Two Different Worlds
by Thomas Sowell
by Thomas Sowell: Social
clashes over particular laws, policies and programs often go far
deeper. Those with opposing views of what is desirable for the future
also tend to differ equally sharply as to what the reality of the
present is. In other words, they envision two very different worlds.
A small but
revealing example was a recent New York Times criticism of
former Apple CEO Steve Jobs for not contributing to charity as much
as the New York Times writer thought he should. The media
in general are full of praise for business people and their companies
for giving away substantial amounts of their wealth. Indeed, that
is one of the few things for which many in the media praise businesses
and the wealthy.
general – whether rich, poor or in between – have one of the most
remarkable records for donating not only money but time to all sorts
of charitable endeavors. Privately financed hospitals, colleges
and innumerable other institutions abound in the United States,
while they are rare to non-existent in many other countries, where
such things are usually left to government or to religious organizations.
charity as with everything else, it cannot simply be assumed that
more is always better. A "safety net" can easily become a hammock.
"Social justice" can easily become class warfare that polarizes
a nation, while leading those at the bottom into the blind alley
of resentments, no matter how many broad avenues of achievement
may be available to them.
or their owners by how much wealth they give away – rather than
by how much wealth they create – is putting the cart before the
horse. Wealth is ultimately the only thing that can reduce poverty.
The most dramatic reductions in poverty, in countries around the
world, have come from increasing the amount of wealth, rather than
from a redistribution of existing wealth.
What kind of
world do we want – one in which everyone works to increase wealth
to whatever extent they can, or a world in which everyone will be
supported by either government handouts or private philanthropy,
whether they work or don't work?
It is not an
abstract question. We can already see the consequences on both sides
of the Atlantic. Those who have grown used to having others provide
their food, shelter and other basics as "rights" are by no means
On the contrary,
they are more angry, lawless and violent than in years past, whether
they are lower-class whites rioting in Britain or black "flash mobs"
in America. Their histories are very different, but what they have
in common is being supplied with a steady drumbeat of resentments
against those who are better off.
intellectuals and whole armies of caretaker bureaucrats are among
those who benefit, in one way or another, from picturing parasites
as victims, and their lags behind the rest of society as reasons
for anger rather than achievement.
into the blind alley of dependency and grievances may be counterproductive
for them but it can produce votes, money, power, fame and a sense
of exaltation to others who portray themselves as friends of the
philanthropy and the taxpayers' money support this whole edifice
of a make-believe world, where largesse replaces achievement and
"rights" replace work. Trying to rope Steve Jobs into this world
ignores how many other famous businessmen, whose achievements in
business have benefited society, have created philanthropies whose
harm has offset those benefits.
Ford benefited millions of other people by creating mass production
methods that cut the cost of automobiles to a fraction of what they
had been before – bringing cars for the first time within the budgets
of people who were not rich. But the Ford Foundation has become
a plaything of social experimenters who pay no price for creating
programs that have been counterproductive or even socially disastrous.
Nor was this
the only foundation created by business philanthropy with a similar
history and similar social results.
pioneers do what they do best. And let the rest of us exercise more
judgment as to how much charity is beneficial and how much more
simply perpetuates dependency, grievances and the polarization of
Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford
University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.
To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other
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