Thomas Sowell on the second edition of Intellectuals and Society

Barack Obama be a Columbia University JD Harvard Law School instructor in constitutional law the University of Chicago are you impressed our guest today Thomas Sol is not uncommon knowledge now welcome to uncommon knowledge I'm Peter Robinson be sure to visit us on our website at Hoover o RG /uk or on facebook at slash UNC knowledge slash UNK knowledge a fellow at the Hoover Institution economist dr. Thomas Sol is the author of more than two dozen books including the classic work conflict of visions dr. Souls latest intellectuals and society a revised and expanded version of the original bestseller Tom Sol welcome thank you segment one what's wrong with the intellectuals Tom to quotations writing in 1981 historian Arthur Schlesinger jr. who attended Phillips Exeter and Harvard and held positions as a professor at Harvard and later at the City University of New York Arthur Schlessinger Jr quote those in the u.s. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse are only kidding themselves close quote quotation number two speaking in 1982 only months after Arthur Schlesinger jr. Ronald Reagan a graduate of Eureka College in an ironic sense Carl Marx was right we are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order but the crisis is happening not in the free non-marxist West but in the home of sister Leninism the Soviet Union it is the soviet union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens it also was in deep economic difficulty Tom the professional exquisitely educated intellectual Arthur Schlessinger jr. got it wrong and Ronald Reagan the graduate of a little school in the middle of the country Eureka College got it right a decade after these two quotations the Soviet Union went out of existence how come well other Schlesinger is part of a long and one might say distinguished line of people who have been absolutely wrong uh for decades and and since and he actually for centuries so this is just one of many statements that you could prove it's not even the only time that author Schlesinger jr. was wrong by miles he was wrong and attributing the recoveries from the Great Depression to Franklin D Roosevelt he was wrong and arguing that the tax cuts were going to make it but under Andrew Mellon we're going to make it harder to a balanced budget they've not only balanced the budget they had a surplus and paid down the national debt and even after john kennedy's tax cuts Treasury secretary Andrew Mellon when Andrew Mellon was earlier oh but in writing about and writing retrospectively about it he said he said that Mellon was very inconsistent and saying he wanted to reduce the national debt while cutting the tax rate right when he cut the tax rate but they were tax revenue is increased so Arthur Schlessinger was wrong about the tax cuts of the 20s yes and then when he served in the Kennedy White House he resisted those tax cuts which also worked and then he opposed Ronald Reagan's he was thrown three times so what is the what is the pathology of intellectuals that I mean one condensation and unfair crude condensation but it sort of gets at a point of this book might be simply the fancier at your education the more likely you are to be wrong well you more like but I would say there's something to that because the more like you are to spout off about things you don't know anything about the product the problem is that all of us have having never arranged within which we may be great but a few steps outside that range and we're totally lost you know Bobby Fischer that didn't go around commenting you know on on theories of evolution and stuff like that he was happy to play chess I'm but intellectuals someone who's a linguist like Nam Chomsky he does he didn't stick to linguistics if he stuck to linguistics we would never people would never have heard of it so somehow or other a fancy education seems to give people the feeling that they have been given the diploma gives them permission to spout off about world affairs politics economics when all they know is linguistics or Arthur Schlessinger juniors case he knows a lot about the administration of Andrew Jackson yes fifty years before why what is it about having a fancy diploma that gives people the right not always oh it's all just just the general reputation of being an intellectual and you don't have to go that far away I mean you know a couple of years ago there was a mountain lion killed here in Palo Alto and all kinds of insane things was said by people at Stanford and whatnot but how terrible it was the killers mountain lion he was up in a tree near with school where school was what was about to let out was about to let out yet the cops had been watching it all day a tree in a neighborhood and when the school was about to let out they thought we have no choice maybe people who may have been you know I may have been the world's authority is on existentialism or Mayan culture or whatever they know nothing about not lions and the cops have had to deal with this before and they do know something about mountain lions opposing social visions intellectuals in society quote at the heart of the social vision prevalent among contemporary intellectuals is the belief that there are problems and solutions yes quote explain that well the people with the vision of the anointed as I call it believe there are solutions and that intellectuals have the inside track in providing those solutions those were the opposite vision of understand there are no solutions there are trade-offs and you know you can make this a little bit better by making something a little bit worse or you can make it a little bit better by making something a lot worse and that right now for example this mania for high-speed rail there's no question if you're willing to pour enough money down a rat hole we can have high-speed rail we can't have it they have it in Spain one of the economics professors in Spain said you know not only are they not covering the operating costs there has not been one dollar collected towards the infrastructure I mean like the rails and the trains they haven't got one dollar the paper that they're not even covering the cost of running the trains on a daily basis you know the conductors and the electricity so you've got in intellectuals in society you draw this contrast between what you call the vision of the anointed we the anointed because of our intellect our superior I'm I'm denigrating the view because I share your view that it's all nonsense but it's not nonsense to them so what's the fair way to put it what is it laya they have more knowledge than other people we know more than most much dryer for we are in a position to serve a society see specific problems and propose solutions that's one fundamental vision which runs through much of Western civilization as you demonstrate here and the opposing vision is common sensical tragic you can't solve certain problems we will all die there is a human beings are in some ways perverse this would be the vision you argue of the founding fathers you check ambition with ambition checks-and-balances power is dangerous so why is it if you've got these two fundamental visions the vision of the anointed and the tragic vision of life and they run through much of Western civilization why is it the envision of the anointed that is the persistent temptation of intellectuals why are they drawn to it gives them a much bigger role in the world I mean if you believe in free markets what about all these people who want to have social justice people just go out there they make whatever deals they won't can with each other work things out and go on their way and though here is all is unused brilliant standing on the sidelines watching with impotent rage the tragic vision confines intellectuals to the classroom the vision of the anointed lets them run society that's the difference roughly so what you're saying is that it's just human pride it's it's it's the kind of vulgar urge to power oh absolutely and nothing more than that well that's a sufficient for many people oh all right segment to the role of intellectuals in American life intellectuals in society quote there has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society than the era in which we live close quote how come well for one thing for most of history you had autocratic governments you had Kings got improves and so on and then and they were and what the people thought didn't matter an awful lot on a democracy what the people think matters a lot and so and also in later times you have a more prosperous society where we can afford from a financial point of view to send more and more people through colleges and universities and turn and support books and things like that much more so than in the past and now you have people out there who fundamentally don't really know much beyond what they especially might be creating a certain vision of life in the electorate which the people with the holders of power have to take into account so the intellectuals are able to dominate perhaps is the word the climate of opinion yes in a republic of 300 million people yes and well what classic example was the era between the two world wars where the intellectuals were all in favor of disarmament even while Hitler was arming Germany and when Japan was lobbying and so forth they were saying we should disband the RAF to British some British intellectuals and so on and and and and it was not that they convinced the holders of power the whole is the power power understood that Germany was rearming secretly even before Hitler took power you make this point Stanley Baldwin then the British prime minister yes saw what Hitler was up to oh yeah then the British and French intelligence services both knew this the public didn't notice and Baldwin was not about to tell the British public a Germany was rearming because the clear implication was that Britain must be rearm and the intellectuals had made rearmament you know poison politically and his professional opinion is it as a working politician was that the climate of opinion was such that the that British British democracy couldn't bear the truth that's right because of what the intellectuals had done to yes through journals and newspapers and the chattering classes so to speak and what about Vietnam oh my gosh that the Tet Offensive was hailed by the intellectuals as a huge defeat for the American military forces after the Communists took over won the war took took took over South Vietnam Tet Offensive is 68 if the Communists finally win in 73 yeah the communist leaders himself said they were devastated by the Tet Offensive they never want a military battle against American forces the whole time the Vietnam War went on but in the newspapers the Tet Offensive was depicted as a great defeat for the United States so Lyndon Johnson and the military conducting the war in Vietnam knew that we had in effect that we had won not in effect one that we had won that engagement the Tet Offensive the Communists knew everybody knew except intellectuals everybody and Lyndon Johnson instead of prosecuting the war is forced to announce toward the end of 1968 that he is not going to run for re-election that's the moment when America effectively surrenders in Vietnam yes because the climate of opinion got the it because the intellectuals got things wrong they dominated the climate of opinion and that if in a democracy if the people believed the war is unwinnable then it's unwinnable intellectuals in society ideological differences based on beliefs about facts causation human nature and the character and distribution of knowledge are ultimately questions about different perceptions of the real world leading to hypotheses which can be tested empirically close quote now everybody who's been to college and high school knows that what you've just described is is the intellectual method you come up with a hypothesis and you test it against reality and yet you argue here that the least interested in actual empirical tests testing hypothesis testing ideas against reality our intellectuals because them there are many talents that they have a huge ego stake in a given set of conclusions in other words it's very I symmetrical I mean if you believe in free markets and you know traditional values and so forth there is no exaltation that comes with that you're just somebody believes in free markets and traditional values on the contrary there's a certain humility that comes with it yes look the market knows more than I do yeah the traditional moral wisdom of the ages knows more than I do you humble yourself before the wider world right yes okay but but but if you believe in social justice and saving the environment you know I mean you are really something and so they the people with that viewpoint have a huge ego stake there and empirical evidence is like gambling all of that on a roll of the dice okay they don't want to test for fear that they might be proven wrong yeah they don't want to know the answer again intellectuals in society quote intellectuals on issues ranging across the spectrum from policy housing policies to laws governing organ transplants have sought to have decision-making discretion taken from those directly involved who have personal knowledge and a personal stake and transfer to third parties who have neither and who pay no price for being wrong close quote so again this this counter common sense you know what's best for your health therefore we must make the decision in a bureaucracy in Washington that's right hey well have you been told all your life and many of these people have from an early age they were in the class four bright gifted children they were the ones who got into the good high schools they were the ones who were accepted in colleges that accept the less than ten percent of the applicants that they've heard this all through their lives and after a while they must and all due modesty believe it all right the percentage of cabinet appointments with experience in the private sector the administration of Dwight Eisenhower almost 60% George W Bush over 50 percent Barack Obama barely twenty percent yes what are we to make of this but that there is a reason why things have declined the way they have that people who had so have a track record encountering a fellow who had been a teaching as a fellow at Harvard when I was an undergraduate and I said to him I've been noticing that whenever there's a great disaster there always needs to be a Harvard man in the middle of it he said have you noticed that – yeah you know I mean think of McNamara and the whiz kids and the Vietnam War you know think of the Ford Foundation who was the Harvard man in charge of that I think she was Bundy sounds right yeah you know he launched this whole notion of subsidizing community activists as the answer to the racial problems of course they have every community activists have every incentive to exacerbate the problem to the to the fullest I mean calm would be the end of their job so why I'm just still trying to get at this contrast between the growing role of America of intellectuals in American life which is taking place not only in our lifetime but in the lifetime of somebody who's in college this very day you can see it expanding over the last quarter of a century or so why should that be taking place now why should the why should intellectuals have a growing role and why should the nature of intellectuals have changed if you look at the founders Thomas Jefferson John Adams quite different characters and temperaments these were both extremely well read John Adams was a Harvard man and yet you don't get what you get I would argue and I think you'd agree but I put it to you you get the sense over and over again particularly in Adams you get it in John in Washington you certainly get it in the constitutional debates it's the tragic vision of life oh no question power is dangerous we need to hem this in we need to devolve as much power as we can to ordinary people now why is it that the founders should have grasped that and intellectuals today just don't see it at all well first of all these people did not make their living as intellectuals they did not make their living units politicians most of them most of them had they had day jobs and when the rebellion against Britain started they they put that aside for them for the time being to go into politics and to try to write up a constitution and all those kinds of things but they were not intellectuals in the sense in which I define it as people who earn their living by producing a final product which is simply ideas right segment three intellectuals condescending intellectuals in society quote intellectuals give people who have the handicap of poverty the further handicap of a sense of victimhood yes close quote explain that Tom the expo and elections have a great tendency to see poverty as a great moral problem to which they have the solution now the human race began in poverty so there's no mysterious explanation as to why some people are poor the question is why if some people gotten prosperous and in particular why have some gotten prosperous to a greater degree than others but everybody started poor so poverty is not a mystery to be solved by intellectuals more than that I think one one of the things I wish I put more emphasis on in the book is that intellectuals have no interest in and what creates wealth and what inhibits the creation of wealth they are very concerned about the distribution of it but they act as if wealth just exists somehow and it's only a question it's like manna from heaven it's only a question of how we split it up and why should that be why shouldn't they find that question at least intellectually fascinating because it would destroy the whole vision that they have because it would lead to the answer of free markets well it would it would say there are enormous numbers of reasons why people acquire the ability to create wealth and they vary all over the world and so if you find for example that in centuries past Germans living in Eastern Europe had much higher standards of living than the indigenous peoples of Eastern Europe intellectuals and say well the Germans have somehow oppressed the people of Eastern Europe right or the ones who are into genetic determinism say Germans were born biologically superior of people of Eastern Europe but anyone with a knowledge of history would know that there are all kinds of reasons why Western Europe as a whole has far greater wealth to be producing capacity than Eastern Europe but of course that would then cut out the role of intellectuals they would then have to do what David Hume did which is wait oh he urged his fellow eighteenth-century Scots to learn the English language because that would open up a whole world to them that they would not have otherwise which leads to another quotation that I found very striking here Tom and intellectuals in society part of this you've touched on you write that although intellectuals pay a lot of attention to inequalities among racial and ethnic groups quote seldom has this attention been directed toward how the less economically successful might improve themselves by availing themselves of the culture of others around them close quote now that is a very arresting formulation poor people can improve themselves by availing themselves of a culture of others around them what do you mean by that I mean that the same things which allows some other people to prosper can allow them to prosper if they take advantage of those same things the Scots were a classic example they were one of the poorest and most ignorant people on the fringes of European civilisation and centuries past but once they for whatever reasons began to educate themselves especially to learn the English language which became a patient he built all over Scotland including human himself we're taking lessons in the English language Humes first language was Gaelic he I don't know if his Gillian was whatever they spoke in those day alright yeah uh uh and and and with and from about the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century the leading intellectuals in Britain were Scots right I mean you had Adam Smith in economics humans and human philosophy black in chemistry you go through the whole list and so they could do that but that was an extremely rare thing for an intellectual to say most intellectuals in most countries around the world see the issue is how those who are more prosperous should be brought down rather than how it and add more with the people people who have lagging should cling to their culture I don't know how you're going to keep on doing what you've always done and get results that are different from what you've always gotten to quotations Tom an editorial in the New York Times quote racial stereotypes still wreak havoc with the job possibilities of young black men close quote quotation number two thomas soul and intellectuals in society quote black unemployment rates were lower than those of whites as long ago as 1890 close quote and in 1930 as well and in nineteen thirty first of all black unemployment was lower decades ago before the civil rights movement before the New York Times began editorializing on the on black poverty how can that have been it it shows them one outlet well the minimum wage law is one one huge factor 1930 was also the last year when there was no federal minimum wage law if you look at the unemployment rate of black teenagers in 1948 1949 it is a fraction of what it has been at any of recent decade uh and 1949 was a recession year so the black teenage unemployment rate in 1949 was a fraction of what it was and even the most prosperous years of the 1990s and this is because the federal minimum wage said you must play pay every worker at least this month yes when there was no minimum wage kids everybody but particularly you're talking about black teams you could get paid whatever a dollar fifty an hour they'll agree but they could get employment they could yeah learning skills they could get reached the first rung on the ladder so to speak yes and be able move up very quickly I'm in McDonald's has over a hundred percent turnover a year people's like he's out you're he's out flipping hamburgers yes he's flipping hamburgers in January does not mean he's going to be flipping hamburgers in December somewhere how to get to work on time and get him that's right he's and he's not gonna be at me he's gonna start start up the ladder but the what was different about the late 1940s was the minimum the federal minute the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 specified what the minimum wage would be the runaway inflation of the 1940s made that number meaningless so for all practical purposes inflation had repealed the minimum wage law thank God I was a teenager in those years and you know when I started out my first full-time job is a Western Union messenger my starting pay was fifty percent above the federal minimum wage because inflation had made the federal minimum wage meaningless and so under those conditions in 1948 black 16 and 17 year olds had at an unemployment rate under 10 percent and slightly less than that of white teenage is the same age now as you come in and the Liberals say no we we've got to catch up with inflation starting in nineteen fifty they escalated the minimum wage regularly and then you begin to see these horrendous rates of unemployment among black teenagers diversity again I'm quoting from intellectuals in society quote sweeping claims for the benefits of diversity and innumerable institutions have prevailed without a speck of evidence being asked for or given close quote yes again how come intellectuals ought to be asking so we have diversity we have affirmative action diversity and of course diversity is one of the sacred words of the Academy these days and nobody's tested to see whether the mersa tea enriches yet and no you get no it's just definitional intellectuals have many skills which will enable them to evade the testing of what they believe and that negates the fact the fact that they are capable of testing it doesn't mean that they're going to test it Thomas Sol once again quote at the same time you're getting all this melding of diversity this is not from intellectuals in society but it's from an interview you gave elsewhere at the same time you're getting all this melding of diversity there's an extremely narrow ideological conformity that's being enforced so we have diversity in the way people look the ethnic groups are from which they come the parts of the country from which they come but once you arrive you'd better start thinking the way we do yes I still get emails from students you know say that you know when they raise any issues that go against the professor's ideology they just get ridiculed segments for Thomas sole intellectual we just learned that you started out as a delivering telegrams this was in New York this is yeah living in Harlem so you were dilute you started out to living now let's take you to age 24 when you're at Howard University you write in to another book of well worth reading they're all worth reading but I love a personal Odyssey but I'm quoting from a personal Odyssey in this case quote I was a 24 year old high school dropout with mediocre grades in a mediocre institution close quote when did that change when did your own intellect become engaged when did the light bulb go on Oh before then but of course I was working during the day and going to school at night which is not the ideal conditions for you know intellectual results so I really didn't have the results so how so how did but young Tom soul what what I can recall you were telling me that you would wait up at night as I believed that this was when you were a teen you'd wait up at night for the early morning edition newspapers do them out you've walk up this block at a little after midnight and buy the first edition newspapers at the newsstand take them back to your bedroom and read them yes how what would so you were an intellectual when you were oh I'm not sure they're reading the Yankee school was majoring in the lovelessness Yankee sports I feel so much better now I thought you were engaged in world I've always thought can you imagine anybody in Harlem doing that today why we around at midnight freely and with you as a small old white man had a little newsstand in Harlem and I would and he obviously had enough people doing this to make them better make it worth his while to be open at midnight and I would walk it was a long block I'd walk down this long block get my newspapers and come on back home and read him a different world a quote again from a personal Odyssey I graduated from Harvard magna laude economics and Karl Marx had a lot to do with it Karl Marx got Tom's soul through Harvard explain yourself explainers well IIIi have been taken by the Marxist philosophy and therefore I it's done a lot of study I'm one of the few people I guess who's read all three volumes of capital and indexed them as I went and from this I wrote a UH this meeting takes place before you get to Harvard I started but but at Harvard I got moments with the capital and that then provided me with a undergraduate honors thesis and it's the honors thesis that got the magnet cold log the grade point average was just enough to make me eligible I see and you enjoyed yourself at Harvard and have revered that August institution ever since is that correct not quite I have I have never gone to a class reunion at Harvard even when I was teaching at Brandeis which is about a 20 minute drive from Harvard there were what I saw there and that got that bother me is what is what bothered me ever since there was the sense that we don't really need to test for evidence if all we bright good fellows all believe this it must be true mmm so you've got the sense and then have a sense of a kind of intellectual priesthood or or cash yes and then the same thing is your mission from the from the book that there is this sense that you don't really have to go for evidence that you know these are things that we all know thinking it so makes it so from Harvard to a graduate program in economics at the University of Chicago quote I was as well aware that the University of Chicago Economics Department had a reputation for conservatism as they were that I was a Marxist what made this not matter was that we were both devoted to intellectual standards I developed much more respect for the University of Chicago than I ever had for Harvard close quote yes explain the difference in atmosphere intellectual atmosphere well in Chicago you had to make your arguments as somewhat some economist once said you know at Chicago economics is a full-contact sport and I don't know if you aware of the of the back and forth that goes on it's fierce but the fact of the matter is that everyone recognized you have to have facts you have to have logic you can't say that we believe this because everybody knows this no you got you got to show how and why and you write about someone who became your close friend Milton Friedman you studied with Milton Friedman now so here's a case Tom your thesis about intellectuals in society that an intellectual is someone whose end product is ideas Milton's end product was ideas and yet he resisted all the temptations that you delineate in this book he championed the free markets he was intensely suspicious of the self aggrandizement of intellectuals he loved Washington in fact he there was I can recall some to conversation never went anywhere but some conversation here at the Hoover Institution that we should move to Washington and Milton said it would last two years in new boo-boo-boo intellectually we would be taken over how did he the in strict terms a man of ideas and in that sense an intellectual is intellectual what what set him apart what made him different from the intellectuals in the majority well in the preface of the book I explained it I don't go into that that I'm right out of you IIIi did not try to explain every sparrows fall uh I'm trying to find what are the general patterns that we can see looking at intellectuals over the past two centuries and I specifically say Milton Friedman is a classic example of someone who did not do it that way although I will be Milton himself somewhere pointed out that at a very early period in his life he was the Keynesian he was slightly a liberal okay so well but but he but he moved beyond that and a lot of people do I would say most of the conservative intellectuals were at some point of their lives on the left I mean Hayek was a socialist you go with you but you can just go through the whole list of them I mean there are a few like William F Buckley who was a conservative from day one but that he was the exception not the rule all right so if you won't explain the sparrows fall in Milton's case explain it in yours we've now got you to a graduate program at the University of Chicago but you're still a Marxist yeah what were the circumstances what was the intellectual journey that led you to reject mark well it was not not taking Milton Friedman's guy was a Marxist when I went into Milton Friedman's course I was a Marxist when I came out you are just one tough Marxist business Milton so what happened Tom I went to work for the government as it as a summer intern in economics and seeing the thinking or lack of thinking it was going on in the government I realized that government is not where it's at so when you this ties back to the notion of empiricism against the reality yes of the professional intellectual caste attempting to rearrange the lives of millions of people across this republic you said to yourself it's mediocre and second what was it that that you it was truly unthinking it was also something else that the labor department had its own institutional interests I was interested for example in whether the minimum wage law caused unemployment uh and I as I try to come up with ways of testing that I realized that the people in the labor department so that is a threat I mean they were appalled as I gave some ways we might try to test this now they have no desire to test the minimum wage law we've provided 1/3 of the funding for the US Department of Labor I see and so you once you say the government agencies have their own institutionally interests so don't look for them to serve the interests of others I mean to me your question is are all these teenage kids going to go out go without jobs and end up on the street and in crime and all the rest of it that was not your top priority and I realized he was the people's well-being would never be the priority of politicians and bureaucrats all right after you leave a government service in Washington you go back to academia where you've had a long and extremely distinguished career you've taught at institutions that include Amherst and Cornell and UCLA you've been a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University for some three decades now and yet you've spent this time swimming so to speak against that tide the intellectual tide that you describe here like just probing one more time and you feel perfectly free to swap me down one more time if you'd like what made you different Tom what is it in your character your background what permitted you to to resist these temptations to see them in the first one like others I did not successfully resist them at first but as time went on and more and more evidence accumulated I wasn't as prepared as some others were to just keep explaining away all the evidence so it's your impulse toward empiricism let's test it yeah test it let's test yes all right segment 5 our intellectual in chief Barak Obama got his BA from Columbia his JD from Harvard he taught for a number of years at the University of Chicago Law School may I suppose that Tom soul is duly impressed ha ha ha oh yeah you might say the road to hell is paved with the Ivy League degrees ha ha all right a few clips of the President of the United States delivering his State of the Union address earlier the here clip number one higher education can't be a luxury it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford higher education and imperative all he's asking is that all young Americans should have the same opportunity to get a really good education that Tom's so all had Tom I love the way the use of the word opportunity uh you know I had as much opportunity to become an NBA star as Michael Jordan had it just happens that there was some difference in skill and so the same thing with education there is no point trying to run people through institutions that they have very little interest in and that they may not be suited for in fact I would argue that one of the problems of American education if you have a lot of people in college we have no interest in what a college is supposed to be nor is there any reason why they should and so the insula theme so you water down the education of the people who are there to get an education because of the people who are not there for that purpose and who and and there and who you trying to appease in some way and is the impulse that we just saw of Barack Obama and his supporters to in constantly more and more people run them through college run the college and that's what that's to enhance the standing of intellectuals in society to teach more and more Americans to defer to intellectuals is that part of what's going on it's to win votes frankly all right straight forward is that President Obama once again I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here we've subsidized oil companies for a century that's long enough the tree is pre Solyndra of goods pre Selena oh yeah this notion of picking out something and calling a good thing like education or affordable housing or whatever it might be everything is a matter of trade good what what did the band say there that he will not cede wind or solar or baddest battery the battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment it's amazing that here is a man talking about five different industries and none of which he has the slightest experience it up but because he has these degrees in the places you mentioned he thinks and people have told him how clever he is he now thinks if he can can do this so can you no human being on this planet could do that can you explain Tom the particular appeal to intellectuals of the kind you describe here of the green movement of the environmental movement oh it shows them again in the roulade relish there that they are the wise and Noble fortunate forcing the rest of us poor dummies to do what's right you know even though we don't want to so it's what your old friend Karl Marx would have described as the will to power yes all right you don't want it you don't want to cut them a little slide that's mean you're just saying it's ego and pride and vanity yes all right ha ha once again the President of the United States tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule if you make more than a million dollars a year you should not pay less than 30% in taxes and my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires in fact if you're earning a million dollars a year you shouldn't get special tax subsidies or deductions on the other hand if you make under $250,000 a year like 98 percent of American families your taxes shouldn't go up I love it Tom when people keep their own money that's called subsidizing them I love it yeah that's the brilliance of intellectuals so they like they can use words it's such a valuable way that they can I mean the Obama has an absolute talent for saying things that make no sense but not only sound plausible but inspiring you know something that we're subsidizing the oil companies when they deduct the cost of doing business in order to arrive at the figure of how much net income they have everybody does that right so this notion though that if you if you're rich you ought to pay more straightforward enough no it is straightforward us it's also straightforward nonsense why is that um people don't but they often think of people who richest people who happen to have money right extremely few people happen to have money there aren't that many Rockefellers it well but Rockefeller didn't happen to have money but his heirs happen to have it yes my heirs happen to have money so you're doing rocket rocket rockefeller Rockefeller reduced the coils cost of oil to a fraction of what it had been before him benefiting millions of people across the country therefore they bought their oil from rockefeller rather than from people who had more expensive ways of producing oil and except one of them being than the use of tank cars on the railroads they're progressives were or livid that rockefeller could ship his oil at a cheaper price than the other producers it never occurred to them in oil Rockefeller shipped in oil and tank cars which are a hell of a lot cheaper to transport than in barrels I mean we still measure oil and barrels today but we ship it in tankers like and that's how he became a multi billionaire so we know from the study of economic history that wealthy people get wealthy by creating jobs lowering prices of yes products rather that Bill Gates the richest man in America one of the richest men in the world invented in invented an entire industry yes Lee didn't all right we know all that and we also know as we mentioned earlier cutting taxes worked to spur economic growth in the 20s again under John Kennedy in the 6x actually the it was Johnson who ended up most of the tax cuts took plate that let's call it under the 60s and then again in Ronald Ronald Reagan and the George W Bush and George W Bush so how is it that he can stand there in the face of this overwhelming evidence and be taken seriously I'm not asking now about Barack Obama is an intellectual I'm asking about the people listening to him the that's the question of the hour you have people who don't stop and think you had dumb down education you've had propagandistic education and people he's what he's saying connects with all those with all those kinds of things all right in fact it goes the other way too I was just doing some research on Detroit and its decline and they kept raising the city income tax and every time they raise the tax rate the tax revenues went down at night in 2008 Charles Gibson right put this to bomb when he was a candidate he said why are you for raising the tax rate on the rich because you often get more revenue at lower tax rates than at the higher tax rates and he said well it's a question of social justice others he doesn't really care about whether the government raises more revenues if he can get people mad at the rich and they vote for him then the pot pop then it's a success just as a Coleman Young's policy is in Detroit were a great political success for him mmm it ruined Detroit but it didn't work just happy you and I happen to be reading on a similar subject from 1950 to the present two things happened one was that the population of the United States of America roughly doubled and the other was that the population of Detroit fell by roughly half yes unbelievable all right you write in intellectuals in society about the intellectuals view of diplomacy and military affairs one last clip of the President of the United States thank you that I'm sitting down look at Iran through the power of our diplomacy a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran's nuclear program now stands as one the regime is are isolated than ever before his leaders are faced with crippling sanctions and as long as they shirk their responsibilities this pressure will not relent Tom will you sleep better tonight having heard that I mean I may take a sleeping pill so I can forget it the this man has diddle with Iran to the point where we are the military people saying you know even if we decided winning and bomb that place they are so dispersed so far underground it's by no means clear that we can do it the time when he was going through all this wonderful diplomacy he talks about was precise at the time when those things were put underground and dispersed it's like it's like when Hitler was our army you know that as Churchill said at one point a memorandum could have stopped Hitler you know because the power was so lopsided lay on the side of the Western democracies I say they could say stop rearming or else and we can't do that with a did a look they did a live with Iran to the point where now we don't know now but there's something interesting about to me whereas with Social Policy intellectuals tend to go for the policies and that give them greater power what greater power could an intellectual seek the military power the power to blow things up so why oh because oh oh because because they believe that again that their intellect is that is the unique factor that it's going to save us and to say that they're a bunch of military people are going to be more effective than doing all these terribly clever things that Obama is doing undermines their whole position I see all right final couple of questions here I'm asking I'm asking with a particular viewer in mind let's say that there's a young man or young woman in the position of a Tom soul this is a birch if somebody's viewing this who loves to get online and read the early edition of the newspapers the way you did and they want to go to college and they may even dream of grad school and they love books and they love ideas but they don't want to be come an intellectual of the kind that you described in intellectuals in society so I've been thinking what are the what is the advice that you would give them and I think one would be insist on empiricism is that right always insist on testing theories against the facts oh absolutely but in terms of education that get to be very careful in which college you choose and you can't go according to big names you go according to matching what you want with what the college offers and especially you don't want to go to a college where the professors think that the students are there to provide them with an audience for indoctrination mmm and there's one final we're talking here about analysis and ideas and testing ideas against reality and I can't resist the feeling that there's an implicit theme here you're pretty good at writing what you want to say but I also sense a kind of implicit theme here which is a question of character almost a moral theme of if what animates the intellectuals is as fundamental as simple vulgar human pride then kids ought to pay a lot of attention to intellectual humility is that so is that a virtue that can be cultivated I I don't know he can be cultivated but it's hard to find for one thing but I but I think that they shouldn't go to someplace where there is a party-line and and where anyone who says anything different is just slap down and that's unfortunately the case and to make universities so you're looking for genuine freedom of discussion yes and you're looking for a willingness to test theories against absolutely all right last question we have an election coming up in November what's your sense good news or bad news at the unone we wake up after election day will the intellectuals have been triumphs have triumphed or have been swept out of Washington I would think that the odds of there being swept out are no better than 50/50 do you have a candidate as we record this the Republic primary is still grinding on primaries are still grinding on I there's none of them there there's none of the candidates or either party that would cause me to dance in the streets all right is there anything as you look at the current prospect for this country in the Western world that would cause you to dance in the streets if I thought that the voters had some sense of realism and that they were concerned with the lower the larger questions rather than whose ex-wife said what and so on or you know what Governor Romney did or did not do when he was head of Bain Capital that I would have if they had some sense of the loss of freedom which is infinitely more important than any of the specific issues that by themselves that is Obamacare really is a huge step towards the loss of freedom I mean and it happens in small ways that but constantly I mean we can't have our light bulb that we want in our own home we can't flush the toilet with a kind of toilet we want we can't take a shower with the kind of showerhead we want we can't put out garbage out except and broken down by the way that some little Gauleiters have decided we ought to do it I mean it that it's just the accretion of these things many of which are too small to be significant in themselves but in the aggregate you could aggregate you can see the tenancy list the people who think they know better and they ought to be telling us what to do those people are the danger and if you don't see that then I'm not sure what the what the future is going to be like dr. Thomas sole author of the new expanded and revised version of the best-selling intellectuals and society thank you thank you for uncommon knowledge I'm Peter Robinson

42 thoughts on “Thomas Sowell on the second edition of Intellectuals and Society

  • 46:30 Thomas Sowell commits the mistake he has accused other intellectuals of doing. He should stick to economics because clearly he knows very little about foreign affairs.

  • 1:06 What’s Wrong With The Intellectuals?
    4:25 Expertise. Bobby Fisher didn’t spout off about Evolution, he stuck to chess.
    6:07 Social Vision
    “There are no solutions. There are trade offs.”
    The Annointed Vision vs Realism/Common Sense Vision (Founding Fathers)

  • Love Sowell… but This interviewer is the best! Best interview of this legendary intellectual I have seen.

  • 8:26 Something about that gives me chills. Just the idea of how natural it is for people to think that way, I guess.

  • Quite frankly, Obama's record did not impress me either. No job he has ever had that I know of has required any practical application of learned skill outside of putting words together in a way that sound good. He's pathetic.

  • DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans: No More Gangs in Government Paperback – May 28, 2013
    by Jesse Ventura (Author), Dick Russell (Contributor)

  • “If you believe in social justice and saving the environment, you are really something!”
    Hahah love Tom.

  • While I think Sowell has a point in so far as social issues go. I believe when it comes to scientific innovation and understanding Sowell is committing the same sin he condemns other intellectuals for. The market and tradition cannot come up with a solution for discovering truly novel things. The market is fantastic for the purposes of innovation, but as a free market enterprise the study of biology is an absolute crap shoot. There is no way in a free market to fund a person who simply wants to better understand a bacterial organism. However, the study of these organisms has spawned industries that, while some of the youngest, promise to shape the course of human history from CRISPR to antibiotics to microbiome manipulation to nanotechnologies. We see the same thing from the space race. The government funded research into technologies that we did not even know would work because they had never been tried. Then industry could use these technologies, (ie the computer and more recently rocket technologies (Blue Origin and Space X)) and innovate and elaborate upon them leading to todays modern technological world, that allows us to have these conversations.

    We may be able to see the promise of these projects now, but what about the next unforeseen innovation. We never know where the next society shaping idea will come from, which is why the enterprise of the discovery is so absolutely important. We could try crowd-funding as a form of free market enterprise, however this leads to popularly funded research into industries that we may not be able to wring more knowledge from, which is where the market fails because it cannot see all opportunities, it can only chase what it already knows.

    While intellectuals and government regulation may not be the most effective tool for every circumstance, when it comes to visions for long term progress that is what they are there for. The day-to-day gets messy and we lose the signal through the noise. But without government taking the time to at least partially fund these industries, technology would begin to stagnate. Should government reduce regulation, is a discussion to have, but it is one to have when looking at long range effects rather than short term, and at the moment our government can only seem to look forward to the next election cycle rather than long term infrastructure and research goals. That is the point of the intellectual, to shift public opinion and government policy back to where it belongs, the preservation of the well-being of its citizens into the long term future.

  • thought this subject would be boring ..but in the hands of of Dr. Sowell it is informative and entertaining.

  • Isn't it kind of hypocritical of Sowell and Robinson to blast Obama on the Iran sactions with one breath while decrying intellectuals speaking on things that they know very little about (maybe even ironic considering that they both work for a think tank)?

  • It's funny how so many people in the comments are commending Sowell rather than the ideas that he has. I'd call it sycophancy except for the fact that this is youtube.

  • How awesome it must be to have this man as your grandpa. Assuming he has grandkids I genuinely hope they know just how blessed they are.

  • thomas sowell is one of the high iq , but also grounded in reality , type of thinkers . they are rare. they usually exist in the military officer type i think.

  • thomas sowell is pretty much everything this country is meant to be. he is the actual intellectual that matters haha

  • the introductory statement doesnt really match the music / video of hoover that appears right after…. lmao

  • 37:05 lmfao! These interviews/book reviews are the best. Dr. Sowell is truly a living legend.

  • "Intellectuals have many skills which enable them to evade the testing of what they believe."–Thomas Sowell. The quotability index on this man is sky high.

  • What I understand Dr. Sowell to say is "No one is as smart as what they want others to think they are."

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