Prosecute the torture.

May 23, 2015

On Thomas Sowell, Presidnet Obama's and Rhetoric

This week in the Tribune-Review, we found this column by Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Thomas Sowell.

(I point out Sowell's fellowship at Hoover only because, according to the bridgeproject, just over a quarter of Hoover's foundational support - $12,602,900 out of $49,772,197 - came from Scaife foundations.)

Anyway, in the column that starts like this:
In a recent panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama gave another demonstration of his mastery of rhetoric — and disregard of reality.
Sowell does his own fair share of rhetorical flourishes and disregard of reality. Mostly regarding out of context quotations.

Sowell goes on:
One of the ways of fighting poverty, he proposed, was to “ask from society's lottery winners” that they make a “modest investment” in government programs to help the poor.
And here's the context from which Sowell scooped out his handful of Obama-words:
When I, for example, make an argument about closing the carried interest loophole that exists whereby hedge fund managers are paying 15 percent on the fees and income that they collect, I’ve been called Hitler for doing this, or at least this is like Hitler going into Poland. That’s an actual quote from a hedge fund manager when I made that recommendation. The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than all the kindergarten teachers in the country.

So when I say that, I’m not saying that because I dislike hedge fund managers or I think they’re evil. I’m saying that you’re paying a lower rate than a lot of folks who are making $300,000 a year. You pretty much have more than you’ll ever be able to use and your family will ever be able to use. There’s a fairness issue involved here. And, by the way, if we were able to close that loophole, I can now invest in early childhood education that will make a difference. That’s where the rubber hits the road.

That’s, Arthur, where the question of compassion and “I’m my brother’s keeper” comes into play. And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then, really, this conversation is for show. [Emphasis added.]
Oh, and by the way, the part about Obama as Hitler (or at least "like Hitler going into Poland")? That's true.  Looking at it gives us a better idea of how some on the right use rhetoric to protect their own position.  From Newsweek:
President Obama and the business community have been at odds for months. But in July the chairman and cofounder of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms, amped up the rhetoric. Stephen Schwarzman—the leading John McCain supporter in a firm that, in 2008, gave more money to Obama—was addressing board members of a nonprofit organization when he let loose. “It’s a war,” Schwarzman said of the struggle with the administration over increasing taxes on private-equity firms. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
Schwarzman’s original beef with Obama grew out of a 2008 campaign promise that “carried interest”—the compensation structure of private-equity-fund managers—would be taxed as ordinary income (35 percent) instead of capital gains (15 percent). Obama and many Democrats have argued that it’s unfair for people like Schwarzman, with a net worth of about $8 billion, to pay taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries and chauffeurs. More substantively, the commissions and fees that hedge-fund managers reap (20 percent of their clients’ profits) are not, strictly speaking, capital gains because the managers themselves never held the stocks.
So that's at the core of Sowell's lottery winners/modest investment/government programs charge.   He obviously doesn't like the idea of taxing the income that hedge fund managers make managing hedge funds (15%, according to Newsweek) at the same rate as everyone else's income is taxed (35%).  The fact that that revenue would benefit early childhood education doesn't seem to enter Sowell's reality.

No.  To Sowell, it's just one more example of government unfairly taking from those who earned it and giving it to those who don't deserve it - all while pushing the notion that it's working in the interest of "tax-fairness."  That's the rhetorical point he's trying to make.  Too bad reality doesn't support his initial positions - as if closing an already unfair loophole that's benefiting extreme wealth, (and in doing so would benefit a huge number of people) is somehow unfair because instead it inconveniences those exceedingly few who are already extremely wealthy.

But Sowell's big out-of-context failure happens later in the column:
When all else fails, redistributionists can say, as Obama did at Georgetown University, that “coldhearted, free-market capitalist types” are people who “pretty much have more than you'll ever be able to use and your family will ever be able to use,” so they should let the government take that extra money to help the poor.
Let's get this all back into context.  Here's what the president actually said:
Part of the reason I thought this venue would be useful and I wanted to have a dialogue with Bob and Arthur is that we have been stuck, I think for a long time, in a debate that creates a couple of straw men. The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don't care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that's one stereotype. And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and think everybody are moochers. And I think the truth is more complicated.[Emphasis added.]
See that?  The "coldhearted, free-market capitalist" is one of two straw man stereotypes that the president is arguing against.  Indeed, he says immediately after:
I think that there are those on the conservative spectrum who deeply care about the least of these, deeply care about the poor; exhibit that through their churches, through community groups, through philanthropic efforts, but are suspicious of what government can do. And then there are those on the left who I think are in the trenches every day and see how important parenting is and how important family structures are, and the connective tissue that holds communities together and recognize that that contributes to poverty when those structures fray, but also believe that government and resources can make a difference in creating an environment in which young people can succeed despite great odds.
Huh.  Thomas Sowell disregarded that incredibly obvious point in a piece that charged the president with disregarding reality.

We should expect more from our friends on the right.


Heir to the Throne said...

"out of context quotations."
Binders full of women

Zeus0209 said...

Sowell closes with:
"The real question is whether the investment of wealth is likely to be done better by those who created that wealth or by politicians. The track record of politicians hardly suggests that turning ever more of a nation's wealth over to them will turn out well"

The first things that pop into my mind after that statement: the NHS, NASA & social security.

Another jackass. I'll pray for him too.