'Discrimination and Disparities' by Thomas Sowell, a Book Review
“Discrimination and Disparities” is a 2018 book by Thomas Sowell. While it addresses racism and class bias, it delves into many other disparities and forms of discrimination. It discusses the literal social and economic costs of disparities and actual discrimination while explaining how most disparities are not due to actual discrimination. What are the points in favor and against this Thomas Sowell book? What can you learn from this book that hasn’t been addressed in his many other works?
Points in Favor of “Discrimination and Disparities” by Sowell
This is one of the shortest books by Thomas Sowell I’ve seen. Yet it is as well researched and referenced as his older, longer tomes. The notes are nearly a third the length of the actual text.
Thomas Sowell was past 80 when he wrote this book, yet it remains as relevant and timeless as his other works. He pulls from sources over a century old and modern ones, while his classic examples are irrefutable. For example, his approach to debunking the nature versus nature argument is to introduce a mass of data on siblings. They share the same genes and the same environment – the major difference is parental attention and resources. And he shows how birth order makes a huge difference in life outcomes.
As an engineer, I am quite familiar with root cause analysis. If you want to solve the problem, you have to identify the main root causes and address the greatest contributors to the problem. Many modern policies fail because we go after the wrong root causes, so the “solutions” don’t solve anything.
The book shares many explanations of where we mistake discrepancies for discrimination, whether classism, racial, sexism or other “isms”. When groups have higher illegitimacy rates or a younger average population, crime rates by that group are higher than others. Morally neutral factors like geography, crop failures, age distributions, birth order and cultural differences that affect things like literacy rates and malnutrition don’t get attention because they don’t fit the left’s default explanation of "oppression".
This book has excellent paradigms that overturn many common assumptions. For example, London had only 12 armed robberies in 1954 when there was no gun control, but they had 1600 in 1991 when it was very difficult to get a gun. Obviously, then, availability of guns was unrelated to crime.
The Weaknesses of “Discrimination and Disparities” by Sowell
Thomas Sowell remains eminently quotable in this book. However, you’d be better off going to his Twitter feed or the many memes featuring his quotes if you want the best short quips. In every other regard, this is an excellent book.
Observations about “Discrimination and Disparities”
There is an old axiom not to mistake correlation with causation. Just because A happens before B, it doesn’t mean A causes B. A modern corollary is that discrepancies shouldn’t be mistaken for discrimination. That is the likely source of the title for this book.
Stephen Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” is actually cited in Mr. Sowell’s book several times.
Thomas Sowell brings up the fact that there wasn’t segregation on the Pacific Coast or the North before the mass migration of Southern blacks to these areas following World War 2 job opportunities. He discusses the resentment the existing black population had against the generally less well-educated blacks from the Deep South. Many of the negative stereotypes of blacks today stem not from racism but the Southern culture these people brought with them to the “hood”. For more on this subject, I’d suggest reading Thomas Sowell’s book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”.
Mr. Sowell’s book discusses how culture and sub-culture affect values and behavior, and that relocating people to new areas (whether home country to new country or urban poor to the suburbs) doesn’t magically solve problems caused by culture. For a racially neutral book on this, I’d suggest “Hillbilly Elegy”.
“Discrimination and Disparities” by Thomas Sowell is an excellent book for understanding the many factors other than actual systemic discrimination that lead to disparate outcomes for individuals, groups and societies. Whether you want to understand why most national prize winners are firstborns or why some countries and groups suddenly surged ahead at various points in time, this is book is a must-read.
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© 2018 Tamara Wilhite