Wealth, Poverty And Politics: An International Perspective, by Thomas Sowell
There is a great deal in this book that is familiar if you have read some of the author’s other books. Like many authors (myself included), Sowell has a consistent worldview and manages to be a prolific writer in large part by including that which is already in his working memory and that which he has already written and researched with a slightly different focus. That is not to say that this book is a bad thing, as the author manages to make a strong and persuasive case for the importance of culture in the development of nations, even including comments about how geography can influence cultural isolation, as is the case when there are few ports or where one is in remote mountain communities or where deserts shut one off from the sort of land routes that also increase the interaction that one has with others. One can see this particular book as part of a sustained effort to make a case for the importance of culture and cultural traits in the well-being of nation, and to remind the reader that just as culture is hard to change by coercion, it can change when societies are willing and able to adapt better cultural traits from those around them who are obviously succeeding.
This book of a bit less than 250 pages includes six chapters. The author begins with a discussion about various issues that must be dealt with when one looks at the wealth of nations, including the way that gaining wealth through conquest is temporary, that there are clearly differences over the long term in the wealth and prosperity of nations and peoples around the world, and that there are some approaches as to why these differences exist (1). After that the author looks at the aspect of wealth that appears due to geographic factors, particularly the persistent isolation that has made certain areas poor and the high levels of mistrust that many people have for mountain people when they come out of their highland fastnesses and enter the lowlands (2). The author spends a great deal of time looking at cultural factors (3) of wealth and prosperity before discussing social (4) and political factors (5) that must be taken into consideration, since there are sometimes social pressures against successful minorities or against those who adopt successful strategies at increasing education and applying self-discipline and hard work as well as political factors that sabotage success. The book ends with a discussion of the implications and prospects for increased prosperity around the world (6) as well as an epilogue that summarizes the book and its results as well as acknowledgments, endnotes, and an index.
In the end, this book performs a worthwhile function in reminding the reader that when one examines the prosperity of nations that one has to do so with a large historical view. Natural resources do not profit a people if they cannot tap into that resources or if businesses and ventures require large amounts of corruption that decrease profits and the expectation of well-being and that siphon off wealth to unproductive and corrupt bureaucrats. Likewise, nations that seek to sabotage their external trade and communications with others are also going to make it hard for their nations to prosper. In addition to that, there are cultural attitudes towards hard work and education that remain persistent over generations and that frequently are stirred into resentment by politicians looking to capture the vote of envious and resentful majority populations who want their “fair share” without having acquired the discipline of body and mind that allows for success and achievement to occur. That these lessons are obviously relevant in a world full of conflicts over resource allocation and achievement within societies should be obvious.