Book Monitor

Wealth, Poverty, and Politics:
An International Perspective 

Thomas Sowell

The latest book by this renowned economist exposes false narratives about wealth, as attained by nations and by individuals. He eviscerates progressive redistribution as a means of achieving "equality," and proves that outcomes vary according to effort, not strictly by chance or birthright.

Sowell makes it clear that there are unequal outcomes that aren't a function of unequal opportunity. He demonstrates that wealth and compensation aren’t related to distribution but are instead based on production.

Two critical points made in this book are: 1. There is not a permanent group of people who have more than others. Rather there is an ever-changing income picture for citizens as they get their first jobs, gain wealth, and then retire. 2. Individual behaviors result in a variety of positive and negative outcomes.

Sowell says, "Statistics on income differences are almost universally and automatically discussed as if these must be differences between social classes, rather than differences among people of different ages." This promotes the class warfare mentality so important to Marxist ideology.

Contrary to the beliefs of those who rely on leftist theory, income gaps and disparities among and within nations are dependent on many factors, not least among them is the amount of effort put forth by individuals.

Sowell never attempts to be politically correct. He points out that while some minority groups gripe about how unfairly they are treated, others work hard, focus on making sure their children are educated, and get on with their lives. Those who wait for "change" are constantly disappointed and those who accept generational handouts are demeaned and stripped of their initiative.

Progressives seem to want a world where all pay is equal. But shouldn't a highly-skilled brain surgeon be rewarded for his years of study and time spent perfecting his skills? Should a worker at a fast-food joint be paid a commensurate amount for spending his teens, 20s, and early 30s riding a skateboard and playing video games? Neither choice is necessarily right or wrong but they are individual decisions and their result won't be the same. Those who choose to produce more for society should be better remunerated.

Sowell shows ways to reduce poverty and increase prosperity and proves his hypotheses with examples from worldwide cultures and varied geographical locations. Although his arguments are complex and his proofs extensive, this book is easily understandable and fascinating to read.

(Basic Books, 2015, 328 pp., $29.99)