Ethnic groups have different histories, cultures, traditions, median ages and abilities. Geography, disease, conquest and other factors affect the way cultures and peoples develop. Into our own time, economic disparities between the peoples of Eastern Europe and Western Europe were more pronounced than those between American blacks and whites. During the First World War, black Army recruits from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania scored higher on mental tests than whites from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi.
People of Japanese ancestry produced 90 percent of the tomatoes and 66 percent of the potatoes sold in Brazil's Sao Paulo province in 1908. "In 1948, members of the Indian minority owned roughly nine-tenths of all the cotton gins in Uganda. In colonial Ceylon, the textile, retailing, wholesaling, and import businesses were all largely" in Indian hands "rather than in the hands of the Sinhalese majority."
Sowell is particularly fond of quoting the economic statistics documenting minority groups who outperform the majorities in many nations. It includes the Italians in Argentina, the Chinese in Malaysia, the Lebanese in Sierra Leone, Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and, he might easily have added, Asians in the U.S. today. The urge to attribute all disparities to discrimination, Sowell argues, a) doesn't withstand scrutiny -- black unemployment, for example, was lower than white in 1930 when there was far more anti-black discrimination than today; and b) encourages damaging and divisive "solutions" like affirmative action that harm both the intended beneficiaries and deserving members of the majority group, and encourages sometimes violent conflict as in Sri Lanka, Canada, Hungary, Nigeria and many other nations.
In his survey of damaging thinking about race, Sowell makes extended stops at IQ, multiculturalism, crime and other matters. He brings to every subject the depth of understanding, copious research and impatience with cant that have made him one of America's most trenchant thinkers.