Thomas Sowell is one of my favorite columnists, not the least because of his ability to explain economics in ways that anyone can understand. He writes in plain English, marshals his facts, and it’s all but impossible to find a logic lapse in any of his arguments. While I may disagree with him on this or that, I admire him and respect his opinion. Always. So I am extracting his column from a recent Front Page column on “Essential Reads For The 2016 Election: Books every American should be familiar with before voting this November”:
If you are concerned about issues involved when some people want to expand the welfare state and others want to contract it, then one of the most relevant and insightful books is “Life at the Bottom” by Theodore Dalrymple. It was not written this year and is not even about the United States, much less our current presidential or other candidates.
What makes “Life at the Bottom” especially relevant and valuable is that it is about the actual consequences of the welfare state in England — which are remarkably similar to the consequences in the United States.
Many Americans may find it easier to think straight about what happens, when it is in a country where the welfare recipients are overwhelmingly whites, so that their behavior cannot be explained away by “a legacy of slavery” or “institutional racism,” or other such evasions of facts in the United States.
As Dr. Dalrymple says: “It will come as a surprise to American readers, perhaps, to learn that the majority of the British underclass is white, and that it demonstrates all the same social pathology as the black underclass in America — for very similar reasons, of course.” That reason is the welfare state, and the attitudes and behavior it promotes and subsidizes.
Another and very different example of the welfare state's actual consequences is “The New Trail of Tears” by Naomi Schaefer Riley. It is a painful but eye-opening account of life on American Indian reservations.
People on those reservations have been taken care of by the federal government for more than a hundred years. They have lived in a welfare state longer than any other minority in America. What have been the consequences?
One consequence is that they have lower incomes than any other minority — including other American Indians, who do not live on reservations, and who are doing far better on their own.
The economic plight of people on the reservations is by no means the worst of it. The social problems are heart-breaking. As just one example, the leading cause of death, among American Indian boys from 10 to 14 years of age, is suicide.
As regards black Americans, there is much talk about the role of police. If you want a book that cuts through the rhetoric and confusion, and deals with hard facts, then “The War on Cops” by Heather Mac Donald does precisely that.
On racial issues in general, the best economic survey is “Race and Economics” by Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University. Just the table on page 35, showing unemployment rates among black and white teenagers, going all the way back to 1948, should demolish all the rhetoric and spin that tries to conceal the deadly effects of minimum wage laws on unemployment among black teenagers.
The rest of Sowell's column is here. The authors cited by Sowell are also regular contributors to print and online sources. So if book-length discussions are too time-consuming for a busy schedule, you can access columns by Dalrymple on welfare and povertyhere, Williams on the consequences of minimum wages here, and McDonald on the war on cops here. And here’s a review of McDonald’s book on cops.