Jewish World Review Feb. 17, 2004 / 25 Shevat, 5764

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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The equality dogma | Some readers objected to a statement in this column that black students usually do not perform as well in school as white students or Asian American students. These readers seemed to think that this was a personal opinion — or even an immoral statement.

It never seemed to occur to them that this was a verifiable fact, shown by innumerable studies over the years by many scholars of various races. As John Adams said, more than two centuries ago: "Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

More is involved than a confusion between facts and opinions. The reigning dogma of our time is equality — and anything that seems to go against it creates an automatic response, much like the conditioned responses of Pavlov's dog.

When discussing equality, we must at least be clear in our own minds as to what we mean: Equality of what? Performance? Potential? Treatment? Humanity? Too often, fervor for the word serves as a substitute for clarity as to its meaning.

It is an undeniable fact that different groups have different performances across a whole spectrum of activities. Does anyone seriously believe that whites usually play basketball just as well as blacks? Is anyone surprised when Asian American youngsters walk off with science prizes, year after year?

This whole page could easily be filled with examples of particular groups that excel in particular activities. When it comes to performance, huge disparities are the rule rather than the exception. And performance is what pays off.

Those who are politically correct may try to claim that these are all "stereotypes" or "perceptions" but hard data show the best selling beers in America to be those created by people of German ancestry. It is the same story on the other side of the world, where China's famed Tsingtao beer was also created by Germans.

What upsets some people is the inference that performance differences reflect innate differences in potential. But there are huge differences in all the things that turn potential into performance.

Back in the early 19th century, a Russian official reported that even the poorest Jews there somehow managed to have books in their homes and "their entire population studies," while books were virtually unknown among most of the surrounding population.

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When C-SPAN's Brian Lamb recently asked Abigail Thernstrom, co-author, with her husband, of "America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) why Jews scored so high on mental tests, she replied: "They have been preparing for them for a thousand years."

A recent study by the United Nations shows that publications per capita in Europe today are at least ten times as numerous as in the Arab countries or in Africa. How could equal potential lead to equal performance when there are such great disparities in the intervening factors?

The fact that some societies have long educated both girls and boys, while others have not bothered to educate most girls, means that some societies have thrown away half their inborn talents and abilities. How could their performances not be different?

Recognizing the equal humanity of all peoples, and a need to treat everyone with decency and compassion, is very different from insisting on a dogma that their performances are all equal.

It is not just a few readers but government agencies and the highest courts in the land that dogmatize against any recognition of differences in behavior or performances among groups. Statistical differences in outcomes automatically fall under suspicion of discrimination, as if the groups themselves could not possibly be any different in behavior or performance.

Any school that disciplines black boys much more frequently than Asian American girls can be risking a federal lawsuit, as if there could not possibly be any differences in behavior among the children themselves. Employers can be judged guilty of discrimination, even if no one can find a single person who was discriminated against, if their hiring and promotions data show differences among ethnic groups or between women and men.

The biggest losers from these dogmatic notions are people who very much need to change their behavior, but from whom that crucial knowledge is withheld by their "leaders" and "friends."

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)


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