Thomas Sowell

One of the painfully revealing episodes in Barack Obama's book "Dreams From My Father" describes his early experience listening to a sermon by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Among the things said in that sermon was that "white folks' greed runs a world in need." Obama was literally moved to tears by that sermon.

This sermon may have been like a revelation to Barack Obama but its explanation of economic and other differences was among the oldest-- and most factually discredited-- explanations of such difference among all sorts of peoples in all sorts of places. Yet it is an explanation that has long been politically seductive, in countries around the world.

What could be more emotionally satisfying than seeing others who have done better in the world as the villains responsible for your not having done as well? It is the ideal political explanation, from the standpoint of mass appeal, whether or not it makes any sense otherwise.

That has been the politically preferred explanation for economic differences between the Malay majority and the more prosperous Chinese minority in Malaysia, or between the Gentile majority and the Jewish minority in various countries in Europe between the two World Wars.

At various other times and places, it has been the preferred explanation for the economic differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, the Africans and the Lebanese in Sierra Leone, the Czechs and the Germans in Bohemia and numerous other groups in countries around the world.

The idea that the rich have gotten rich by making the poor poor has been an ideological theme that has played well in Third World countries, to explain why they lag so far behind the West.

None of this was original with Jeremiah Wright. All he added was his own colorful gutter style of expressing it, which so captivated the man who is now President of the United States.

There is obviously something there with very deep emotional appeal. Moreover, because nothing is easier to find than sins among human beings, there will never be a lack of evil deeds to make that explanation seem plausible.

Because the Western culture has been ascendant in the world in recent centuries, the image of rich white people and poor non-white people has made a deep impression, whether in theories of racial superiority-- which were big among "progressives" in the early 20th century-- or in theories of exploitation among "progressives" later on.


Thomas Sowell

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

Creators Syndicate