Books by Thomas Sowell
Basic Economics /
A Common sense Guide to the Economy /
A Man of Letters /
Ever wonder Why? /
Applied Economics /
A Conflict of Visions /
The Einstein Syndrome /
Knowledge and Decisions /
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
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& the Sermon on the Mount
Or Politicians Spitting on the Words of the Christ
Conversation with Sowell, Mackie, and Wilson
Thomas Sowell: Those who see
government as the solution to social problems may be surprised
to learn that it was government which created this problem [jim
crow]. Many, if not most, municipal transit systems were
privately owned in the 19th century and the private owners of
these systems had no incentive to segregate the races. [“Rosa
Parks and History”]
Mackie: I can only marvel at the way
some people use language to blindside us against the real
Rudy: They shoot horses don't they (or
used to) when they lose their usefulness. If our government is
not the solution to socio-economic problems, then what?—
honest white corporations that only seek profit? What idiocies
and opportunism parade as intellectual rigor and scholarship.
I'm done with politics. I shall crawl off into the sunset with
few regrets like August Wilson, enough is enough.
Wilson: Sowell's position is a
restatement of the economic interpretation of the Civil Rights
Movement, stated thirty years ago by Andy Young, and summarized
in my discussion of Andy Young in my second book Black
Messiahs and Uncle Toms (1982). Ironically, Sowell's
interpretation is the Marxist interpretation, although neither
Sowell nor Young would desire any identification with Marxism.
Nonetheless, their economic determinism is
perfectly consistent with the Marxist interpretation that was
doctrinal in Detroit. We also interpreted Mein Kampf
in Marxist terms. Everything in Detroit was Marxist during
my formative years, but Detroit paid the price for being a
Marxist town. The sudden destruction of New Orleans
is more dramatic, but no more tragic than the slow strangulation
Rudy: There is/was a steel town in
West Virginia, immediately west of southern Pennsylvania, that
was created as a result of the founding of a steel mill. The
town would not have been created if it had not been for the
business itself and the mill owner. Maybe it had at one point 5
to 10,000 workers, and like other steel towns (Pittsburgh,
Baltimore), it has suffered demise. And the people (the town)
suffer and die. That's life.
Foreign steel is cheaper, and foreign-owned
corporations like Mittal Steel, care little about communities or
people—the bottom line is profit, and profit only—people
say. As far as Detroit, many of these factory jobs have moved to
southern towns, like one in Alabama, I saw on TV recently—Down
South unions are weaker, taxes are cheaper. One city's lost is
another city's gain—a knowledge of Marx was/is useless.
A greater awareness and appreciation and
curbing of our governments would have been more useful.
These shifts had as much to do with political decisions—lack
of planning, lack of concern for people, callous governments,
regional customs—as with economics.
Sowell's "marxism" (economic
analysis) of the civil rights movement has little to do with
economics or about the owners of the Montgomery bus company or
about civil rights.
It has to do with the role of government in
socio-economic issues: the country would be better off if it
were run by corporations which he assumes are entirely
rational—profit its only motive. But we know that this
ideology falls short of truth. That's not the ethic at work,
then or now. It has just as much to do with caprice, racial
greed, and power as anything.
Sowell is a Republican crony and will say
anything, like Andy Young, to get a paycheck and a pat on the
head by his adoring admirers
Wilson: Your analysis of the movement
of steel towns sounds to me like a Marxist analysis.
Marxist analysis is indeed useful and predicts exactly the sort
of thing you say. There
was a story about that steel town in PA on Public Television
news last night. Did you catch it? We must get
these Marxists off public television!
Marx must have "discovered" the obvious (and
thus a dull fellow indeed) if so many ordinary fellows,
unknowingly, are expressing his thought. Maybe globalism did
exist then, in the mid-19th century. One historian dated its
beginning in 1571 when the Chinese decided on silver as their
currency and when there was a "world market" for
Chinese goods. That Marx could forecast happenings in backwoods
West Virginia in the latter part of the 20th century or the
impoverishing of Detroit to the benefit of Southern towns and a
Hindu businessman sounds a bit incredible, especially with so
many governmental reforms since the 19th-century.
I have little faith in economic determinism
and inevitability, when economics is so dependent on human
decisions and human behavior. Surely, there is something novel
in the particulars.
Wilson: Most so-called "great
minds" are known for their discovery of the obvious. It
is true, however, that what is true to the American Negro, often
alludes the perception of other Americans. What you (and
I) call obvious does not seem to have touched the minds of most
of the in the major economics departments at the elite
universities. But Marx had an excellent perception of how
workers are treated by management, and how economists export
jobs to foreign markets.
Hence he understood that the jobs of English
workers were lost to slave labor in the American South. As
for determinism and inevitability, I think it inevitable
that persons with Bush/Cheney interests will think as they do
and perform as they do. But I suppose I am something of a
Rudy: Once, I understand, politics and
economics were one thing—political economy. The separation of
the two is a travesty. For there is this pretense of
"economic laws" like the laws of physics and so there
is nothing that man or government can do but adjust to the
inevitable. Maybe Marx understood that the two could not be
separated. I am not so sure that when we hear these "marxist"
analyses today that there is that understanding.
I do not see how Marx is helpful in
explaining why white American males vote consistently against
their economic interests. Marxism also does not explain why we
have an American president who turns a government surplus to a
deficit, provides tax breaks for the rich and balances the
budget on the backs of the poor.
Nor does Marx explain why we have
neo-colonial regimes tied to international capital, so that we
have a country like Sudan that exports a half-million barrels of
oil and yet famine exists in that country. Nor does it explain
why another oil country like Kuwait does not have poverty among
its citizens. Nor why racism (personal and systemic) still
exists fifty years after its abolition.
Wilson: Slavery was abolished, but not
racism. Adam Smith and Karl Marx both understood that the
masses do not understand their own interests. You
share the idea of Marx that they can be brought to an awareness
of their self-interest. You and Marx differ from Smith and
me. You and Marx share the belief that the masses can unite and
divest themselves of their chains. Smith and I are more
pessimistic about the ability of the workers to understand their
interests and organize accordingly.
So you agree that marxism has about as much social value
as the Christian message in the improvement of society. I am
afraid I am more inclined toward your view and Smith's, that is,
understanding the facts of life is not the true cause of social
change. Natural and cosmic circumstance might indeed be more
effective in bringing about social change, in that the stupidity
of the American electorate is what it is and that obstinate,
malicious political operators are more than able to undermine
any type of political organizing that seeks to alter the
inevitability of corporate power and sway.
Wilson: What is the Christian message?
Various Christians seem to have widely divergent perceptions.
Well, I had the Sermon on the Mount
Wilson: In John 3:5, Jesus says,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water
and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Some people consider this the essential
message of Christianity
Rudy: That is not a social message and
has little to do with the improvement of society, except
obliquely. It deals more particularly with Christian
spirituality. John's gospel is probably about as distant from
the social world to which Jesus made reference as that of Paul.
There is no objection by any Christian I know to the Sermon on the Mount .
Of course, one may find exceptions.
In any event, whatever passage you find as
the "Christian message" it probably has more impact on
American society than marxism with respect to the personal or
the social. Personally, I find more solace in whatever Christian
message you settle upon than any that Marx may offer, and more
Wilson: You are being exceedingly
selective. Christians spit on the Sermon on the
Mount, always, invariably, unrelentingly. With respect to
Marx, I shall never be so ungrateful as to deny the many
benefits that came to factory workers in Detroit thanks to the
Marxist elements in the labor movement.
Rudy: I too have/had my "marxist
friends." What they accomplished probably had very
little to do with Marx and more to do with the social reform and
trade unionism of the times. My point is that marxism has little
social relevance as a theory today in America, except among
middle-class youth in the academy. Most of these marxists I
knew/I know are presently devout members of the Democratic
Party, which indicates the depth of their revolutionary spirit.
I know of no Christian who will spit on the
Sermon on the Mount. There might be those who will ignore it for
the Gospel of John, or Paul's Letters. Most American Christians
are indeed into church building (economics of religion) or into
the suppression of women, or, at least, controlling women's
bodies, which amounts to the same thing. But these feminized men
(desperately dependent emotionally on women) mask now as
Christian conservatives. At best, this kind of American
Christianity is another face of corporate economics.
The Sermon on the Mount is the foundation of
Christianity. If it did not exist there would be no Church and
no rationale to be a Christian at all.
Wilson: Our experiences are different.
All the Christians I know spit on the Sermon on the Munt.
All Christians spit on the Sermon on the Mount. It has
nothing to do with any expression of Christianity. The
essence of Christianity is "Kill a Commie for Christ!"
More recently "Kill a Camel Jockey for Jesus!"
Rudy: You keep changing up on me. You
won't stand still. You keep moving all over the place. The other
day when we were talking about religion I got a much different
impression what the Church (the institution) stood for.
Now you identify Christianity with a few
exceptional individuals whose absolute madness has little to do
with the Church or Christianity or religion. If you want to say
that many American Christians are racist patriotic nuts, okay
that's fine. That they are hypocrites and blood thirsty, well,
that's fine: we have Pat Robertson. But what about the
Sojourners, and other such Christians? Do they count for
anything in how we characterize Christians?
Wilson: In formal terms, my definition
of religion is "institutionalized worship," and
Christianity is merely one form among many forms of
In operational terms, however, a Christian is anyone who chooses
to call himself a Christian, and Christianity is whatever a
Christian says it is.
But whether defined institutionally or individualistically, I
have never encountered any Christian who lives by the principles
of the Sermon on the Mount.
Rudy: Even in "operational
terms." there is much more of a consensus than you allow.
And that consensus does not "spit" on the Sermon on
the Mount, even if it does not live up to, regrettably, the
Sermon on the Mount.
do not see any consensus among Christians as to what
Christianity means. Millions of Christians would reject your definition of
Christianity. Millions of Christians would accept it.
Rudy: Let me point out Frederick
Herzog words in his, "The
Liberation of White Theology": "A lot is being sold
under the label Christianity that is actually the desertion of
the Christian faith, nothing less than apostasy. Insofar as it
still appears under the label Christian, it has to be understood
as counterfeit Christianity. . . . Theology can no longer be
done apart from the oppressed. Apart from the oppressed it is
You speak of a "counterfeit
Christianity." True Christianity can be found in the
words of Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount.
Whether it is practiced, truly, is another matter.
Ultimately, in practice, the Sermon on the Mount will have a
greater resolution of the problems that face us than what can be
expected from such ideologies as Marxism and Leninism.
* * *
Parks and history
Oct 27, 2005
The death of Rosa Parks has reminded us of her
place in history, as the black woman whose refusal to give up her
seat on a bus to a white man, in accordance with the Jim Crow laws
of Alabama, became the spark that
ignited the civil rights movement of the 1950s and
Most people do not know the rest of the story,
however. Why was there racially segregated seating on public
transportation in the first place? "Racism" some will
say -- and there was certainly plenty of racism in the South,
going back for centuries. But
racially segregated seating on streetcars and
buses in the South did not go back for centuries. Far from
existing from time immemorial, as many have assumed, racially
segregated seating in public transportation began in the South in
the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Those who see government as the solution to
social problems may be surprised to learn that it was government
which created this problem. Many, if not most, municipal transit
systems were privately owned in the 19th century and the private
owners of these systems had no incentive to segregate the races.
These owners may have been racists themselves
but they were in business to make a profit -- and you don't make a
profit by alienating a lot of your customers. There was not enough
market demand for Jim Crow seating on municipal transit to bring
It was politics that segregated the races
because the incentives of the political process are different from
the incentives of the economic process. Both blacks and whites
spent money to ride the buses but, after the disenfranchisement of
black voters in the late 19th and early 20th century, only whites
counted in the political process.
It was not necessary for an overwhelming
majority of the white voters to demand racial segregation. If some
did and the others didn't care, that was sufficient politically,
because what blacks wanted did not count politically after they
lost the vote.
The incentives of the economic system and the
incentives of the political system were not only different, they
clashed. Private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies
in the South lobbied against the Jim Crow laws while these laws
were being written, challenged them in the courts after the laws
were passed, and then dragged their feet in enforcing those laws
after they were upheld by the courts.
These tactics delayed the enforcement of Jim
Crow seating laws for years in some places. Then company employees
began to be arrested for not enforcing such laws and at least one
president of a streetcar company was threatened with jail if he
None of this resistance was based on a desire
for civil rights for blacks. It was based on a fear of losing money if racial segregation caused black customers to
use public transportation less often than they would have in the
absence of this affront.
Just as it was not necessary for an
overwhelming majority of whites to demand racial segregation
through the political system to bring it about, so it was not
necessary for an overwhelming majority of blacks to stop riding
the streetcars, buses and trains in order to provide incentives
for the owners of these transportation systems to feel the loss of
money if some blacks used public transportation less than they
would have otherwise.
People who decry the fact that businesses are
in business "just to make money" seldom understand the
implications of what they are saying. You make money by doing what
other people want, not what you want.
Black people's money was just as good as white people's
money, even though that was not the case when it
came to votes.
Initially, segregation meant that whites could
not sit in the black section of a bus any more than blacks could
sit in the white section. But whites who were forced to stand when
there were still empty seats in the black section objected. That's
when the rule was imposed that blacks had to give up their seats
Legal sophistries by judges
"interpreted" the 14th Amendment's requirement of equal
treatment out of existence. Judicial activism can go in any
That's when Rosa Parks came in, after more than
half a century of political chicanery and judicial fraud.
posted 29 October 2005
* * *
* * * * *
Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All
By Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons knows firsthand that
wealth is rooted in much more than the
market. True wealth has more to do with
what's in your heart than what's in your
wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons
became one of America's shrewdest
entrepreneurs, achieving a level of
success that most investors only dream
about. No matter how much material gain
he accumulated, he never stopped lending
a hand to those less fortunate. In
Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare
blend of spiritual savvy and
street-smart wisdom to offer a new
definition of wealth-and share timeless
principles for developing an unshakable
sense of self that can weather any
financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy
can make you money, but money can't make
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
public benefits. Most provocatively, she
reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 30 January