DRI-334 for week of 5-5-13: Economics and Geography: The Case of Africa

An Access Advertising EconBrief:

Economics and Geography: The Case of Africa

Economics is the social science dealing with human choice. Geography is the physical science that deals with the above-ground features of the Earth’s surface. The two are seldom mentioned in the same breath. Yet they work hand-in-hand. The subject matter of geography forms the objective physical, structural parameters with which economics must cope. Geography’s brute facts can mold, shape and manhandle economics to a stunning degree. No better example could be cited than the effect of Africa’s geography on its economic history.

The Geographic Dimensions of Sub-Saharan Africa

The continent of Africa encompasses a geographic kaleidoscope. The “Africa” of popular imagination and special economic interest lies to the south of the Sahara – the world’s largest desert whose land area exceeds the size of the continental United States. Sub-Saharan Africa stretches to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope, north of the Antarctic Ocean. It abuts the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

The adjacency of oceans on three sides suggests that African economic history should be a tale of international maritime trade. Just the opposite – although at least three important trade lanes developed between Africa and the rest of the world, international trade was not a tremendous engine of economic development and growth in Africa. The noted economist Thomas Sowell found the source of this apparent paradox in two geographic drawbacks. First, winds and ocean currents near the African coast were (and are) among the world’s trickiest and most variable. Throughout most of world history, the expertise necessary to cope with them was absent.  Second, the African coastline was and is mostly smooth and shallow, thus unsuitable for harbors. Ships had to anchor offshore and transfer cargo by boat – a time-consuming, cumbersome and costly method. This gave rise to one of the great economic-historical ironies, noted by Sowell: As a large fraction of world international trade passed back and forth from Asia around the Cape of Good Hope to the New World, it passed within hailing distance of the African sub-continent – but seldom stopped.

It is hard to overrate the importance of these factors for Africa’s economic development. (And while for most other purposes we would need to analyze African economic development by separating the continent into its constituent nations, this geographic analysis is better conducted by treating the sub-continent as a unitary whole.) These days, many people treat foreigners and foreign trade as unwelcome intruders in economic life, but throughout human history international trade has been the key to a better life for most people and nations. Many of the great nations, from Rome to Greece to Carthage to Phoenicia to Egypt to the modern European nations, were either trading civilizations or encouraged trade beyond national borders. Trade allows nations to consume a broader range and larger volume of goods than they individually produce. It also increases the amount, scope and accuracy of human knowledge. When deliberately imposed from within, trade deprivation is a form of self-starvation.

In Africa’s case, the effects of geography are directly analogous to those of anthropogenic taxes and quotas. Those effects were not limited to the coastlines. They were even more pronounced in the interior. To appreciate their effects, we can compare them with the effects of geography on economic development here in the U.S.

From the arrival of Europeans in North America just prior to and after 1600, rivers were the transportations arteries of choice for north-south (and some east-west) travel. Barge, keelboat and canoe were media of transport. Cities sprung up at the confluence of rivers and at convenient landing points. Today, the history of the nation’s major cities is writ in their rivers. Despite the plethora of new transport media, ranging from planes to trains to automobiles, river transport is still an important secondary source of freight transportation for goods whose ratio of bulk to value is high.

Africa has always has even more and bigger rivers than North America. But they have been a much smaller boon to her economic development, which has been drastically curtailed compared to that of the New World.  The problem has been that African rivers are often unnavigable. Hard-core movie fans are familiar with the 1951 film The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The movie follows the adventures of a hard-drinking, World-War I era ship’s captain and a spinster missionary who set out on a long river journey aimed at locating and sinking a German steamer in Central Africa. The two must traverse the length of the unnavigable UlangaRiver (also called the Bora) to reach the Kenyan lake where the steamer resides. The formidable river hazards they surmount form the basis of the movie’s plot. These include rapids, plagues of swarming insects, river animals such as hippos, inclement weather and the river itself – which eventually becomes so choked with reeds and vegetation that they have to climb in the water and pull their weatherbeaten old tub of a tiny craft through the muck. Hollywood films are legendary for mangling the truth, but in this case the screenwriter (and novelist C.S. Forester, on whose book the film was based) hit the nail on the head.

In addition to above-mentioned hazards to navigation, African rivers suffer the drawback that African geologic structure is often mesa-like – plateaus followed by sharp dropoffs that form a falls. (Indeed, sharp changes in altitude hinder mobility on land as well as water over most of the continent.) The result is navigational nightmare; traversing a falls is not merely awkward but downright dangerous. The Zaire River is 2,900 miles long and contains a volume of water second only to that of the legendary Amazon River. But the Zaire’s succession of falls and rapids prevent entering ships from getting very far. This is typical – according to Sowell, “no river in sub-Saharan Africa reaches from the open sea to deep into the interior.” We must travel up the Mediterranean coast to the Nile to find a river that stretches inland. While the 1,500-mile total length of navigable water in the Zaire is impressive, this is not a continuous stretch, but is rather comprised of many discontinuous stretches. For several centuries, a map maker attempting to travel the river’s entire length would have had to make repeated portages across land to bypass the unnavigable parts of the river. This was typical of Africa’s waterways.

When water transport is unavailable or infeasible, animals are the historical second-best means of transporting people or goods. In the U.S., oxen and horses pulled wagons and carried travelers on the westward migrations beyond the original 13 colonies. African settlers made similar attempts to employ draft animals but were thwarted by the tsetse fly, an insect pest that carries disease that is deadly to animals. Animal populations were so ravaged that human beings often stepped in as beasts of burden. The stereotypes of African males as jungle bearers on safari and females carrying loads on their heads were born of this necessity. But the tropical climate was not much friendlier to humans. In the 20th century, some 90% of all deaths from malaria occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bacteria tend to flourish in the tropics because of dampness. Oddly enough, the moisture content is favorable to disease organisms but less so to agriculture. Even though total rainfall seems adequate, the boom-or-bust pattern of rainfall – torrential rains alternating with sizable periods of drought – is hard on soils. Drought bakes and hardens soils, enabling heavy rains to wash them away. This destroys valuable nutrients, damaging agricultural prospects. The use of fertilizers was long hindered by the dearth of animals – yet another point of unfavorable contrast with North America, where animals were a plentiful source of fertilizer.

While it is true that not all regions of sub-Saharan Africa suffered all these deficiencies simultaneously, virtually all areas suffered at least one of them. Normally, when some areas produce some things but sorely lack others, trade can make up for this by allowing each area to specialize in its comparative advantage good and trade a surplus of its good for the other things it lacks. But when transport between areas is absent or highly costly, the value of trade is greatly reduced.

The effect of transport costs is exactly analogous to that of a specific tax. Suppose that it costs $10 to transport a good from point A to point B. This drives a wedge between the price paid by the buyer of the good (located at B) and the price received by the seller (at A). This holds true regardless of who pays the transport costs; in fact, the welfare of buyer and seller are unaffected by the identity of the taxpayer. Suppose, first, that the buyer is responsible for paying the tax and that the final market price is $90. That means that the buyer pays $100 (the $90 market price plus the $10 tax) and the seller receives the market price of $90. Alternatively, suppose that the seller is responsible for paying the tax. We previously established the buyer’s willingness to pay $100 for the same quantity of the good – this time the buyer pays it all to the seller instead of paying $90 to the seller and $10 to the government (collected at the sales counter by the seller). Now the seller receives a larger market price of $100, instead of the $90 market price in the first example. But the seller must subtract the $10 tax paid to the government, so the seller nets only the same $90 as before. In both cases, the buyer pays $100 net and the seller receives $90 net. In public finance, this is called the equivalence theorem. But the same logic applies to transport costs. Both tax and transport costs deter economic activity because they reduce the gain to the seller and increase the sacrifice made by the buyer.

Transport costs are ubiquitous. But they loom especially large in Africa. In African economic history, transport costs have been a figurative cross borne on the shoulders of the African citizen. They have severely limited both international and intranational trade.

African Trade

Northwestern Africa, including what eventually became the countries of Nigeria and Ghana, was least disfavored by nature and accordingly hosted several relatively prosperous civilizations. Because prospects for interior trade with other African nations were so poor, these nations increased their real incomes by regional warfare and international trade. Their higher standard of living allowed them to produce weapons of war with which to subjugate their neighbors and reduce their citizens to slavery. The Niger River provided one of the few navigable water routes leading to the ocean, which facilitated the export of slaves to Europe and the West Indies, whence they were often re-exported to North America.

Slaves were one of the few African export items because a slave was a very valuable capital good, capable of earning a decades-long stream of income for its owner. This future stream of income could be estimated, discounted to a present value using an interest rate and sold for a purchase price that capitalized that future stream of income into a current capital gain for the seller. This made it worthwhile to incur the sizable costs of transporting imprisoned slaves across a vast ocean. Consequently, the Nigerian coast acquired the appellation of the “slave coast.”

Another profitable export of this region was gold, which was mined in Ghana. Gold was (and still is) used for limited industrial and decorative purposes, but its primary value lies in its scarcity and acceptability as a medium of exchange and store of value. Investors bid up its price whenever money loses its value in exchange. Even today, the world’s entire physical stock of gold would fit into a single sanitary landfill. Mined gold resembles dust. This means that gold has an extremely high value relative to its physical bulk – the perfect kind of good to overcome the barrier erected by high transport costs. It is not surprising, then, that the Ghanaian coast acquired the nickname of the “gold coast.”

The third of Africa’s famous “coasts” was its “ivory coast,” located to the west of Ghana in Northwest Africa. The ivory was obtained from the tusks of African elephants, hunted to near extinction because private ownership of elephants was mistakenly forbidden. (In the late 20th century, those African nations that experimented with allowing private ownership of elephants saw dramatic increases in elephant populations and successful control of poaching.) Ivory was greatly prized for a myriad of uses and elephants were extant only in Africa and India. Thus, elephant tusks also attained a high value relative to their substantial bulk.

Overall, this represented an incredibly meager showing for one of the world’s largest continents and populations. At the most, it produced prosperity for small African regions for limited historical periods. The slave trade was outlawed in the 19th century and this edict was policed by the British navy. The ivory trade was a self-limiting business, plagued by its illegal status and the short-sightedness of officialdom. Gold mining is limited by the stinginess of nature and the expense of extracting gold from the ground.

Alternative Explanations for Africa’s Lagging Economic Development

Africa has long been the poster child for the failures of economic development in the Less Developed Countries, or what was formerly called the Third World. Most of the blame for this failure was placed on the fact that, for comparatively short historical time periods, many African nations were colonies of European countries.

On general direction, this seems an odd position to take. The theory of colonial immizeration – if it can be called that – apparently assumes that colonizers gained by withdrawing resources from colonies in some way analogous to that in which, let’s say, an embezzler gains by withdrawing funds from a successful company. But that misconceives not only the basic nature of trade between nations but also the stylized relationship between colonizer and colonized.

There is a theory that colonizers gained by imposing unfavorable terms of trade on their colonies and by substituting less efficient trade relationships for those that colonies would otherwise have developed with the rest of the world. But even if we subscribe to this, it does not imply that colonizers wanted to prevent or retard economic development in their colonies. Presumably, just the opposite was true, since development would enable the colonies to produce more and better goods for the colonizer to acquire via biased trade. And in fact, colonizers expended vast sums of time and money on attempts to promote development in the African colonies. If they failed, their failures seem small in comparison to the spectacular failures achieved by Western economists and development agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after World War II.

Another oft-cited villain in African non-development is authoritarian political institutions. Doubtless, the fact that Africans exchanged colonial masters for home-grown despots in case after case is not only ironic but tragic, in view of the appalling human toll taken by famine, executions and all-around misery. But the question here is: Is despotism per se responsible for the lack of economic development in Africa? There is a very well-established relationship between political freedom and economic freedom, but the causality seems to run mostly in one direction – from economics to politics, not vice-versa. It seems reasonable to think that more democratic institutions would lead to fewer executions and political imprisonments and less repression in Africa. But Western nations have proven that democracy is fully compatible with economic serfdom and penury.

One of the most objectionable theories of African economic development is racial. It ascribes Africa’s development failures to the genetic inferiority of a predominantly black population. Since this theory offends current sensibilities, it seldom receives serious discussion. A dispassionate examination would cite, among other objections, the economic and intellectual success that the same genetic strains have achieved elsewhere in the world. Indeed, one of the most compelling counterarguments was played out in southern Africa itself, where the successful competition of poor black workers forced dominant white minorities to impose apartheid in order to protect white incomes. The same scenario was played out in the American South under the Jim Crow laws. If blacks are inferior in some economically meaningful sense, why do whites so often need the law to enforce economic protection against black competition?

That last example should click on the light of realization in our minds. Africa seems to be an object lesson in how badly a free market is needed. The African continent is home to less than 10% of the world’s population but over one-third of its languages. This cultural indicator reeks of economic and cultural isolation. In an America blessed with plentiful natural resources, navigable rivers, hospitable climate and a century’s worth of relatively benign colonial stewardship, some sort of economic development was virtually inevitable. Our experience with free markets was a huge bonus that made us the world’s leading economic power. Scandinavia, with its added advantages including complete cultural homogeneity, needed free markets even less. But nothing less than free markets would have sufficed to bring economic development to the Dark Continent.

Free markets do not work miracles; they merely permit the best to be made from available opportunities at any particular point in time. They also provide the widest scope for innovation and technological advancement over time. When nature has dealt you an inferior hand of cards, you can only make the optimal draw, then play those cards for all they are worth. Freedom and free markets are that optimal strategy for economic development.

Today, there are stirrings of economic development in Africa, as there are in longtime development laggards like China and India. The Economist has reported on the ability of individual African fishermen to use cellphones to check the market prices of their daily catch. At long last, technology is beginning to improve the bad hand that Africans have been dealt. Technology has been working its wonders for a couple centuries in the West. Now free markets are bringing them to the poorest of the poor in the heart of Africa.

DRI-336 for week of 4-7-13: ‘The Pattern of the Anointed’ Strikes Again

An Access Advertising EconBrief:

‘The Pattern of the Anointed’ Strikes Again

How many times have you seen it happen? The intelligentsia and the mainstream news media discover a crisis. It starts as a single news story or a documentary. Gradually it builds into the crisis of the week, or the month. Eventually, there is a consensus – this is a disaster, or an epidemic, or malaise, or an Armageddon in the making. The remedy is a program, or a national effort, or the moral equivalent of war. Only full-bore, full-speed-ahead action by the federal government can solve the problem.

Agencies are created and staffed. Programs are created, legislated and implemented. The federal government spends oceans of money. What happens? For awhile – nothing. Then, slowly and almost imperceptibly at first, but soon clearly and gnawingly… the problem gets worse.

Ultimately, we find out that the problem was actually getting better all long – until the federal government acknowledged it and tried to solve it. This reversed the pattern of improvement and got things headed in the wrong direction. And they stayed that way.

After watching this sequence of events more than once, it probably occurred to you that it was more than just happenstance. You may even have contemplated announcing your observations to the world in the form of a theory about how government works – or fails.

Congratulations. You have undergone the scientific experience known as independent discovery. Unfortunately, you were too slow in getting your ideas down on paper, so you won’t be able to claim credit for them. That belongs to the great black economist, Thomas Sowell.

Sowell called his discovery “The Pattern of the Anointed.”

The Pattern of the Anointed

Sowell identified what he considered “the prevailing vision of our time” in social theory. The intelligentsia – consisting of leading figures in academia and the mainstream communications media – has been anointed by themselves and the political left as the agenda-setters for big government. This visionary process has four stages.

In Stage 1, a Crisis is identified. “Some situation exists, whose negative aspects the anointed propose to eliminate…even though all human situations have negative aspects, and even though evidence is seldom asked or given to show how the situation…is either uniquely bad or threatening to get worse. Sometimes [it] has in fact already been getting better for years.”

In Stage 2 comes the Solution. “Policies to end the ‘crisis’ are advocated by the anointed, who say these policies will lead to beneficial result A. Critics say that these policies will lead to detrimental result Z. The anointed dismiss these latter claims as absurd and ‘simplistic,’ if not dishonest.

Stage 3 brings the Results: “The policies are instituted and lead to detrimental result Z.”

Of course, this is not the end of the process. In Stage 4, we witness the Response: “[Predictors of] detrimental result Z …are dismissed as ‘simplistic’ for ignoring the ‘complexities’ involved, as ‘many factors’ went into determining the outcome. The burden of proof is put on the critics to demonstrate to a certainty that these policies alone were the only possible cause of [the result]. No burden of proof whatsoever is put on [proponents of the Solution]. Indeed, it is often asserted that things would have been even worse, were it not for the wonderful programs that mitigated the inevitable damage from other factors [emphasis added].”

Sowell observed that evidence for his theory was “abundant.” He cited three well-known examples.

The War on Poverty

The “War on Poverty” is associated with the “Great Society” programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration, but the enabling legislation dates back to 1962, during the Kennedy administration. From the beginning, it was advertised as a means to end or prevent dependence of federal-government welfare programs. The emphasis was on “prevention and rehabilitation,” not on recruiting more recipients for the dole. And a by-product of success would be reduction in federal spending on welfare programs. “Make taxpayers out of tax eaters” and “give a hand, not a handout” were two of the many slogans that flavored War propaganda.

As time went on, the War accumulated subsidiary themes like barnacles adhering to the hull of an aging ship. One such theme was the preemption of urban violence through alleviation of poverty. The racial disorder and riots of the late 1960s provided a convenient setting for “civil rights leaders” to demand more government programs to ward off a “long, hot summer” of violence.

A minority of right-wing critics, the most visible and insistent being Sen. Barry Goldwater, predicted that the War would be a losing venture. It would promote dependence on government and encourage violence by rewarding it. It would divide Americans into those benefitting from government subsidy and those paying the subsidies; e.g., net recipients and net payees. And veteran observers of government noted that since the cost of government only rose, never declined, the War was almost certain to produce higher, not lower, welfare expenditures.

In retrospect, Sowell pointed out, the most eye-opening analytical aspect of this debate was the complete omission to carefully check the actual state of poverty and its historical trend. As of Lyndon Johnson’s ascension to the Presidency in 1965, the number of people living in poverty had been declining since 1960. This was a residue of the end of the 1958 recession. From 1950 to 1965, the officially poor declined by approximately one-third – without taking into account any benefits they received from government.

Oops. So much for the crisis of poverty. How about the War itself? Did it succeed or fail in reducing poverty? What about the aim of reducing dependency on government?

The War picked up momentum with the addition of reinforcements in the form of a growing roster of federal programs. Even though the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, the War’s official HQ, disbanded in 1974, the War did not end. The number of people on public assistance doubled between 1960 and 1977. Expenditures on public housing increased by a factor of five; food-stamp expenditures increased by a factor of ten. In-kind government benefits increased by a factor of twenty. As a percentage of Gross National (now Domestic) Product, federal social-welfare spending rose from 8% to 16%.

The Nixon administration changed the approach by officially declaring victory in the War on Poverty and demobilizing by disbanding OEO in 1974. In fact, they simply adopted a new approach – federalism and block grants given to states. One salutary effect of the change was a decline in urban violence, which stopped completely in the Reagan administration.

By 1992, there were more people officially in poverty than there had been at the War’s start.

Today, of course, over forty million people receive food stamps. Over half of American households receive federal benefits of some kind. Dependency on government is at an all-time high.

This summary of results runs diametrically opposite to the predictions of the anointed and roughly consistent with the predictions of critics. Yet the vision itself remained “hermetically sealed off from the contaminating influence of facts,” in Sowell’s words. Rather than acknowledge this failure, proponents of the War shifted the terms of the debate by citing the number of those who receive (and continue to receive) benefits as the criterion of success. “The goal was redefined as reducing poverty by redistributing resources.” Present-day defenders of the War, like Shelton Danziger of the Institute for Research on Poverty, claim that “I think we’d have poverty rates over 25%” if not for the agglomeration of federal anti-poverty programs.

“In short, no matter what happens, the vision of the anointed always succeeds, if not by the original criteria, then by criteria extemporized later,” Sowell ruefully concludes.

Sex Education

Another product of the crusade-happy decade of the 1960s was sex education. Because the founding intentions of this reform were so completely at odds with its results – and with its current intentions – it is necessary to revisit the origins of this staple of public education.

A 1968 article in Education Digest declared that “contraception education and counseling is now urgently needed to help prevent pregnancy and illegitimacy in high-school girls.” This reinforced prior Congressional testimony by the head of Planned Parenthood that the purpose of sex education was to “assist our young people in reducing the incidence of out-of-wedlock births and early marriage necessitated by pregnancy.” Reduction of venereal disease was another commonly cited rationale for sex education.

How would sex education accomplish these goals? From today’s perspective, the answers seem astonishingly vague. Boys “will find decreased need for casual, irresponsible and self-centered experimentation with sex,” was the prediction of one academic, a so-called “Professor of Family Life (!). It was frequently reiterated that girls became pregnant through ignorance, panic and meek submission; these would be counteracted by sex education. Exactly how this would happen, though, remains mostly a mystery to this day. It is apparent that the stated intentions of the anointed were accepted as sufficient collateral to warranty the results of their proposed solutions – the same attitude that prevails today.

Critics feared for the moral health of the nation. They predicted that sex education divorced from moral instruction would produce effects opposite to those desired and predicted by proponents; that is, more pregnancy, illegitimacy and venereal disease. And for their pains, they were stigmatized and demonized as sexually phobic religious fundamentalists and fanatics – and worse.

Once again, apparently nobody thought to actually investigate the factual extent of this “crisis” before enlisting the federal government to alleviate it. As of 1968, the fertility rate of teenage girls had been declining for over a decade, since 1957. The rates of both syphilis and gonorrhea – the two main venereal diseases in those days – fell throughout the decade of the 1950s.

Yet once again, the solution to the non-existent crisis was massive federal-government spending and interference with the private sector and the federal system. This took two main forms: federal aid to public schools to fund sex-education curricula and federal aid to “family-planning” clinics. Even as early as 1968, sex education programs were found in almost half of all public schools. The concept grew like Topsy until it became omnipresent. Family-planning clinics grew in tandem.

The results of this anointed vision have been unqualified, unshirted disaster – perhaps the most ghastly of all the visionary fiascos foisted on the American public. Pregnancy rates among young girls rose by close to 30% in each of the first two decades after 1968 – despite a doubling of abortions during the same time period. Indeed, abortions soon outpaced live births among young girls. Surveys found a higher percentage of (unmarried) girls between 15 and 19 engaging in sex in 1976 than had been true when the big push for sex-ed began.

Sargent Shriver was a high priest of the anointed – head of the OEO until 1974 and a leading sex-ed supporter. In an unusual mea culpa, he testified before Congress in 1978 that “just as venereal disease has skyrocketed 350% in the last 15 years when we had more clinics, more pills, and more sex education than ever in history, teenage pregnancy has risen.” Ensuing decades saw the implications of these trends worsen with the emergence of new sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and HPV.

Illegitimacy became epidemic. Rates that – in the 1960s – had driven Daniel Patrick Moynihan to fear for the health of the black population were now far exceeded among blacks, Latinos and whites alike as the new millennium dawned. Illegitimacy rates exceeding 70% for blacks, 50% for Hispanics and 25% for whites would have been considered unimaginable at the dawn of the “crisis.”

As if this weren’t scandalous enough, the response of the anointed rivals the results in its breathtaking horror. The rise in pregnancy, illegitimacy, abortions and venereal disease were broadly ignored. If mentioned at all, they were treated as prima facie evidence of the need for more spending and more programs. Opponents were demonized even more strongly as opponents of democracy.

But when speaking to themselves, away from the glare of publicity, the anointed have shifted sex-ed’s focus away from controlling social pathologies and towards encouraging “healthy attitudes about sex and sexuality.” Of course, the definition of “healthy” is the exclusive province of the anointed. Thus, The Journal of School Health rephrases the goal of sex education as “an exciting opportunity to develop new norms.” Sowell correctly deduces that the only purpose behind beginning sex education in kindergarten must be to accomplish the longer, more tenuous goal of indoctrination rather than the more basic program of biological instruction.

Sowell provides an example of this indoctrination at work: a “popular sex instructional program for junior high-school students, aged 13 and 14,” which “shows film strips of four naked couples, two homosexual and two heterosexual, performing a variety of sexually explicit acts.” Not surprisingly, the accompanying teaching materials warn teachers not to show these films to parents or friends so as not to “evoke misunderstanding and difficulties.” What other curriculum prescribes a course of study for students that is not supposed to be available for review by parents? Yet parents who objected to these materials were demonized as “fundamentalists” and “right-wing extremists.” Sowell is quick to remind his readers that this episode, though not typical, is also not rare; similar ones have popped up throughout the U.S.

The response of the anointed is that the typical parent is “either uninformed or too bashful to share useful sexual information with his child.” The direction of these efforts is all too clear: the anointed wish to establish the State in loco parentis, as bearing primary child-rearing responsibility.

The Rights of Criminals and Criminal Suspects

The 1960s also saw a revolution in criminal justice. It is best characterized as an attitude toward crime and punishment. Sowell dissects this attitude with surgical skill, dubbing it the “therapeutic approach.” Several highly placed figures in the judicial system, among them Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals David Bazelon, believed that crime was primarily the fault of the law-abiding population rather than criminals. The criminal is “like us, only somewhat weaker;” we imprison criminals out of a “highly irrational… need to punish,” which is a “primitive urge” motivated by “childish fear” (Bazelon).

Alas, the “dehumanizing process” of imprisonment only produces “social branding” and “social failure.” Instead, we need to “[turn] all jails …into hospitals or rehabilitation centers,” which employ “psychiatric treatment” using “new, more sophisticated techniques (Bazelon).” Long prison sentences “will not reduce crime” (Clark).

These men sought to solve this crisis through constitutional interpretation. In particular, they broadened the application of the Bill of Rights from federal law to state and local law and broadened its meaning from a charter of liberties or freedoms to a list of powers or immunities.

In Mapp vs. Ohio (1961), the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment provision barring “unreasonable search and seizure” was broadened to apply to state law as well as federal law. It was interpreted to exclude evidence illegally obtained at trial – thus, the shorthand term “exclusionary rule,” which came to describe its defining point of law. After Mapp, ironclad evidence of guilt was ignored if it was (say) obtained via a warrantless search of a suspect’s premises.

In Gideon vs. Wainwright (1963), a criminal defendant’s right to representation at trial was made absolute, so that indigent defendants were guaranteed a right to state-appointed and compensated counsel.

Escobedo vs. Illinois (1964) invoked the 6th Amendment to broaden this right to apply during a suspect’s interrogation by the police. Thus, confessions obtained during a custodial interrogation (that is, when a suspect was held prior to indictment) were invalid if the suspect was not allowed to confer with his attorney.

Miranda vs. Arizona (1966) essentially superseded Escobedo by invoking the 5th Amendment provision against self-incrimination in place of the 6th Amendment to require that suspects be informed of their right to an attorney, the right to confer with the attorney and their right to avoid self-incrimination prior to interrogation; e.g., immediately upon arrest and detention. In order to confess to a crime, a suspect must first waive their Miranda rights. Any confession not complying with these stipulations was invalidated and inadmissible at trial.

Dissenters in each of these opinions, who comprised the first line of critics to this revolutionary approach to criminal justice, included distinguished jurists like Potter Stewart and Byron White. Apart from the various points of constitutional law, which centered on the departure of these decisions from the original intent of the Framers, the dissents stressed the highly adverse effects the decisions would have on the incidence of crime and violence and the administration of criminal justice.

The results in ensuing years amply bore out those fears. To quote Sowell: “Crime rates skyrocketed. Murder rates shot up until the murder rate in 1974 was more than twice as high as in 1961. Between 1960 and 1976, a citizen’s chances of becoming a victim of a major violent crime tripled. The number of policemen murdered also tripled during the decade of the 1960s. Young criminals, who had been especially favored by the new solicitude, became especially violent. The arrest rate of juveniles for murder more than tripled between 1965 and 1990, even allowing for changes in population size.”

One point not raised by Sowell that deserves mention was the virtual abolition of capital punishment by the Warren Court in the early 1970s. Economists have studied capital punishment for decades and firmly disagree with the conventional thinking that it does not deter murder. The increase in murders in this time period closely followed the judicial moratorium on capital punishment.

The response of the anointed followed two lines. The first was to stress confounding factors like education. The second was to accuse critics of using a call for “law and order” as code language for racism; e.g., suppression of constitutional rights for blacks. The “thinking” behind this accusation was that blacks were disproportionately perpetrators of crime; therefore they would be disproportionately affected by procedures making it harder for criminals to escape punishment for their crimes.

Sowell found one response particularly worthy of notice. Chief Justice Warren found complaints about rising crime to be “self-righteous indignation” based on “oversimplification.” Rather than attribute the surge in crime to the new criminal-justice policies, Warren claimed that “all of us must assume a share of the responsibility” since “for decades we have swept under the rug” the environmental conditions that bred crime – slums, poverty, and the like.

The problem with this theory of crime causation, as Sowell pointed out, is that the U.S. murder rate fell steadily after 1934 (that is, after the repeal of Prohibition), throughout the remainder of the 1930s, the 40s and the 50s. In 1960, the murder rate was less than half of what it had been in 1934. Yet according to Warren, this was precisely the time period in which Americans were sweeping the ostensible behavioral causes of crime under the rug. Crime rates should have been exploding – if Warren’s hypothesis was correct.

Sowell was content with validating the Pattern’s effects on criminal justice. We should carry the analysis further to understand why the Warren Court went wrong.

The left-wing judiciary viewed themselves as anointed spokesmen for freedom. Like the Left’s founding philosopher, John Dewey, they confused freedom with power. A valid right can be exercised without depriving someone else of their rights; power implies the ability to compel obedience or control real resources. Freedom or liberty is the absence of external constraint, not the power to command obedience or control over real resources. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) are charters of liberty, not enumerations of powers. They limit the powers of government as a way to secure our freedom; they do not list our freedoms.

By conferring powers on criminals and suspects, the Warren Court judicial reforms perverted the Bill of Rights by reducing the powers of law-abiding citizens. By increasing the real incomes of criminal suspects via guaranteed representation, they reduced our real incomes and happiness. Instead of treating criminal justice as a process for determining guilt or innocence, they treated it as a game in which criminals and innocent suspects deserved the same chance of “winning;” e.g., escaping unscathed. The presumption of innocence in a criminal-justice sense was subtly altered to a presumption of innocence in a moral sense. The real income transferred to criminals inevitable came at the expense of law-abiding citizens; it could not be otherwise because that real income had to come from somewhere.

Other Examples of the Pattern

Thomas Sowell claimed that the Pattern of the Anointed was ubiquitous; examples were “abundant.” Without straining unduly, we can call others to mind.

In earlier works, Sowell himself marshaled evidence for the Pattern. He cited the landmark civil-rights case Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, whichreversed the longstanding presumption in favor of racial segregation in public schooling. Brown overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had previously ruled, making the argument that “separate is inherently unequal.” It has long been assumed that progress toward equality between blacks and whites dated from this decision. Subsequent federal programs like as “affirmative action” escalated the goals of federal policy from promoting equality to conferring special privileges on blacks.

Any discussion of equality should distinguish between ex ante equality (equality of opportunity) and ex post equality (equality of result). Indeed, early federal policy was oriented toward opportunity, emanating from bodies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But one of the most interesting outcomes of Sowell’s early research was the realization that free markets could produce equalizing results even if equal opportunity was formally lacking.

“As far back as the First World War,” Sowell discovered, “black soldiers from New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio scored higher on mental tests than white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi.” This was not a temporary aberration. “During the 1940s, black students in Harlem schools had test scores very similar to those of white working-class students on the lower east side of New York.” While segregation often produced black public schools that were grossly inferior to their white counterparts, other black schools like Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., were among the country’s finest secondary schools. “As far back as 1899, [Dunbar] had higher test scores than any of the white schools in Washington, and its average IQ was eleven points above the national average in 1939 – fifteen years before the Supreme Court declared such things impossible.” The common factor behind all these results was that economic incentives and freedom of migration allowed blacks to migrate out of the American South and into the Northeast, thereby allowing them to profit from better schools and economic opportunities there.

Sowell showed that the trend toward equality between white and black incomes began well before Brown, let alone later civil rights legislation and affirmative-action legislation. Indeed, the rate of black advance slowed during the later civil-rights era, rather than speeding up. Once again, free markets rather than government proved to be the effective agent for beneficial social change and economic growth. Once again, we learned in retrospect that the alleged crisis justifying massive government intervention was, in reality, an improving situation before the government intervention – but it became worse afterward.

Coming Soon – The Pattern of the Anointed Strikes Again

With practice, we can learn to anticipate the Pattern. The next EconBrief will reveal the Pattern of the Anointed underway again today.