Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2003 / 20 Tishrei, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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The war against success

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Name some of the things that make us so much better off than Americans of just a couple of generations ago.

One of the most important things are new medicines that not only prolong life but leave us vigorous at ages when old folks used to sit around in rocking chairs. Airplanes have put the whole world within our reach. Computer operating systems have enabled people with no understanding of the science and technology of computers to use them nevertheless to do innumerable things.

You might think that those who created these things would be among our heroes. On the contrary, they are demonized in the media, harassed by the government and sued by lawyers.

Pharmaceutical drug companies are regularly denounced for charging higher prices than politicians want them to charge. How these companies are supposed to recover the hundreds of millions of dollars required to develop just one new medicine is not something that politicians — or much of the media — seem at all interested in discussing.

The doctors who save our lives are sued with great regularity by lawyers, often on flimsy grounds that nevertheless result in millions of dollars in damages awarded by juries more responsive to emotional rhetoric than to hard evidence.

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Boeing is being sued because its planes's doors did not keep terrorists out of the cockpits on September 11, 2001. Microsoft was sued because so many people bought its operating system that Microsoft was said to "control" too much of its market.

The October 6th issue of BusinessWeek magazine has a feature article on the Wal-Mart chain in which it quotes an estimate by a consulting firm that Wal-Mart saves American consumers $20 billion a year. Yet it also criticized Wal-Mart for not paying its sales clerks enough to support a family of three and complained that the company won't sell music with dirty lyrics or magazines with dirty pictures.

It used to be said that nothing succeeds like success. Today, nothing draws fire like success. Just as editorial office heroes criticize how the police handle dangers that these writers have never faced, so they second-guess how people run businesses that editorial saints have never run.

No small part of California's economic problems come from the fact that left coast politicians like to think up benefits to give to the voting public and blithely put the cost of these benefits on business. That way politicians get to play Santa Claus without having to raise taxes to pay for their generosity with other people's money.

Journalists apparently want part of that kind of action as well. Hence the BusinessWeek writer's notion that Wal-Mart ought to pay its clerks enough to support a family of three. How many of these clerks actually have a family of three to support on one salary is not mentioned. Nor is any thought given to whether it makes sense that one person is supposed to make decisions — having children — and someone else is supposed to pay the costs entailed by their decision.

A whole vocabulary has grown up among the intelligentsia to downplay or dismiss the achievements that create our standard of living and the longevity that allows us to enjoy it more fully. Where some achieve more than others, that is not seen as a special contribution to society that should be appreciated but as a grievance to be resented by others, in the name of equality.

Achievements are called "advantages" or "privileges." Even writings that have stood the test of time by becoming classics to generation after generation are called "privileged" writings by the politically correct in academia and are often displaced from the curriculum by writings more in fashion at the moment.

Why is it that achievements — whether in medicine, business, literature or wherever — draw such negative reactions?

Eric Hoffer may have put his finger on it when he said: "Nothing so offends the doctrinaire intellectual as our ability to achieve the momentous in a matter-of-fact way, unblessed by words."

There is little or no role left for these self-important word-mongers when pharmaceutical companies, Wal-Mart, cops, and others do the things that make our lives better. The talkers and writers resent being left on the sidelines by the doers.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)

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