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The Best Quotes From The Last 52 Thomas Sowell Columns At Town Hall Starting 3/25/04

Written By : John Hawkins
March 16, 2012

“The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his “basic rights.”

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“Considering how often throughout history even intelligent people have been proved to be wrong, it is amazing that there are still people who are convinced that the only reason anyone could possibly say something different from what they believe is stupidity or dishonesty.”

“What makes the current reparations movement a fraud, whether at Brown University or in the country at large, is the attempt to depict slavery as something uniquely done to blacks by whites. Reparations advocates are doing this for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: That’s where the money is.”

“Even the Soviet Union, with its huge nuclear arsenal, was a threat that could be deterred by the prospect of retaliation. But suicide bombers cannot be deterred. They can only be annihilated — pre-emptively and unilaterally, if necessary.”

“(A) shortage is a sign that somebody is keeping the price artificially lower than it would be if supply and demand were allowed to operate freely.”

“Does anyone seriously believe that, if we begin creating international trade restrictions to limit the outsourcing of American jobs, other countries will not pass similar restrictions on the outsourcing of their jobs to America?”

“Back during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when unemployment in the United States hit a high of 25 percent, one of the many foolish things the government did was create international trade restrictions designed to save American jobs. Other countries around the world created similar restrictions to save their own workers’ jobs. Net result: world trade in 1933 was one-third of what it had been in 1929, making everybody poorer and therefore less able to create jobs. Many economists have blamed these restrictions for making the depression worse and longer lasting.”

“The government can always save 10,000 jobs — at a cost of 50,000 other jobs. If the jobs that are saved are in one industry, represented by vocal spokesmen, and the 50,000 lost jobs are spread thinly across the country in two’s and three’s here and there, then this is a good deal for the politician who becomes a hero to those 10,000 voters whose jobs he saved. This is obviously not a good deal for those who lose their jobs but they may not even know why. Moreover, when they are not concentrated in one place or in one industry, they are unlikely to come to the attention of the media. So they don’t count politically.”

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”

“It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer “universal health care.”

“There are few talents more richly rewarded with both wealth and power, in countries around the world, than the ability to convince backward people that their problems are caused by other people who are more advanced.”

“Those who pose as the biggest champions of the poor are almost invariably the biggest opponents of means tests. They want bigger government and the poor are just a means to that end. Whether the issue is housing, medical care or innumerable other things, the argument will be made that the poor are unable to get some benefit that the government ought to provide for them. But the minute you accept that, the switch takes place and suddenly we are no longer talking about some benefit confined to the poor but about “universal health care” or “affordable housing” as a “right” for everyone.”

“Those who now talk about a need for “iron-clad proof” are talking election-year nonsense when it comes to national survival. When the planes flew into the World Trade Center, that was iron-clad proof. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, that was iron-clad proof. We cannot wait for iron-clad proof in a nuclear age.”

“There are no solutions…(t)here are only trade-offs.”

“This election year we are sure to hear a lot about “special interests.” Candidates of both major parties, as well as candidates of third or fourth parties, are sure to denounce special interests both hotly and repeatedly. The secret of these verbal fireworks from all parts of the political spectrum is that only the groups supporting one’s opponents are called special interests. Politicians do not call their own supporters special interests. Therefore every candidate can be against special interests, and they differ only in how often and how loudly they say it — and in the particular groups to whom they apply that label.”

“Over the years, trial lawyer John Edwards won more than $60 million in damage awards. Put differently, he alone added $60 million to the cost of medical care.”

“(In America) obesity is even more common among low-income people than among high-income people.”

“Those who vent their moral indignation over low pay for Third World workers employed by multinational companies ignore the plain fact that these workers’ employers are usually supplying them with better opportunities than they had before, while those who are morally indignant on their behalf are providing them with nothing.”

“Pay rates raised without regard to productivity are a virtual guarantee of unemployment, whether it is done in the name of ending “exploitation” in the Third World or providing “a living wage” in the United States.”

“Back when Hong Kong was a British colony and its wage rates were set by supply and demand, the Wall Street Journal reported that its unemployment rate was less than 2 percent. Then, after China took over Hong Kong and mandated various worker benefits — which add to labor costs, the same as higher wage rates — Hong Kong’s unemployment rate went over 8 percent. This was not high by European standards but it was unprecedented for Hong Kong. There is no free lunch in any part of the world.”

“By and large, multinational companies pay about double the local wages in Third World countries. As for “exploitation,” the vast majority of American investment overseas goes to high-wage countries, not low-wage countries.”

“In (Peter) Drucker’s words, “Nobody seems to realize that we import twice or three times as many jobs as we export. I’m talking about the jobs created by foreign companies coming into the U.S.,” such as Japanese automobile plants making Toyotas and Hondas on American soil. “Siemens alone has 60,000 employees in the United States,” Drucker points out. “We are exporting low-skill, low-paying jobs but are importing high-skill, high-paying jobs.”

“While American companies can hire computer programmers in India to replace higher paid American programmers, that is because of India’s outstanding education in computer engineering. By and large, however, the average productivity of Indian workers is about 15 percent of that of American workers. In other words, if you hired Indian workers and paid them one-fifth of what you paid American workers, it would cost you more to get a given job done in India. That is the rule and computer programming is the exception.”

“Politics is the art of making your selfish desires seem like the national interest.”

“If navel-gazing, hand-wringing or self-dramatization helped with racial issues, we would have achieved Utopia long ago.”

“Those who rail against profits and “greed” seldom stop to think through what they are saying, much less go check the facts. Most of the great American fortunes– Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, etc. — came from finding more efficient ways to produce a product or service at a lower cost, so that it could be sold at a lower price and attract more customers. If making a fortune represents greed, then greed is what drives prices down.”

“The unspoken assumption — and fallacy — is that high profits mean high prices. But, back in the heyday of the A & P grocery chain, its profit rate never fell below 20 percent for a whole decade — and it was at that time the pre-eminent grocery chain in the country precisely because of its low prices and high quality.”

“To the economically illiterate, if some company makes a million dollars in profit, this means that their products cost a million dollars more than they would have cost without profits. It never occurs to such people that these products might cost several million dollars more to produce than if they were produced by enterprises operating without the incentives to be efficient created by the prospect of profits.”

“Like a baseball game, wars are not over till they are over. Wars don’t run on a clock like football. No previous generation was so hopelessly unrealistic that this had to be explained to them.”

“Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century — and then only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there. But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.”

“It is precisely in the places that have been most dominated by liberals for the longest times that housing costs and other costs of living have been driven up to levels that force many people out of town and even out of state. New York and California are losing more of their native-born populations than any other states and only influxes of immigrants help conceal that fact in gross statistics.”

“Most people who read “The Communist Manifesto” probably have no idea that it was written by a couple of young men who had never worked a day in their lives, and who nevertheless spoke boldly in the name of “the workers.” Similar offspring of inherited wealth have repeatedly provided the leadership of radical movements, with similar pretenses of speaking for “the people.”

“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing. If you have been living in a world where outcomes are everything, you may have a very hard time understanding bureaucratic thinking or practices.”

“They say talk is cheap but political demagoguery can have very high costs. In the case of pharmaceutical drugs, these costs go beyond money to needless pain, disabilities and death, when the rate of new drug discovery suffers from threatening political rhetoric that discourages investment.”

“Shortages where the government sets prices have been common in countries around the world, for centuries on end, whether these shortages have taken the form of waiting lists, black markets, or other ways of coping with the fact that what people demand at an artificially low price exceeds what other people will supply at such prices. This principle is not limited to medical care. There were waiting lines for food, undershirts, and all sorts of other things in the Communist bloc countries in Eastern Europe before the collapse of Communism in that region. You had to get on a waiting list to buy a poorly made car in India before they began to free up their economy from government controls. You could go back literally thousands of years and find shortages under price controls in the Roman Empire or in ancient Babylon. But it is still front-page news today because elementary economics has not yet sunk in.”

“Americans, who produce a wholly disproportionate share of the world’s new life-saving drugs, are being asked to imitate price control policies in countries where such policies have dried up the costly research behind such discoveries. These countries have left the development of new drugs to the United States. But if we follow their example by killing the goose that lays the golden egg, who can we turn to for developing new medicines? This could be the most costly free lunch of all.”

“(R)ent control laws over-ride property rights and create housing shortages in the process. Homelessness is particularly acute in cities with severe rent control laws, such as San Francisco and New York. People sleeping on the sidewalks in Manhattan during the winter can die of exposure, despite far more boarded-up apartment buildings than would be required to house them all. Yet those buildings are boarded up because rent control laws make them uneconomical to operate.”

“Just what is a living wage? It usually means enough income to support a family of four on one paycheck. This idea has swept through various communities, churches and academic institutions. Facts have never yet caught up with this idea and analysis is lagging even farther behind. First of all, do most low-wage workers actually have a family of four to support on one paycheck? According to a recent study by the Cato Institute, fewer than one out of five minimum wage workers has a family to support. These are usually young people just starting out.”

“The new Cato Institute study cites data showing job losses in places where living wage laws have been imposed. This should not be the least bit surprising. Making anything more expensive almost invariably leads to fewer purchases. That includes labor.”

“As imposed wage rates rise, so do job qualifications, so that less skilled or less experienced workers become “unemployable.” Think about it. Every one of us would be “unemployable” if our pay rates were raised high enough.”

You can read more from Thomas Sowell at Town Hall.

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