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1998 Wriston Lecture: Equality and Justice versus Freedom

Tuesday October 1998


Thomas Sowell Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution

Event Transcript

(unedited transcript)

MR. HERTOG : Good evening...decibel that any of us might have anticipated. Their Quintilian [phonetic] shower curtain had a few simple principles. Schools could be small with strong leadership, have a clearly defined vision that everyone had to sign on to. We at the Institute are proud of how the CEI helped change public schools in New York, and we wish you safe passage.


As we gather here tonight, we can be justly proud that the Wriston Lecture has become an institution in New York. It is important, because it is not just another dinner. It is not dominated by beltway politicians. It does not round up the usual suspects. It is a celebration of ideas.

From our first lecture, Carver Mead’s economic analysis of the consequences of technology, Tom Wolfe’s rage against the demise of urban values to V. S. Naipaul’s tribute to the universality of Western civilization, to Vaclav Klaus’ passionate chronicle of the Czech Republic’s journey towards freedom and democracy. We have become an arena for statesmen, philosophers, novelists, and tonight’s speaker, Thomas Sowell, stands tall among them.

But my task now is to introduce Midge Decter. Born and educated in the heartland, St. Paul, Minnesota, Midge Decter majored in typing. She came to New York as a girl of nineteen, a penniless dreamer, with Zionist fantasies of dying on the barricades in Jerusalem. Instead, she was offered a job as an office assistant for what was then the liberal Jewish magazine, “Commentary.”

There, she made the remarkable discovery. She could think as well as type and was charmed by a blue-eyed young writer named Norman. Together they would raise not only four children, but the Mom & Pop shop of neoconservatism.

If you look at Midge’s articles over the last thirty years, a huge body of social and political commentary, you come to the conclusion that she is a one person think tank with a keen eye for uncovering talent.

In 1974, when she was offered the position of the Senior Editor of Basic Books she said, and I quote from an interview many years ago, “I knew nothing about book publication. I did not even know the language they were using, but I knew one thing. I had to get my hands on two writers. George Gilbert and Thomas Sowell.”

Need I say more. I take pleasure in introducing Midge Decter.


MS. DECTER : Thanks very much, Roger. I hope I can think better than I can type. [Laughter.] Which is not saying much.

It is indeed an honor for me to be introducing this year’s Wriston Lecturer, but I cannot refrain from telling you that I have been given a far from easy assignment. For how is one to introduce this man?

I could begin by telling you about his education, for instance, and the various jobs he has held and the colleges and universities in which he once spent time teaching. I note, for instance, that in Washington they always introduce people that way, even if they are a hundred years old and have been knighted by three foreign governments.

The only thing that seems by now of interest to tell you about his academic connection is that he is a Fellow of The Hoover Institution, who in their profound wisdom have given him and office and left him alone to write.

Nor can I follow the time honored practice of listing his publications, for we would be here all night before he ever got to speak to you, if I did that.

Now, if you ask Tom Sowell himself, he would almost certainly tell you that he is an economist. And so he is. Trained in that bastion of clear-headed economic thinking, the University of Chicago. And a serious, perhaps even an original contributor to the field. In any case, a man who has understood, as not all that many economists have, that the study of economics is first and foremost the study of human behavior.

Still, even that is not the way I would wish to describe him to you. Which is, that he has in recent years first and foremost become a kind of historian of cultures. In three recent books, which are actually one book, and so far, I suppose, so far, his magnum opus. In three books called Race and Culture, a World View, Migrations and Cultures and Conquests and Cultures, all by the way on sale at [Laughter.] He traces the development of a great variety of societies and ways of life, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated. He analyzes how they are influenced by such natural circumstance as fully navigable rivers or the accessibility of oceans on which the flow of trade creates an inevitable cultural cross-fertilization, and with it the possibility for an advanced civilization, and so on.

I do not do the work justice, either for its originality or its breadth, but how could I? Again, we would be here all night. The point is that he has found the way to provide a fully humane and dispassionate account of how it is that we find such enormous disparities of achievement among the peoples of the earth.

Perhaps only economists would have thought to embark on such a work, but no mere economist, no matter how magisterial, could ever have completed what these three books of Tom Sowell’s have in combination turned out to be. I will go further and presume to say that the agenda behind virtually all of Tom’s work, by which I mean the end toward which it has consciously or unconsciously been moving, is to provide a spiritual fuel to what is by now a chronic and potentially fatal distemper.

I am referring to the willful blindness of what passes for liberalism in our time. Especially the onset of race and ethnicity mongering that has been corrupting American society since the days when the civil rights movement ceased to be civil and set out to convert the meaning of the word rights.

I have no doubt that he is shocked to hear himself described as a healer of spirits. Actually, I do not even dare to look at his face at this moment to see what is registered there. For the world has much reason to see him, as he has had much reason to suppose himself to be one very tough guy. Over the years, one fool after another has had good reason to regret having taken him on in the argument.

But I would like to point out, if you will forgive the bawling, that it takes a tough man to have as tender a purpose as Tom Sowell’s. That is, to teach his contemporaries the truth about how things actually are in the world, how nature and circumstance have conspired to make the world’s most efficacious peoples the way they are, and what forces are sometimes brought into play to ease their existence.

Now, let me give you our very brilliant and very sensible, very hard-headed and very tender speaker this evening. Tom Sowell.


DR. SOWELL : ...The school’s principal flatly refused, saying, “it would be a violation of the principles of social justice” if this boy would collect material above the level of other fourth graders.

A similar conception of social justice was expressed by a long-time dean of admissions at Stanford University. She said that she never required applicants to submit achievement test scores because, “requiring such tests could unfairly penalize disadvantaged students in the college admissions process” since such students “through no fault of their own often find themselves in high schools that provide inadequate preparation for the achievement tests.”

The key phrase here is “through no fault of their own.” One of the recurring themes in discussions of social justice. The conception of justice underlying both these decisions and many other decisions in many other areas besides education is that individual windfall, plus or minus, are not to be allowed to determine outcome. Whether these windfalls are caused by nature or by society, they are not to be tolerated by those with this conception of justice.

Moreover, this is an increasingly accepted notion of justice, at least among political and opinion-shaping elite. Perhaps even more ominously, there is the conception of justice, whose radical differences from traditional concepts of justice are seldom explored.

Traditional notions of justice or fairness involve subjecting everyone to the same rules and judging them all by the same standards, regardless of what outcome that leads to. A fair fight is one in which both combatants observe the same rules, whether that fight ends in a draw or in a one-sided beating.

Even more important than considering the relative merits of these two conceptions of justice is being crystal clear that they are not only very different, but mutually incompatible. John Rawls’ [phonetic] celebrated treatise, “The Theory of Justice,” declares that “undeserved inequalities call for redress” in order to produce “genuine equality of opportunity.”

According to Rawls, this is fair, as opposed to formal equality of opportunity. From this point of view, it is merely a formality, a deceptive appearance to have everyone play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards. When all sorts of social, cultural and genetic influences make the likelihood of success that is called life chances so radically different from one individual to another and from one group to another.

Applying the same rules for everyone in baseball means that Mark McGwire will hit seventy home runs, many other players will not even hit half that many, and some not even a tenth as many. Moreover, McGwire’s huge size, not to mention pharmaceutical supplements, ensure that most other people have no realistic possibility of achieving the same goals. This is just one of the many areas where neutral rules ensure “unjust outcomes” by this particular conception of justice.

As a philosopher, Thomas Nagle [phonetic] put it, the range of possibilities or likely courses of life that are open to a given individual are limited to a considerable extent by birth, which includes not only the social class and home environment into which he happened to be born, but also his genetic endowment. From a moral point of view, Professor Nagle said, there is nothing wrong with the state tinkering with that distribution of life chances, which distribution does not have any moral sanctity.

In this view, to provide equality of opportunity it is necessary to compensate in some way for the unequal starting points that people occupy. In other words, we do not need a level playing field. We need to tilt it the right way.

Putting aside the moral argument for the moment, the clear political implication of this conception of justice is that the state must step in if justice, in this sense, is to triumph. Put differently, the freedom of individuals must be overridden if social justice is the overriding goal.

Freedom and this particular kind of justice are inherently incompatible. When people are free, they will spend their money on whatever the please, whatever goods and services best meet their desires. If they are going to a concert, they will not care whether the singer they like was born with a better voice than other singers who have worked just as hard at singing and therefore are just as deserving on the basis of personal merit. In this and in innumerable other ways, the consumer will judge the finished product and not care how much social justice or injustice went into it.

On the plane from San Francisco I read and enjoyed Shelby Steel’s [phonetic] new book, A Dream Deferred. I bought it because I expected a certain level of intelligence in it expressed with a certain grace and clarity. I did not care if there were other books by other writers who had worked just as hard as Shelby. [Laughter.] Without achieving as good a result. Nor did I care how much of Shelby’s intelligence or writing talent was simply inherited. [Laughter.] Or perhaps might have been the result of his having chanced upon some extraordinary teacher whose course gave him an unfair advantage or other equally intelligent and equally talented writers who had never developed their abilities to the same degree. Through no fault of their own. [Laughter.] None of this crossed my mind when I handed my money over to the clerk at Barnes & Noble.

I might mention, too, that I almost did not get the book at Barnes & Noble, because the clerk could not find it in the computer. [Laughter.] She thought that deferred was spelled with two Fs. [Laughter.] Now, it may well be that, through no fault of her own, [Laughter.] she went to one of those schools which thought that correct spelling was just one of those fetishes that some older, retrograde schools used to go in for.

It is amazing how often the term social justice is used without ever being defined. A historian writing about the founding of Czechoslovakia, for example, said that the policies of this newly formed state after the First World War were “to correct social injustice.” Which he specifies as meaning to put right the historic wrongs of the seventeenth century. Presumably no one from the seventeenth century was still alive at the end of the First World War. [Laughter.]

One of the many contrasts between traditional justice and social justice is that traditional justice involves the rules under which flesh and blood human beings will interact. While social justice encompasses not only contemporary individuals and groups, but also group extractions, extending over generations and even centuries.

When you consider how hard it is to get people to treat each other justly when they are face to face, seeking to produce justice between social abstractions stretching back over the centuries is a truly ambitious undertaking. Intergalactic travel is a modest goal by comparison. [Laughter.]

But again, the real problem is not that this goal will not be reached, but that havoc will be reaped in the attempt. Havoc to social peace, when hopes are raised that can never be realized, and havoc to freedom, as the morally anointed seek to smite the wicked, which must ultimately come to include almost all of us.

The concept of advantages is often thrown around as if the world were just a zero sum game. Undoubtedly, Bill Gates has many advantages that I do not have, but I benefit from Bill Gates’ advantages. All of us benefit from other peoples’ advantages. In fact, using the word advantages as if skills were nothing more than viduas distinctions is a major problem in itself.

One of the big advantages of traditional justice over social justice is that it can be achieved. [Laughter.] Traditional justice can be mass produced by impersonal prospective rules governing the interactions of flesh and blood human beings. But social justice must be hand-made by holders of power who impose their own decisions on how these flesh and blood individuals should be categorized into abstractions. Then, these abstractions forcibly configure to fit the vision of the power holders.

If justice has such different meanings and is so elusive in practice, what about equality? The other great preoccupation of our time. Equality almost defies definition. Numbers may be equal, because they have only one dimension, magnitude. But people have so many dimensions that equality, superiority or inferiority are all virtually impossible to define, except within some narrow slice of life.

Is Milton Freedman [phonetic] equal to Michael Jordan on a basketball court? [Laughter.] Is Jordan equal to Freedman in an economics classroom? [Laughter.] Even with such completely contrasting people, you cannot say who is better without a context. In sports it is common to have voluminous statistics available on almost every aspect of an athlete’s performance. We can win a bet, for example, by saying that Babe Ruth stole home more times than Lou Brock, because such details, statistics are kept for generations. He did, by the way. [Laughter.] I have won a few bets myself. [Laughter.]

The baseball encyclopedia is nearly three thousand pages of numbers in fine print, and you can probably download from the Internet as much or more data on other sports. Yet, every sport is full of controversies about who was the best boxer, the best quarterback, the best jockey, the best goalie, precisely because there is no common definition by which you can settle the issue, even for a given position within a given sport.

Nolan Ryan struck out more batters than Walter Johnson, but Walter Johnson pitched more shut outs. Joe Montana threw more touchdowns than George Blanda, but George Blanda scored more total points. Even though detailed facts are readily available, the multiple dimensions defeat any attempt to say concretely who was better or who was equal. The difficulties of defining equality have not stopped people from defining it, or from shifting from one definition to another as the convenience of the argument requires. We may all agree as to what equality before the law means, and religious people can say that we are all equal in the sight of God, but treating people equally or valuing them equally is wholly different from believing that they are equal in ability. Often the most loved member of a family is a child whom no one believes to be as capable as the adults.

Yet, even something as apparently specific as equal ability is fraught with pitfalls. There has been much controversy as to whether all racial groups or social classes have equal innate ability, but equal innate ability in a genetic sense refers to an intellectual potentiality present at the moment of conception. No one applies for a job or for college admission at the moment of conception. [Laughter.] Just between conception and birth, the mother’s sound or unsound nutrition, smoking or not smoking, drinking or not drinking, all effect the development of the unborn baby, including his brain.

Recently, it has been discovered that the amount of attention and stimulation that an infant gets effects the actual physical size of the brain and therefore becomes a life-long characteristic. Long; well, life-long. [Laughter.] Abstract equality at the moment of conception says very little about how much equality survives to adulthood through many highly unequal influences from the surrounding environment.

If we are talking about concrete ability to do specific things, then equality is a fantasy. How many people with Ph.D.s can repair their own television set? [Laughter.] Or their automobile transmission, for those who do not admit that they have a television set. [Laughter.]

While intellectuals may talk about ability in the abstract, or worse yet, restrict the concept to academic ability, the real world requires a huge, almost unimaginable range of very specific skills and very specific knowledge. These cannot be considered equal in any way. Do we seriously expect Polynesians and Scandinavians to know as much about camels as the Bedouins of the Sahara know? Do we seriously expect the Bedouins of the Sahara to know as much about fishing as the Polynesians and the Scandinavians know? How would Eskimos know how to grow bananas or other tropical crops? How would the peoples of the Himalayas have learned seafaring skills? Geography alone has denied equal opportunity on a scale that dwarfs anything that man can do.

Even more important than the geographic limitations of particular physical environments is the effect of geography in isolating peoples from other peoples. Isolated people have almost invariably been backward people. Few, if any, of the great advances of the human race have originated on isolated islands or in remote mountain communities. The imminent French historian, Fernand Bradel [phonetic], said that the mountains almost always lagged behind the plains. Even if the same race of peoples, speaking the same language and observing the same customs live in both places.

Seaports have almost always been more advanced than the interior hinterland, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or wherever. Nor have the advantages of navigable waterways been equally or randomly distributed around the world. One third of the entire land mass of Europe consists of islands and peninsulas, while just one percent of the land mass of South America consists of islands and peninsulas.

One of the most blatant sources of inequalities in particular skills is also one of the most overlooked. People do not choose to acquire those skills, often because they are not interested in the fields in which those skills apply. William Freedman [phonetic], for example, has said that he never received any enjoyment from music. Now, surely a man who can win a Nobel Prize in economics could learn to play a piano, but do not expect anyone to become another Arthur Rubenstein or Ray Charles if he does not even like music. Different people like different things. Whole cultures differ in what they like. How can they not differ in what they do?

In innumerable ways, people differ individually and collectively in the range of skills they have and do not have. With their inputs being so different, how could their outputs not differ? Yet, any differences in performances or rewards are routinely ascribed to society, to bias, or to other sinister forces.

Now, nothing is easier to find than sin among human beings, but making the sins of others the automatic explanation of any group’s economic conditions is as inconsistent with logic as it is wholly consistent with politics. [Laughter.] Politics is highly congenial to notions of equality and equity, if only because these nebulous terms provide politicians with ample opportunities to exercise power and hand out favors to their supporters in the name of high sounding ideals.

Who could be against such notions as pay equity or preventing exploitation or making sure that people receive what they deserve? Yet these and other phrases, including the medieval notion of the fair and just price, assume that there is such a thing as an objective value which third parties can specify. If there were, there would be no basis for exchange on which our whole economy depends.

Imagine that you paid sixty cents for a copy of “The New York Times” on the local newsstand. Why do you do so? Obviously, because you value “The New York Times” more than you value the sixty cents. Why, then does the newsstand dealer sell you “The New York Times?” Because he values the sixty cents more than he values “The New York Times.” [Laughter.]

If there were any such thing as an objective value, one of you would have to be a fool to pay more or to accept less for it. If that objective value was exactly sixty cents, why would either or you waste your time making a meaningless trade that leaves neither of you any better off? You would walk past a newsstand indifferently, and he would pay no attention to you. [Laughter.] The only way it makes any sense for you to exchange with one another is that the same thing has different values for different people. There is no objective value, not fair and just price, no comparable worth, no pay equity.

Now, the fact that something is meaningless or impossible is by no means as great a handicap in politics as it is in economics. [Laughter.] If you can get elected promising meaningless or impossible things, then these things are of great practical value politically. Nor are meaningless or impossible things of no value in the world of the intellectual. Expansive notions on justice and equality find their natural habitat in the seminar room and on the campaign trail. Though, some have also flourished in judicial chambers.

If the only problems with justice and equality were that they are difficult to define and impossible to achieve, at least in the expansive senses in which they are used, things would not be as bad as they are in fact. It is the attempt to achieve what is called social justice and equality of either results or life chances that are dangerous, precisely because we cannot agree on the meaning of such words as justice, fairness or equality.

Some authoritative force must be imposed. There will never be a lack of people willing to wield power over their fellow human beings. The only question is how many of those human beings can see through the words to the realities and refuse to surrender their freedom for the sake of heavy rhetoric. Thank you.


MR. HERTOG : Thank you, Dr. Sowell. Dr. Sowell will field questions from the floor. I ask you, when you are recognized, we will have a floor mike on the floor. Just wait for that to come over, so everybody can hear your question. Thank you.

DR. SOWELL : That also gives me more time to think of what the answer might be. Over here.

QUESTION : Dr. Sowell, how do you account for the fact that there are so many people who are susceptible to not seeing through those who would be their coercive utopians.

DR. SOWELL : That is a tough one. It is a shame you were not further away from the mike. [Laughter.]

It is really a question I ask myself a lot. One that I have asked in much more specific terms in the past eight months. [Laughter.] I guess one reason is that it takes a lot of work, and the words are easy. I think contrary to what the educators tell us, learning is not always fun. It is especially not always fun at the University of Chicago, by the way.

People have lives to lead, and on the other hand, those who make a living out of politics become very accomplished at saying things that sound good at the surface. The fact that there are other people who are going to look below the surface really does not bother them, because they are not concerned about those people.

It is the same principle that was involved in the show trials in Russia in the 1930s. These trials were not meant to convince skeptics. They knew that there were people in the West who wanted desperately to believe in the Soviet Union. All they needed to do was to give them some plausible reason to do so, and those people would be satisfied. There is that. There is the bias of those people who simply do not want to know the truth.

QUESTION : Hello. If the philosophical wellspring of social justice is the Quintilian vision of man as all naturally good and naturally equal, and therefore requiring government intervention to correct for the external social forces that distort our natural equality, do you see the move for hate crimes legislation as being a legal manifestation of the same philosophical idea?

DR. SOWELL : These are tough questions. [Laughter.] I had not connected those two things together. I do think that the notion of hate crimes is an incredible one, but if someone was murdered, he is just as dead, regardless of what reason you murdered him for, if it was because of insurance, if it was because he was gay or whatever. Again, I think it shows the deterioration of the notion of laws, a set of rules equally applicable to all.

After centuries of getting away from laws that said that to kill a nobleman was a greater crime than to kill a peasant, and think of all the people who struggled for so long and at what cost to themselves to get that idea repealed.

Now, we are moving back in the same direction, but now it does not matter what you did. It matters who you did it to. That I can only hope will wear itself out, because if you keep going in that direction, everything that has been worked for for so long will just go down the drain.


DR. SOWELL : There are some more over here. I do not know where. Oh, I see.

QUESTION : Dr. Sowell, I was wondering what you now think the affirmative action movement in the country is evolving into, in light of the California referendum and other developments throughout the country. Where do you think affirmative action is going today, and where will it end up in five or seven year from now?

DR. SOWELL : I do not make five or seven year predictions, because some of you will remember them. [Laughter.] If by affirmative action you mean preferences and quotas, which is what they boil down to, then I think clearly the trend is away from that. But the people who are fighting on the other end are not going quietly.

The new book by Bowen and Bach [phonetic] I think is one example of this kind of thing. As I understand the book, and I frankly am putting off reading it completely, the argument is that those people who have benefited from it have indeed found it beneficial. [Laughter.] Which may not be the conclusive criteria.

It so happens that things like affirmative action have existed in other countries, in fact in an enormous number of countries. I mean, in New Zealand and Sri Lanka and Israel and Central Asia, all around the world, Nigeria. There are several things that I find. The people involved are quite different. The countries involved are quite different. Their histories are quite different. And yet there are certain similarities that you see over and over again.

One of these similarities is that the benefits of these programs grow disproportionately to those who are the better off members of the group who is supposed to benefit. In some cases, the poorer members of those very same groups fall behind over the same span of time during which their elite are advancing. For example, in Malaysia, you get a great increase in the number of Malays on corporate boards of directors under their affirmative action program, but at the same time, the percentage of the people in poverty who are Malays increased.

In the United States, as affirmative action took place, you saw great increases in the number of Blacks who owned various corporations, radio stations and so on. But you also saw those Blacks who had no education to speak of and were in poverty were falling further and further behind not only the white population, but also the rest of the Black population. So, this is a wonderful way for elites to gain in the main of the masses. I guess that is one of the reasons for its popularity.

I will not go on and on. I often wonder, why do I pay good money for high blood pressure medicine and still discuss affirmative action?



QUESTION : Thank you. Dr. Sowell, I wonder if you could tell us, do you see; this kind of goes back to the first question. The rise of this notion of justice that gives you high blood pressure has coincided with this huge expansion in world markets, with people being able to trade in ways they never could before. All the kinds of things that you would think would lead to a much clearer understanding of comparative advantage, of the kinds of things you have discussed tonight. Is there some reason that there has been this inverse effect? Are these random?

DR. SOWELL : I have never connected those two, either. It is amazing how many things people have thought of that I have not. I think one reason is that the marketplace does not require you to understand in order for it to operate efficiently. [Laughter.]

I have no idea why computers come down in price, but they do, and therefore I am more willing to buy one for that reason. [Laughter.] This is one of the great benefits of a marketplace, in that it minimizes the need for knowledge. [Laughter.] Unfortunately, if the people do not have the knowledge, and people throw around notions like social justice and so forth, they will then proceed to prevent the marketplace from operating.

So, where that will end, I do not know. I think the globalization is one of the ways in which the market can escape from some of these political kinds of pressures. Of course, you know that if you clamp down too hard, the capital will move somewhere else.

Over here. Okay.

QUESTION : The talk, I think, had three legs in the title, and we only heard two. So, rather than, having the gentleman already earned his dinner, I think, just bring up liberty a little bit, which I think is also as well, or as misunderstood. [DR. SOWELL : Yes.] Talk about whichever you think is more pernicious, sexual liberation or drug legalization.

DR. SOWELL : Excuse me?


QUESTION : I thought you might address whichever you think is the more pernicious misunderstanding of liberty, sexual liberalization or drug legalization.

DR. SOWELL : These are some tough ones. [Laughter.] Oh, my. Actually, I would try either of those things. I am not really qualified. [Laughter.] I have often thought it would be terrible if my private sex life became public, because it would seem so mundane compared to what people have already heard this year. [Laughter.]

I really do not know which of those is worse. I would have to do a study, as they say. [Laughter.]


QUESTION : Dr. Sowell. Over here, on your left. I believe in Gabe Delissa’s [phonetic] Unto the Sons, one of the characters said that history is nothing more than a succession of dominant elites. Do you see any group in America that is about to impact our current elite? If so, who are they, and where did they come from?

DR. SOWELL : Wow. [Laughter.] It is like batting against Greg Maddux every day. [Laughter.] I have no idea. [Laughter.]


QUESTION : At the risk of causing your blood pressure to go up again, last week Ward Connerly [phonetic], a man I guess a lot of us really admire;



QUESTION : At the risk of causing your blood pressure to go up again, last week Ward Connerly [phonetic], a man I guess a lot of us really admire, said that he believed Supreme Court clerkships were patronage jobs, and therefore that it was appropriate to take race into consideration as a factor in hiring for that. Something that got Neal Scalia, your predecessor last year, rather angered.

DR. SOWELL : I just have to find a place where they have generic blood pressure medicine that I can afford the increase. Absolutely astonishing. That is all I can tell you. It is supposed to be a patronage job, therefore the quality of the people does not matter. Is that the argument?

QUESTION : I do not really know. I thought maybe you could explain it to me.

DR. SOWELL : I must confess that, coming from Ward Connerly, I cannot imagine why it makes a difference whether you are talking about Supreme Court clerks or people entering the University of California at Berkley.

Okay. Sure. One over here.

QUESTION : One of the things that fascinates me about history over my lifetime is the going together of a society made of tremendous differences. When I was a kid, at sixteen I went to work in a lumber yard, and the instructor of the people who worked there, he spent time talking in Hungarian and a much shorter time talking to guys like me, fifteen, sixteen year old kids.

Yet, when I got to know [mike is turns off]. See, when you got around to the essentials of human society, there is no difference. That is the lesson of this country. The lesson of this country, we can [mike turns off again]. English, Spanish [mike turns off again]. Why isn’t this the thing that we [mike turns off again]?

DR. SOWELL : I am having trouble hearing you.

QUESTION : I was saying, why is it we are having such a difficult time explaining to these people in Yugoslavia, what was Yugoslavia, how the world works? We are the wonderful example of how to make all of the world’s people work together.

DR. SOWELL : We may be the example, but we are also the exception. We are the exception in being free and not having the levels of corruption that are found in some of the other countries around the world. I think that in recent times it has been very unfashionable to sort of count your blessings. I think for that reason, we are in greater danger of losing them.

That is, one of the things that makes the current political crisis in Washington so scary is that what the administration is trying to do is not new. It is what corrupt governments have done all around the world, for centuries on end. It is a relative handful of countries who, through various historical accidents and other things, do not have that problem to the same degree.

We are the exception in the United States, but depending upon what the outcome of the current crisis is, we may head right down that same road, because that is the most traveled road.

MR. HERTOG : I think we have time for one more question.


QUESTION : The issues that you have highlighted tonight have been assiduously excluded from our public schools. Is there any hope of bringing these issues to the forum of public education in America in the near term?

DR. SOWELL : That is the easiest question of all. No. [Laughter.] Thank you very much.


MR. HERTOG : Thank you Dr. Sowell, and thank you all for coming. Good night. Good evening.