- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

The big divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, or women and men, but between talkers and doers.

Think about the things that most improved our lives over the last century — medical advances, the transportation revolution, huge increases in consumer goods, dramatic improvements in housing, the computer revolution. The people who created these things, the doers, are not popular heroes. Our heroes are the talkers who complain about the doers.

Those who have created nothing have maintained a constant barrage of criticism of those who created something, because that something was considered not good enough, or the benefits turned out to have costs.

Every time I get on my bicycle and go pedaling down the road, I remember from my childhood that old geezers in their 70s didn’t go biking in those days. They sat around on the porch in their rocking chairs.

Partly that was the style of the times, but partly it was because old people did not have the energy and vigor they have today. Much of that is due to medical advances that not only added years to our lives but life to our years.

Doctors and hospitals have helped, but much of the improvement in our health has been due to pharmaceutical drugs that keep us from having to go to hospitals and have enabled doctors to head off many serious medical problems.

Yet the people who produce pharmaceutical drugs have been under heated political attack for years — attacks that often do not let the facts get in their way.

During the anthrax scare of 2001, for example, the maker of the leading antidote for anthrax was accused of making “obscene profits” even though (1) the total treatment cost with its drug was just $50 and (2) the company actually operated at a loss while being denounced for obscene profits.

People who know nothing about advertising, nothing about pharmaceuticals, and nothing about economics have been loudly proclaiming the drug companies spend too much on advertising — and demanding that the government pass laws based on their ignorance.

Today, we take the automobile so much for granted it is hard to realize what an expansion of the life of ordinary people it represented. There was a time when most people lived and died within a 50-mile radius of where they were born.

The automobile opened a whole new world to them. It enabled those in overcrowded cities to spread into suburbs and get some elbow room. Trucks delivered goods more cheaply and ambulances got people to hospitals to save their lives.

Yet who among those who did this are today regarded as being as big a hero as Ralph Nader, who put himself on the map with complaints about cars in general and the Corvair in particular? Hard data on automobile safety and tests on the Corvair both undermined Mr. Nader’s claims. But he will always be a hero to the talkers. So will those who complain about commerce and industry that have raised our standard of living to levels our grandparents would not have dreamed of.

Homeownership is far more widespread among ordinary people today than in the past because of entrepreneurs who have figured out how to produce more, bigger and better houses at prices more and more people could afford. But can you name any of those entrepreneurs who have been celebrated for their contributions to their fellow human beings?

Probably not. In California, anyone producing housing is likelier to be demonized as a “developer,” a word that causes hostile reactions among Californians conditioned to respond negatively — and automatically, like Pavlov’s dog.

As for computers, no one made them more usable by more people around the world than Microsoft. And no one has been hit with more or bigger lawsuits as a result.

Why can’t the talkers leave the doers alone? Perhaps it is because that would leave the talkers on the sidelines, with their uselessness painfully obvious to all, instead of in the limelight and “making a difference” — even if usually in negative terms.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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