Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Thomas Sowell: Guns can be used defensively to save lives

Economist Thomas Sowell

Economist Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell’s latest column is up at National Review. If you’ve ever read any of Dr. John Lott’s books, you’ll know that his central argument is that allowing law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms has a net positive effect, when compared with restricting or banning gun ownership. How could that be? What good effect could there be to allowing people to own guns? Well, that’s what Tom Sowell – a former pistol marksmanship instructor – is going to explain to us in his article.


We all know that guns can cost lives because the media repeat this message endlessly, as if we could not figure it out for ourselves. But even someone who reads newspapers regularly and watches numerous television newscasts may never learn that guns also save lives — much less see any hard facts comparing how many lives are lost and how many are saved.

But that trade-off is the real issue — not the Second Amendment or the National Rifle Association, which so many in the media obsess about. If guns cost more lives than they save, we can always repeal the Second Amendment. But if guns save more lives than they cost, we need to know that, instead of spending time demonizing the National Rifle Association.

The defensive use of guns is usually either not discussed at all in the media or else is depicted as if it means bullets flying in all directions, like the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But most defensive uses of guns do not involve actually pulling the trigger.

If someone comes at you with a knife and you point a gun at him, he is very unlikely to keep coming and far more likely to head in the other direction, perhaps in some haste, if he has a brain in his head. Only if he is an idiot are you likely to have to pull the trigger — and if an idiot with a knife is coming after you, you had better have a trigger to pull.

Surveys of American gun owners have found that 4 to 6 percent reported using a gun in self-defense within the previous five years. That is not a very high percentage but, in a country with 300 million people, that works out to hundreds of thousands of defensive uses of guns per year.

Yet we almost never hear about these hundreds of thousands of defensive uses of guns from the media, which will report the killing of a dozen people endlessly around the clock. The murder of a dozen innocent people is unquestionably a human tragedy. But that is no excuse for reacting blindly by preventing hundreds of thousands of other people from defending themselves against meeting the same fate.

Although most defensive uses of guns do not involve actually shooting, nevertheless, the total number of criminals killed by armed private citizens runs into the thousands per year. A gun can also come in handy if a pit bull or some other dangerous animal is after you or your child.


This is an important article that expresses the central argument for allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families from criminals.

It’s worth noting that both Thomas Sowell and John Lott are economists, and economists use quantitative methods to evaluate policies. It would be great if everyone who talked about policies like gun legislation argued from logic and evidence, like economists do. We need to ask what effects and incentives are created for all groups of people when policies are adopted. And that’s what economists do.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

Walter Williams explains why capitalism is moral in 5 minutes

Who is Walter Williams?

Dr. Walter E. Williams holds a B.A. in economics from California State University, Los Angeles, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from UCLA. He has served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, since 1980.

Williams was born into an African-American family. His family during childhood consisted of himself, his mother, and his sister. His father played no role in raising either child. He grew up in Philadelphia. The family initially lived in West Philadelphia, moving to North Philadelphia and the Richard Allen housing projects when Williams was ten. In 1959 he was drafted into the military, and served as a Private in the United States Army. Following his military service, he re-entered college as a far more motivated student.

While at UCLA, Thomas Sowell arrived on campus in 1969 as a visiting professor. Though he never took a class from Dr. Sowell, the two met and began a friendship that has lasted to this day.

Watch this 5-minute video where he explains why capitalism is more moral than socialism:

And here’s another 5-minute video where he explains the profit motive:

Now let’s consider another economist, Thomas Sowell:

Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930) is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author. A National Humanities Medal winner, he advocates laissez-faire economics and writes from a conservative and libertarian perspective. He is currently the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is considered a leading representative of the Chicago school of economics.

Sowell was born in North Carolina, but grew up in Harlem, New York. He dropped out of high school, and served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. He received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1958 and a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he earned his doctorate degree in Economics from the University of Chicago.

Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University and University of California, Los Angeles, and worked for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980 he has worked at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of more than 30 books.

Here is a 33-minute interview with Thomas Sowell on basic economics:

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Christians who focus on only one issue during elections, typically abortion. I consider this to be a weak and short-sighted approach. Even if the main goal you desire is to stop the murder of unborn babies, you would do well to consider your opponent and use every tool available to defeat them in elections. Our opponent on the abortion issue is the Democrat voter. A Democrat is a person who is liberal on social policy – who supports abortion and gay marriage. If you want to defeat the Democrat candidate in an election, then you need to appeal to as many voters as possible on as many issues as possible – not just on social policy. You need to defeat Democrat fiscal policy with arguments and evidence. You need to defeat Democrat foreign policy with arguments and evidence. If you engage every target using every argument and every piece of evidence, you will get more success and win the battle for public opinion.

Let’s face it. We are not going to win elections if we turn only to people who call themselves Christians and try to get them to vote pro-life. There are not enough Christians – and not every person who calls himself a Christians is one. Focusing only on Christians is not going to get the pro-life majority we are looking for. It may be easier to avoid confronting people outside of our church, but it won’t work. A much better idea is to use every argument against every person – Christian or not. And to be able to address objections on every issue – not just one social issue. If the voters don’t care about one issue, then you can argue on another issue. You must be all things to all people so that you can win some by knowing what to say when they ask you for reasons and evidence. Now where have I heard that before?

Here is a full audio course on economics from famous Christian philosopher Ron Nash which I recommend to those who have not yet learned to integrate their Christian faith with economics. His two favorite economists are Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell – he says so in the lectures. In fact, he actually quotes a lot of Walter Williams material from his public lectures on economics, and Thomas Sowell material from his books on economics.

Note: for those who want MP3s of the Thomas Sowell lecture I posted above, here they are:

These are low-quality so they could be smaller for downloading.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Economist Thomas Sowell explains why wealth redistribution doesn’t work

Thomas Sowell, an economist for the people

Thomas Sowell, an economist for the people

A whole slew of people are linking to this article by famous economist Thomas Sowell.


The history of the 20th century is full of examples of countries that set out to redistribute wealth and ended up redistributing poverty. The communist nations were a classic example, but by no means the only example.

In theory, confiscating the wealth of the more successful people ought to make the rest of the society more prosperous. But when the Soviet Union confiscated the wealth of successful farmers, food became scarce. As many people died of starvation under Stalin in the 1930s as died in Hitler’s Holocaust in the 1940s. [Professor Sowell is referring to the forced collectivization of the Ukraine.  If you want to inform yourself of the horrors thereof, I recommend  Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford UP, 1986.]

How can that be? It is not complicated. You can only confiscate the wealth that exists at a given moment. You cannot confiscate future wealth — and that future wealth is less likely to be produced when people see that it is going to be confiscated. Farmers in the Soviet Union cut back on how much time and effort they invested in growing their crops, when they realized that the government was going to take a big part of the harvest. They slaughtered and ate young farm animals that they would normally keep tending and feeding while raising them to maturity.

[...]Among the most valuable assets in any nation are the knowledge, skills, and productive experience that economists call “human capital.” When successful people with much human capital leave the country, either voluntarily or because of hostile governments or hostile mobs whipped up by demagogues exploiting envy, lasting damage can be done to the economy they leave behind.

Fidel Castro’s confiscatory policies drove successful Cubans to flee to Florida, often leaving much of their physical wealth behind. But poverty-stricken refugees rose to prosperity again in Florida, while the wealth they left behind in Cuba did not prevent the people there from being poverty-stricken under Castro. The lasting wealth the refugees took with them was their human capital.

Stuart Schneiderman had this to say about the piece:

If the productive members of society are no longer working for themselves and their progeny they are going to be less productive. They have less incentive to produce when more of what they produce, or more of the profit, is going to be taxed or confiscated.

Besides, when you confiscate wealth people will resist and will spend more of their time and energy trying to keep what they have earned. This time and energy could be used for more productive activities.

Since wealth exists in assets whose value is determined in a market, a regime that confiscates assets will force the wealthy to liquidate their assets, thus lowering the value of everyone’s assets and making it far more difficult to attract investment capital.

I was happy to receive the 4th edition of Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics” textbook from one of our readers in New York city. (Thanks Tom!) If you are a Christian who is interested in economics, I really recommend that you pick up “Intellectuals and Society“, which is a great introduction to his thought.

I once was courting a young homeschooled lady who was skeptical of university degrees. She read one Thomas Sowell book, then read 5 more – all within a 6 week period. She then went on to do a B.A. in economics. If you are a Christian looking to branch out into economics, Thomas Sowell is your man. You can’t read just one of his books. It’s absolutely impossible.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thomas Sowell explains the historical effects of tax cuts

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell

Here’s part 1 of 3.


The actual results of the cuts in tax rates in the 1920s were very similar to the results of later tax-rate cuts during the Kennedy, Reagan and George. W. Bush administrations — namely, rising output, rising employment to produce that output, rising incomes as a result and rising tax revenues for the government because of the rising incomes, though the tax rates had been lowered.

Another consequence was that people in higher-income brackets paid not only a larger total amount of taxes, but a higher percentage of all taxes, after what were called “tax cuts for the rich.” It was not simply that their incomes rose, but that this was not taxable income, since the lower tax rates made it profitable to get higher returns outside of tax shelters.

The facts are unmistakably plain, for those who bother to check the facts. In 1921, when the tax rate on people making over $100,000 a year was 73%, the federal government collected a little over $700 million in income taxes, of which 30% was paid by those making over $100,000.

[...]By 1929, after a series of tax-rate reductions had cut the tax rate to 24% on those making over $100,000, the federal government collected more than a billion dollars in income taxes, of which 65% was collected from those making over $100,000.

There is nothing mysterious about this. Under the sharply rising tax rates during the Wilson administration, fewer and fewer people reported high taxable incomes, whether by putting their money into tax-exempt securities or by any of the other ways of rearranging their financial affairs to minimize their tax liability.

Under Wilson’s escalating income-tax rates to pay for the high costs of the First World War, the number of people reporting taxable incomes of more than $300,000 — a huge sum in the money of that era — declined from well over a thousand in 1916 to fewer than three hundred in 1921. The total amount of taxable income earned by people making over $300,000 declined by more than four-fifths in those years.

Secretary Mellon estimated in 1923 that the money invested in tax-exempt securities had tripled in a decade, and was now almost three times the size of the federal government’s annual budget and nearly half as large as the national debt. “The man of large income has tended more and more to invest his capital in such a way that the tax collector cannot touch it,” he pointed out.

Getting that money moved out of tax shelters was the whole point of Mellon’s tax-cutting proposals. He also said: “It is incredible that a system of taxation which permits a man with an income of $1,000,000 a year to pay not one cent to the support of his government should remain unaltered.”

Here’s part 2 of 3.


Empirical evidence on what happened to the economy in the wake of those tax cuts in four different administrations over a span of more than 80 years has also been largely ignored by those opposed to what they call “tax cuts for the rich.”

Confusion between reducing tax rates on individuals and reducing tax revenues received by the government has run through much of these discussions over these years.

Famed historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., for example, said that although Andrew Mellon, secretary of the treasury from 1921 to 1932, advocated balancing the budget and paying off the national debt, he “inconsistently” sought “reduction in tax rates.”

Nor was Schlesinger the only highly regarded historian to perpetuate economic confusion between tax rates and tax revenues. Today, widely used textbooks by various well-known historians have continued to misstate what was advocated in the 1920s and what the actual consequences were.

According to the textbook “These United States” by Irwin Unger, Mellon, “a rich Pittsburgh industrialist,” persuaded Congress to “reduce income tax rates at the upper-income levels while leaving those at the bottom untouched.”

Thus “Mellon won further victories for his drive to shift more of the tax burden from the high-income earners to the middle and wage-earning classes.”

But hard data show that, in fact, both the amount and the proportion of taxes paid by those whose net income was no higher than $25,000 went down between 1921 and 1929, while both the amount and the proportion of taxes paid by those whose net incomes were between $50,000 and $100,000 went up — and the amount and proportion of taxes paid by those whose net incomes were over $100,000 went up even more sharply.

And here’s part 3 of 3.


President Kennedy, like Andrew Mellon decades earlier, pointed out that “efforts to avoid tax liabilities” make “certain types of less-productive activity more profitable than other more valuable undertakings” and “this inhibits our growth and efficiency.” Therefore the “purpose of cutting taxes” is “to achieve a more prosperous, expanding economy.”

“Total output and economic growth” were italicized words in the text of Kennedy’s address to Congress in January 1963, urging cuts in tax rates. Much the same theme was repeated yet again in President Reagan’s February 1981 address to a joint session of Congress, pointing out that “this is not merely a shift of wealth between different sets of taxpayers.”

Instead, basing himself on a “solid body of economic experts,” he expected that “real production in goods and services will grow.”

Even when empirical evidence substantiates the arguments made for cuts in tax rates, such facts are not treated as evidence relevant to testing a disputed hypothesis, but as isolated curiosities. Thus, when tax revenues rose in the wake of the tax-rate cuts made during the George W. Bush administration, the New York Times reported:

“An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year.”

Expectations, of course, are in the eye of the beholder. However surprising these facts may have been to the New York Times, they are exactly what proponents of reducing high tax rates have been expecting, not only from these particular tax rate cuts, but from similar reductions in high tax rates at various times going back more than three-quarters of a century.

It’s Thomas Sowell – the official economist of the Tea Party.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Philosopher Ron Nash lectures on capitalism, morality and freedom

Watch the lecture. (H/T Luis)

Nash speaks from 0:06 to0:45. Then he takes questions.

His two favorite economists are… WALTER WILLIAMS and THOMAS SOWELL! Just like me!

Christianity isn’t something you do in church to have happy feelings, or to get along with your parents and friends. It’s a worldview. And the whole point of it is that is is true, and helps us to make sense of the world because it is true.

By the way, he even talks about how Jesus uses hyperbole to get people’s attention in the question and answer time. I blogged about that a while back because one of our Christian commenters told me that Jesus never uses hyperbole. (She is a Calvinist, so… you know… ). F.A. Hayek also comes up in the Q&A time. Hayek is my third favorite economist. I think all Christians should have favorite economists. I think we should think about how Christianity relates to every area, from science to history to philosophy to ethics to marriage and family. And to politics and economics, as with this lecture!

We should all have favorite scholars, just like non-Christians have favorite musicians and movie stars. Ron Nash is one of my favorite philosophers.

Who is Ron Nash?

I learned about economics by listening to all the lectures in this course taught by Dr. Nash. He presents a view of economics that is consistent with the laws of logic and the Bible. And this course is comprehensive. I’ve moved on from Dr. Nash’s course to read F. A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell, and then Walter Williams. And I found that Dr. Nash’s course was excellent preparation for these more advanced books.

Take a look at some of the topics:

  • the role of the government in regulating commerce
  • the meaning of justice
  • capitalism and socialism
  • interventionism vs free market capitalism
  • introduction to economics
  • marxism
  • wealth and poverty
  • liberation theology and the religious left
  • judicial activism vs legal positivism
  • pollution
  • public education

You can grab the lectures here.

A little blurb about Dr. Nash

Nash taught theology and philosophy for four decades at three schools. He was chairman of the department of philosophy and religion and director of graduate studies in humanities at Western Kentucky University, where he was on faculty from 1964-91. He was a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary from 1991-2002 and at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1998-2005.

Nash wrote more than 35 books on philosophy, theology and apologetics, including “Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith,” “Life’s Ultimate Questions” and “Is Jesus the Only Savior?” Nash received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University; his master’s degree from Brown University; and his undergraduate degree from Barrington College.

From this Baptist Press article.

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