BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Doctor Thomas Sowell, author of "Preferential Policies, an International Perspective," why do you need a book like this right now?
THOMAS SOWELL, AUTHOR, "PREFERENTIAL POLICIES: AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE": Well, some of the issues have been fought over are now coming to a head, especially with the Civil Rights Act of 1990, so called, up before Congress, and especially in the light of Supreme Court decisions of last year, which have been called a cut back in civil rights, but which in fact, I think, are corrective to many of the things that have been going on. I'm really worried about the attempt to reverse the Wards Cove decision [Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio], because I think that's the first case where a company was being prosecuted, not because of any act of discrimination against any individual, not even because their numbers of employees were less than the numbers of the group in the population, but because they had a larger proportion of non-whites in the lower levels than they had in the upper levels, and if that decision is reversed, that will mean that employers will have an incentive not to hire as many working class minority people and to try to hire more elite position minority people.
LAMB: What's the Wards Cove decision?
SOWELL: Well, Wards Cove Packing Company in Seattle ran a cannery up in, still does, in Alaska. They hired the permanent and higher level people in around where their headquarters are, in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, and up in Alaska. Since there was only seasonal work during the salmon season, they would hire only local people for that -- makes sense -- and they happened to be located where there are a number of Eskimos and there was a union that had a lot of Filipinos in it, and the net result was they had a predominantly white permanent staff, and predominantly nonwhite set of cannery workers -- and there are always subsidiary issues involved, but by the time the case got to the Supreme Court, all those other issues had been shot down. There was no question of anybody being discriminated against in hiring, no individual being discriminated against in treatment on the job. All that had been shot down in the lower courts.
Now, all that was before the Supreme Court was that the statistics looked bad, that they had all these nonwhite cannery workers, and all these, well, not all white, but predominantly white, upper level workers. And the idea was they were supposed to be convicted of discrimination on that basis. And the Supreme Court wouldn't buy it, and they voted five to four, but they wouldn't, and now the act before Congress is going to make it possible to convict a company on that basis. Even before the Wards Cove decision, I heard from people who are knowledgeable about civil rights, that attorneys were advising their employer clients, if you can't find black engineers or black accountants, then at least don't hire so many black janitors, or assembly line workers, because it looks bad. And, if they succeed, that means that it will hurt the people who need a job, and it will benefit, if anyone, only a handful of people in elite positions.
LAMB: You try to pop the balloon of a lot of what you call myths, in this book, about preferential treatment and whether or not it works. Is there any case, which you studied, where going out and actively pursuing and preferring one group over the other that has helped that group?
SOWELL: Oh, I suppose Sri Lanka, perhaps. The question is how much did it help them, and in what ways. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils are the minority, and the Senegalese are the majority, and the preferences in that country are for the majority, the Senegalese, because the Tamils had done quite well, and after a number of years, the Senegalese were able to overtake the Tamils in income, but along the way they had such violence in the streets that people were burning each other alive in the street. The army, which is predominantly Senegalese, when attacked in Tamil territory, has been known simply to stop a bus and take people off the bus and shoot a few of them at random, because they are Tamils. And so, if you say that's been a success, then it's been a success, but I'm not sure we want that kind of success.
LAMB: You break your book up in several sections around some of your travels and you focus on Sri Lanka and India and Nigeria -- and Malaysia and the United States. Did you go to all those places?
SOWELL: I went, not Sri Lanka and Nigeria, but to India and Malaysia, and also to other places that are mentioned in passing: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji. Israel also has some preferential policies. You can't, in school, leave back a disproportionate number of Sephardic Jews as compared to [audio loss] Jews. Otherwise that's considered bad.
LAMB: Are there differences, with people and races, differences in talent, intelligence and all those things, since you've been studying -- have you noticed differences around the world?
SOWELL: Well, there are differences in skills, if that's what you mean. That is, Germans have been prominent in piano manufacturing around the world, in Czarist Russia or Australia, or the United States, and so on. Underlying differences, those I've argued against, genetic differences, but that, that's another whole issue that I really don't get into in the book.
LAMB: Why do then different parts of the society do better than others?
SOWELL: I would look at it differently. I would say, and especially in the United States, I would say, why would we expect different groups to do the same? And I say, especially the United States, because there are very few indigenous, Americans have come here from all over the world, and why would you ever expect that countries that had entirely different histories, located in entirely different climates, different geography, why would you expect those countries to develop exactly the same mix of skills, to exactly the same degree, so that their people would arrive on these shores in such a way that they would be represented evenly across the board. Especially since, even in countries where most of the population is indigenous, you don't find that they are. The Germans arrived here with piano making skills and therefore you shouldn't expect to find the Irish equally represented with Germans in the piano industry. So that when you find Steinways and other German named pianos, you shouldn't expect to find O'Hoolihan pianos to the same extent and so on. Nowhere in the world do you find this evenness that people use as a norm, and I find it fascinating that they will hold up as a norm something that has never been seen on this planet, and regard as an anomaly something that is seen in country after country.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
SOWELL: I grew up, I guess, in Harlem. I was born in North Carolina.
LAMB: And your parents moved to Harlem?
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
SOWELL: Right in the middle of Harlem, P.S. 5.
LAMB: And college?
SOWELL: I went to Howard University in Washington for a year and a half, and then I transferred to Harvard.
LAMB: Who most influenced you, in your early life, to become a student then and now a professor at Stanford?
SOWELL: Oh, good heavens. There would be so many people. I think, my family itself would be the biggest influence. When they came out of the south, their thought was that I would have opportunities which they had never had, and they wanted to take advantage of it, and more than that, they realized that there was no way that they, either in terms of money or in terms of education, would be able to do that, and so they looked around for people for me to meet that would help me in some way, and there was a kid named Eddie Map that they had picked out for me to meet before I ever got off the train, and Eddie Map was from the West Indies, and his mother was much more educated than members of my family, and Eddie Map began to tell me various things such as that one school was better than another, which would not have occurred to me until it was too late, and that one could transfer so that one could get into a better school, and of course I didn't even .... He was about a year older than me, and so I was, in effect, able to follow in his footsteps, and I learned about Stuyvesant High School in New York and took a test and got into there, and so on, and so I got a very good foundation, largely because of him. He introduced me to my first public library. I remember standing in this room with these tremendous numbers of books, and asking him, "Why are we here, because I don't have any money to buy books?" And then he had to tell me what a public library was, and I was about nine years old. And then once I tried it out -- sounds like a good idea.
LAMB: When did you write your first book? And by the way, did I count sixteen books?
SOWELL: Oh, a lot depends on how you count them. If you count collections of old stuff, then you get a bigger number than if you count books that are real books from scratch.
LAMB: In the front of your book here, they list a whole bunch of them.
SOWELL: I think that's maybe the fourteenth, if I've counted correctly.
LAMB: And when did you write your first book?
SOWELL: I started writing it in 1970, it was published -- no, I started writing it in 19 ... yes it was 1970 -- it was published in '71.
LAMB: And what was it?
SOWELL: It was "Economics, Analysis and Issues," an introductory economics textbook.
LAMB: So, it's a textbook today?
SOWELL: No, it sank without a trace.
LAMB: Sank without a trace.
SOWELL: Yes -- ha, ha.
LAMB: What did you learn from that first experience? What didn't work?
SOWELL: Oh, almost everything didn't work. One thing, I never published with that publisher again, just for starters. They brought it out at the wrong time, they changed what I had done. One of the features that I had was that when I teach, I used to use different colors of chalk, and I found that the students were able to follow complicated graphs better if I had each line in a different color, and I can say, he gross national product, which is in green, and then they could follow that along, and so on. And so, I had done this whole book the same way, and it came out in black and white -- and that was one of the many little things.
LAMB: What's your favorite book, out of the fifteen?
SOWELL: Oh, "A Conflict of Visions."
SOWELL: I think it's what is more mine than anything else, in the sense that it doesn't build upon any theory that anyone else has, or anything that's already out there in the literature, and it's an attempt to explain why people reach different ideological positions from one another. How two people, similarly informed, similarly well-meaning, will reach opposite conclusions, not just on a given issue, but on the whole range of issues. That if you were to take a resolution about military spending, and take it to a pro-choice meeting and to a pro-life meeting, you would probably get a very different reading on it. Or if you took all sorts of other things, wholly unrelated to the abortion question, to those same two meetings, you would probably get entirely different readings on those other unrelated questions because their positions grew out of a certain vision of the world, and if you have that vision of the world, then certain things make perfect sense, and certain other things make no sense at all.
LAMB: How long have you been at Stanford?
SOWELL: Ten years.
LAMB: What do you teach?
SOWELL: Absolutely nothing. I'm not a professor at Stanford, I'm a senior fellow, which means that I don't do any teaching -- in fact, I have no hours and no duties and -- once I was an expert witness in a case and the opposing attorney said to me, "It says here that you're a senior fellow, now just what does a senior fellow do?" And I said, "Well, actually a senior fellow has no hours and no duties." And the judge said, "I wouldn't mind having a job like that." So, it's really the ideal kind of the job.
LAMB: So, what do you do?
SOWELL: I write and I read.
LAMB: Do you lecture?
SOWELL: Occasionally, but that's not required of me.
LAMB: Do you have much association with students today?
SOWELL: None. Occasionally a student will stop me on the campus and chit chat, but aside from that -- but that, that will happen in the streets of Washington -- so I have no connection whatever with the teaching at Stanford University.
LAMB: You write a newspaper column.
LAMB: How often?
SOWELL: Once a week.
LAMB: What's the impact of that?
SOWELL: I have no idea except when I get letters from people. I don't even know in what papers it appears. I send it to the syndicate and that's the syndicate's problem from there on, and they pay me a fixed amount, so there's no need for them to give me an accounting.
LAMB: Over the last ten years of our call-in shows, I'll bet you we've had 25 people call up and say, "Why don't you get Thomas Sowell on to talk about this issue?"
LAMB: I've seen you once on television in my life, on "Meet the Press" a couple years ago. This is the first time we've met, and it just leads me to the question of why have we not seen more of you. Have you avoided television, and if you have, for what reason?
SOWELL: Well, I guess it's a question of where your advantages lie. My advantages lie in writing the books, and in order to do the amount of work that I do, there are many other things I don't do, and unfortunately, there are very few people who take positions similar to mine, and if that viewpoint is to be heard at all, I'm going to have to be the one that does a lot of it, and therefore, I can't do a lot of other things. As regards to television, there are many problems with television, not the least of which are those shows where they tape you for an hour and a half and put you on for five minutes, with other people interspliced to say what they have to say, and I don't go for that format at all, because they will end up proving whatever the people wanted to prove at the beginning.
LAMB: Have you consciously avoided television for that reason?
SOWELL: Those kinds of television shows, yes.
LAMB: And, when you say you write books -- and we obviously have this list here -- do you have a plan over a period of your life of what kind of things you want to write about?
SOWELL: Not really. What really just appeals to me at the time. The first time I was contacted by the Hoover Institution, they asked me what did I want to do research on if I came there, and I said I wanted to write about Marxian economics, and some years later -- that didn't come to fruition at the time -- and some years later, they came to me again, and then they asked what would I like to do, and I said Marxian economics, and so I made an appointment and I started Marxian economics. And in my spare time I was reading a book called "The Chinese and Southeast Asia," and I got so fascinated that two months into this, I put Marxian economics to one side and I began to learn more about the Chinese and Southeast Asia and so forth, and that book, "The Economics and Politics of Race," came out of that. And then I decided to go back, but then I saw that the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act was coming up, in 1984, and I thought someone ought to present some of the things they're not likely to hear in this discussion, and so I then did "The Civil Rights, Rhetoric or Reality," and finally I got back to the Marxism and that came out some years later.
LAMB: You've mentioned a couple times how you say things and think differently than others, and I want to read -- it will take me just a minute here -- to read this paragraph and ask you to explain it further. This is deep in the book and when I read it, it kind of popped out, and I wanted to ask you what you meant by all this. You say, "Any fundamental reexamination of the assumptions behind preferential policies, that's the name of the book, and still more so, any resulting change of policies, can expect to encounter their vocal, bitter and determined opposition, including inevitable charges of racism against outsiders, labels of traitor put on any members of their own group, who disagree with them, who disagree publicly with them, and whatever other claims or charges seem likely to be politically effective." When you said, "Labels of traitor put on any members of their own group who disagree publicly with them," were you talking about yourself?
SOWELL: Only as one among many. Randall Kennedy at Harvard did a very fine article in the Harvard Law Review last June, for which he was denounced as an academic minstrel and other things because he was out of step. People who raise their heads will set off a search and destroy mission, because people have a lot at stake and they're sitting on a house of cards. They have many assumptions which simply cannot be examined carefully, because those assumptions will collapse and they will fall from a very high position to a very low position, and they are not about to tolerate people questioning what they're saying.
LAMB: Is there a way for you to put in a nutshell about what people of say, your own race, say about you -- that they don't like what you say about?
SOWELL: Oh, wait, wait. I think one of the ways that the organized noisemakers have succeeded is saying that what they're saying is what their race is saying. My race is not saying that about me. Those particular individuals, who are a small minority themselves within the black community, who have a vested interest in many of these programs, they are saying that. But when I checked out of my hotel this morning, the black security guard came over and said, "Are you Sowell?" And I said, "Yes," and he shook my hand warmly and we walked -- he walked me the length of the corridor and talked about this and about that and that's not at all an uncommon experience for me. So, it's not Sowell versus blacks. It's the black intellectuals, and the black intellectuals are no more typical of the black population than white intellectuals are of the white population, but they have a very large vested interest in certain beliefs, which underlie various programs from which they benefit enormously. And, as I point out in the book, this is common around the world, that the elites benefit from preferential programs. Even when those programs are in the name of the masses, the masses do not benefit. In the case of the current so called Civil Rights Act, the masses are going to lose big if that law goes into effect.
SOWELL: Because employers will not want to hire as many blacks in the jobs which most blacks will be applying, because those will not be jobs as rocket scientists or as doctors or as any of those things, and therefore they will want to hold down, percentages down there, to what they can do in the higher ranks, which is going to be much less, and so you're sacrificing the working class blacks for the benefit of the professional elite.
LAMB: How do the intellectual elite, both white and black, get to the position that they do in this country, that you disagree with?
SOWELL: You mean how do they have the influence they have?
LAMB: Well, no, but how, from what your discussions over the years, what's their thought process that gets them there? Is it emotion or is it fact?
SOWELL: Emotion largely, but also a large amount of self-interest, increasingly self-interest. I think that if you went back into the 60's, you'd find people with different views like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, but I think that both those men believed in what they said. Whereas today you have people who are simply professional hustlers, and again, this it not peculiar to blacks or peculiar to the United States, or even peculiar to racial issues, that organizations typically -- many movements are set off by idealistic people who want to promote some good for mankind or for some group, but as time goes by and as they succeed, they will be followed by people who can use these things for their own self-interest, and that's been the history of regulatory agencies in the government. It's been the history, I think of, of religions. The first Christians who were being persecuted by the Roman Empire were not in it for what they could get, because all they were going to get is trouble, but once Christianity became the state religion, this became a very lucrative career for some people. And then you get an entirely different kind of person coming in at that point, and we have an entirely different kind of movement.
LAMB: Let me, I've got it marked off here, I don't know if I can find it, I know you're going to know this stuff right off the top of your head, but when you got to education in the United States, you talked about affirmative action, and you came up with some statistics that I wanted to ask you about. While I look for it, here it is, you said that, "At the University of California at Berkeley, for example, where the entering freshmen class has been described as 'wonderfully diverse' because the class closely reflects the actual ethnic distribution of California high school students." These are your words, "More than 70% of black students fail to graduate."
SOWELL: Because they're mismatched with Berkeley. That is, these students, the average black student at Berkeley is above the national average on test scores. It's just that the average white student is further above the national average, and the average Asian student is further above than the white students, and so, in that atmosphere, these students who have every qualification to succeed are artificially turned into failures. And the only beneficiary of that is the University of California at Berkeley, because what they've effectively done is rented these bodies for window dressing for a few years, and then, when they're through with them, they're put aside and a new bunch of bodies are brought in.
LAMB: Have you told them that?
SOWELL: Oh yes.
LAMB: And what do they say to you?
SOWELL: Oh, different things. I remember one fellow saying, "Tom, I'm just a little guy, I can't do anything about this," which is, you know, wonderful. But the people who really have the influence are not people I've talked with -- those people know exactly what they're doing. There's another group, I guess, that benefits from this. You have an establishment there, a black studies establishment, who need students to be in their classrooms, and these students serve those purposes. People who have political movements have people they can mobilize for those movements while those students are there. It's very much like what happens in athletics. That you have students who come in and as long as they can score touchdowns, the coach is happy. The fact that these students don't graduate is not the coach's problem. His problem is how to hold on to his six-figure salary and his job. And the students have to be sacrificed and they are sacrificed.
LAMB: Let's take it first from the students' standpoint. "Of 312 black students entering Berkeley in 1987, all were admitted under affirmative action." And you say that 70% of those fail to graduate. What would you tell those students to do, under the circumstances, knowing that statistic?
SOWELL: I would tell them what I've told students in general of all races to do, which is to go to schools that match your educational capabilities at the time, because you need to be matched with a school -- you shouldn't try to go to where the glitzy name is or what have you. Now unfortunately, many of the minority students have such low incomes that they must go to wherever the money is, and the money is disproportionately at the kinds of schools that they will find very difficult to graduate from.
LAMB: All right, let's take it from the standpoint of the school. You're at the school and you want to do good. You say it doesn't work. What would you tell the school to do?
SOWELL: To admit students on the basis of their qualifications.
LAMB: But, what happens if they come up and say statistically they have nothing close to the population.
SOWELL: Oh, they won't have anything at the top level, but we have more than 3,000 colleges and universities in this country. Every human being that's not severely mentally retarded is perfectly qualified to be at one of those institutions. I mean, there are institutions where if you can fill out the application form, you're qualified to do the work. And there are others where, if you're not in the top 1 or 2 percent, your chances of making it are extremely slim, and it's precisely these second places that they want to send black students, that they don't send white students of the same level of ability, and it's not at all surprising that they have the academic problems that they do. Let me give you another example that's not in the book. At MIT, the average black student is in the top 10% nationwide in mathematics, and in the bottom 10% at MIT, and one-fourth of them don't make it. Now when you realize how few black students are at that level, to lose one-fourth of them, you can't afford that.
I think there's another larger loss that you have. You have the kid who goes to a top-level school and he wants to be a chemist or whatever, and now he gets there and he finds he cannot learn chemistry, as it's taught at that school. It does not mean that he can't learn chemistry. It means that if they have very high pressure students, they can teach this stuff at a very fast rate, skipping on explanations, skipping over steps in the mathematics, and these students will all pick that up as they go along. He may find that he can't keep up with that, and so, in order to survive, he switches into some easy subject, which may be some ethnic studies program or what have you, and so someone who could have gotten a first-rate education at a good college, ends up getting a third-rate education at a top college, or ends up flunking out altogether.
LAMB: You know, when you read your books that you've published, "Economics and Politics of Race," "Ethnic America," "Markets and Minorities," "Pink and Brown People," they have -- not all of them, but a lot of them -- race as the basis for what you're studying. When you think about and write about race, are you approaching it intellectually, or because you feel you have this as a mission, personally, to better your race?
SOWELL: Well, I think both. A book like "Civil Rights, Rhetoric and Reality," I would never have written except for some practical purpose. That is, I had been through the subject before -- I resisted throughout the 1960s all sorts of efforts to get me to write on race, because I said, "I'm not an expert on that. There are people who have studied this all their lives, and let them do it." And then I began to read some of the stuff they were writing, and I realized what nonsense it was, and I said, "If this is what the professionals are doing, then we should try an amateur to do this." And once I got into it, I realized there were so many terrible things that the general public is simply unaware of, and there are so many bills of goods being sold to the public, by people who personally gain from this stuff. I mean, when you sell a program, you become the program director, you become the consultant, you become all of that sort of thing, and I just needed to debunk some of that, and I think that's the reason I have written them. And then, once I start to write them, I write them as I would approach any other subject intellectually.
LAMB: Does it make you mad when you see somebody, say of a hard right-wing persuasion, using you to further their own particular prejudices?
SOWELL: Well, there are so few opportunities for my ideas to get into print that I don't have the luxury of doing that. But it would bother me. I haven't seen much of that actually -- I haven't seen much of that.
LAMB: Have you seen discrimination in your own life because of the views you take?
SOWELL: No, I wouldn't know about it, whoever would discriminate against me would have the good sense to keep me from finding out.
LAMB: Let me re-ask it. Do you find that the media would ignore what you have to say because of the views you take? Have you ever sensed that in this?
SOWELL: Oh, sometimes, although, it's not so much being ignored as being distorted beyond recognition. A terrible happened some years ago on CBS Morning News when they tried to represent me as someone who believes that blacks are genetically inferior, and I had written at least half a dozen articles attacking the thesis of Arthur Jensen -- and so much so that the BBC had once wanted to arrange a debate between me and Jensen and neither of us wanted to be bothered. But, I was thinking, why is it in London they understand what my position is, but in Washington, they can't find out what it is, particularly since it's been in print repeatedly and at enormous length. I conducted a large survey of IQs about 20 years ago. I collected over 100,000 and wrote all this stuff up, so it's a matter of public record, and yet, to lie like that, that's just too much.
LAMB: What's the state of prejudice in the United States today compared to earlier years in your life?
SOWELL: It depends on the base here, like most comparisons. If you take 30 years ago, certainly greater in the academic world. In the book that I wrote about colleges, I urged minority parents not to think that because they had a good experience on a particular college campus 30 years ago, that their children will have that good an experience today, because the racial tension is enormous on many campuses. The colleges themselves try to say that they're victims of the racism of the larger society, and in point of fact, the racism on the campuses is greater than that in the larger society, in many campuses. And what I worry about is that they're going to graduate into the general society, blacks and whites alike, who hate each other's guts, and who can be the leaders of new racial strife for the future.
LAMB: What's causing that on college campuses?
SOWELL: One of the factors is the preferential policies. But it's more the just that, because that in itself sets in motion a series of events, which add to the original resentment over the preferential policies. That is, you put yourself in the position of a black kid who comes out of the ghetto school, and he's gone through for 12 years with nothing but A's and B's, without a great deal of effort, and now he finds himself for the first time in his life in a predominantly white environment, and he finds that when he works twice as hard as he's ever worked, all he gets back for his work is a D, and that there is also a minority establishment -- this is true not only of blacks but of minorities in general -- an establishment which tells him, "Yes, this is the racism on this campus -- the white power structure is trying to keep you down." And it has to have a certain plausibility to it. It would have a certain plausibility to me had I come along in that era.
Now, I was fortunate enough in one sense that, having grown up in the south and then transferred to New York, I was shifted between different levels of education, and so I was a top student in my class in North Carolina, and then I was immediately the bottom student in my class in Harlem, and I was way behind whoever was next to the bottom, because the educational differences were just that great. A very painful period of adjustment, but there was no racial issue involved, since all the other kids ahead of me were all black. And so I got through that, and then for a second time in my life, I had gone out on my own when I was 17, and I didn't return to college full-time until I was about 25. For the second time in my life, I went into an environment that was very difficult compared to what I'd been used to, and once again I was way behind and I was in danger of flunking out of school the first semester.
LAMB: Where were you then?
SOWELL: Harvard. Really, it really is incredible -- for the first time in your life, in ten years, you're a full-time student, and you're a full-time student at Harvard, without a high school diploma. So there were little difficulties.
LAMB: And studying what?
SOWELL: Oh, at that stage I was studying just general things, but I majored in economics, and all my degrees are in economics. Again I had an enormous adjustment to make, but there was no one there to tell me, "All these white professors have it in for you and that's why you're doing badly." Because first of all, I had done badly in Harlem, and I'd overcome, and I was doing badly there and I overcame it, but ...
LAMB: What happened -- take that Harvard experience through. How long did you stay at Harvard?
SOWELL: Oh, I graduated.
LAMB: Graduated from Harvard.
SOWELL: From Harvard.
LAMB: I'm sorry, I thought you said earlier you went to Howard.
SOWELL: I went there for a year and a half, and then I transferred to Harvard.
LAMB: Oh, okay.
SOWELL: You see, but I was going to Howard in the evening while working full-time during the day so when I went to Harvard I was a full-time student for the first time in ten years, and so that was a ...
LAMB: And what years did you go to Harvard?
SOWELL: I graduated in class of '58 -- so that you can understand how the student would find this plausible. I talked to a black man recently, a lawyer, who said when he was in law school, he was told when he first got there, that Professor X never gives black students more than a C, you know, and he got a B+, but there was great consternation because one of the myths had fallen. But, it's truly criminal what goes on in terms of using and manipulating the students to serve all kinds of external purposes.
LAMB: Can you give us an idea of the kind of external purposes you're talking about?
SOWELL: Oh, political purposes. I just a couple of days ago was told by someone from Wellesley that there's a divestment campaign at Wellesley, demonstrations, the whole thing, and that those black girls who did not want to participate in that were threatened with violence -- and that's not unique. At Stanford the Hispanic students, some Hispanic students, have complained that the Hispanic establishment has threatened them if they don't want to go along with what's being said and done, and they claim that only 15% of the Hispanic students at Stanford have ever attended a single event sponsored by the Hispanic establishment, which speaks boldly in their name. Ah, and so you have this kind of thing going on at these schools across the country. Again, notice, that once, once you let in the students who cannot make, meet the academic standards, you're going to end up having to let in professors who can't meet the academic standards. You're going to have to create courses that don't meet the academic standards.
LAMB: Correct me on the, on the names and everything. Derrick Bell?
LAMB: Harvard Law School, black man.
LAMB: Threatened the law school if they didn't hire a black woman, he's going, he's leaving?
SOWELL: Well, if I understand it correctly, he's taking unpaid leave until such time as they hire a woman of color, as he says. Well, he's also said that by black, he does not mean skin color, he means those who are really black, not those who think white and look black. And so what he is really saying is he wants ideological conformity in the people that are hired to fill this position. That's not uncommon either. I know a black woman, for example, who had a Ph.D. -- she's had a book published, she has another contract on another book, she's taught at a couple of very nice places, she has a devil of a time getting a job -- not a job in a prestigious institution, a job teaching at a college. And the reason is that she gets shot down, blackballed, whatever, by people who don't like her ideology. That's happening not only racially, it's also happening where race is not an issue. In a law school, I learned recently, there's a woman who was being considered for a tenured position, and all the men voted for her and all the woman voted against her, because she does not follow radical feminism, and so you're getting these ideological tests, so that at the very time that there's all this mouthing of the word diversity, there is this extremely narrow ideological conformity that is being enforced wherever people have the power to enforce it.
LAMB: What did you think of Derrick Bell's whole plan?
SOWELL: Well, his chances of success will depend on whether or not he has overestimated his importance to the Harvard Law School. I think it would be a tragedy if they caved in, and I was very pleased to see that they seemed to show some backbone, which is quite rare among academics.
LAMB: Now, what do you think of the press treatment of him?
SOWELL: It's been quite gentle.
LAMB: You mean, is he a hero?
SOWELL: To me?
LAMB: No. Basically, I mean, from the press coverage, you've seen, is he a hero to the ...?
SOWELL: Well, he's looked at as an idealist who is self-sacrificing and so on. I suppose one could, if one wanted to look at it that way, have seen Hitler that way in his early days. It's just a question of where that kind of idealism leads. He has launched a despicable attack on a young black professor at the law school who doesn't go along with this. A young man named Randall Kennedy, who has written a very thoughtful, intelligent article last June in the Harvard Law Review, questioning some of the assumptions that people are making, people like Derrick Bell and doing it in a very gentlemanly as well as very logical way, empirical way, and that's not what they want. They want the conclusion to be that -- they want him to march in lock step and he won't do it, and they're doing their best to make life impossible for him.
LAMB: What do you think Harvard will do?
SOWELL: I've heard that Kennedy -- and I don't know this -- I've heard that he has tenure, so I think that he may be all right.
LAMB: But, I mean, what do you think they'll do with ...
SOWELL: Derrick Bell?
SOWELL: I hope that they will resist it, and since it's gotten so much publicity, I'm not sure they could stand to cave in to it. I was very pleased to see that Alan Dershowitz of Harvard had criticized this and that he picked up the fact that what Bell is really asking for is not only that people be hired by race, but that they be hired to fit Derek Bell's ideology.
LAMB: What would happen if this was going on at Stanford Law School?
SOWELL: They'd have caved in long ago.
LAMB: Stanford Law School would have?
SOWELL: Yes. I think so. It's a judgment call, but that's my judgment.
LAMB: Why would they do it so quickly?
SOWELL: Just looking at their track record. They have perfected the technique of preemptive surrender.
LAMB: Now, let me ask you about your politics. We've talked about the race issue --what are your politics outside of the race issue? How would you describe your ...?
SOWELL: Well, I always say that my political bias is that I'm biased against politics, and I haven't been a registered member of any political party since 1972, and I really am quite disenchanted with politics of all sorts.
SOWELL: Well, I guess mainly just by following what they do and how they do it, that they're really clever at the things they do, but the things they do really don't benefit the public very much, and that's not just race issues, all issues in general.
LAMB: What's has this changed over the years, since you've been watching this whole thing?
SOWELL: If it's changed, it's been for the worse. I see some hopeful signs. People are trying to talk about limiting the terms of Congressmen. I would like to see it, see it limited to one term. In other words, if you, if you're going to allow a member of the House of Representatives, for example, to spend four years in Washington, I would rather that they change that to one four-year term, rather than two two-year terms, because the problem is reelection, and as long as they have to be reelected and have to raise all that money, then they're going to sell out the public interest to get the money. It's really quite simple. You know, for example, an industry, like the sugar industry, can contribute money to Congress and Congress will appropriate enough money to the sugar industry subsidies to pay, to pay them back a thousand dollars on every dollar. Now, you can't get that kind of return on your investment many places, and so there's no signs that they're going to stop doing that. That either they're going to stop offering the money, or that the Congress is going to stop giving the money.
LAMB: We were looking at the cover of your book, "Preferential Policies, An International Perspective", published by Morrow. Thomas Sowell is our guest and we have about 20 minutes left in our discussion. In history, who are your favorite, not politicians necessarily, but who are your favorite people in history?
SOWELL: Oh my. Do, do you mean historic figures, or do you mean people who, whom I sort of looked up to when I was growing up?
LAMB: Who do you follow, I mean, over the years, who have you followed, you know, the Winston Churchill types in the world?
SOWELL: Oh, I think Winston Churchill was the greatest man of the 20th century. And I find it horrifying that most American high school students do not know who Winston Churchill is.
LAMB: What was so great about him?
SOWELL: One thing alone, I think that he probably, if any one man could be said to have saved western democracy, that one man would be Winston Churchill. That he saw the enormous dangers that led to World War II, warned against them, that if it had been heeded in time, there might have been 40 million people who wouldn't have lost their lives. But, even being heeded at the 11th hour, there was enough for him to pull Britain through. Had Britain not pulled through, it's very doubtful that the United States would have pulled through, and in that case, it's highly unlikely that I would be sitting here alive.
LAMB: Who's your favorite American President?
SOWELL: Oh, my heavens. That's, that's a tough, well Abraham Lincoln, I guess. But, it's, it's a shame that one, one has to go all the way back to Abraham Lincoln to find a President that one really can admire in an unqualified way. I think among the modern people, in different respects, I would say FDR, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and even though domestically Reagan and FDR are at opposite poles, that they recognized the international danger and saved the life of this country, which, without which all the other issues wouldn't matter.
LAMB: Do you have an ideology, if not a political party?
SOWELL: Oh, I suppose, yeah. I'm a great believer in maximum freedom.
LAMB: Civil Libertarian?
SOWELL: Certainly not in the sense in which the American Civil Liberties Union is. I don't believe that hoodlums should be kept in school because of some strange reading of the constitution because I think people have to recognize that all people owe their lives to the surrounding society, and that they cannot simply demolish it because it is unjust, because everything human has always been unjust, and that what you're going to do to make it better will have to be within that context, so that my tendency is to want more freedom for the individual and less ... I don't want people making decisions who don't pay the price of their decisions, and that's what politics is all about. You don't pay the price of the decisions.
As I point out early in the book, one of the reasons we had a Jim Crow era in this country was because the politicians didn't pay the price of that. That was enormously costly to the white as well as the black population. But the politicians to put that in didn't pay any cost for that. They drew their full salary irrespective of all that. And I want someone who discriminates to have to lose money discriminating because, just for the examples I gave in the book. people tend to back off when they start losing big money. Harlem was an all white community, it became a black community despite organized efforts to keep blacks out, because people were losing money trying to keep it a white community, and I think people in the civil rights area missed a bet by not trying to promote more free markets, because that makes discrimination the most costly it can be.
LAMB: One of the most interesting sentences here in the book is about India, where you say that they are the most diverse country in the world with 180 different languages and 500 different dialects. Are they more of a melting pot than the United States is?
SOWELL: Good heavens, no. They, they don't melt in the slightest. They're polarized. In fact, I think one of the tragedies is we have organized groups in the United States trying to balkanize the United States, to create in the United States the enormous handicap under which India is laboring, under which many parts of sub- Saharian Africa are, are laboring, due to all kinds of historical and geographical reasons. And now the United States, having escaped all that, having been blessed with having one language and culture, over a distance that in Europe would go from Madrid to Moscow, having had that blessing, we are now going to pour that down the drain and we're going for balkanization, not being aware apparently of what has happened in the history of the Balkans, or aware of what happens when you have people who speak different languages and have different, radically different beliefs, trying to be in the same society.
LAMB: Back to your, the campus. You said that relations on, racial relations are bad on the campus. If this keeps up, what's going to happen?
SOWELL: Oh, they'll get worse and worse. There already are skinheads recruiting on some college campuses. There are already white students unions being formed. There are already harassments of minority students on a scale unseen 20 or 30 years ago. And, of course, then, then there's the reaction on both side that escalates because what you do is give a lot of leverage to the crazy elements in all the different groups. That is, you pick an international example. In Israel, someone said on the radio, on television that because this Israeli man has killed these, what is six or seven Arabs, that any thought right now of any rapprochement between the Arabs and the Jews has to be put aside, so you're saying that one man has the leverage to prevent millions of people on both sides from working out some kind of livable arrangement between the two of them, and of course once you get this racial hype, you put that power into the hands of demagogues and hoodlums, to prevent vast numbers of people, who may be decently disposed, not to be able to do anything, because they are polarized by the relative handfuls of crazies or whatever.
LAMB: Go back to the campus again. What is creating the prejudice, other than the elites that you talk about, that have their own, I mean, what is it among people that creates the differences that they don't get along?
SOWELL: Well, the differences have always been there, but they got along before. I mean, blacks and whites were different at Harvard when I was there, but you didn't find all the black students huddled together at lunchtime at the end of some table, the way you do on many campuses today. All the black students I knew had white roommates, and I would say that the ones that I knew were all popular, other then me, but that's not the situation today.
LAMB: So, what's causing it?
SOWELL: The fact that you do have those little elites who have their agenda. It's the fact that the black students are forced to come out and do the demonstrations and the what not. The fact that you have students there alienated because they suddenly find themselves in a situation where academically it's all they can do to keep their noses above the water, it they can do that, and then there's someone there to tell them that this is all due to the white power structure. And then there are the white students who are sick of hearing that, and they say, "If you can't hack it, that's your problem, don't, don't give us this, this junk," and then that's called insensitivity. It's also self-reinforcing.
You know, there are some reactions that are self-equilibrating, but there are some that keep feeding each other. Let's say an ugly racial incident happens on campus, at one of the elite colleges. Invariably, the first thing that will be said is, "We must have now a larger quota of minority students, a larger quota of minority faculty, and we must now subject the white students to these sensitivity courses, or ethnic courses, or what have you," courses that they have rejected taking, otherwise it wouldn't be necessary to force them. That is not going to make things better. That's going to make them worse. But, as they get worse, then you keep doing that, and so it's just an upward spiral, and I just don't know where that spiral is going to end. I don't see anybody with the courage to end it, and I see it leading only to bad things.
LAMB: What would you do if you were an administrator at a college or a university?
SOWELL: Well, you see, you're bringing me in now 20 years after they have gone into this mess. Twenty years ago I said, "Don't do it. Twenty years ago I said, "If you do it, this will be the consequence." And I wasn't the only one, and people simply did not want to hear it, and so I am very unsympathetic to the administrators. I, you know, "You made this mess, you get out of it." Now fortunately for me, nobody wants to hear what I have to say about it now, and so it's not a live issue for me.
Some gentleman wrote me from Princeton, I think he's associated with the university in some way, that would I come to Princeton and confer with this or that person, and I said, "No." You know, no one has ever asked me, in all these years, to come to a university and do this. I don't think there's the slightest interest at Princeton or anywhere else, in what I have to say about these matters, because the ideologues feel they have the word, the truth and the light and they don't want me confusing the issue, and the others are afraid of the ideologues, and so there's no point in my making an unnecessary trip across the country just to chit chat with people at Princeton.
LAMB: Let me ask you, it may not be any of our business, but normally someone who has spent as long as you have at a university deals with a thing called tenure. You don't teach, you're a senior fellow. Do you have tenure?
SOWELL: No, we do not have tenure. In fact, I use that very often when people tell me that you need to have tenure in order to have academic freedom. I say, "Well, nobody has tenure at Hoover, that's why we're so cautious in what we say."
LAMB: So, you're actually associated with Hoover, not with Stanford.
SOWELL: Well, but Hoover, but my paycheck is from Stanford University because it's in some peculiar legal relationship. But, no, I think tenure does not produce people who speak their minds, that timid people are disproportionately attracted to jobs that have ironclad tenure. And so, as in the civil service, that's not where you get your bold new ideas, out of the career civil servants. Because if you attract timid people, you're going to have conformity, no matter how much freedom they have.
LAMB: Given what you've said to us about the university not caring what you have to say, let's say for instance that all of a sudden you wanted to go to work at another university as a professor in this country, would you be accepted -- not because of your race, but because of your views? Would you have a hard time getting a job in the major universities just based on your views?
SOWELL: I don't know. I've never seriously thought about it. I do get, you know, feelers from various places at various times and I was, oh my goodness, back in '72, I was offered a visiting professorship at Harvard and then around, I guess really the same year, also a visiting professorship at Stanford, and I turned both of those down. So I guess unless I'm so much better known now than I was in 1972, that they would never dream of making the same offer.
LAMB: Back to the book. You say in the beginning of the book that this book is just the start of a longer study.
SOWELL: No, there's a longer study in progress, and this book is a spinoff from it. The longer study is a study called "Race and Culture: A World View" and it's about 1,200 pages of manuscript at this time.
LAMB: Did you write it?
SOWELL: Yes, and I, in fact, put that aside to do this because the policy implications of this seemed to me to merit moving this ahead in the schedule.
LAMB: What are you going to do with the full study?
SOWELL: Hopefully publish it, if I find someone who wants to publish it.
LAMB: And then, what do you hope will happen as a result of all this work?
SOWELL: Oh, I hope that people will start to reexamine some of the dogmas about race that have been unthinkingly repeated for a very long time by people who compliment themselves for being thinking people. The very notion that you would expect groups to be evenly represented is staggering when you realize the tremendous difference in backgrounds from which all groups come. When you realize that cultures tend to endure over a period of time, beyond a single generation, and so there's no reason to think that groups who come from German and Ireland to the United States are going to be all the same in a generation or two because they're not, and still less, people who come from more distant cultures, from Asia, from Africa, from other parts of the world.
That's nonsense. Correspondingly, the notion that the individual or the group is a function of the immediate surroundings, is nonsense. I'll give you an example. The Japanese in the United States during World War II, as you know, were interned and they were treated very badly prior to that time. In Brazil, the Japanese were treated much better, and very few of them were interned. In the United States, the Japanese remained steadfastly loyal, despite the bad treatment. In Brazil, the Japanese were loyal to Japan, right on through, past the end of the war, despite the good treatment. You cannot explain this by what happened in the United States or in Brazil. You can only explain it if you understand that those two groups of Japanese were different before they ever got on the boat in Japan, and that that difference persisted in the countries they went to.
There are other groups like that, where you see differences. The Scots, for example. That most Scots in the United States had been prosperous and yet the biggest pocket of white poverty in the United States has been the Scots in the Appalachians, and the question is, was that because of the environment immediately in the Appalachians, or how they were treated, or anything of that sort. Well, you can't explain it that way. But, if you traced the history of these groups, you realize, those groups were very different before they ever left Scotland, or in the other case, Ireland, from Ulster County.
LAMB: When you look at the other countries you've looked at, Sri Lanka, and India, and Nigeria, and Malaysia, and the United States, how does the United States do when it comes to prejudice compared to the others?
SOWELL: Oh, that's a hard one, since you're trying to quantify something that is inherently non-quantifiable. I would say that compared to India, I think the worst prejudice against blacks, of say 50 years ago was not as bad as what is currently existing against the untouchables of India in the rural areas. That there are Indian people who are attacked and sometimes killed, for such things as daring to draw water from the village well. There are, I mention in the, in the book that back in the 1930s when blacks were supposed to sit in the back of the buses in the south, in Ceylon, the untouchables were not supposed to sit anywhere. They were supposed to stand at the back of the bus or squat on the floor in the back of the bus. They were not to sit anywhere, and so I think the untouchables would be among the most persecuted people in the world today.
LAMB: What's left on your agenda?
SOWELL: I'm thinking of writing a book about intellectuals.
LAMB: Now, there just was a book written about intellectuals.
SOWELL: By Paul Johnson.
LAMB: What would be different about yours?
SOWELL: Mine would not be as generous as his.
LAMB: You don't like intellectuals?
SOWELL: Oh, I think they're funny in some ways, but I think that the intellectuals have a set of attitudes and beliefs, which simply will not stand up under scrutiny, and which have been enormously damaging to the society around them. In other words, if they had a few crazy ideas of their own and it was between themselves, who would care, but many of these ideas, and I think the preferential policy thing is just one of those ideas, and I think environmentalism is one of the others, that an enormous sacrifice of the resources, of the well-being of other members of society, and so forth, are made in order that a little handful of people can feel specially noble and specially wise.
LAMB: We haven't got much time. This may be an unfair last question, but how do you define an intellectual?
SOWELL: Oh, I think it is an occupational description. You know, people who make their living with words, and so therefore there is nothing qualitative about it. I do not assume, for example, that the average sociologist is smarter than the average auto repairman, so that it's not an honorific term. It's simply a job description. The way you would describe an accountant, or a policeman, or anything else.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Preferential Policies, and International Perspective" by Thomas Sowell. Thank you for joining us.
SOWELL: Thank you.
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