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Thomas Sowell
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Alice in Liberal Land


"Alice in Wonderland" was written by a professor who also wrote a book on symbolic logic. So it is not surprising that Alice encountered not only strange behavior in Wonderland, but also strange and illogical reasoning — of a sort too often found in the real world, and which a logician would be very much aware of.

If Alice could visit the world of liberal rhetoric and assumptions today, she might find similarly illogical and bizarre thinking. But people suffering in the current economy might not find it nearly as entertaining as "Alice in Wonderland."

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the world envisioned by today's liberals is that it is a world where other people just passively accept whatever "change" liberals impose. In the world of Liberal Land, you can just take for granted all the benefits of the existing society, and then simply tack on your new, wonderful ideas that will make things better.

For example, if the economy is going along well and you happen to take a notion that there ought to be more home ownership, especially among the poor and minorities, then you simply have the government decree that lenders have to lend to more low-income people and minorities who want mortgages, ending finicky mortgage standards about down payments, income and credit histories.

That sounds like a fine idea in the world of Liberal Land. Unfortunately, in the ugly world of reality, it turned out to be a financial disaster, from which the economy has still not yet recovered. Nor have the poor and minorities.

Apparently you cannot just tack on your pet notions to whatever already exists, without repercussions spreading throughout the whole economy. That's what happens in the ugly world of reality, as distinguished from the beautiful world of Liberal Land.

The strange and bizarre characters found in "Alice in Wonderland" have counterparts in the political vision of Liberal Land today. Among the most interesting of these characters are those elites who are convinced that they are so much smarter than the rest of us that they feel both a right and a duty to take all sorts of decisions out of our incompetent hands — for our own good.

In San Francisco, which is Liberal Land personified, there have been attempts to ban the circumcision of newborn baby boys.

Fortunately, that was nipped in the bud. But it shows how widely the self-anointed saviors of Liberal Land feel entitled to take decisions out of the hands of mere ordinary citizens.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner says, "We're facing a very consequential debate about some fundamental choices as a country." People talk that way in Liberal Land. Moreover, such statements pass muster with those who simply take in the words, decide whether they sound nice to them, and then move on.

But, if you take words seriously, the more fundamental question is whether individuals are to remain free to make their own choices, as distinguished from having collectivized choices, "as a country" — which is to say, having choices made by government officials and imposed on the rest of us.

The history of the 20th century is a painful lesson on what happens when collective choices replace individual choices. Even leaving aside the chilling history of totalitarianism in the 20th century, the history of economic central planning shows it to have been such a widely recognized disaster that even communist and socialist governments were abandoning it as the century ended.

Making choices "as a country" cannot be avoided in some cases, such as elections or referenda. But that is very different from saying that decisions in general should be made "as a country" — which boils down to having people like Timothy Geithner taking more and more decisions out of our own hands and imposing their will on the rest of us. That way lies madness exceeding anything done by the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland."

That way lie unfunded mandates, nanny state interventions in people's lives, such as banning circumcision — and the ultimate nanny state monstrosity, ObamaCare.

The world of reality has its problems, so it is understandable that some people want to escape to a different world, where you can talk lofty talk and forget about ugly realities like costs and repercussions. The world of reality is not nearly as lovely as the world of Liberal Land. No wonder so many people want to go there.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is



3 Comments | Post Comment
Circumcision will always be a personal choice for mothers. I do agree that loans where not given out in the best possible way. Just b/c you make choices as a country does not mean it will affect your individual choices. Dr. Sowell is a little extreme on the fact as comparing it 2 totalitarianism.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Frank Ross
Mon Nov 21, 2011 7:01 PM
Mr. Sowell is up to his usual in being a corporate mouthpiece and insulting the intelligence of his readers. Rules that encouraged banks to loan to less than ideally qualified buyers may well have contributed to the recent economic problems, but if you want to look to true causes look to government following the advise of conservative fools such as Mr. Sowell. Mr. Sowell and his ilk in the conservative "intelligentsia" are always blathering about getting government out of the way of business, letting the "magic of the market place" do its wonders.
Phil Graham and his buddies deregulated banking (Yes, Clinton signed it) and gave us such wonders as "securitized mortgages". This allowed the banks to slice and dice the worthless loans to form packages that nobody understood and sell them, rated AAA, no less, to the market. The crappy loans gave the banks big corporate (private) profits, and the securitization then socialized the risk. Nobody would have bought the crappy loans because they were obviously worthless, but sliced, diced, securitized and blessed by deeply corrupted ratings agencies, they were easy to sell - until they weren't.
Where were the grown-ups in all of this? Why didn't federal regulators blow the whistle? They didn't because there were almost no grownups left. The advise of fools such as Mr. Sowell had gutted almost all regulatory control. And now right-wing intelligencia such as Mr. Sowell want you to believe that the poor banks were forced, against their better judgement to get involved in this mess. It is understandable that Mr. Sowell does not want to dwell in the real world where GOP gutting of banking regulation nearly destroyed our economy and left the taxpayers with huge bills while the bankers walked away untouched. In conservative intelligencia land, the poor and the liberals can be blamed. It must be comforting to go there.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Mark
Mon Nov 21, 2011 10:21 PM
Mark, do you have better specifics beyond the cliches, generalities and empty talking points? First, you confirm Sowell's point that the loans were bad liberal policy. Are you telling me that if government mandates made you take some action that was a danger/risk to you or your family, you would have no interest in distributiing that risk out if you could? Second, people were warning and blowing the whistle, but if you recall, Barney Frank wanted to "roll the dice". Third, your issue with "securitized mortgages" and "socializing risk" is rather interesting. Our capitalist system is rife with risk distribution. Do you have an insurance policy, bank account, any sort of stocks? These are all socialized risk instruments. Rather than repeating liberal mantra, what specific federal regulation that was "gutted" would have prevented the explosion of the liberal induced Freddie/Fannie subprime mortgage crisis?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Thomas M.
Tue Nov 22, 2011 8:17 AM
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