Saturday, January 17, 2015


By Thomas J. Sowell

Some time ago, burglars in England scrawled a message on the wall of a home they had looted: "RICH BASTARDS."

Those two words captured the spirit of the politicized vision of
equality — that it was a grievance when someone was better off than themselves.

That, of course, is not the only meaning of equality, but it is the predominant political meaning in practice, where economic "disparities" and "gaps" are automatically treated as "inequities." If one racial or ethnic group has a lower income than another, that is automatically called "discrimination" by many people in politics, the media and academia.

It doesn't matter how much evidence there is that some groups work harder in school, perform better and spend more postgraduate years studying to acquire valuable skills in medicine, science or engineering. If the economic end results are unequal, that is treated as a grievance against those with better outcomes, and a sign of an "unfair" society.

The rhetoric of clever people often confuses the undeniable fact that life is unfair with the claim that a given institution or society is unfair.

Children born into families that raise them with love and with care to see that they acquire knowledge, values and discipline that will make them valuable members of society have far more chances of economic and other success in adulthood than children raised in families that lack these qualities.

Studies show that children whose parents have professional careers speak nearly twice as many words per hour to them as children with working class parents — and several times as many words per hour as children in families on welfare. There is no way that children from these different backgrounds are going to have equal chances of economic or other success in adulthood.

The fatal fallacy, however, is in collecting statistics on employees at a particular business or other institution, and treating differences in the hiring, pay or promotion of people from different groups as showing that their employer has been discriminating.

Too many gullible people buy the implicit assumption that the unfairness originated where the statistics were collected, which would be an incredible coincidence if it were true.

Worse yet, some people buy the idea that politicians can correct the unfairness of life by cracking down on employers. But, by the time children raised in very different ways reach an employer, the damage has already been done.

What is a problem for children raised in families and communities that do not prepare them for productive lives can be a bonanza for politicians, lawyers and assorted social messiahs who are ready to lead fierce crusades, if the price is right.

Many in the media and among the intelligentsia are all too ready to go along, in the name of seeking equality. But equality of what?

Equality before the law is a fundamental value in a decent society. But equality of treatment in no way guarantees equality of outcomes.

On the contrary, equality of treatment makes equality of outcomes unlikely, since virtually nobody is equal to somebody else in the whole range of skills and capabilities required in real life. When it comes to performance, the same man may not even be equal to himself on different days, much less at different periods of his life.

What may be a spontaneous confusion among the public at large about the very different meanings of the word "equality" can be a carefully cultivated confusion by politicians, lawyers and others skilled in rhetoric, who can exploit that confusion for their own benefit.

Regardless of the actual causes of different capabilities and rewards in different individuals and groups, political crusades require a villain to attack — a villain far removed from the voter or the voter's family or community. Lawyers must likewise have a villain to sue. The media and the intelligentsia are also attracted to crusades against the forces of evil.

But whether as a crusade or a racket, a confused conception of equality is a formula for never-ending strife that can tear a whole society apart — and has already done so in many countries.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is author of Intellectuals and Raceand Economic Facts and Fallacies.


  1. Unrelated, but I miss having all EPJ on one website.

  2. equality of what?

    how about fear? Fear that your kids will starve, Fear that you'll have nowhere to live, nothing to eat, no way to survive

    frankly, as a highly educated person, i've come to the conclusion that about 99.9% of the worlds problems would suddenly disappear if you could wipe out the richest 0.1% (i'd throw in the rest of the 1% for good measure and entertainment value)

    starting with their spoilt rotten amoral children

    and i am pretty sure that if a proposition were put to the worlds population to wipe out the top 0.1% of rich people

    nobody would defend them (except their paid for lackies)

    from what i've read such a move would kill off pretty much every human on earth who leads us to war


    1. Re: The Peak Oil Poet,

      --" frankly, as a highly educated person, i've come to the conclusion that about 99.9% of the worlds problems would suddenly disappear if you could wipe out the richest 0.1% "--

      You should consider asking from those that educated you for your money back, because you were bamboozled.

    2. POP: One of the stupidest comments I've read in years.

    3. You are envious of others that have performed more successfully than you and that causes you to act like a spoiled child that does not accept criticism very well.

    4. actually, i'm rich, retired and quite happy in a life that few can afford

      so, ehh, wrong

      just attacking the messenger works great eh?

      in history we see many examples of inequality of wealth leading to revolutionary chaos and significant deaths - it almost seems an inevitable consequence of any system of power given enough time

      my suggestion is that we should not bother waiting all the years between now and when the really nasty times come (leading to the deaths of millions of "rich" people) but simply start taking them out now - it would only take a few prominent billionaires being offed to effect change - better kill a 100 now than watch them all die with their families in the future

      because that's what happens when inequality tips over into revolution

      ie what do you want? A few dead billionaires now or a Stalin/Zedung/Pol Pot later?

      or is that too difficult to grasp?


    5. So when is Peak Oil getting here?

      lol...I'm really surprised you've managed to troll so many here. How can anyone help but laugh at your statements when reading them?

      Then again, I'm sure some people laughed at Hilter when he started out, so maybe I should be so

      Stalin would certainly be proud of your fervor.

  3. Mr. Sowell is one of the best. Great piece.