Tag Archives: greed

Thomas Sowell’s Random Thoughts

12 Feb

Just a few gems from Thomas Sowell’s latest “Random Thoughts” column.  I’m really glad he takes the time to collect his notes on various sub-topics and feed them out to us.  The entire column can be read at http://www.creators.com/opinion/thomas-sowell/random-thoughts-13-02-12.html


— I can’t get excited by the question of whether Senator Robert Menendez had sex with a prostitute in Central America. It is her word against his — and when it comes to a prostitute’s word against a politician’s word, that is too close to call.

— If an American citizen went off to join Hitler’s army during World War II, would there have been any question that this alone would make it legal to kill him? Why then is there an uproar about killing an American citizen who has joined terrorist organizations that are at war against the United States today?

— One of the talking points in favor of confirming Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is that he was a wounded combat veteran. How does that qualify anyone to run the whole military establishment? Benedict Arnold was a wounded combat veteran!

— People who are forever ready to charge others with “greed” never apply that word to the government. But, if you think the government is never greedy, check out what the government does under the escheat laws and eminent domain.

End of excerpts.

He certainly has a way of getting thoughts down to simple comparisons.


Power Corrupts — Or Does It?

25 Sep

We’re all familiar with the statement attributed to Lord Acton (19th century British historian):

“Power tends to corrupt.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We want to believe this is NOT true – that if WE, for example, were thrown into power, we would be beloved and benevolent rulers, only doing that which is best for the citizenry, the country, and the world.  And yet, what we observe in the dismantling of effective government in the United States would tend to support Lord Acton’s declaration.

A recent study at the University of Toronto has shed some light on the subject (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology).  Through a series of experiments with 275 people, undergraduate students and working adults, the study concluded that Power itself does not corrupt.

Rather, power tends to exaggerates ANY ethical tendencies.  If your ethical tendencies are overwhelmingly toward compassion, generosity, fairness, etc., you will probably not be corrupted by power.  But if there are any elements of greed, nepotism, racism, negative influence-peddling, etc., these will be greatly exaggerated by the addition of power, and corruption is difficult to avoid.

This seems to me to be a more satisfying interpretation of the effect of power on the powerful.  However, it does seem to raise a follow-on question:  Why does it then seem that  — given the thoroughly corrupted state of politics in this nation — most people who enter politics must go in with unhealthy moral attitudes?  Why don’t we get more people running for office who have a solid grounding in the kind of morality  (incorruptible) that most Americans would like to see exemplified in our elected representatives?

Can truly good people not get elected to office in today’s America?

Thomas Sowell on Political Terminology

27 Jun

Thomas Sowell has posted three excellent essays on Creators.com, all under the titles of “A Political Glossary” (I, II, III).  I will post just a few excerpts below, but the full text can be found at http://www.creators.com/conservative/thomas-sowell/a-political-glossary.html  and is very worth reading.

 Sowell is a senior fellow in economics at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  His unique perspective is influenced by him also being a black conservative.


 One of the most versatile terms in the political vocabulary is “fairness.” It has been used over a vast range of issues, from “fair trade” laws to the Fair Labor Standards Act. And recently we have heard that the rich don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes.

Some of us may want to see a definition of what is “fair.” But a concrete definition would destroy the versatility of the word, which is what makes it so useful politically.   .   .   .

[Other terms Sowell helps us understand in a political context in Part I include “racism”, “compassion”, “mean-spirited”, “greedy”, and “the hungry”.]

[Part II is all about the political meaning of the term “access”]

“Access” is one of those words. Politicians seem to be forever coming to the rescue of people who have been denied “access” to credit, college or whatever.

But what does that mean, concretely?

[Part III is all about the political term “social justice”.]

If there were a Hall of Fame for political rhetoric, the phrase “social justice” would deserve a prominent place there. It has the prime virtue of political catchwords: It means many different things to many different people.

In other words, if you are a politician, you can get lots of people, with different concrete ideas, to agree with you when you come out boldly for the vague generality of “social justice.” .   .   .   .

Many years ago, a study of black adults with high IQs found that they described their childhoods as “extremely unhappy” more often than other black adults did. There is little that politicians can do about that — except stop pretending that all problems in black communities originate in other communities.

Similar principles apply around the world. Every group trails the long shadow of its cultural heritage — and no politician or society can change the past. But they can stop leading people into the blind alley of resentments of other people. A better future often requires internal changes that pay off better than mysticism about one’s own group or about “social justice.”

[End of excerpts]

You agree, or take issue with him?