Book Reviews

Book Review: “Wealth, Poverty, and Politics”

Review written by Silas Grant

This is the fourth book I’ve read for the second half of 2020. It is a book written by Thomas Sowell, who is a well known economist. It is a book that attempts to eliminate emotions from the fact that there are disparities between groups of people. His goal is not to close those gaps, but to acknowledge their existence and accept this as a reality that comes along with life.

The concept: This book is about the various factors and moving parts that attribute to the success or demise of different groups of people at different times in history. Factors such as climate, agriculture, innovation, isolation, immigration, partnerships with other races/ethnicities, natural resources, timing, as well as other considerations are covered in this reading. Sowell attempts to dispel the idea that comparisons between groups and their outcomes are “black and white” or “cut and dry”.

Key takeaways:

Productivity – Sowell makes the argument that the rich are not richer at the expense of the poor. In his argument, he states that productivity is a key factor toward the success of groups. Throughout the book, he references Nigerians, Jews, Japanese, Britons, African-Americans, Brazilians, Germans, Italians, as well as other groups of people. He weighs the the impact of environment surrounding groups of people versus the culture housed inside of those same groups.

Racial leaders – Sowell makes the claim that racial groups with clearly identifiable “leaders” are often stymied by those leaders. He argues that racial groups don’t need advocates, they need to work together and ignore the disparates. The ignoring of the disparates in exchange for focusing on digging themselves out of the hole will lead them to more success.

Gaps – Gaps in education outcomes, wealth outcomes, and overall achievement should not be addressed by government or policy according to the book. Redistribution of income/wealth is a punitive effort toward successful people undeserving of such punishment. He referencing the the Rockefellers and kerosene. In this example, he states that if it were not for the Rockefellers contribution of kerosene, many of the people complaining about their wealth wouldn’t have as much time to work to create innovation that could possibly close the gap. Simply put, according to Sowell, the lighting created by the Rockefellers to allow everyone to work well into the light is a contribution that is grossly overlooked by those complaining about billionaires.

“The rich getting richer” – Sowell states that when doing comparative analysis, the “rich” today aren’t always the “rich” from a decade ago. He states that the average family passes through several income levels. He even states that the richest in one period fall from that designation at times. He also states that most surveys and analysis that would actually follow individuals in these observations aren’t as cost effective as year to year or decade to decade comparisons of families and groups holding those slots in the time that the surveys/observations take place.

“Ghetto culture” – Sowell is a Black man. He is considered to be a conservative. Much of his references to African Americans (specifically those who are descendants of American slaves) are negative. He attributes the state of Blacks in the worst condition to the desire of those Blacks to be “ghetto”. He frequently refers to those “ghetto” Blacks calling anything progressive out to be “acting white”. He talks about the productivity of the Japanese, Jews, and others, but fails to mention the contributions of Blacks who have not been fairly rewarded for their contributions in America. He believes the legacy and impact of slavery in current times is a myth. He states that slavery took place in all time periods across all continents. This is true. But not form of slavery has been more brutal and long-lasting with impact than the American form of slavery. He states that the first 100 years of life for Blacks in America post slavery saw constant progression. He makes a correlation between the civil rights movement, civil rights leaders, single parent Black homes, and the embracing of ghetto culture as the reason for declines. What he doesn’t consider is the racial violence against Blacks that perpetuated fear on Blacks. Blacks who created their own towns and experienced group prosperity often had those towns burned by White supremacists. He fails to mention inventions being stolen from Blacks, racist banking practices for prospective homebuyers and business owners, along with racist real estate practices through covenants that prevented Blacks from taking advantage of the very institution that provides the foundation of most of the wealth in this country: real estate. This perceived “ghetto culture” can also simply be fatigue. Many Blacks are tired of pulling up their boot straps only to be clipped up by policies, violence, and racism. He mentions on a few occasions Black people being violent toward Whites and Asians. But he never mentions lynchings and other modes of murder and terror on Blacks who attempted to bring progression to their people.

This book is a book that has a lot of facts. But there isn’t enough context provided. For this to be a book about moving parts and a number of factors, there are critical factors that seem to be missing. It is a dense read. Sowell has countless examples to back his claims. It is very thorough in that way. The level of detailed information and examples in each of the chapters is appreciated by me. It is a book that you can learn from if you can put aside some of the biases that jump off the page. All in all, if you are a member of a group lagging behind in progress, this book gives examples of those who have jolted to the front in terms of success. And for me, that is a motivation to work to copy some of those strategies and share them with the tribes I belong to.

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