Good Reading

1.  Walter Williams – Parting Company

I believe we are nearing a point where there are enough irreconcilable differences between those Americans who want to control other Americans and those Americans who want to be left alone that separation is the only peaceable alternative.

I still hold out some hope.  I think a lot of Americans who want to control other Americans simply don’t realize that’s what they are doing.  They think that what they’re doing is for a greater good.  I hope we can help them realize that not controlling others is a fundamental principle of life, it’s what the country was founded upon and produces better results — as David Boaz points out below.

2. John Stossel – What Am I?

Stossel explains a bit about what it means to be libertarian.  He answers the common question of ‘what about the poor and the weak’ with responses from people who appear on this show.

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, took the discussion to a deeper level.

Instead of asking, ‘What should we do about people who are poor in a rich country?’ The first question is, ‘Why is this a rich country?’ …

“Five hundred years ago, there weren’t rich countries in the world. There are rich countries now because part of the world is following basically libertarian rules: private property, free markets, individualism.”

Boaz makes an important distinction between equality and absolute living standards.

“The most important way that people get out of poverty is economic growth that free markets allow. The second-most important way — maybe it’s the first — is family. There are lots of income transfers within families. Third would be self-help and mutual-aid organizations. This was very big before the rise of the welfare state.”

This is an important but unappreciated point: Before the New Deal, people of modest means banded together to help themselves. These organizations were crowded out when government co-opted their insurance functions, which included inexpensive medical care.

Boaz indicts the welfare state for the untold harm it’s done in the name of the poor.

“What we find is a system that traps people into dependency. … You should be asking advocates of that system, ‘Why don’t you care about the poor?'”

I agree. It appears that when government sets out to solve a problem, not only does it violate our freedom, it also accomplishes the opposite of what it set out to do.

Excellent response when someone asks what about the poor?  How did the country get rich in the first place?  Have the solutions put in place to help the poor helped or made things worse?  In fact, it was the answer to these very questions that led me away from my more liberal roots.

3. Thomas Sowell – Race and Politics: Part II

A major factor in the housing boom and bust that created the present economic predicament was massive government intervention in the housing market, supposedly to correct discrimination in mortgage lending. How did they know that there was discrimination? Because blacks were turned down for mortgage loans at a higher rate than whites.

It so happens that whites were turned down for mortgage loans at a higher rate than Asian Americans, but that fact seldom made it into the newspaper headlines or the political rhetoric.

If only more people would ask obvious questions about data and not simply take a newspaper or study headline at face value.  Sowell is good reading for anyone with analyst in their job title.  I believe reading Sowell over the years has helped develop my ability to poke holes in interpretations of data.

I think knowing the real reasons behind the data is more worthwhile than interpreting data to fit my mental model.  I’m prone to my own biases, however, I am also more open to understanding alternative interpretations and why those may or may not be valid.

What do I have to lose?

Now that I think about it, that’s a great question for many people who are cemented into their mental models.  What do they have to lose?  If more people were more open to alternative explanations for why things are the way they are, perhaps we wouldn’t have such a divide.