RACE AND CULTURE by Thomas Sowell


A World View
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Half-baked comparisons of world ethnic groups and nationalities pepper this conservative analysis from columnist and Hoover Institution economist Sowell (Inside American Education, 1993, etc.). In focusing on race and such issues as migration, conquest, economics, politics, intelligence tests, slavery, and history, Sowell claims to reject any grand theory in favor of demonstrating "the reality, persistence, and consequences of cultural differences." Sowell emphasizes the notion of "human capital," under which rubric he includes a group's "specific skills, general work habits, saving propensities, attitudes toward education and entrepreneurship." His argument is at its most intriguing in examining how culture has been spread through conquest and migration, and how "middleman minorities" such as Jews, Lebanese, and Koreans have often been unfairly resented in countries where they performed essential moneylending functions. However, his explanation for how human capital developed is contradicted at times by other examples he offers; e.g., although claiming that the Japanese culture of innovation, thrift, and conservation was necessitated by poor natural resources, he also cites a lack of critical resources (navigable rivers) in Africa but fails to explain what he considers to be the lack of comparable cultural development. Sowell's idea of culture is a pinched, narrowly economic one. Given his laissez-faire stance, it is also not surprising that he prefers the private sector avenue of advancement chosen, he says, by Jews, Germans, and Asians to the public sector route favored by the Irish and blacks. He owes it to the reader, however, to explain that the latter groups chose the political route precisely because they were denied opportunity in business. Moreover, while making the telling point that imperialism provided colonies with a physical infrastructure, he is silent about what imperialism took: the colonies' natural resources and political autonomy. While rightly assailing historical judgments colored by ideological dogma, Sowell himself is guilty of this failing, albeit with a conservative rather than a liberal bias.
Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1994
ISBN: 0465067972
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1994


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