Thursday, February 28, 2008

Facts and Fallacies With Thomas Sowell

National Review has a five-part video interview with Thomas Sowell about economic facts and fallacies.

Part I:
The conventional wisdom instructs that the rise of women in corporate America in the latter half of the 20th century was due to the implementation of anti-discrimination laws championed by the feminist movement. In reality, a greater proportion of American women held high-level occupations in the first half of the 20th century. What gives? Thomas Sowell sets the record straight on this and other male–female employment fallacies.
Part II:
It has been reported that the incomes of most American households have remained flat in recent decades. But Sowell says this is a misleading statistic, since “households” are a moving target — varying over time in size, among population groups, and from one income level to another. Says Sowell, “Whenever I see somebody quoting household income, he's trying to make things look bad.” The mainstream media, it turns out, works overtime to make most income data look bad.
Part III:
Sowell discusses the outrage that is faculty tenure. Tenured faculty members, he says, run universities for their own best interests — not the interests of students. They schedule classes on their own time, not students’ time. They wield tremendous influence, in particular into areas where they have no expertise. Why, asks Sowell, should someone who teaches French literature decide whether ROTC should be allowed on campus? The trouble with tenure extends far and wide.
Part IV:
We’re programmed to think that if we want to make it big in life we need to attend the crème de la crème of colleges. Thomas Sowell says that’s not true at all. Higher-ed institutions also spread the notion that the price of tuition — though astronomically high — doesn’t even cover the full cost of educating each student. Another misleading statement, says Sowell. How can one separate higher-ed truth from fiction? Sowell has the answers.
Part V:
Fallacies about race run rampant through our culture. For instance, racial discrimination is often listed as a root cause of criminality among blacks, but Sowell points out that black crime was declining prior to the 1960s and the civil-rights and anti-poverty laws that emerged during that decade. What then is the source of black criminality in the post-1960s? Simple, says Sowell: “They stopped punishing criminals.”


thinking said...

For Part 1, that description provided by National Review is very misleading, if you actually listen to the interview. The female participation in high-level occupations was higher in the early 20th century than in the 1950's...and then the trend reversed itself in the 1960's, and is indeed higher today. (Also, as an aside, Sowell does not define what he means by a "high-level" occupation...undoubtedly, the types of occupations have changed dramatically over the course of a century).

Unfortunately, I think National Review is trying to score some cheap political points with that description. Somehow, I don't think Wm Buckley would be proud, as he was usually very precise with words.

What was most interesting was that Sowell negatively correlated female participation in high level jobs with marrying and raising children, which makes sense...not being sexist here, but obviously the more and sooner a woman devotes herself to child rearing, the more this usually takes away at least temporarily from her career development.

However, he does not address the issue of whether the feminist movement, for better or worse, was a catalyst for change in the manner of getting women to delay marriage and child rearing.

In fact, disappointingly, he doesn't explore why marriage and child rearing patterns had changed during the course of the last century. For instance, it makes sense that in the 50's women were more focused on marriage and child-rearing, given that we were coming out of WWII.

So the feminist movement may have played a larger role than he gives credit for, in that this movement may have resulted in the delay in child rearing that allowed for greater female career participation starting in the 60's.

M. Simon said...

They stopped punishing criminals?

We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The incarceration rate has been steadily rising for at least 50 years.