Thomas Sowell: A Conversation With One of America's Leading Conservatives

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

Thomas Sowell is considered one of America's leading conservatives. He analyzes political, economic and foreign policy via his nationally syndicated column. His most recent book is titled Dismantling America, and in it he gives a stark warning about the direction of the country. He and Jim discuss the current state of America and Sowell's view of the future.

Transcript



JIM GLASSMAN:

Welcome to Ideas In Action, a television series about ideas and their consequences.  I'm Jim Glassman.  We're here at the Hoover Institution on the campus of Stanford University to meet with Thomas Sowell, economist and author of 46 books, including most recently Dismantling America, which delivers a stark warning about the direction the country is headed.

THOMAS SOWELL:

People are saying, "You know?  Iran may have only a couple of nuclear bombs.  That's all they need.  If they're-- if they're willing to die and we're not then there's nothing short of surrender."

JIM GLASSMAN:

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JIM GLASSMAN:

Thomas Sowell's an economist, columnist and author of 46 books.  He is a scholar-in-residence at the Hoover Institution here on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.  His most recent book is Dismantling America and Other Controversial Essays.  Welcome, Thomas Sowell, to Ideas In Action.


Your latest book, your 46th, is titled Dismantling America.  And in the preface you write this:  "The collapse of a civilization is not just the replacement of rulers or institutions with new rulers and new institutions.  It is the destruction of a whole way of life and the painful, and sometimes pathetic, attempts to begin rebuilding amid the ruins.  Is that where America is headed?  I believe it is.  Our only saving grace is that we are not there yet, and that nothing is inevitable until it happens."  Why do you believe that America is headed toward a collapse?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, domestically there's so many-- things going on that we've not-- you know, have-- have lost the sense of the values that the country has.  And we now have an administration, which is very actively trying to change the very way we govern, the very way we live our lives.  That's the domestic part.  That's sort of the slow poison, if it were.


But the faster poison is that Iran is getting nuclear weapons.  And people don't seem to understand what that means.  The Japanese were a lot-- in 1945, were a lot tougher than we are today.  And yet it took only two nuclear weapons to get them to surrender.  So people are saying, "You know?  Iran may have only a couple of nuclear bombs."  That's all they need.  If they're-- if they're willing to die and we're not then there's nothing short of surrender.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So what-- what do you think we should do about Iran?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Stop them from getting nuclear weapons.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And that would mean attacking them or--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Sure.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Or acquiescing in an Israeli attack?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yeah.  I-- I'm-- you know, it's-- it's-- it's sad that-- that-- it's a question of acquiescing in an Israeli attack.  There have been indications that Saudi Arabia will be quite willing to have Israeli planes fly over there at night and bomb-- Iran, and then of course lodge-- lodge a protest with the United Nations in the morning.  But-- the very fact that they have to fly over Iraq-- fly around Iraq because there are American-- fighter planes there who-- who might shoot down the Israeli planes-- I mean, that really does show-- where we've come.

JIM GLASSMAN:

You know?  A lot of people recognize the threat of Iran.  But you're actually one of the few people that I've talked to who really see it as a kind of-- you know, the-- the term these days is existential threat to the United States.  It really changes our existence?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, ab-- absolutely.  Going all the way back to the Ayatollah Khomeini-- he said that his--first loyalty is not to Iran, it's to Allah.  And so if-- if-- you know, we can't deter them if-- with-- with the threat that we'll come in and destroy a whole lot of innocent Iranians.  They don't care.  I mean, you-- you can't deter suicide bombers.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So a deterrence worked-- we're here at the Hoover Institution, which is home to a lot of people who were architects of the deterrence policy.  Deterrence worked during the Cold War.  But you don't think it will work today?

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.  Because you can't deter suicidal people.  You either stop them or you don't stop them.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you think the administration is kind of distracted by what's going on, on the economic side and not paying enough attention to Iran?

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Or do you think there's something more basic going on?

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.  I-- I-- I don't think they ever intended to do anything serious to stop Iran.  What they are-- what they-- what they are doing-- is a lot of charades at the United Nations-- which follows a whole-- years-- we've had all kinds of charades in the United Nations and at the-- League of Nations before that for the very same purpose, of giving the impression that you're doing something when you're not doing a thing.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to move back to the domestic situation.  We've had a recession.  And it appears that it's much more difficult to pull out of the sluggishness of-- of the economy than a lot of people thought.  Do you think there's something fundamentally wrong with the American economic system?

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.  There's something fundamentally wrong with the policies that are being followed.  They're trying to relive the-- the New Deal of the 1930s.  And the New Deal of the 1930s didn't work.  So-- I mean, most people-- you know, there's this narrative out there that the reason we had massive unemployment in the '30s was because the market failed, the stock market crashed and you had all this tremendous unemployment.


Now, it so happens that the stock market-- for the 12 months following the stock market crash we never hit the double digits in unemployment.  Unemployment peaked at nine percent two months after the stock market crashed and started going down.  So the stock-- the-- the-- the unemployment rate was down to 6.3 percent when the federal government figured it had to intervene.  And that's when the downward movement reversed and we never saw 6.3 percent again for the next decade.  So, I mean, if-- if you follow the actual month-by-month employment number they're just clear as crystal that the-- the disaster came after federal intervention.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So you think that government intervention, in this case, and in previous cases-- but let's just talk about what's going on right now-- has actually made things worse?  I mean, it's the reason that unemployment is as high as it is today?  It would be lower if government hadn't done anything to--

(OVERTALK)

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yes.  Well, you-- you can look at-- look at-- again, you can look at the numbers.  One of-- one of the figures I've-- see, the un-- the unemployment figures really understate how much unemployment there is because there are people who simply stopped looking.


But the-- the figure that I like is the one-- what percentage of the adult population have jobs?  And that figure has been declining steadily-- ever since the stimulus began.  It's one of the many things where words-- trump reality.  There's no signs that the stimulus has stimulated anything.


Businesses have record amounts of money sitting idle.  Banks have left-- record amounts of money sitting idle.  The public is saving more so than ever before.  The velocity of circulation of money is lower than it's been in 50 years.  So that-- to me, you can call it a stimulus.  If you look at what happens it's a sedative.

JIM GLASSMAN:

A sedative.  I like that.  Is-- and so-- and the sedative, is that-- is-- is that the result of the fact that businesses feel uncertainty or they don't want--

(OVERTALK)

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, absolutely.  I mean, how-- how could you not feel uncertainty when-- Congress and the President are constantly dreaming up new bright ideas they want to try.  You have no idea what the rules of the game are going to be.  And when you-- and when you generate that kind of uncertainty people sit-- sit on their money and-- wait to see how things sort out.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And yet you do talk about-- the importance of human capital?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Uh-huh.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Right?  So in your own case you went to Howard University--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Uh-huh

JIM GLASSMAN:

--On the GI Bill?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Right.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Then you-- then you transferred to Harvard?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Uh-huh.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But the GI Bill really was-- it was a government program?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Uh-huh.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you think that programs like that, which help improve human capital, are a good idea?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, it-- it depends-- it depends on what-- on-- everything is-- that-- the devil is in the details.

JIM GLASSMAN:

What if-- okay.  Let's just say that-- today we got a lot of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.  What if there were a GI Bill for them, meaning that if--

THOMAS SOWELL:

What--

JIM GLASSMAN:

They really could-- I-- I think the GI Bill paid-- right-- a hundred percent scholarship.  Didn't it?

THOMAS SOWELL:

No, no.  Well, it-- the one after World War II was a lot better than the one after the Korean War.  So I had to do a lot of scuffling to-- to-- to make it.  But--

JIM GLASSMAN:

What about the one after World War II?  What-- what about giving everybody--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, I would--

JIM GLASSMAN:

--A scholarship?

THOMAS SOWELL:

--Do that in-- in a heartbeat.  I suspect that a lot of the people-- on the other side would-- would not be happy with all these veterans who have a different view of the world suddenly-- getting all this education and becoming major players-- in-- in-- in the years ahead.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Let's talk about President Obama.  Do you think he's a socialist?

THOMAS SOWELL:

I-- I-- no.  I-- not-- not technically I suppose because, you see, in socialism, usually it means that-- government ownership are the means of production.  The pattern he's following is much more like that of the fascist, where the government would-- leaves the means of production in private hands and the politicians tell them what to do.


And that's much more politically viable because after the government forces the private industry to do something and it turns our disastrously you can always haul the people from private industry up before Congressional committees, denounce them on television, and so forth-- leaving out the fact that it was you who forced them to do what they did.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And this is the way you see, for example, that the-- the health-- care reforms that were passed--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, I'm-- I'm-- I was thinking actually about the financial reforms, and particularly the housing-- collapse, that the people who-- Barney Frank in the House, Senator Chris Dodd in the Senate-- were the people who pushed for all kinds of mortgage-lending standards to be-- reduced, making mortgage lending enormously more risky than it had ever been before.


And when all of that collapsed they then-- they then summoned all the leaders of financial institutions up before their committees and spent hours denouncing them and so forth on nationwide television.  I mean, they understand that the best defense is a good offense.  And so-- this-- this is great political theatre.  It has nothing to do with reality.

JIM GLASSMAN:

What-- what about the private sector, though?  I mean, you know, it-- it is true, isn't it, that there were lots of kind of risky bets that were being made with a lot of money which was private money certainly, but it would have a public effect. There are lots of kind of external effects to--

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.  There-- there was-- it was some of that-- more and more often the risk was that the lenders-- one of the reasons lenders don't care whether-- whether you're really-- try-- a good risk, is they-- they may sell the mortgage to you-- and then they sell it-- they-- they-- they-- they make out the mortgage to you, then they sell it to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the risk now is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's risk.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I-- I wanted to ask a little bit more about how you see President Obama as a leader 'cause there were certainly-- very high hopes and I think they were broadly shared-- about him as a leader and yet how do you think he's turned out?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Terrible.  But those hopes weren't based on anything he'd actually done.  I mean, if you look at-- you know-- I was talking to my wife about that.  The-- the irony of Martin Luther King's thing that you should be judged by the content of your character rather than the color of your skin-- if he had been judged by the content of his character he would never have made it through the primaries.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I wanted to hear your views on immigrants.  What-- what do you think about immigration in general in the United States?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, I think first of all there's no such thing as an immigrant in general.  I mean, there are some groups of immigrants-- who come to this country and add tremendously.  There are others who come here and go on welfare.  And-- I think one of the sad things is people tend to talk about immigrants in the abstract.


And-- there has never been a time in the history of the country when-- when immigrants from different places were all the same.  And so I think one of the things the United States has to be able to do in the long run is control the border, first of all, because if you don't control the border it is absolutely irrelevant what your policy is, because other people will decide who gets in.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Now, this is-- a tough public-policy question, maybe even a moral question.  What do we do about illegal immigrants who are in this country, supposedly ten million of them, who are already here?  Can we change the law and kick them out?  Or to-- do we give them a path to citizenship?  Or what do we do?  Or ignore them, which is what we're doing now?

THOMAS SOWELL:

That-- well, ignoring them is the most politically expedient thing to do.  The question is whether or not you want to enforce the law.  And if you enforce the law I think you'll solve 90 percent of the problem.  You know?  If-- if it's-- if you're-- if-- if you're-- you're here illegally and you pay a price for that fewer people will come, and many of those who are here now may decide that it's time to leave.  There are the better-- what-- you don't have to-- the silly notion that you have to search out every illegal-- immigrant-- nobody is even suggesting that.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But do you agree, for example, with what Arizona is doing where--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yes.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Okay.  What-- what--

THOMAS SOWELL:

They're-- they're enforcing the law.  And it's ironic that the government has stood idly by while all kinds of-- cities across the country have publicly announced that they will not obey the law.  And they did nothing.  And now that Arizona says they're going to enforce the law they're starting lawsuits against Arizona.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So you don't think, for example-- there-- it was proposed by John McCain and President Bush supported this-- a kind of path to citizenship--

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.

JIM GLASSMAN:

--Where you say you've got--

(OVERTALK)

THOMAS SOWELL:

There's already been-- there's always been a path to citizenship.  You just don't break into the country and expect to take that path.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Let me ask you another social issue that's important in California.  Gay marriage.  You're-- I know you don't like labels.  But a lot of people consider you a libertarian.  So what's wrong with-- a man and a man or a man-- a woman and a woman getting married?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, you know, we didn't allow polygamists to redefine marriage.  I don't know why we should-- we should allow anybody else to redefine it.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Here-- here in California, for example, through the-- the very-- very active referendum-- process, do you think that-- voters should be able to make that determination?  In other words, if the voters of California say, "We say that marriage is between a man and a woman," that that should stand, that this is not something for the courts to intervene on?  And vice versa, by the way, if they said, "Man and a man"?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, yeah.  I mean-- I-- I don't see anything in the Constitution-- that-- that says otherwise.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Let's talk about philosophy.  What-- what about-- liberalism?  We've seen-- we've seen this-- this reform for health care that's come about.  It's been passed.  You talked-- earlier about-- some of these new regulations for finance.  I mean, is-- is-- in any sense is there a kind of new breath-- does liberal-- have-- liberalism, is it-- is it gaining kind of like a second wind?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, I'm not sure that the-- that-- that liberalism is changed.  I mean, the-- politics from it-- may-- will shift from time to time.  But I don't-- I don't see any-- difference in what liberalism-- it-- it wants to impose what the elite thinks on-- on the public.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Now, conversely, for conservatives, are we-- you-- you've been critical of the Republican Party in saying that they're not promoting a particular government-- governing philosophy?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Uh-huh.

JIM GLASSMAN:

It's more like, "Yeah.  They keep talking about numbers"?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Uh-huh.  The-- the idea seems to be that-- the way for Republicans to-- to win elections is to-- you know, water down Republicanism and deal with-- be a little more like Democrats.  It amazes me because if you look at the Republicans who succeeded and the ones who failed-- I mean, Reagan won two consecutive landslides.  Newt Gingrich took over the House of Representatives-- for the first time in 40 years.  And then it's-- it's when you get the-- out of the wishy-washy-- you know-- I mean, the-- Bush 41 won-- won his election when he said, "Read my lips.  No new taxes."  And he lost when he started talking kinder and gentler.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you think that there's any hope for the Republican Party?  You say we're entering the most critical election--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yes.

JIM GLASSMAN:

--In the history of the United States?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yes.  Because if-- if you don't stop-- Obama-Reid-Pelosi-- by take-- by taking away-- some of their power in this election-- I don't see how you're going to stop them at all.  I think-- I think they will take us to the-- past the point of no return.


For example, if-- if-- let's suppose the Democrats hang onto-- the current majority in both Houses of Congress.  I don't doubt for-- it won't matter that-- Obama-- has-- approval rating in the 40s.  They can legalize enough illegal immigrants between now and the 2012 elections that he's in-- he's in for a second term.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And you worry about-- legal immigration for-- the-- its political effects as well as its economic and social--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, yeah.

JIM GLASSMAN:

--Effects?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yeah.

JIM GLASSMAN:

That this would be that-- that illegal immigrants represent-- a Democratic voting block?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, yes.  Yes.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So just-- could you just elaborate on-- a little bit, when you say point of no return, what does that mean?  Does that mean that-- is--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well--

JIM GLASSMAN:

--This-- to go back to what we were talking about originally, with Iran?  Is that part of it?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Iran is-- that's part of it.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Or--

THOMAS SOWELL:

That's a huge part of it.  Because if we're-- if we don't retain our-- independence then the rest of it is-- is really secondary.  But even just domestically, I mean, if-- if this-- medical thing goes through-- and if you look at the other things that he wants along with it, including this notion that no one seems to pay much attention to-- he wants to have-- a federal police force comparable in size to the-- to the military-- and you-- what-- what-- what is that for?


When you think of-- these various tendencies of people who-- you know, czars doing this and czars doing that, people we-- we know-- we know nothing about, who don't go through confirmation-- I mean, this is really dismantling the-- the-- all the safeguards that were built into the Constitution to stop arbitrary power.  And, you know, the things that are being done now are-- on-- an expansion of arbitrary power.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Just to get back to the-- to this-- the issue of Republicans, because, you know, it's an election between two different parties, if they're-- if you don't have very much faith in what happens when the Republicans govern then in a sense are we already past the point of no return?  Or do you have hope that something will change within the Republican Party that will make it more, let's say principle--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, some things have already changed.  The Tea Party, being one.  But I think more fundamentally it was getting clobbered by the Democrats in two consecutive elections, which sometimes wakes people up.  If-- if they-- I think-- it would've been-- a bad-- bad for the country if the Republicans had won both those elections because they'd have kept on drifting along the way they were.  I mean, Bush-- you know, in the first-- his first term I believe he-- he vetoed no spending bills.  Eventually it occurred to him that he might start vetoing these bills instead of just sitting there and going along to get along.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I'd like to know your-- your views on the Tea Party.  You mentioned the Tea Party.  What do you think of them?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Well, they're a very heterogeneous so I-- I guess it's so hard to say-- the Tea Party, I mean, they're-- a lot of different people.  But I think-- I think the idea that ordinary people-- and I gather people who-- didn't ordinarily take part in politics for the most part, have-- have gotten aroused and are making themselves known.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And they seem to have gotten themselves aroused over specific economic issues.  Obviously it's-- it's a big tent.  But it's-- they-- they seem to be focusing on-- on spending.  Do you think that's a good place to focus?

THOMAS SOWELL:

It's one of the many good places to focus.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So-- you know, a lot of people say the big problem is that the deficit, and the debt, and that if you have-- yes, you should cut spending but what about these-- tax cuts that expire at the end of the year?  

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, boy.  You know?  It's-- it's amazing how many things have--

(OVERTALK)

JIM GLASSMAN:

I mean, you've heard this argument before.  Haven't you?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, boy.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I'm not making this up.

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yes.  I know you're not.  Unfortunately.  It's-- it's-- a lot like so many things it gets down to semantics.  When you're-- you can't just use the word taxes.  There are tax rates and there are tax revenues.  Now, when you cut the tax rates that doesn't cut the tax revenues necessarily.


The tax rates can get-- go up and the tax-- revenues can go down.  That has happened.  The reverse has happened.  You've cut the tax.  And in the case of the Bush tax-- rate cuts the tax revenues collected by the federal government are higher than they were before.  The same thing happened with the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s and the Kennedy tax cuts in the 1960s.  Cutting the tax rate does not mean cutting the tax revenue.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Now--

THOMAS SOWELL:

If they-- if they raise the tax rates it would not surprise me in the slightest if the federal government gets less revenue than it got before.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But do you think that the Bush tax-rate cuts are going to all expire and everybody is going to get--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, no, no.

JIM GLASSMAN:

--Higher rates or what?

THOMAS SOWELL:

It'll be-- they'll-- the rich supposedly will pay-- the taxes.

JIM GLASSMAN:

But you think that's what's going to happen?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yeah.  The-- the problem with that is, again, it's semantics.  The people they call the rich, I'm sure at least 3/4 of them are no-- nowhere close to being rich.  Being rich means having wealth.  We're not talking about a tax on wealth.  We're talking about a tax on income.  And we're talking about a tax on income on people who, for the most part, are making that-- have-- have not been making that income all their lives.


They're people who-- at the end of 20 or 30 years have worked their way up from the bottom and are now making $100-- a couple were making $125,000 a year-- they weren't making $125,000-- a decade ago, and they won't be making it a decade afterwards.  They're not rich.  They're-- they've reached their peak and that's when the government steps in to take it away from them.

JIM GLASSMAN:

So this is really-- part of it you were saying about point of no return?  I mean, it-- if these tax-rate cuts are-- or some of them anyway, are in effect let expire-- not repeal.  But they just expire.

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yeah.

JIM GLASSMAN:

If Congress doesn't do anything-- then that's going to have a very detrimental effect on the U.S. economy?

THOMAS SOWELL:

It'll have-- it'll have a bad effect.  How detrimental we'll find out.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I want to go back to something you said earlier about stimulus, so-called stimulus package, $787 billion plus a bunch more after that, to-- stimulate the economy, you call it a stead-- sedative.  There are really two parts to government intervention in the economy after the recession.


One-- one was the stimulus.  But before that there were measures to shore up-- financial institutions, which a lot of people felt if they go under like AIG or-- some of the other ones, it would cause-- a terrible problem globally and we'd be in much worst shape than we are today.  Do you think it was right for government to act, let's say, as lender of last resort or shorer-upper of institutions?

THOMAS SOWELL:

In the short-run the problem is our government policies don't end in the short-run.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And they're-- the-- there's-- there's a history-- there's certainly a very clear history of that, where government--

THOMAS SOWELL:

Yes.

JIM GLASSMAN:

When government steps in it-- it-- it doesn't leave?

THOMAS SOWELL:

No.  No.  It's like-- like a Venus flytrap.  I mean, it's easy to get in.  It's hard to get out.  And especially when-- when-- when the policy isn't working, you-- politically you cannot say-- "We made a mistake and we have to change."  You just cannot do that unless you want to throw your whole career away.  In private life we have to do that all the time.  Anyone who looks back through his own life or realizes that-- this-- it wasn't working say, "Oh, my God.  I got to stop."

JIM GLASSMAN:

Have you ever-- do you ever feel you've made a mistake in anything that you've done in-- in a policy or in intellectual sense?

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, my gosh, I mean, do you have a few weeks?  (LAUGHTER) I think that anybody my age who looks back at all the mistakes he's-- he's made it would-- I mean, he gets halfway through them he will have spent a year-- of course.

JIM GLASSMAN:

Well, just give me one.

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, well, I was a Marxist in my 20s.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I thought that's what you were going to say.

THOMAS SOWELL:

Oh, good heavens.  Yes.  Fortunately I-- I was an empiricist before I was a Marxist.  And as I began to see what-- what things led to and particularly when I became-- an intern in-- economics and saw the government from the inside, I mean, now that's-- that's enough to turn anybody away.  And so that was-- that was my turning point.  That was my road to Damascus.

JIM GLASSMAN:

I'm sorry.  But we have to-- to end it there, Dr. Sowell.  I really appreciate your coming to Ideas In Action.  Thank you very much.

THOMAS SOWELL:

Thank you.

JIM GLASSMAN:

And before we go I want to remind viewers that you can watch Ideas In Action whenever and wherever you want.  Just go to our website to watch complete episodes or download podcasts to your mp3 player (MUSIC) through the iTunes store.  Wherever you watch be sure to join us next time.  That's it for this episode.  For Ideas In Action I'm Jim Glassman.  (MUSIC)

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Mr Glassman, I happened to hear the end of your conversation with Thomas Sowell this morning on public TV- I was surprised to hear his comments on the Bush Tax Cuts- I believe he said Increase in Tax rates does not necessarily raise Revenues. Is there evidence that the Bush Tax cuts raised revenues and there was a increase in jobs since they were introduced?? Then I believe I heard Thomas Sowell say- Rich=Wealth, and this is a tax on income not wealth and he referred to the "Rich" as being people who are earning $125,000 per year.!!!! Who is he kidding?? and what surprised me the most- you never asked for clarification. Does President Obama not speak to middle class as earning up $250,000 per year. I think most peoples perception of the rich are way above 250,000 never mind 125,000 USD. Also I was shocked to hear his views on health care. I guess its OK to continue to not insure children and pre existing conditions and allow the tax payer to continue to allow the uninsured to go to the ER at the nearest hospital instead of having a PCP. Its barbaric to allow the uninsured to die in this country because they do not have health insurance. Maybe you want to do a show on the food we are all being fed- is it really farm raised or factory raised??- I recently saw documentary film on Public TV: Growth Hormones, antibiotics, feeding cattle corn, chickens that never see the daylight and E coli-Genetic Modified Soya??? I am an Independent who voted for John McCain and regard the Republican party as having Moral Ideals, but all I see is spin, lies and hypocrisy while the Corporations profit, the jobs get sent overseas etc etc while the ordinary people suffer. Thank you for your time. Carmel O'Brien

Thanks for airing Mr. Sowell's interview. Carmel O'Brian's comments illustrate part of what ails Americans. She says, "I happened to hear the end of your conversation", then immediately goes into a critique.

Mr. Sowell was not defining a dollar amount that equals 'rich'. He was talking about taxing the so called 'rich' based on an arbitrary income figure. Most gross incomes do not equal net worth. Net worth equals wealth, not income. Liberal politicians love to sell the Robin Hood idea to the public but rarely consider themselves rich, no matter what their income. This attitude is reflected in numerous politicians in the news headlines who are guilty of tax evasion. As for C O'Brian's comment of Obamas' middle class income rate. He has changed that figure several times during and since his Presidential campaign.

O'Brians' comments about food and health care are equally shallow. No one in the USA is forced to buy a certain food. In fact one can grow their own or shop for organics. Even inner cities now have balcony gardens and public garden spaces. Health in this country is more about choices in 'MOST CASES' than any other factor. Smokers,druggies,drunks,junk food junkies,not to mention those who chose to buy fancy cars, houses, and engage in unhealthy life styles rather than invest in their own health. But now these abusers want those who make wise choices in these areas to pay for their unwise choices. We already have mechanisms to take care of the rest. Charity abounds in America.

The real subject and active tension of Mr. Sowells interview is that many are drunk on the idea that government is less corruptible, more efficient and reliable than industry. An idea, that is easily refuted by the facts of human history. Government by its own definition desires to 'govern everything' whether it is qualified, moral or not. Unfortunately many today seem stuck on ideas rather than historical facts. Spain, Greece, Brazil, and many other governments are now being sobered by facts.


Carmel Obrien - "I'm an independent who voted for McCain but I am able to spout perfect leftist talking points."

Unfortunately I do not have time to go through your post point by point but I will refute one thing.

Mr. Sowell meant $125,000/person or $250,000/family. If you could not figure that out then that speaks to the rest of your polemic.

Carmel Obrien-- He did say words to the effect that cutting tax RATES raises revenue. This is true because cutting tax rates leaves the taxpayer with more money to invest, to hire, to purchase and do more business all of which activity and earnings get taxed thereby increasing revenue. "Big Government" doesn't want to do this because BG wants to expand itself not grow the economy. It doesn't want to tighten its own belt the way it expects the people and businesses to do in order to give them more of their income.

As for your other comments, I suggest you read Mr. Sowell's book and do some Googling.

Isn't Sowell the guy who wanted to sell off National Parks? To me he speaks great sounding theory but the actual results don't come close to predictions, much as a guy I respect, Herbert Hoover encountered when his expectations were ruined by what he called anarchical capitalists, to me the relatively few that gave the majority a bad name before and during the Great Depression.

Watch the Charlie Rose show, December 6, 2005, with Grover Norquist. Grover admitted that while the Bush Tax cuts did raise revenue, the spending increased faster, 6.7% a year. He twice repeated that his goal was to reduce the cost of government 50% in 25 years but admitted that Bush spending was increasing faster than the extra money that came in from cutting taxes. It might surprise some that Grover admitted Clinton was on track to reduce the cost of government 43% in 25 years while Bush was on track to increase it over 30% in 25 years. Apparently a 43% decrease was not good enough for Grover (50% goal)

Seems simple enough,
Clinton on track to cut spending 43% in 25 years
Bush on track to increase 31% (74% wrong way, 81% the wrong way from Grover's goal)? Yet he prefers Bush over Clinton?

That was back in 2005, if you paid attention after the Bush speech on Fiscal Responsibility, Oct, 2007 in Rogers, Arkansas (Wal-Mart country) you might have noticed that the rate of spending nearly doubled in 167 days from October through April of 2008 (a rate that would put us on track for $863 billion for the year, resulting in a 275% deficit increase, inflation adjusted from 2007. Whatever revenues came in, they did not come close to matching spending increases. What effect did the housing market collapse play? How about the mythical $600 trillion dollar derivatives market the Friends of the Chamber want me to donate money (anonymously) to defend? How did they get $600 trillion (over 12 times the net worth of the country and 41 times our GDP)in the first place? Who believes that can be sustainable? It must be nice to get your record pay and bonuses based on such imaginary money (demonstrably unsustainable) but what about the rest of us they quit so drastically lending ($100 billion less)so many truly productive small business used to finance their contribution to the under laying value of our currency?

Who's going to get real first?

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Thomas Sowell

Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution

Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. For much of his career, Dr. Sowell has taught economics at various academic institutions, including Cornell, Amherst, and UCLA. Prior to Hoover, he has also been associated with other research institutions: project director at the Urban Institute, 1972-1974, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, 1976–77, and adjunct scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, 1975-76. Before entering academia, Sowell worked as an economist with the Department of Labor and AT&T. A prolific author, his books cover a range of topics, from classic economic theory to civil rights, from social policy to the history of ideas. He also writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country. His essays have been collected in book form, most recently in Dismantling America, published by Basic Books. His most recent books on economics include Housing Boom and Bust (2009), Intellectuals and Society (2009), Applied Economics (2009), Economic Facts and Fallacies (2008), Basic Economics (2007), and Affirmative Action Around the World (2004). Dr. Sowell received the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement in 2003. In 2002, Dr. Sowell was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

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