Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2003 / 5 Tishrei, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Silly letters | Most of the letters and e-mails I receive are a pleasure to read and my only regret is that I cannot answer even one-tenth of them. However, there are certain e-mails and letters that repeat the same fallacies again and again. Let me try to answer one of those fallacies now, once and for all.

One of the silly things that gets said repeatedly is that I should not be against affirmative action because I have myself benefitted from it.

Think about it: I am 73 years old. There was no affirmative action when I went to college — or to graduate school, for that matter. There wasn't even a Civil Rights Act of 1964 when I began my academic career in 1962.

Moreover, there is nothing that I have accomplished in my education or my career that wasn't accomplished by other blacks before me -- and long before affirmative action. Getting a degree from Harvard? The first black man graduated from Harvard in 1870.

Becoming a black economist? There was a black professor of economics at the University of Chicago when I first arrived there as a graduate student.

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Writing a newspaper column? George Schuyler wrote newspaper columns, magazine articles, and books before I was born.

A recent silly e-mail declared that I wouldn't even be able to vote in this year's California election if there hadn't been a Voting Rights Act of 1965. I have been voting ever since I was 21 years old — in 1951.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were necessary for some people in some places. But making these things the cause of the rise of most blacks only betrays an ignorance of history.

The most dramatic rise of blacks out of poverty occurred before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. That's right — before. But politicians, activists and the intelligentsia have spread so much propaganda that many Americans, black and white, are unaware of the facts.

There is a lot of political mileage to be gotten by convincing blacks that they owe everything to the government and could not make it in this world otherwise. Dependency plus paranoia equals votes. But blacks made it in this world before the government paid them any attention.

Nor has the economic rise of blacks been speeded up by civil rights legislation. More blacks rose into professional ranks in the five years preceding passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the five years after its passage.

What moved blacks up was a rapid increase in education. There was certainly discrimination but, in many fields that demanded higher levels of education, there were not that many blacks to discriminate against in the first place.

Moreover, even if certain laws and policies may once have served a purpose, that does not mean that these laws and policies should last forever, in total disregard of their counterproductive effects today. For a California election in 2003 to be held up by the federal government because of what happened in Mississippi decades ago is ludicrous.

Finally, the argument that anyone who has benefitted from affirmative action should never oppose it is as illogical as it is ignorant of the facts. I certainly benefitted from the Korean War, which led to my being in the military and therefore getting the G.I. Bill that enabled me to go to college.

Does that mean that I should never be against any war? Was it wrong of me to be against the Vietnam War after I had personally benefitted from the Korean War? Are the duties of a citizen, not to mention the duty to be honest and truthful, to be over-ridden by what happened to benefit me personally?

Some of the things I advocate would ruin me personally if my recommendations were followed. For example, I am totally opposed to the environmentalist extremism that has made it an ordeal to try to build any kind of housing — much less "affordable housing" — on the San Francisco peninsula. But if such restrictive policies were repealed, the inflated value of my home would be cut at least in half.

Is myopic selfishness supposed to be a moral obligation?

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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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