Thomas Sowell

Any smell more subtle than ammonia or a sewage treatment plant is usually hard for me to detect. However, I happen to be able to smell gas escaping better than most people. On more than one occasion I have walked by someone's home, smelled gas and left a note on the door. While later passing that house again, I have seen the gas company out digging up the ground, and -- after that -- no more smell of gas.

A sense of smell is just one of innumerable things that can differ greatly from one person to the next. Moreover, many of these differences are essential to the survival and progress of the human race.

People have different vulnerabilities and resistances to a variety of diseases. That is why one disease is unlikely to wipe out the human species, even in one place. An epidemic that sweeps through an area may leave some people dying like flies while others remain as healthy as horses.

There are children who are years late in beginning to talk and yet who end up scoring over the 90th percentile on math tests. Then there are other children whose speech is so precocious that they sound like little geniuses when you hear them talk -- and yet they have trouble subtracting two from four or tying their own shoelaces -- and always will.

Individuals differ radically from one another in all sorts of skills, interests and talents. What all this means is that the capabilities of the human race vastly exceed the capabilities of even the brightest and the best individuals.

When the brightest and the best take over making decisions for other people, usually through the power of government, those decisions are likely to be based on less knowledge, experience and understanding than when ordinary people make their own individual decisions for themselves. The anointed may know more than the average person, but far less than all the ordinary people put together.

Scientists who study the brain say that some abilities develop greatly at the expense of other abilities. Socially as well, some talents are developed by neglecting others. Concert pianists seldom have a college education, because the demands of the two things are just too great. Therefore, for both biological and social reasons, the only way for everyone to be equal would be for them to be equal at a lower level of ability than what some people are capable of in some things and other people are in other things.

Thomas Sowell

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

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