In Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, Thomas Sowell, one of the foremost conservative public intellectuals in this country, argues that political and ideological struggles have led to dangerous confusion about income inequality in America. Pundits and politically motivated economists trumpet ambiguous statistics and sensational theories while ignoring the true determinant of income inequality: the production of wealth. We cannot properly understand inequality if we focus exclusively on the distribution of wealth and ignore wealth production factors such as geography, demography, and culture.
Sowell contends that liberals have a particular interest in misreading the data and chastises them for using income inequality as an argument for the welfare state. Refuting Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman, and others on the left, Sowell draws on accurate empirical data to show that the inequality is not nearly as extreme or sensational as we have been led to believe.
Transcending partisanship through a careful examination of data, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics reveals the truth about the most explosive political issue of our time.
Hoover Institution economist Sowell (Intellectuals and Race) minces no words in his hard-hitting survey of global wealth and poverty. He first considers the effects of geography on economic history before moving on to culture, comparing trust, human capital, and attitudes toward education and work in different societies. Dwelling on race, a familiar Sowell theme, he looks skeptically at liberal explanations for lingering black poverty, which he attributes to fatherless families and welfare. The latter, in Sowell's view, creates dependent populations managed by self-interested bureaucrats. A prominent figure among African-American conservatives, he criticizes black community leaders for fomenting hostility toward other racial groups, and multiculturalism for enshrining "ghetto culture." To what extent are "external barriers" significant, he asks, when questions about "internal deficiencies in knowledge, discipline, values" are "kept off the agenda?" For cures, Sowell disputes the rich-getting-richer, redistributionist themes pitched by Thomas Picketty, Paul Krugman, and others, noting fluxes in incomes and turnover of wealth over time. His compelling survey of what generates success and failure worldwide will challenge committed progressives. Sowell concludes, "If there is any common thread in these varying outcomes, it seems to be human capital." Open-minded readers will find Sowell's directness, honesty, and common sense refreshing and often wise.