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Thomas Sowell – The Fact-Free Left

The outrage over another multiple murder of American military personnel on American soil by another Islamic extremist has been exacerbated by the fact that these military people had been ordered to be unarmed — and therefore sitting ducks.

Millions of American civilians have also been forbidden to have guns, and are also sitting ducks — for criminals, terrorists or psychos.

You might think that, before having laws or policies forcing fellow human beings to be defenseless targets, those who support such laws and policies would have some factual basis for believing that these gun restrictions save more lives, on net balance, than allowing more legal access to firearms. But you would be wrong.

Most gun control zealots show not the slightest interest in testing empirically their beliefs or assumptions. There have been careful factual studies by various scholars of what happens after gun control laws have been instituted, strengthened or reduced.

But those studies are seldom even mentioned by gun control activists. Somehow they just know that gun restrictions reduce gun crime, no matter how many studies show the opposite. How do they know? Because other like-minded people say so — and say so repeatedly and loudly.

A few gun control advocates may cherry-pick examples of countries with stronger gun control laws than ours that have lower murder rates (such as England) — and omit other countries with stronger gun control laws than ours that have far higher murder rates (such as Mexico, Russia and Brazil).

You don’t test an assumption or belief by cherry-picking examples. Not if you are serious. And if you are not going to be serious about life and death, when are you going to be serious?

Unfortunately, gun control is just one of many issues on which the political left shows no real interest in testing their assumptions or beliefs. The left glorifies the 1960s as a turning point in American life. But they show no interest in testing whether things turned for the better or for the worse.

Homicide rates had been going down substantially, for decades on end — among both blacks and whites — until the 1960s. Plotted on a graph, there is a big U-shaped curve, showing the turnaround after the bright ideas of the left were applied to criminals in American courts of law in the 1960s.

This was not the only U-shaped curve, with its low, turnaround point in the 1960s. The same was true of the venereal disease gonorrhea, whose rate of infection went down in every year of the 1950s — and then skyrocketed, beginning in the 1960s.

Teenage pregnancies had also been going down for years, until the late 1960s, when “sex education” was introduced in schools across the country. Then pregnancy rates rose nearly 50 percent over the next decade, among girls 15 to 19 years old — exactly the opposite of what had been predicted by the left.

Another program that had the opposite effect from its advocates’ claims was the “war on poverty” program created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Contrary to what was said during the celebrations of its 50th anniversary last year, the loudly proclaimed purpose of the “war on poverty” was not simply to transfer money or other benefits to the poor. Both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and their supporters in Congress and in the media, all clearly stated that the central purpose of the “war on poverty” was to reduce dependency on government.

Both poverty and dependency on government had already been declining for years before this massive program began. The proportion of people whose earnings put them below the poverty level — without counting government benefits — declined by about one third from 1950 to 1965.

This was yet another beneficial trend that reversed itself after another bright idea of the left was put into practice in the 1960s. After half a century and trillions of dollars, the only response of the left has been to change the criteria, so that now the “war on poverty” could be portrayed as a success because it proved that, if you transferred more resources from X to Y, then Y would now have more resources. Who could have doubted that?

There is no way to know what is going on in someone else’s mind. But sometimes their behavior tells you more than their words.

The political left’s great claim to authenticity and honor is that what they advocate is for the benefit of the less fortunate. But how could we test that?

T.S. Eliot once said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

This suggests that one way to find out if those who claim to be trying to help the less fortunate are for real is to see if they are satisfied to simply advocate a given policy, and see it through to being imposed — without also testing empirically whether the policy is accomplishing what it set out to do.

The first two steps are enough to let advocates feel important and righteous. Whether you really care about what happens to the supposed beneficiaries of the policy is indicated by whether you bother to check out the empirical evidence afterwards.

Many, if not most, people who are zealous advocates of minimum wage laws, for example, never check to see if these laws do more good by raising some workers’ wages than harm by preventing many young and inexperienced workers from finding jobs.

One of my own pieces of good fortune, when I left home at age 17, was that the unemployment rate for black 17-year-old males was in single digits that year — for the last time. The minimum wage law was ten years old, and the wage specified in that law was now so low that it was irrelevant, after years of inflation. It was the same as if there were no minimum wage law.

Liberals, of course, wanted the minimum wage raised, to keep up with inflation. The result was that, ten years later, the unemployment rate for black 17-year-old males was 27.5 percent — and it has never been less than 20 percent in all the years since then.

As the minimum wage kept getting raised, so did the unemployment rate for black 17-year-old males. In 1971 it was 33.4 percent — and it has never been under 30 percent since then. It has often been over 40 percent and, occasionally, over 50 percent.

But people who advocate minimum wage laws seldom show any interest in the actual consequences of such laws, which include many idle young males on the streets, which does no good for them or for their communities.

Advocates talk about people who make minimum wages as if they are a permanent class of people. In reality, most are young inexperienced workers, and no one stays young permanently. But they can stay inexperienced for a very long time, damaging their prospects of getting a job and increasing their chances of getting into trouble, hanging out with other idle and immature males.

There is the same liberal zeal for government intervention in housing markets, and the same lack of interest in checking out what the actual consequences are for the people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of government housing policies, whether as tenants or home buyers.

Government pressures and threats forced mortgage lenders to lower their lending standards, to allow more low-income and minority applicants to qualify. But, after the housing boom became a bust, the biggest losers were low-income and minority home buyers, who were unable to keep up the payments and lost everything — which was the very reason they were turned down before lending standards were lowered.

Rent control laws have led to housing shortages in cities around the world. More than a thousand apartment buildings have been abandoned by their owners in New York alone — more than enough to house all the homeless in the city.

High tax rates on “the rich” — however defined — are an ever popular crusade on the left. Who cares about the consequences — such as the rich investing their money overseas, where it will create jobs and economic growth in other countries, while American workers are unemployed and American economic growth is anemic?

All these policies allow the political left to persist in their fact-free visions. And those visions in turn allow the left to feel good about themselves, while leaving havoc in their wake.

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