or immigration "words on paper," but there is no immigration policy because people can cross the border at will. And the reason is that so many politicians are afraid of the Hispanic vote. Of course, the more amnesty you give, the larger that vote will be, and the less control of the borders you will have in the future.
Then there are some libertarians who act as if the same arguments that apply to free trade and merchandise should apply to the movement of people across an international border. Of course, people are not merchandise. When people move across the border, their cultures move across the border with them. When you import people, you import cultures and you import patterns of behavior. One hundred years ago when our nation was debating immigration, at least they got data on which children of which immigrants did well in schools, which immigrants went on welfare and which didn’t, which immigrants had which diseases, and so forth. But today, in that regard, we are just flying blind.
DH: Now, with President Obama’s recent executive order on illegal immigration, effectively legalizing possibly up to 5 million of them, is he trying to expand the base of the Democratic Party?
TS: It’s that, but I think it’s also more fundamental than that. I think he believes that the world is unfair and those who are more fortunate are just lucky—you know, “You didn’t build that”—and that his role, as he said to Joe the Plumber, is to spread the wealth around. And so he is letting people into this country so they can partake in the wealth that the existing American population has created. I think his response to the Ebola crisis was typical, sending our troops over there. He doesn’t view his role as protecting the American people from this disease. I think this is a man who has enormous resentments toward this country, especially towards those people who have flourished and prospered here.
DH: What harm does Obama’s executive order do to the rule of law—and more broadly what has Obama’s actions as chief executive done to the rule of law?
TS: They have put the rule of law in great jeopardy. And, in a sense, Obama is the culmination of a trend that began 100 years ago with Woodrow Wilson. He was the first president to say publicly that the Constitution of the U.S. was fundamentally wrong, that all these restrictions on the power of the federal government should be removed, and if that couldn’t be done by the amendment process, then it should be done by judges reinterpreting the Constitution.
Over the years that has happened, and I suspect that if Republicans had not won control of the Senate, what remains of the Constitution would have been quickly eroded by the types of people Obama would have appointed to the judiciary.
DH: Now, let’s turn to the so-called “War on Women.” Here’s a quote: “A woman is paid 59 percent of what a man receives for doing that same work,” and that is proof women are discriminated against. That seems like something a Democrat would have said recently, but it’s actually from your 1984 book Civil Rights, Rhetoric and Reality. At the time, you said that it was a non-sequitur. Why?
TS: Because there are innumerable reasons why women do not receive the same income as men, and actually it is false that women receive far less for doing the same job. They receive less because they are doing different jobs, they are working fewer hours and for other kinds of reasons. Women have often chosen different skills, very rationally from their standpoint. Women tend to specialize in fields that you can leave and enter again without any great loss, such as teaching, librarians and so forth. You can’t do that in a high-tech field. If a woman has a child, then she waits many years until the child can be put in day care before she goes back to work, and in the meantime the field is revolutionizing during those years. When you come back, you’ll be way behind the curve and while you’re trying to catch up the field is still moving ahead.
Also, when you compare women and men’s pay and you hold things constant, like work experience, type of job, etc., the more things you hold constant, the more that differential disappears.
DH: So, you discredited that statistic 30 years ago. But why do politicians and activists continue to use it?
TS: One, they don’t care what I say. Not everyone reads what I say, and not everyone who reads it believes it, so what I say is irrelevant to them.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.