Knowledge and Decisions

Today I wanted to cover lots of different topics, so here is a thought from Thomas Sowell:

Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult
today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for
their granddaughters to live under sharia law.

And to think that I was worried about high marginal rates of taxation.  The full article is here.

Not so long ago, Yana asked me: "What does Thomas Sowell think of Barack Obama?"  I believe I now have an answer for her.


And to think I used to think Sowell was biased, thanks for clearing that up...

Sowell used to have half a brain, so I can't figure out whether he's just become deranged over the past few years, or whether he cynically sees more revenue in writing wingnut gibberish than in doing anything intelligent.

About 20 years ago, Sowell somehow transformed into the cranky old man yelling at kids to get off his yard. Seriously, it has been decades since we've seen the man who wrote Knowledge and Decisions, Ethnic America or even A Conflict of Visions.

When I read this sort of stuff I can't help but wonder if those saying it are 1) crazy, 2) stupid, 3) craven partisan hacks of the worst sort, or 4) otherwise liars. It really must be one of these 4, or more likely, a mixture of them. Which applies to Sowell?

Magnitude may be off, but he sure got the direction right.

where are the betting markets on the US surrendering to Iran during Obama's first term

Ummm, yeah.... I consider myself conservative in a lot of ways, but I keep wondering when republicans will find something other than fear to argue with. Another thing, maybe I missed it, but what has Iran ever done to the US? Yes, they took our embassy and held hostages for a long time, but that was 30 years ago and they had some arguments for doing so (cough CIA cough). Yes, they fought against out alley in Iraq, the same alley that was known to use chemical weapons and be a monster in general. I am fully willing to believe that the regime in Iran is repressive, but a big step needs to be taken to go from that to using nukes on the US. I'm pretty sure their message has been consistent over the past thirty years, they don't like Israel and they want the US to keep out their life. I wish Sowell and his ilk could point to some actual, credible threats from Iran, them not liking us is not a reason to fear them nuking us...

Actually, the last time that Iran (or its predecessor, Persia) invaded another
country was in the late 1700s. It was Saddam Hussein who invaded Iran to start
the war with them that went on during the 1980s. Also, while it is easy to
forget, Vilayet-el-faqih Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, the man who has just declared
the election in Iran in favor of Ahmadinejad, issued a fatwa in 2003 still in
place last time I checked that declares nuclear weapons to be un-Islamic. Oh,
and in case anybody thinks this is all baloney, I note that the uranium
enrichment Iran engages in is at too low a level to produce bombs. It is
consistent with their publicly stated desire to have a civilian nuclear power
program, which they can legally have according to the NNPT, of which they are
a signatory.

Somehow for years we lived with the Soviet Union possessing thousands of
nuclear weapons (and Russia still has plenty), and despite all kinds of threats
from them, I do not remember us exactly rolling over and surrendering. So, the
threat of Iran with two bombs, assuming they ever get them, will cause us to do
so? Really, some people are living in fantasy land.

Is Thomas Sowell the Right's Paul Krugman? Sowell was never as highly acclaimed as Krugman was but both are very intelligent economists who now spend all of their efforts spewing asinine and extremist views.

Please don't feed the trolls. ;-)

think Sowell is correct, if Iran set of a nuclear bomb in America, with the threat of hidden bombs in other cities, Obama would cut a deal with Iran as fast as he could.

Don't be an idiot. Aside from the fact that the Iranians aren't even close to having the technology to compress nuclear bombs down to the "suitcase" level, the response to an attack on a US city would be to turn Iran into a mass of fused silica.

The leadership belongs to a death cult that puts their depraved religious beliefs ahead of everything.

Please. What they care about most of all is staying in power in Iran. And for all their hot rhetoric about the US, it didn't stop them from making a deal with the US to release the Embassy Hostages in exchange for being able to buy American weapons.

Steve, I think Sowell might have been referring to the annual deficit. I got confused there as well.

Billy, agreed. Krugman's and Sowell's recent material is...obnoxious. Though I still read Krugman's blog, more for amusement than enlightenment...what can I say, I enjoy polemics.

Tony: The possession of even one nuclear weapon (with the potential of wiping out, let's say, half of New York City) levels the playing field much more significantly than what you are portraying. Not saying I quite agree with DanC that a nuclear armed Iran will destroy the universe, but honestly those stats are misleading.

"Sowell used to have half a brain, so I can't figure out whether he's just become deranged over the past few years, or whether he cynically sees more revenue in writing wingnut gibberish than in doing anything intelligent."

Yeah, he seems to be suffering from Krugman's disease.

Sowell is a prolific, awesome writer who went way too far here (standard on the left, imo). It happens.

I dislike Obama, and I think he's been a worse president than George Bush so far.

But the notion that the U.S. would surrender to Iran if faced with a couple of nukes is like predicting that the NYPD would surrender to a guy with a BB gun.

The U.S. spends more on our military than the next 14 largest nations _combined_. And military spending represents less than 4.5% of our GDP.

If Iran nuked a couple of U.S. cities, it would not result in surrender, but the conversion of Iran into a lake of molten glass.

I'm disappointed that Sowell exhibits such irrationality, as it puts into question everything else he has written.

Japan didn't surrender because of two atomic bombs. It surrendered because its air force,navy and merchant marine were almost completely destroyed, it was starving to death from an enemy blockade, its cities were being systematically incinerated by conventional weapons, and then it was hit by two atomic bombs on top of that.

And also, Will, the Kwantung Army in Manchuria was getting the snot kicked out of it by the Soviets. Americans always overlook that little point. Japan was in danger of losing Hokkaido to the Soviets if they didn't surrender fast.

I'm still trying to figure out if people on the right sincerely believe that there's a "cult of Obama" or if they just want to believe that. Seems self evidently a stupid thing to believe.

We have a strong military. That does not mean that we are exempt from nuclear blackmail.

You are the President. Iran threatens to use, or supply terrorists with, three nuclear devices against US targets. What can you do? Threaten a nuclear counter attack. Is that really credible coming from Obama. Would he risk a million Americans in exchange for a million Iranians. I don't think so. Even if Obama thought that the odds were 1,000 to 1 that Iran was bluffing, would he call the bluff?

Would the Iranians exchange a million Iranians for a million Americans? Before you answer, don't forget that Iran sent children into minefields in the war against Iraq. Pelosi wouldn't approve of a counter attack without a radioactive carbon tax.

How does Pakistan react? How about the street from Egypt to Pakistan. How many middle east governments would switch if the US did a first strike. What happens to oil supplies after an American attack.

Lets say the Iranians just aid terror groups in the middle east. A small nuclear device to wipe out American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, How would the Obama react? Attack Iran and risk revolts in the middle east that destroy oil supplies. Or would the US be forced to retreat from the middle east because of the threat of nuclear war.

The Soviet threat left eastern Europe behind an Iron Curtain. Couldn't the Iranian threat leave the middle east behind an Iron Burqa.

I am amazed that so many here don't see a nuclear Iran as a radical change in the balance of power or a threat to US interests

Yes, Paul Krugman's views have been so horribly extremist over the last few years. He had the gall to suggest that the war in Iraq may have been built on false pretenses, that the Bush tax cuts would not be the great boon to the economy that were being sold to us, that the housing bubble would likely crash (although he missed just how bad the resulting recession would be) and, goshdarnit, he'd like to see all Americans have access to healthcare. Crazy.

I'll take Krugman's record on substantive issues over the past decade over every other prominent opinion writer. Equating Sowell and Krugman's recent comments is just silly.

By Sowell
"accepting a nuclear-armed sponsor of international terrorism such as Iran are not things from which any country is guaranteed to recover. "

That is pretty obvious.

"Just two nuclear bombs were enough to get Japan to surrender in World War II. It is hard to believe that it would take much more than that for the United States of America to surrender — especially with people in control of both the White House and the Congress who were for turning tail and running in Iraq just a couple of years ago."

This is harsh but i think the current administration would surrender American interests in a heartbeat. That does not mean that the US government would be destroyed. Just blackmailed into inaction and empty speeches as we abandon allies in the area.

"Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law."

If the US surrenders to the Islamist extremists in the middle east what happens to the women in these countries. Simply, would you want your granddaughters to live under such oppression?

So what is so radical about what Sowell wrote?

"Krugman is the same genius who argued that Keynes was great for having freed us from having to look at causes in resolving depressions and recesssions."

Easy to knock over strawmen, isn't it?


If Krugman is a stawman, so is Keynes; if you think of either as such you are very much UNLIKE the strawman of the Wizard of Oz (who had uncommonly solid common sense.

Sowell comes nowhere near claiming that Obama will lead to Sharia Law. He simply asks those who support him to consider what life is like under that kind of social structure. I believe he is asking people to employ what is known as "empathy." This is an unfair mischaracterization of what Sowell wrote.

I actually agree with sowell here. The us would not get into direct war with a nuclear power. A nuclear iran means an Iranian middle east. Period. End of story.

Barkley Rosser:

If a convicted violent criminal threatens to use an (illegal) machine gun on your child, do you assume that it is a bluff because there is no "evidence" that said person actually owns such a weapon?

My guess is that, to be consistent, you would say, "Yes, such weapons are hard to come by and I would need to see it before I take the threat seriously."

That particular Sowell piece is just a bit overboard, but that is standard fare for most political pundits. Sowell usually does better by making better arguments.

However, he is correct, in my opinion, in one regard- a single nuclear weapon detonated in an American city would bring the country and western civilization crashing down, and it wouldn't even have to be in an American city. Our civilization's weakness is its very complexity, and that complexity is vulnerable to such single, shocking events. A society in which almost no one grows their own food is one always on the precipice. It is just that the bringing of sharia law to the US isn't the thing to worry about.

It's easy to dismiss Sowell when just focusing on this excerpt (I appreciate that Tyler linked to the entire article to provide context). I think it's tougher to dismiss his broader point in characterizing what we, as a liberal democracy, are up against--Islamic fundamentalism.

I think you are misinterpreting him. He is not implying that Obama's policies will directly lead to an Islamic triumph 50-80 years out, but that the neglect of opposing Islamic fundamentalism today will lead to greater dominance of Islam, perhaps even in America.

It's a "crisis of cultures" view, one friendly to Bush 43 foreign policy. I think that is too short of a timeline. I also think Islam is a hollow religion that does not deal with the deepest needs of people; westerners typically don't see that the average Muslim is not radical, and that the political elites rarely align themselves with the radical clerics for long. Iran is an example of where the Mullahs are slowly losing control, because they have lost the hearts of the people.

There is room for an intelligent critique of Mr. Sowell's remarks. You have to dig deeper to understand what he means -- he's not dumb, but he should have laid out more of his underlying views behind an overly bold statement.

However, he is correct, in my opinion, in one regard- a single nuclear weapon detonated in an American city would bring the country and western civilization crashing down, and it wouldn't even have to be in an American city.

While your analysis is as overboard as Sowell's, the fact is that the US overreacted when just two planes knocked over a couple buildings in New York. If it were to happen again, I suspect the real damage would, again, be self inflicted as the US loses it's mind in a fit of "self defense". No nuclear weapon necessary.

I think you are misinterpreting him. He is not implying that Obama's policies will directly lead to an Islamic triumph 50-80 years out, but that the neglect of opposing Islamic fundamentalism today will lead to greater dominance of Islam, perhaps even in America.

In other words, he is playing the John Birch Society card. America is soft on Communism/Islamic fundamentalism so 50 years from now Americans will be speaking Russian and praising Lenin/forcing their daughters to wear burkas. I don't see how your interpretation improves matters.

I personally think Sowell is very smart and I haven't seen anyone here claim otherwise. In fact, as an economics professor, he is surely intelligent enough to realize that the salary of a tenured professor only goes so far and that he can make more money by publishing popular-audience books, writing op-eds and doing the lecture circuit.

Which is exactly the point that Sowell's defenders are missing. Sowell made a conscious decision to compete for a slightly higher-brow readership than the kind who read Ann Coulter and listen to Rush. Getting this readership means making overly-confident, outrageous, unsupported assertions that he would never get away with in, say, a Journal of Political Economy article. It's not a defense to say the real Thomas Sowell is a nuanced, intelligent guy. He clearly decided that nuanced writing doesn't pay the bills and should be held to what he actually writes, not what his defenders wish he would have written.


3) Accept a non-trivial possibility of a nuclear strike on an American city in the next decade.

looks like you best articulated the arguments for attacking Iran. This last option attempts to frame the consequences in tone down but still menacing ways. There are numerous problems with the argumentation that is put forth by the pre-emptive, or preventive warfare crowd, particularly with regards to Iran. The reason pre-emptive warfare is so discredited is that it is so prone to manipulation. Our projections of Iranian motives, are badly biased by cultural and historical misperceptions. As Barkely was pointing out, the Iranians have credible fears of us, the scramble for oil and control of the middle East stretches to beyond WWI, and Anglo-American actions during the Potsdam convention, the treaty of Versailles up to the deposition of the Shah, is exemplified by colonial and neocolonial grab at Middle Eastern resources. Time and again request to be free of colonial domination were spurned in order for us to maintain control. We sponsored a coup that overthrew their leadership, we armed to the teeth the repressive successor we chose for them, we then armed to the teeth, the psychotic neighbor, who then assaulted them with a tacit nod from us, resulting in more than a million battle deaths. We then subsequently over-threw the very same neighbor, on spurious intelligence, showing a profound lack of judgment, if not downright deceit. We occupy both their neighbors with large standing armies. We shot down a civilian airliner on scheduled flight within their territorial waters, in what they perceived as an attempt to provoke them into a confrontation, and maybe draw us into an opportunity to invade them alongside our ally Sadam Hussein, all the while escorting the oil exports Sadam Hussein was using to assault them. We have massive global military power. We are able and willing to project force up to their borders. Under those conditions, I too would be paranoid about the intentions of the U.S. particularly as an oil rich nation, and I would be desperately trying to find a way to defend myself against such a formidable and provocative enemy, for which nuclear weapons would be the only deterrent.

One of the geniuses of the spin machine here is the framing of the Iranian leadership as "suicidally insane". It is an very important framing, because it's the only way to overcome the Mutually Assured Destruction argument that prevailed during the cold war. Their is no doubt that genuine hostility exists between Israel and Iran, and their are proxy battles that are fought in Lebanon and the Palestinian zones, that serves the domestic political constituencies in their respective countries and here in the U.S. But, the Iranian leadership, a deeply religious theocratic state, and is nothing resembling suicidal, since it is "Hiram" or forbidden within their religion. They are a very proud country with a long established culture and one of the great world civilizations. It's beggars belief they would "silcalize" themselves to bomb a couple of U.S. cities, or Israel for that matter. In fact it it's know one is able to articulate why exactly that would be a benefit to Iran. Beyond the ridiculousness of projecting suicide, as if Iranians don’t love their children or their families and country as much as we do, it would be a political disaster because political control over their citizenry, which is the motivation of all leadership, trumps all else, and the external threat of a "great Satan" or Israel, serve the leaderships interest more than if they were resolved. Equally important, like other extraction dependant economies they are very dependant on a healthy world economy, which is critical to the price of oil and the Iranian budgetary surpluses required for the patronage system that mitigates the failing revolution. Lastly, as any military strategist the world over will tell you, the U.S. is largely immune to small scale nuclear attack, due to it's sheer size. The damage would be horrendous, and a very large global depression would ensue, but the scale of the country means it would survive, and rebuild, as did Japan. This is understood to be a strategic advantage of the geographic size and diversity of the U.S. unlike Russia for which nuclear devastation in population centers of the West would be fatally catastrophic. The western, Eastern, Great Lakes or Southern U.S. are economic behemoths in the global economy all by themselves, and will seed and rebuild the rest of the country.

Now that just barely begins to describe the skepticism everyone outside of the U.S. has of our arguments of a sense of foreboding about Iranian nuclear threat to us. As to our own motivations for misperception, we seem to be deeply biased by a multitude of factors. We have a long and paternalistic relationship with Isreral, an kabuki enemy of Irans. We have a neo-colonial relationship with the middle East for which we a psychologically predisposed as a nation, to not see as such, due to our founding origin narrative, and so are predisposed to misread cues from the region. We have a very large military industrial complex, that requires constant threat's to sustain it's business model, and had an active lobby arguing it's case loudly within our political discourse. And we have a bad case of hubris born of decades of success.

All of that combined means that extreme caution needs to exercised before we consider assaulting anyone else out there based on preventative warfare. It is a can of worms that will unfortunately lead us to decline. If we manage our transition from "parent" of the post WWII world order, to head of the table, well we will benefit mightily in the long-term, form the accelerating global economy and political integration that we have fostered. China, India even the grumbling Russians, have joined the U.S. led world economic order. And coupled with the spread in representative politics, this bodes well after a few zigs and zags on the road, for long term prosperity.

BUT. If our basic premise, and Iran is our Acid test, is that any perceived threat to us, however miniscule, requires the dominance of others. Then the message telegraphed to the world, is that you better overthrow U.S. global leadership very quickly. An attack on Iran, will look to everyone else, like the paranoid shadow boxing actions of an declining power, and create fear and loathing, around the world. For one, much of what was written and discussed in Washington after the Mossadek coup was that it was a simple operation, and quite successful. Fourty years later, we are reaping the mess of that coup. The idea that you can simply bomb the Iranians without extraordinary long term consequences is equally fallacious.

lastly, after the Iraq intelligence debacle, their is little political will nor public appetite, in America for foreign military adventure. That is what Obama understands. You have to realize, there is a reason that the people of the world are far more scared of America, than of Iran, we seem a little un-hinged.

I am puzzled at some of the responses here. After reading the article, then the comments, perhaps I was reading the wrong one. So perhaps I can summerize:

1) the democrats are soft on defence
2) the implications of this by extention are a nuclear bomb and sharia law (think Hitler/Battle of Britain)
3) exploding deficits mean bigger government, less freedom, less economic activity

4) that Republicans think they can win by adopting the above strategy is a rediculous

5) Republicans need to define a strategy that is fundementally different than the above ie, be republican. Provide a clear alternative

How any of this shows the author to be deranged, like Paul Krugman, an embarrassment is beyond me. Perhaps a less vesceral unemotional read of the above article would be more productive and insightful.


You are making my point for me, so why is it overboard? Yes, the damage would be largely self-inflicted, I never wrote otherwise. Humans will overreact in predictable ways. Indeed, look at what reaction the destruction of just two buildings caused, and it doesn't require much imagination to understand the overreaction caused by the destruction of an entire American city, with the simple anticipation of further attacks.

>"EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece has been amended since its initial posting."

>Considering what was left in, I can't imagine what was changed.

Apparently a dig at George H.W. Bush was added.

A version at includes only Dole and McCain as "mushy “moderates† . . . who lost disastrously". The current version at NRO also lists "the “kinder and gentler† Bush 41".

I had to choke on "despite whatever economic disasters he leads us into." Describe a worse economic disaster than the one we've witnessed with the bursting of the housing and credit bubbles.

I laughed when a co-worker said cap-and-trade would lead to manufacturing jobs being offshored. I asked if he had been paying attention to the fact that pretty much any job that could be offshored already has been. The decrying of potential problems in the face of actual problems is some sort of pathology if the problem does not directly affect you.

"Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law."

Translation: I'm too lazy to pinpoint exactly what Obama's doing wrong today, so I'll just try and scare people with some vague threat he poses to the grandkids......

For some of the slower students.
Why did Islamic terrorists strike on 9/11? To force the US to withdraw from the middle east. Why did they think 9/11 would work? They view America as a bully who will withdraw as soon as middle eastern states inflict pain on the US. Once the US is out of the middle east what do these terrorist think will happen? US allies in the region will collapse and move away from western influences. They see fundamentalist Islamic governments from Pakistan to Egypt to Somalia.

If they had nuclear weapons, would they have used them on 9/11? Yes.

Obama could not bring himself to support a surge in Iraq but he will continue US involvement in the middle east even if that means a confrontation with a nuclear Iran? Get real. He could easily be bluffed out of the middle east.

Would Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or any middle east state outside of Israel think that the US would directly confront a nuclear Iran in their defense. Probably not, certainly not with a President Obama. Ok Obama might get out his teleprompter to deliver a nasty speech. But other middle eastern states would be left to cut their own deals.

Many in the middle east share the view that the US will run for cover whenever they are seriously confronted. That is certainly the Obama history. Iran would be free to spread Islamic extremism in the middle east. They would use surrogates to overthrow governments. etc

How would Obama respond? He would bore them to death with empty speeches and inaction. The United States, especially a President Obama, would not risk a nuclear confrontation with Iran. Period. He would leave other middle eastern states, former allies, without any real support.

A nuclear Iran means that an Iron Burqa falls over the middle east.

Some seem to think that is a good idea, because Iran is just full of peace loving leaders who kill demonstrators, support terrorists, and promise the destruction of Israel. Others think that America is the great Satan and the sooner we leave the middle east the sooner they can create a true Islamic extremist state.

But those you view Obama as a strong voice, backed by action, in the middle east. Please get real. He will just concede the middle east to Islamic extremists and the go to New York to watch a play with his wife.

Zdeno -- When are you enlisting?

"Are you aware that Khamene'i is the Commander-in-Chief who has declared that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic and that there is no evidence that they are enriching uranium to a level that can be used in nuclear weapons?"

Let's assume that it's factually true that Khamene'i publically declared nuclear weapons as un-Islamic. I'm willing to accept that assumption because that's exactly the sort of thing you would say publicly if you were trying avoid sanctions and/or inspections. Even if it's true he said it, that's zero proof that it's true he means it. That claim is mostly proof to me that some public figures just know the value of useful idiots, but maybe I'm excessively cynical.

"Billy's" and "Zdeno's" and "Tim's" and "anon's" (probably all the same crank) comments to the contrary, there is no point of comparison between Paul Krugman's fine editorials in the NYT and utter rubbish like this farcically counter-factual column of Sowell's.

Oh, I am sorry, Bush was so bad that anything Obumble does looks great by comparison.

Reagan is the one who started running huge deficits as if deficits don't matter. Reagan is the one who doubled the national debt in five years, and then set the budget on course to double again in the next five years.

Bush took a budget that was close to being balanced and took it to a massive deficit in eight years and doubled the debt with his budgets.

Obama started with a massive deficit, a recession well underway, and employment falling rapidly.

Bush started with employment relatively high, but stagnant. Reagan started with employment stagment and unemployment high. Both Bush and Reagan acted to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes, but instead of the economy growing, in both cases the economy contracted for some time afterward. And employment never returned to the level it was when Bush took office. Reagan almost matched employment growth during the Carter term in his second term.

So, an objective view of both Reagan and Bush terms sets a low standard of performance, yet everyone seems to demand much faster economic recovery than either Reagan or Bush managed with their deficit spending policies: large deficit increasing tax cuts.

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