Posts Tagged ‘Reagan’

Thomas Sowell’s Brainy Bunch

September 29, 2009

Here’s a good read today from Thomas Sowell.  Some key words:

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.

Such people have been told all their lives how brilliant they are, until finally they feel forced to admit it, with all due modesty. But they not only tend to over-estimate their own brilliance, more fundamentally they tend to over-estimate how important brilliance itself is when dealing with real world problems.

Many crucial things in life are learned from experience, rather than from clever thoughts or clever words. Indeed, a gift for the clever phrasing so much admired by the media can be a fatal talent, especially for someone chosen to lead a government.

Smarts creates a dangerous veneer of legitimacy for many.  I prefer experience, as does Sowell, but I’m also skeptical of that.  I prefer results, but take those with grain of salt.

Back in 2005, Paul Johnson wrote a column in Forbes called Five Marks of a Great Leader.  He had some things to say about smart people too.  Two of the five marks were judgment and sense of priority.

What makes a person judge wisely? It is not intelligence, as such. Clever people with enormously high IQs often show scarifyingly bad judgment. Nor is it education. When I need advice, I rarely turn to someone with first-class honors from a top university. I turn to someone who has knocked about the world and cheerfully survived “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” One man to whom I turned for his judgment was Ronald Reagan. Though not a scholar by any gauge, he almost invariably judged correctly on the few big issues that really matter.

Being able to judge well is often linked to an ability to mix with and learn from other people–not so much from experts but from common people, those who lack the arrogance of power or the desire to show off their intelligence but who nevertheless think deeply about life’s trials. A person of judgment develops the habit of asking questions of such wise people and listening to their replies.

In running a country or a vast business, one is faced with countless problems, huge and insignificant, and has to make decisions about all of them. Clever leaders (I’m thinking of Jacques Chirac) often have a habit of pouncing on minor issues and pushing them at all costs, even to the detriment of their real interests. Sorting out the truly big from the small takes an innate horse sense that’s not given to most human beings. It has little to do with intelligence, but it is nearly always the hallmark of a great leader.

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Reagan on Capitalism

December 12, 2007

Ronald Reagan, April 16, 1979, Radio Address (from Reagan: In His Own Hand p. 228): 

It isn’t unfair to say that today the world is divided between those who believe in the free marketplace and those who believe in government control and ownership of the economy. 

Most of us aren’t really conscious of how recently the capitalist system came into being.

Maybe our trouble is caused by the term capitalist itself.  Actually all systems are capitalist.  It’s just a matter of who owns and controls the capital – ancient king, dictator or private individual (emphasis added). 

The insight in bold has stayed with me ever since I read these words several years ago.  Such clarifying statements are rare. 

I agree with President Reagan that the problem may be the word capitalist itself.  It’s shape doesn’t seem to match the hole that it’s supposed to fit through.  It has a sterile quality that shrouds its true meaning and lends itself to be hijacked by other meanings.

To most people, capitalist is interchangeable with greed, evil or robber baron.  But that’s equivocation*.  To strip it of its negative association and shine the light on the true evil, Reagan equivocates capitalist to its root word capital.

Capitalism is a system where individuals (you and I) owns and controls the capital rather than it being owned and controlled by the goverment or king.  But, capital is anything we can use to derive a benefit.  Capital is roads, machines, factories, tools, buildings, property and so forth.  To that extent, every economic system uses capital.  Even the most primitive tribes in the Amazon have homes, tools, weapons and livestock – all of which are capital. 

In his equivocation, Reagan punches you in the gut with the root difference between economic systems: who controls capital.  Greed and evil exists everywhere.  Capitalism doesn’t enable it any more than any other system.  In fact, it keeps greed and evil in check better than any other system (more on that in future posts).

Reagan’s two sentences left me with the sense that freedom and choice are better associated with capitalism, and I find it puzzling why anybody would be against that.

*Equivocation is another one of those sterile words that is often misunderstood.  To save you a trip to dictionary.com, equivocation is the use of two meanings of a word with the intent to mislead.