Thomas Sowell

Editor's Note: This is part II in a series. Part I can be found here.

Politicians seem to have a special fondness for words that have two very different meanings, so we are likely to hear a lot of these kinds of words this election year.

"Access" is one of those words. Politicians seem to be forever coming to the rescue of people who have been denied "access" to credit, college or whatever.

But what does that mean, concretely?

It could mean that some external force is blocking you from whatever your goal might be. Or it could mean that you just don't have whatever it takes to reach that goal.

To take a personal example, Michael Jordan became a basketball star -- and a very rich man. I did neither. Was that because I was denied "access" to professional basketball?

Anyone who saw me as a teenager trying to play basketball could tell you that I was lucky to hit the back board, much less the basket.

By the first definition, I had as much "access" to the NBA as Michael Jordan had. Nobody was blocking me. They didn't have to block, because I was not going to make the basket -- or the NBA -- anyway.

Making a distinction between external and internal reasons for failing to reach one's goal would clarify the meaning of the word "access." But clarification would destroy the political usefulness of the word, along with the government programs that this word is used to justify.

For years, politicians and the media went ballistic over the fact that different groups had different approval rates for mortgage loans. This was supposed to show that some racial groups were denied "access" to mortgage loans, and especially access to the most desired loans with the lowest interest rates.

No one even asked the question: Denied access by which definition of "access"?

Political crusaders don't pause to define words. Their shrill rhetoric suggested that external barriers were the problem. And that meant government intervention was the solution, to smite the wicked and deliver "social justice" (another undefined term).

When statistics showed that blacks were turned down for conventional mortgage loans at twice the rate of whites, that was the clincher for those saying that "access" was the problem and that racial discrimination was the reason. Since this fit the existing preconceptions in many quarters, what more could you want?


Thomas Sowell

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

Creators Syndicate