Home Bookend - Where reading meets review DISCRIMINATION AND DISPARITIES- THOMAS SOWELL


by Venky


The multi-faceted Thomas Sowell ups the decibel level of informed debates, thought provoking discussions and essential deliberations in his new offering “Discriminations and Disparities” (“the book”). Painstakingly arguing that the “great disparities in outcomes found in economic and other endeavours need not be due to either comparable disparities in innate capabilities or comparable disparities in a way people, are treated by other people”, Sowell – a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of numerous books on subjects ranging from philosophy, history and decision-making theory – backs up his proposition with empirical evidence, fact patterns, cause and consequences. It is the absence of this very empirical evidence, which according to Sowell, influences policy mavens, politicians and even the common man to embrace unilateral reasons for disparate socio economic outcomes and vainly attempt to offer ‘solutions’ aimed at ameliorating such outcomes.

Urging the readers to not get seeped or enmeshed in the past, he paraphrases Edmund Burke to warn the world about the perils of employing the past as a barometer in determining the future. “In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from past errors and infirmities of mankind……the past could also be a means of keeping alive, or reviving, dissensions and animosities.”

The intellectual vigour and the sheer breadth of Sowell’s uncanny knack for unraveling ‘linkages’ finds absolute freedom in the book. Striving to demonstrate how counter-productive, knee jerk policy measures (although laced with benevolent intentions) might turn out to be, he provides illuminating examples of ‘residential sorting and unsorting’. Where people have innately and voluntarily decided where, how and with/near whom to live, the outcomes are likelier than not, to be desirable. However, where such a decision has been made by the Government, by trying to acculturate low income groups with middle income groups by unsorting the former from their prevalent abodes to relocating them to neighbourhoods predominantly occupied by the latter, the resulting outcomes have been, to put it mildly, embarrassing. Similar is the case with ‘educational sorting.’ The fascinating story of Dunbar High School in Washington pre and post the momentous Supreme Court Ruling in Brown v Board of Education is a revealing case in point. Prior to Justice Warren’s monumental verdict slaying the concept of racial segregation in schools, Dunbar High, an all-black educational institution produced a plethora of luminaries, who immersed themselves with distinctions of the highest order and degree. Post the Supreme Court decision, when Washington schools were all made neighbourhood schools, Dunbar was precluded from admitting black students from anywhere in the city, as was hitherto its policy. Ironically, once Dunbar was forced to take only students from the particular ghetto neighbourhood in which the school was located, it fast plummeted in its reputation and became a failing ghetto school besotted by academic as well as behavioural problems.

Sowell also points out the fallacy in misconstruing household income statistics by sorting into a single basket both annual salaries and income from capital gains that has accrued over a time period but realized as cash income during a given year. Such a methodology, Sowell argues, embellishes the notions of inequality and exacerbates the discourse that gives colour and content to the disparity theory that divides the top and bottom segments of income earners. However, to complete the cycle of logic, it would have been extremely beneficial if Sowell could also have expounded on the disparities in the means available to people placed in various income strata, to accumulate such capital gains and thereby become beneficiaries of one-time windfalls.

The reputation of Thomas Sowell as a multi-disciplinary thinker par excellence is a fact that warrants neither argument nor is accommodating of any deliberation. In “Discrimination and Disparities” he brings to the fore his wide ranging acumen, delightful erudition and an inimitable alacrity to discuss about an issue that is topical, relevant and essential. The accepted wisdom that is currently foisted upon the concerned personnel while dealing with notions such as discriminations and isolation will undergo a revolutionary change and a paradigm shift upon assimilating and absorbing the philosophy of Thomas Sowell!

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