Discrimination and Disparities: Thomas Sowell on Racism and Reason

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At today’s rate of decline, some people are becoming tempted to say things like, “Your stupidity exceeds my personal sanctification’s maximum level of tolerability,” and thus, shut down the conversation. Today, more than ever, people are tempted to communicate only in the confines of an echo chamber. But Thomas Sowell seeks to keep the conversation going, rationally.

His new book, Discrimination and Disparities, argues convincingly that monocausal explanations are always unsatisfactory. Knowledge of Aristotle’s four causes should make that clear to everyone, but not everyone receives a classical education. Moving beyond such obvious self-evident truths as these classic distinctions, Sowell aims to show that disparity of outcomes, such as income inequality, are normal, natural, and inevitable.

Discrimination and Disparities
Thomas Sowell
Basic Books (2018). 127 pp. $28.00

His short book is divided into five easy chapters. It is fluid in its approach to different subjects, building on what was previously explained.

The initial chapter looks at disparities and sees how normal it is both in nature and in history; even amongst people groups that we think are homogeneous. The second chapter attempts to create more precise definitions of discrimination, with at least two very different types. He distinguishes between discrimination type I (the good, normal, and natural discrimination, which you find with wine connoisseurs) versus the bad discrimination that is illegitimate and arbitrary. The next chapter shows how people naturally segregate and de-segregate themselves. He argues that when we force segregation or de-segregation we create problems. Chapter 4 gets heavily involved in statistics and chapter 5 explains the theory behind a lot of our desires to try to fix these so-called issues, which, sadly, only cause more problems. In other words, he points out that the law of unknown consequences has actually increased racism, instead of removing it. 

Countless fascinating facts are dropped like a bombshell on every page: facts that undermine our egalitarian assumptions. For example, with a rare exception, the first born child in every family usually has the highest IQ of all the siblings, and a greater rate of success. Equality is not a given in nature or biology, so why do we expect it?

Another fascinating fact that leads to very different outcomes is the cultural love of literature. The Scots lagged behind England and the rest of the world for the longest time. Protestantism swept through, and with it, a primacy on the ability to read. The Protestant love of reading the Scriptures lead to a general increase in education level, and thus Scotland became one of the world leaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Culture matters.

To attribute racism and discrimination to all of these unequal distributions is to assume the worst. Scripture however commands us to assume the best.

Sowell’s arguments to allow the free market to provide solutions are intriguing. He points out that businesses in times past did segregate. Not because of pride, and not because of hatred. Businesses segregated because it was worthwhile financially. For example he references the well-known fight between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants. Such a combined workforce would have created “distracting frictions” up to the point of workplace “violence.” Nothing personal, there’s just a job to do.

Another major topic both in the news and one that Sowell tackles is the mortgage disparity. He references a recent study in 2000 by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Black applicants were rejected for a mortgage loan at nearly twice the rate of white people. However, what the news and the academics do not want you to know is that white people were rejected at twice the rate as Asians and Native Hawaiians. So how can we legitimately claim that this is a matter of racism? Our attempt to understand the underlying motives using the plausibility theory of racism no longer has purchasing power.

But if that's not enough, it gets better.

The African-American economist wrote, “What was equally implausible was the that black-owned banks were discriminating against black applicants. But in fact black owned-banks turned down black applicants for home mortgage loans at a higher rate than did white-owned banks.” Are black-owned banks even more racist than white-owned banks against the black community?

Our unteachable spirit, which leads us to ignore these facts, comes with a dire warning. In reference to the tragedies of communism and Hitler’s socialism, Sowell warns, “The historic consequences of treating beliefs as sacred dogmas beyond the reach of evidence or logic should be enough to dissuade us from going down that road again.” Discrimination and Disparities is a must read for every level-headed individual interested in a rational approach to a pressing topic.

Daniel Mason

BA in Theology, beginning studies for an MA in Philosophy at the University of Buckingham under the guidance of Sir Roger Scruton. Founder and creator of The Reformed Conservative.