Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 13, 2011

in Hubris and humility, Nanny State, Other People's Money

… is from page 203 of Thomas Sowell’s 1995 book The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy:

To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by “society.”

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kyle8 October 13, 2011 at 8:21 am

The anointed really hate it when their protected classes do well, and no longer need them. That is why they have a special hate for any minority member who does not toe the statist line.

That is also why they have shifted a lot of their advocacy to animals and to “nature”, since those things cannot tell them to mind their own business.

vidyohs October 13, 2011 at 10:15 am

:-) view the case against Gibson Guitar, the FBI raided them under a recent expansion of the law to include plants that is intended to protect domestic industry.

But, it seems Gibson had permits issued by the nations from whom they imported. So, as far as Gibson was concerned it was in the clear.

Gisbson had imported Rosewood and Ebony wood, and the USA has no domestic Rosewood or Ebony wood industry.

Gotta love them Feds.

Sam Grove October 13, 2011 at 11:24 am

And they HAD to RAID them rather than ask if they had permits.

Public show as with the ATF raid on the Koresh compound.

Economic Freedom October 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm

My understanding is that Gibson manufactures its guitars in a non-union, right-to-work state. That’s a no-no for the Obama administration.

morganovich October 13, 2011 at 9:28 am

oh come now don, we the poor, ignorant benighted masses are deeply grateful for the firm guidance of our betters who have done such a wonderful job protecting us from our own base desires and boundless stupidity.

i mean, how could an economy or society possibly accomplish complex tasks like allocating scare resources without firm, paternal guidance?

one need only look at the soaring approval ratings of of congress to see how deeply appreciated this benevolent authority is.

oh, wait…

Randy October 13, 2011 at 9:45 am

Thinking of that scene from Avatar in which the leaders stand before the sacred tree with their arms stretched out like the messiah while the people all gather around and chant praises in unison. I remember thinking when I saw it that this is the vision of the progressives.

Economiser October 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

Indeed. That whole movie was a progressive fairy tale.

Economiser <– didn't like Avatar.

Sam Grove October 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

As was the United Federation of Planets.

brotio October 16, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Which is why I preferred Babylon 5 to the Star Trek series’.

g-dub October 14, 2011 at 2:01 am

I will plug my hair into the planet. Then the trees will attack you!

vidyohs October 13, 2011 at 10:41 am


I posted that link once before a few threads back, there it is again in case you missed it.

Back in the mid-80s, long before I knew of Sowell, I was writing words of wisdom on 3X5 cards and posting them where my employees would see them. It was, for sure, evident at that time that the “grinding down of America” was in progress and had been for a long long time.

The sentence I wrote that I consider was the best and has definitely stood the test of time and observation is “If there are no standards of character, there is no morality.”

One of those standards of character is self responsibility; and, it was quite evident that huge effort was being made by the left to destroy self responsibility, in the black community Johnson’s Great Society was doing an admirable job, in the general community it seemed to me that schools, entertainment, and courts were doing an admirable job.

When one paid attention it was and still is very evident that the man that the looney left fears the most is the man who is independent and capable in mind, and self sufficient in caring for himself and those he loves. Such a man, as Kyle8 mentions above, has no need for government privilege nor government guidance.

Rob October 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

Over the top conspiracy talk with no sources to validate it. A group of graying “grandparents” meeting in Berkley has taken over America! Really?!

Perhaps the most offensive part of this relates to homosexuality. I am tired of conservatives (read non-libertarians) touting the idea that homosexuality is a plot to destroy America. It’s about the freedom to live one’s life with dignity in a manner on so chooses…PERIOD.

Jon October 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm

No one’s saying any of that, Rob.

What we object to are the paternal guidelines/laws established by the government. For example, NYC banning trans-fats because “it’s bad for you.” The blatant campaign against cigarettes “because it’s bad for you.” All these rules that governments pass “because it’s bad for you.”

What Libertarians believe is that individuals are able to make choices. Yes, we know cigarettes are bad for us, but if we want to smoke them, that’s because we perceive the benefits to exceed the risks. Yes, we know high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you, but if we want to consume it, it’s because we like the taste. Yes, we know trans-fats are bad for us, but if we consume them, it’s because we choose to.

I am 22 years old. I am old enough to make decisions for myself. Sure, I eat pizza and drink soda, but I do so in moderation. Why take that away from me “because it’s bad for you?” I enjoy McDonalds from time to time. But I know it’s bad for me, so I limit it. No need to ban. And yeah, I do enjoy an occasional smoke. I do not need some elected council to decide what is good for me and what is bad. That’s what I do. That’s my job. I have earned that right.

Rob October 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm


Don’t get me wrong. I agree wholeheartedly with respect to the discussion personal responsibility. My comments were directed exclusively at the content of the video in the link provided by vidyohs. It contains ridiculous anecdotes of a massive left-wing conspiracy and, in my opinion, wholly distasteful moralizing re: homosexuality. Everything I said was directed to this rubbish and this rubbish only.

Jon October 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Fair enough, and I agree with you 100% on that point. I hope you don;t judge us all by that data point.

Also, please forgive my brash attitude in my response to you. I should not have been so flip in my reply. It was very disrespectful of me.

vidyohs October 13, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Jon, don’t let Rob bully you with his use of the issue of homosexuality to fight back against the truth of the socialist agenda to grind down America.

His rejection of talk about morals is his looney left knee jerk reaction to having the socialist attempt, the act, to destroy America through the techniques the video brought out. Truth hurts them, just as free thinking self sufficient individuals hurt them, the looney left can’t stand it.

I would assume that you read my rebuttal post to Rob, the one below your comments.

Rob October 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm


So you see the absurdity here right? If I don’t agree with you 100% of the time, then I must be part of the “loony left” and out to bring down America. You actually believe that? I mean, really, truly believe that?

Look Vid. If you don’t like homosexuals, that’s your business, I’ve got nothing to say about that. But efforts to deny them the right to enter into consensual agreements with other adults and then be assured of the orderly transfer of say property and assets (a right heterosexual couples enjoy) is bigoted and smacks of a deep hypocrisy from someone who claims to value liberty.

You say you have morals. That’s great. To the extent moral systems conflict, the only arbiter should be the degree to which each system attempts to deny freedom to others. In the case of homosexuals, your system clearly does. Now, my system does not pretend to compel you to abandon yours but rest assured that I will resist you to the extent that you attempt to use the machinery and imagery of the state (for what else is America in your video but a concept?) to enforce your moral code on myself and others.

vidyohs October 14, 2011 at 7:27 am

I see a person using they typical looney left tactic of trying to divert the discussion away from the main point by using one little element that supposedly will make me back away out of fear of being called a homo-phobe. Doesn’t work with me, I have no fear of homosexuals, all I feel is homo-disgustia towards homosexuals. And, I don;t for one minute mind telling you that.

The fact of the matter is queers have chosen to opt into the looney left coalition of character destroying fools. Queers are as solidly on the looney left plantation as the blacks are. Indisputable fact.

My point was not about queers, it was about the rot of socialism, the choice what you tried to attack me on was all yours, so don’t cry about hurt feelings.

Rob October 14, 2011 at 7:41 am

Nobody is crying about hurt feelings vid. Thank you for proving my point, however. I was disagreeing with you on one point in particular. Now, I realize that for you, that means that I am 100% part of the loony left because there could be no possible way that I might agree with you on other parts if I disagree with you on one….right? Therefore, it’s clearly not possible that homosexuals might just be individuals capable of independent thought. Nope, they are all part of the loony-left conspiracy to bring down America.

Hey man, you’re a bigot. That’s fine. It’s your life. Count on my resistance to your bigotry especially where you invoke statist imagery to further it.

vidyohs October 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Oh,okay then. As one bigot to another, just exactly what point do you think I proved?

Arthur Felter October 13, 2011 at 11:47 am

Great quote from a great book. My favorite quote from this book is this one:

But the very commonness of common sense makes it unlikely to have any appeal to the anointed. How can they be wiser and nobler than everyone else while agreeing with everyone else? (page 248)

David October 13, 2011 at 2:42 pm


Tim Dufore October 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm

**Like** So how do we remove all the illegitimate “Bill of Rites” that have been tacked onto our law over the years?

Will October 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I have long said that personal responsibility is dead. How many times have you heard someone who got in trouble say, “I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.” I knew a judge who was amazed that in his 30+ years in the criminal justice system, he never knew anyone who was the wrong crowd, only people hanging out with the wrong crowd. People have long been taught in every aspect of their lives that it is not their fault, they are a victim of circumstances and someone else is to blame. That is why there are true believers on the left, they know no other way. That is why they are easy prey for politicians who scream the liberal agenda of bigger government and anti-wall street.

Will October 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Only a free market encourages personal responsibility.

Economic Freedom October 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm

And, conversely, those who have cultivated the character trait of personal responsibility will favor a free market.

Dan Phillips October 13, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Very interesting comment. I wonder to what do you attribute this loss of a sense of personal responsibility? When did it begin? I have always hypothesized that the real culprits were Freudians and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis looks all over for someone to blame, someone other than the person being analyzed. I’m curious what you think.

Will October 14, 2011 at 7:11 am

Freud was one of the people I was thinking about. I deal with the criminal justice system, which is in reality an economic system of incentives, costs and benefits. Its amazing that everyone’s actions can be explained by something that happened to them or some problem they have that is beyond their control. To me, a persons actions, although greatly influenced by things of their past or some problem they may have, are still choices made with the full understanding that those choices are being made. It seems that their is too much of a knee-jerk reaction to say your actions are not your fault and therefore you are not responsible and should not be blamed. It is this attitude that is permeating every aspect of our society.

David October 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Great book. Along with his other book, Conflict of Visions, I truly began to understand how someone’s “vision” influences politics and life in general. I am clearly on the side of the “Constrained” vision but I have learned to understand and respect the “Unconstrained” vision of the world. I don’t agree with that side most of the time, but it has helped me avoid pointless debates on issues of the day. Thomas Sowell reminds me so much of Hayek. I like his writing style much more than Hayek. I am reading Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty and it is hard to even read 20 pages at a time.

Jon October 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Hayek is brilliant, but his reading is a slog!

Darren October 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I am reading Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty and it is hard to even read 20 pages at a time.

When I read CoL I found expression of my own vague and unformed thoughts. This is one of the few books I’ve read twice.

Jon October 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Nothing’s ever anyone’s fault. It’s always someone else’s.

“It’s not my fault I drove drunk. The bartender kept serving me!”

“It’s not my fault I killed him. He insulted me!”

“It’s not my fault I looted Rome. I was just hanging with the Vandals.”

“It’s not my fault I lost my job. My boss hates me!”

“It’s not my fault I took out a mortgage I knew I’d never pay back. The bank loaned it to me!”

That’s what’s gone from America. It’s never our fault. We need that personality responsibility to come back. After all, how can you learn to better yourself if you are perfect?

Sorry for the rant…

Scott G October 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I credit Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics for allowing me to bootstrap myself into Milton Friedman’s work and for helping me find Cafe Hayek, through the Hoover Institution website.

I have since stopped following Thomas Sowell. His outlook is somewhat pessimistic, repetitive and caused me to be fairly angry. With that said I still consider him to be a great teacher of economics.

Reading Milton Friedman decreased my anger. Reading and listening to Russ and Don have decreased my anger and made me more positive. Russ and Don both have a positive outlook and I think their outlook is more accurate.

The problem with this quote is that it’s really negative. It doesn’t do anything to persuade the annointed. It’s both a complaint about the annointed and an attempt to shame them.

I believe that it’s more effective to get people to see the benefits of private markets rather than shame the supporters of the current ideology. In other words I think it’s better to help people see a new ideology in which classical liberalism produces wonderful outcomes. Of course you still have to point out where government fails, but I would prefer to spend less time doing that so I can show the unseen benefits of markets currently monopolized by the government.

In other words, stop painting a picture of dystopia and start painting a picture of a semi-utopia.

Will October 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I would agree that presenting the benefits of private markets is effective, but only to those will to have an open mind. For the last 100 years or so the other side has been trying to acheive their idea of utopia by exposing the evils of capitalism. The best way to open the mind of someone who has that “utopia” engrained in their mind is to show them where their policies go wrong. As Thomas Sowell says, you have to look beyond the intent of the policy and look at the actual results (paraphrasing). Once you’ve done that, then you can teach them the benefits of free markets.

Scott G October 14, 2011 at 1:09 am


Imagine if Steve Jobs spent all of his life pointing out how flawed Microsoft products are in order to try to persuade them and other people to make better products. We would never know what iPhones, iMacs, or iPods looked like. We wouldn’t even have a sketch to help us imagine these products so that we could create them ourselves.

That’s what Thomas Sowell does. He critiques. He doesn’t create. He doesn’t help people see the classical liberal semi-utopia that could be.

What I’d like to see is a movie like Avatar or Star Wars, but depicting a classical liberal society in which there is no government. If this movie is entertaining it doesn’t require the audience to have open minds – they will come see the movie just as they do Indiana Jones or E.T. Since people are reluctant to listen to Econtalk, read Basic Economics, and learn about the ills of government I think a better way to change the rhetoric in the world is to make classical liberalism cool. I want to show how wealthy and happy individuals would be in a classical liberal world, in which roads, money, private security and medical care are all provided by the private market with no government interference at all. I think a movie showing this world would shock people. I’d also like to see the movie where there is no government enforced intellectual property legislation. I want to see the world where insider trading, selling kidneys, paying to adopt children are all allowed.

The problem with the world right now is government’s monopoly and the lack of experimentation going on to help people see the results of increased individual freedom.

I think libertarian economists should learn how make movies. I think they should start writing fiction novels, creating art, and music that help individuals see the unseen.

If these movies and other forms of entertainment are well done – I mean really well done – so hundreds of millions and maybe billions of people watch them and love them like they love Star Wars or iPhones then a classical liberal following will emerge. They will dress up in costumes to emulate the characters in these movies. They will want to immerse themselves in this classical liberal world. They may even start debating with each other, reading books, trying to convince each other to allow small free-zone experiments to take place in which one group of individuals tries out anarcho-capitalism and another classical liberalism.

I’d like Russ and Don to give up their teaching jobs and start working full time creating these movies. I think they should hire their former students to write scripts and think through what these classical liberal places might look like.

Austrian economist already know a lot about economics. I think they should stop trying to convince the positivist economist that the Austrian way is better. I think Austrian economist can use their ideas to create fictional worlds, sort of like engineers creating hardware and software products that provide value to people.

Don and Russ could make a lot of money doing this. It would be satisfying for them and their students, and it would make the world a better place.

My strategy isn’t to keep pointing out the ills of socialism, or remind people that Big Brother is watching or that a dystopian world awaits them if they pursue their current path. That effort is like fighting a ground war. It’s really tough.

I want to build an atom bomb of rhetoric that so devastates the anointed that they have no choice but to follow the masses into a libertarian semi-utopia. I want classical liberalism to be as cool as the iPhone and addictive as Lost.

That doesn’t happen by reading Thomas Sowell. Thomas Sowell is a gateway to educate people like you and me. The rest of the world hardly cares about Thomas Sowell. They will never read his books.

g-dub October 14, 2011 at 2:06 am

Interesting idea.

But I think the attack on statists must be multi-pronged and relentless.

Will October 14, 2011 at 7:22 am

I do like the idea above and it would be nice to have some of it in Hollywood. I was simply adding that critics, like Sowell, serve a much needed purpose. Afterall, you give credit to Sowell for bootstraping you to Friedman.

Scott G October 14, 2011 at 11:08 am

g-dub and Will,

I agree that I’m too hard on Sowell (and sometimes Boudreaux and Roberts). Thanks for straightening me out.

It requires a multi-pronged approach and each individual will find where his energy should be most well spent. I suppose I’m assuming that Roberts and Boudreaux would be better off making movies. Not necessarily true. They might be best off training economists, who will in turn make movies.

Will October 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

By the way, “semi-utopia.” That is a great discription because while nothing is perfect, free markets are better than any alternative attempted.

Sam Grove October 13, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I suggest reading Julian Simon for an upbeat perspective:

Scott G October 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I started this book, but haven’t read much of it. I do like Julian Simon’s upbeat perspective and I think it’s valuable to have his outlook and facts handy when one run’s into a pessimist or Malthusian thinker. Thanks for the suggestion.

Dan Phillips October 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm

“The problem with this quote is that it’s really negative. It doesn’t do anything to persuade the annointed. It’s both a complaint about the annointed and an attempt to shame them.”

Funny, I don’t see it that way at all. Sowell is merely stating it as a matter of fact, like saying the sky is blue. He appears to me to be speaking dispassionately about an observation he has made. I don’t think he cares whether he persuades the annointed. He’s just pointing out something he has noticed about them.

Scott G October 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm

I see where you’re coming from. I agree with your perspective, but I realize I’m trying to find ways to speak to the anointed and reading this quote to an anointed person would only make them mad and shut down a conversation.

The anointed don’t feel that giving individuals a great deal of freedom to make their own decision would be a good idea. They would rather plan for those people. To not plan for these people would destroy their rescuing role. It is a deep idea, and now that I think about it a bit more I see why Don is sharing it.

But, the problem I’m trying to solve is to persuade a great deal of people into adopting the ideology that individual freedom and private markets are wonderful. This quote doesn’t help me do that other than, remind me that the anointed will not easily give up their rescuing role. The take away message for me is to bypass the debate with the anointed and speak to the vast majority of people who just want to be entertained and learn a thing or two.

txslr October 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I very much enjoy Sowell, particularly his work on economics and race. I also think that The Vision of the Anointed is a good book, but I must say that I found Kenneth Minogue’s Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology more enlightening. To get a taste, and for a entertaing hour or so, I strongly recommend Minogue’s interview with William Buckley from Firing Line. The first 10 minutes is at:


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