Monday, May 6, 2013

A Marxist walks into a haymaker

In this case Herb Gintis. Normally the most reasonable of radicals, but in reviewing Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society back in December of last year, he let loose his ideological priors;
 Sowell is a Biased, Opinionated, Klutzy Intellectual 
Sowell.... has no heart for the plight of the poor....he is a thorough-going right-wing ideologue....blind to...problems with conservative ideas....
...petty, vituperative, Manichean, and unilluminating. ....
... preachs to a right-wing choir, a wordy version of the radio talk-show hucksters....smothered in invective.
When it was pointed out, by someone trying to be of public service, that Sowell himself was born into poverty in pre-WWII South Carolina--through a laborious and painful striving, he went from high school dropout to Phd in Economics--and thus might be actually better qualified to claim some 'heart for the plight of the poor' than many, Gintis was having nothing of it;
Sowell does not know what it takes to overcome it. He knows what it took him and talented people like him to overcome it. 
Nor did he like the follow up;
It seems to me that Sowell has a lot more respect for 'the poor' than most. He treats them like human beings, recognizing that they respond to incentives put in front of them just as everyone else does. Not too surprising in that he grew up in dire poverty himself.
Which is why I'm so suprised at Herb Gintis's intemperate review, not of Sowell's book, but of Sowell himself. 
Gintis returned to his own defense;
I stand by my statement. Having "respect for the poor" does not mean assuming that they respond to incentives "just like anybody else." It means recognizing (a) there are dysfunctional individuals; and (b) there are dysfunctional cultures of poverty. Neither can be treated by assuming that the structure of incentives available to the non-poor will operate effectively to eliminate poverty.
I am not of course claiming that getting the incentives right is not important. It clearly is. For instance, limiting welfare support for teenage school dropouts has be key in reducing the teen pregnancy rate. I am saying that ignoring dysfunctionality and cultures of poverty is sufficient to render an anti-povery policy ineffective.
How Sowell is guilty of 'render[ing] anti-poverty policy ineffective' is left unexplained.  Nor has this been responded to by Gintis (yet);
So, you think that the author of Race and Culture, Conquests and Cultures, Migration and Cultures, and Black Rednecks and White Liberals is inattentive to 'dysfunctional cultures of poverty'? Seems unlikely to me. 

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. The idea of Thomas Sowell as someone who has a low regard for the importance of culture is the funniest misinterpretation I've heard in a while!