Thomas Sowell

THE PRIVATIONS and sufferings of the poor have long been central themes in the vision of the political left. That is what attracted many of us to the left in our youth. But the actual consequences of the agenda of the left on the poor -- and on others -- is what eventually drove many of us to the right.

Most of the leading opponents of the left, in the United States and around the world, began on the left. These include Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman and the whole neo-conservative movement, as well as Raymond Aron in France and Friedrich Hayek in Austria. There is no comparable exodus from the right to the left.

Why is this so? The favorite explanation by those who remain on the left is that their former comrades "sold out." But nobody sells out to the lowest bidder. The real money, for intellectuals at least, is overwhelmingly on the left. Black intellectuals, especially, can easily earn six-figure incomes just from lecture fees alone at colleges and universities around the country.

All it takes are some heated accusations of "racism" against whites and denunciations of American society in general, with perhaps a few antisemitic remarks thrown in for good measure.

Nowhere can you make more money with less effort or ability. By contrast, there is very little demand for conservative speakers -- black or white -- on campus, and the few who show up are likely to be heckled or shouted down.

Nor are journalism or the arts havens for conservatives. Far from it. Whatever blacklist existed against Communists and their fellow-travelers in Hollywood during the McCarthy era, it has been completely outstripped by the blacklisting or intimidation of conservatives there now. If the exodus from the left is not due to people selling out to the lowest bidder, then what does cause it?

Let us go back to the poor. Why are we concerned about them? Some are concerned lest the poor have inadequate food, shelter or other basic requirements for life. Others are concerned because of the inequalities, disparities or "gaps" that they represent. And still others are concerned because the poor can serve as a rationale for increasing the political power of the left.

Those who are primarily concerned about the well-being of the poor are likely to discover over time that much of the agenda of the left does not really do much good for the poor, and some of that agenda -- environmental extremism, for example -- actually makes the poor worse off.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate