A provocative analysis of the universal causes of economic success and failure.
Rather than stating a thesis at the outset, Hoover Institution senior fellow Sowell (Intellectuals and Race, 2013, etc.) starts by describing disparities in the prosperity of societies around the world throughout history. In plain language tailored for general readers, he traces these differences to variations in geography, culture, society, and politics, each of which he cogently describes and analyzes in some detail, concluding that it is senseless "to reasonably expect equal economic outcomes...when the things that go into creating those outcomes vary so greatly." If any factor is markedly determinative of economic progress, it is the accumulation of "human capital," including education, job skills, intact families, honesty, and a strong work ethic. Never one to be cowed by political correctness, the author bluntly maintains that some cultures have values like these, which are conducive to the creation of wealth over generations, and some do not. It gradually becomes clear that Sowell is mounting an assault on the redistributionist approach to alleviating poverty, both domestically and internationally. Indeed, he blames the burgeoning welfare state in the United States and Britain for regressions in education and economic standing among blacks and working-class whites over the past 50 years. The author raises many inconvenient facts that should trouble advocates of diversity and cultural relativism, and he effectively refutes progressives' excuses for why their approaches to eliminating poverty have too often produced government dependence and social breakdown. Ironically, given his argument from complexity, his conclusions too often suffer from an oversimplification of causes, failing to take sufficient account of factors that do not contribute to his occasionally tendentious politically conservative argument.
While Sowell offers no pat solutions, his implied argument that cultural considerations must inform any serious attempt at improving the economic prospects of an underperforming nation or group merits serious consideration.